Each region in Italy has its own pasta shape, and in western Sicily around Trapani this is busiate. Like other fresh pasta from the south of Italy it is made from durum wheat flour (semola di grano duro rimacinato) and water only, no eggs. Although it is also available dried, busiate are best when freshly made. Homemade busiate are thin hollow tubes of pasta, about 7 cm (3″) in length and with a diameter of about 4 mm (1/6″). Fancier types have the same dimensions, but resemble telephone cord.
The first time I’ve ever tried busiate was at a great trattoria called U Sfizziusu in San Vito Lo Capo, a beach town close to Trapani. There I had Busiate alla Trapanese, busiate with Pesto alla Trapanese. Trapani and Genova are both port towns, and interaction between the two has introduced the concept of pesto from Genova to Trapani. Pesto alla Genovese is made with basil and pine nuts, whereas the principal ingredients of pesto alla trapanese are tomatoes and almonds. Whereas there exists an official recipe for Pesto alla Genovese, this is clearly not the case for pesto alla trapanese. Tomatoes, almonds, and garlic are in all of them. I’ve encountered version with our without (Sicilian) pecorino cheese, whereas thanks to a post by Chef Mimi I found out that Nigella Lawson even adds capers, raisins, anchovies, and chile pepper. I decided to make it as I remember it from U Sfizziusu: with minimal ingredients but great flavor nonetheless. I only left out the eggplant, because I was already serving caponata as part of the same dinner.
The only caveat with any pesto alla trapanese is that you need good tomatoes as they are used raw. Tomatoes available around here are often watery, which is less of a problem when making a sauce because you can easily use a larger amount of tomatoes and cook them down a bit more to concentrate the flavors. In this recipe that is not possible, so it’s probably best to make this in summer only when flavorful ripe tomatoes are available.
250 grams (1 1/2 cups) semola di grano duro rimacinato
about 125 ml (1/2 cup) water
300 grams (.66 lbs) ripe plum tomatoes
50 grams (1/3 cup) blanched almonds
extra virgin olive oil
6-12 basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1 clove garlic
freshly ground black pepper (optional)
The exact amount of water depends on the humidity of the flour. You should only add barely enough to make the dough come together. Especially towards the end, you should only add a few drops at a time. If the dough becomes too sticky anyway, you can add a bit of flour.
When you are ready to shape the busiate, take a piece of dough and roll it into a thin long cylinder with your hands on a wooden work surface. (Rolling out dough on wood is much easier than on another work surface like granite.) The exact diameter of the cylinder is not very important: if it is a bit thicker, you just need to cut shorter pieces off of it.
…until there is a thin cylinder of dough wrapped around the skewer. It should be about 7 cm (3″) long, if it is longer you can roll out the cylinder of dough more thinly or cut shorter pieces off of it.
Slide the busiata off the skewer and put it on a floured tray. Repeat until you have used up all of the dough, arranging the busiate in a single layer on the floured tray. Allow the busiate to dry for a bit.
To make the pesto alla trapanese, start by toasting the almonds for 10 minutes in the oven preheated at 180C/350F.
Meanwhile, remove the skin and seeds from the tomatoes. You can read how to do that in this post. Chop the tomatoes.
Boil the busiate in ample salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Start tasting the busiate for doneness after 6 minutes or so. Heat up a wide non-stick frying pan over low heat and add the drained busiate and the pesto alla trapanese. Toss to mix.
This is good with many dry Italian whites, as many of them have bitter notes of almond (which goes well with the almonds) and fruity notes (which go well with the tomatoes).