Nothing says summer like sun kissed tomatoes—ripe, juicy, and bursting with flavor. And, nothing says summer pasta like Busiate with Trapanese Pesto (Busiate al Pesto Trapanese) starring those peak-season, sun saturated tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes in pesto. It’s the “other” pesto—a sultry, seductive southern Italian version of the Genovese classic. This ethereal pasta dish comes from Trapani in western Sicily, where its name, shape, and eponymous pesto were created in worship of the intense Sicilian sun and its delicious local bounty. Finely ground almonds and garlic give the pesto a poetic richness and aromatic finish while fruity tomatoes and fragrant basil fleck the pasta with vivid colors and flavors. Late season tomatoes make this dish even sweeter, so now is the best time to make Busiate Pasta with Trapanese Pesto and enjoy the last lingering taste of sunny summer.
Busiate are distinctive long spiral pasta shapes reminiscent of romantic tendrils. Made with handmade pasta dough of fine durum (hard) wheat semolina flour (semola rimacinata) and water, they hold their shape well and have a tasty chewiness once cooked. Busiate are named after a local wild reed, busa, that is traditionally used to form the shape by rolling thin ropes of pasta dough around it into a flat coil. Today, a special brass pasta rod from southern Italy called ferro or ferretto is used to form busiate and other pasta shapes as well. I happily acquired my brass pasta rod from online Italian-made pasta tool shop Q.B. Cucina , but a wooden skewer, knitting needle, or even umbrella spoke has been known to work as well.
Like most hand-formed southern Italian pasta, making busiate can seem like child’s play at first. The first step of rolling dough into long ropes with your hands is familiar to most people who did the same with Play-Doh as children. However, the next step to form the ropes into spiral shapes requires a little practice to perfect. Rolling the rod set at a 45-degree angle down a strand of dough while winding it around is simple enough, but the trick is to use just enough pressure—and not too much—so the finished shape releases from the rod and doesn’t stick to it. Dusting the rod with a little semolina flour can help but making the dough correctly in the first place—firm but not soft and sticky—is key. It takes a little patience and practice but, once you get the feel for it, you’ll be amply rewarded with beautiful pasta to proudly serve your family and friends.
The traditional sauce pairing for busiate is Trapanese Pesto (Pesto Trapanese) and vice versa. This pesto with tomatoes is unique to Sicily—and more specifically to Trapani—where it was created specifically for this pasta shape. Trapanese Pesto is made by grinding almonds, garlic, and basil (in mortar and pestle for best results) into a paste, then blending with fruity extra virgin olive oil and ripe, raw tomatoes into a sumptuous sauce that is the definition of Sicily’s sunny, vibrant personality. Using best quality ingredients is key, making mid to late summer the best time to enjoy this dish with peak-season tomatoes, fragrant basil, and excellent extra virgin olive oil. No cheese is needed since this pesto is already rich and creamy but, if the temptation to embellish with something extra strikes, you can sprinkle the finished pasta with finely chopped almonds. Oh, and, don’t let making homemade pasta stop you from enjoying this exquisite summer pesto with other quality, store-bought durum wheat pasta like bucatini, strozzapreti or casarecce…it’s too delicious to save for next year ; ).
BUSIATE WITH TRAPANESE PESTO – Busiate al Pesto Trapanese
This sun-kissed pasta from Trapani in Sicily is its namesake summer dish. Handmade durum wheat pasta dough is shaped into delicate tendrils around a local reed or bronze rod and tossed with a Sicilian summer pesto of ground almonds, garlic, basil and ripe tomatoes. Rich and bursting with sunny Southern Italian colors and flavors, this dish will soon be your new favorite summer pasta.
View a video of the pasta and pesto making technique on my Instagram feed.
Serves 4 to 5
PASTA DOUGH: (makes 1 pound/445g dough)
2 cups/300g durum wheat semolina flour (Italian semola rimacinata)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/145ml warm water
NOTE: if semolina flour is unavailable, substitute with 2 cups/240g “00” or all-purpose flour and ½ cup/120ml warm water
Special equipment: 12-inch/30cm pasta rod (ferro or ferretto) or wooden skewer
TRAPANESE PESTO: (makes 1 cup/240ml pesto)
2 large garlic cloves or 4 small, peeled
2 ounces/55g blanched peeled almonds (about 1/3 cup)
6 tablespoons/85ml extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
½ pound/250g very ripe plum tomatoes (2 or 3 tomatoes)
1/3 ounce/10g fresh basil leaves (1 loose cup cup loosely packed)
Pinch of hot chili pepper flakes or chopped peperoncino, optional
Kosher or fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
To make the pasta dough: place the flour in a wide, heavy bowl. Insert the fingertips of one hand into the flour and use the other hand to pour a thin stream of water over your fingers. Mix the water into the flour by rotating your fingertips in a circular motion until all the water has been added and a crumbly dough forms. Gather the crumbs together and squeeze them to form a shaggy dough. Knead the dough in the bowl by folding and squeezing with one hand (anchoring the bowl with the other hand), for a few minutes until it hydrates enough to clean the flour from the sides of the bowl. The dough will seem very stiff and dry at first, but resist the urge to add more water since it softens as you work it. Turn the dough onto a clean work surface (preferably unvarnished wood) and knead vigorously for 10 to 15 minutes until firm, smooth, and not sticky. Form dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic, and let rest for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the pesto: fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Use a paring knife to score a shallow X through the skin at the bottom of each tomato. Plunge the tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute until skins loosen (but not longer or the tomatoes will cook), then remove them from the water and place on a cutting board for 2 minutes. Peel the tomatoes, starting at the scored end, pulling off the loose skin and discarding it. Cut the tomato flesh into quarters lengthwise and remove cores and seeds then cut the flesh into small dice. Set aside.
Place the garlic and almonds in the bowl of a mortar and pestle or small food processor fitted with blade and pound or pulse until finely ground. Tear the basil into the bowl and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of ground black pepper or hot chili flakes then grind into a paste. If using a food processor, pulse the machine and scrape down bowl frequently. Pour the extra virgin olive oil in a thin, steady stream while stirring or pulsing until a thick pesto forms. Add the chopped tomatoes and grind/pulse to break up the pieces then pour in a little more olive oil, if needed, to create a creamy, medium consistency pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning then transfer the pesto to a large, non-metallic mixing bowl and set aside while you hand form the busiate pasta shapes.
To form the busiate: unwrap the ball of pasta dough and roll beneath the palm of one hand to form a cylinder. Cut a strip of dough about the thickness of your finger from the long side, then wrap the remaining dough in plastic and set aside until needed. Using the palms of both hands in a back and forth motion—beginning with hands together and working them outward to thin the dough—roll the strip of dough into a long, thin rope about 3/16-inch/.5cm thick. Break the rope into 5 to 6-inch long strands then set aside all but one of the strands. Place a strand vertically on the board in front of you and set the ferretto pasta rod or skewer at a 45-degree angle about ¼-inch from the top tip of dough. Curl the tip over the rod then gently roll the rod down the strand using fingertips at opposite ends of the rod (without pressing) so the dough wraps around it like a coil. Once the rod reaches the end of the strand and the dough is entirely coiled, place the palm of your hand over the coiled pasta and, pressing lightly, roll it forward on the board to flatten slightly. Then release the busiata (singular) you just made by cradling it gently in one hand while twisting and pulling the other end of rod out with the other hand. Form the busiate, one by one using all the dough, setting them on a tray that has been lightly dusted with semolina flour to dry slightly and set the shape.
To cook the busiate: bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Once the water boils, add 4 tablespoons/35g salt then wait for it to boil again. Add the pasta and cook at a steady boil, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until al dente (firm to the bite), 4 to 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and transfer to the bowl with pesto. Toss the busiate in the pesto to coat evenly with pesto then transfer to a warm serving platter and garnish with a sprig of fresh basil. Serve immediately.