Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pasta with scape pesto and sardines

Pureed with olive oil, parsley, sea salt, and a few toasted walnuts, garlic scapes are transformed into a pungent and addictive paste that we've been calling "scape pesto." It turns out to be fast way to work flavor into other dishes. Here's a use for scape pesto that two Maverick Farmers came up with independently -- in different kitchens on the same night. Essentially, it's a version of the classic Sicilian dish pasta con sarde. The Sicilians use fresh sardines, abundant in that area; we’ve found that good-quality canned sardines make a worthy substitute.

1 pound dry pasta, such as spaghetti
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup to 1 cup garlic scape pesto (see below), to taste
1 tin good-quality sardines packed in olive oil
A pinch or two of crushed red chile flakes
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 oz fresh goat’s cheese (optional)

Put pasta water on to boil over highest heat. Put a large skillet on medium low heat, and add enough olive oil to cover bottom. Add chile flakes and a grind of pepper. Add pesto, working it into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Open the can of sardines. With a fork, lift the sardines one by one out of the can—letting them drain a second or two of the olive oil they were stored in—and drop them directly into the pan. When they’re all in there, use the wooden spoon to smush the sardines into the pesto. What you’ll end up with is a kind of coarse—and quite fragrant—sauce. Remove from heat. When the pasta water boils, salt it liberally. (Mario Batali, the famed New York chef, says it should have the salinity of seawater.) Add the pasta to the water when it returns to a rolling boil. Just before the pasta is al dente, take a ladle and scoop up a cup or so of the pasta water; add it to the sardine sauce and stir it in. Now drain the pasta and, return it to its pot (which will be empty of water but steamy hot). Scrape in the sardine sauce, add a dash of olive oil and a grind of pepper (hold off on salt here; you’ve already added salted pasta water, and the sardines can be briny). Toss, and correct for seasoning. Serve.
Optional note: Though no Sicilian would do it, we’ve found a way to make this dish even more delicious. When you’ve dumped the pasta into the colander and you have a steamy but empty pot, add 2 oz fresh goat cheese and immediately dump the pasta on top. This will melt the cheese. When you toss the pasta after adding the sardine sauce, you’ll be incorporating the cheese.

scape pesto
1 pound scapes, trimmed of tough flower part and chopped coarsely
I handful Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a 300 F oven
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil

Combine first five ingredients in a food processor and process for 30 seconds or so. Scrape down sides of bowl and process again. With the blade running, add a thin stream of oil until a paste forms. Scrape down sides of bowl and process again, adding more olive oil if needed.

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