I’ve hung out in Trapani, Sicily, a lot this year, where this authentic and summery Trapanese Pesto sauce is traditionally served with local busiate pasta. The pesto itself – bursting deliciously with garlicky olive oil, tomatoes and toasted almonds – is low-carb. So here I’m keeping it that way by serving it with courgetti/zoodles instead of pasta. Or why not try it as a sauce to give some Mediterranean zing to plain white fish or chicken?
All over Italy, different towns have their own local and traditional style of pasta, and their own local sauce to complement it. Perhaps the most world famous of these is Bolognese sauce from Bologna, which of course is traditionally served with tagliatelle or spaghetti.
But in the ancient historic port town of Trapani, north west Sicily, the local pasta is busiate. And what I’m reproducing here is an authentic local recipe for the Trapanese pesto that often traditionally accompanies it.
Trapanese Pesto is a wonderfully fresh and tangy melange of olive oil, toasted ground almonds, fresh raw tomatoes, garlic, basil and pecorino/parmesan cheese. It’s not only delicious and summery, but absolutely bursting with health points too. In fact, just as so much is that makes up the Mediterranean diet!
I’ve been lucky enough to get to Trapani twice this year. The first time was at Easter to immerse myself in the wonderful Misteri procession. And the second time was in June, when I was delighted to return to collect a prize because I had won a competition for one of my photographs of the Misteri procession.
All that means that I’ve got to know the local Trapanese cuisine pretty well. And I allowed myself a little leeway on the carb front while I was there, so that I could try the most well-known of the wonderful local dishes. You can see more about the local Trapani food that I tried here!.
But now I’m back home and faithfully back to my low-carb eating regime. So, obviously pasta is high carb and a no-no. But what if I want to enjoy the taste of Trapani, without the carbs?
My solution was to make a batch of authentic Trapanese Pesto sauce – which alone, is naturally low-carb – and substitute the pasta with stir-fried courgetti/zoodles. (I’m sure you know that the UK word ‘courgette’ and the American word ‘zucchini’ both describe the same vegetable, right?).
When I was in Trapani to attend my photography prize giving, it was an added bonus for me, as a food and travel blogger, that the ceremony was being held in the Nuara Gastronomic Cultural Centre. Nuara does some great work keeping alive and promoting Trapanese and Sicilian food traditions.
At Nuara I was delighted to spend some time talking in-depth with local food enthusiast and publisher Paulo Salerno. As one of my competition prizes, he gave me a copy of the book Treasures of Sicilian Cuisine that he had coedited, and which is full of authentic Sicilian recipes. And it’s from this book that I’ve taken this Trapanese Pesto recipe. I’ve made just a few minor tweaks, including to make it more friendly to kitchens that might favour a food processor over a pestle and mortar.
Serving Trapanese Pesto over vegetable noodles is one way of making it a regular part of your low-carb repertoire. But it’s versatile! So why not also try serving it over plain white fish – such as cod or seabass; seafood – such as jumbo prawns/shrimp; or chicken.
Sicilian Trapanese Pesto contains around 3g net carbs per serving. It’s quite high calorie for a sauce – largely because it contains lots of healthy fats from extra virgin olive oil and almonds. But serve it with stir-fried courgetti/zoodles, or white fish, or chicken, and you’ve got a full, satisfying and extremely tasty Mediterranean meal made with real, healthy food for somewhere between 370-500 calories.
|Approx. Per portion (1/6 of the dish)||Trapanese Pesto||Trapanese Pesto served with stir-fried courgette/zoodles|
|Net Carbs (i.e. minus fibre, counted separately)||3g||7g|
- Figures calculated using verified nutritional info on MyFitnessPal.
- Although the recipe starts with 900g of tomatoes, a net weight of 450g is used to calculate the nutritional info, allowing for the reduction in weight after discarding the skins, seeds, and some of the juice.
- Nutrition info including zoodles/courgetti assumes a portion size of one 200g courgette/zucchini stirfried in half a tbsp of olive oil
Some Health Impacts of the Ingredients
Trapanese Pesto’s main components include almonds, extra virgin olive oil, and tomatoes.
You can read here what I’ve said before about all the wonderful health benefits of almonds. And I’m leaving extra virgin olive oil for another day. Because today, I want to talk about tomatoes!
Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins C and K1. Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant important for protecting cells; helping wounds heal; and keeping skin, bones, blood vessels, and cartilage heathy. Vitamin K also helps wound-healing, as it is needed for blood clotting. And it may also play a role in bone health.
Tomatoes also contain beta-carotene, a yellow antioxidant – also found copiously in carrots and other vegetables – which the body can convert to vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for supporting your immune system, and for healthy vision, skin and membranes.
Vitamin E in tomatoes also helps keep eyes and skin healthy, and to strengthen the immune system.
There is also a significant amount of Folic Acid/Folate/Vitamin B9 in tomatoes. Folic acid is important for maintaining healthy red blood cells, and for lessening the risk in the unborn foetus of central neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
Minerals-wise, tomatoes are a significant source of potassium. This mineral is particularly important if you’re a keto dieter, as you helps to be sure you’re keeping your electrolyte and fluid balance and blood pressure in check.
Antioxidants and Flavonoids: Lycopene
In particular, tomatoes are a fabulous source of several antioxidant and flavonoid compounds.
Perhaps the most famous of these – associated with tomatoes more than any other fruit/vegetable – is lycopene. It is a red pigment carotenoid – but it doesn’t convert to vitamin A in the body like beta-carotene does. However there is a now a significant body of scientific evidence to suggest that lycopene has many other health benefits. These include protective qualities for cancer prevention, heart disease, and skin health – including some protection against the damage that can be caused by sunburn.
We are used to hearing that cooking kills nutrients in fruits and vegetables. But in the case of lycopene in tomatoes, that’s flipped on its head. Cooked and processed tomatoes – in products such as ketchup – may often contain significantly higher bioavailable amounts of lycopene than fresh tomatoes.
Bear in mind also that eating tomatoes at the same time as fat significantly increases the amount of lycopene that will be transported efficiently around the body. That’s because lycopene is lipophilic – that is, it likes to bind to fat molecules. And that’s good news for eating Trapanese Pesto, as you’ll be eating lycopene from tomatoes right alongside healthy fats from extra virgin olive oil and almonds.
Recipe for Low-Carb Zoodles/Courgetti with Sicilian Trapanese Pesto
Recipe for Low-Carb Zoodles/Courgetti with Sicilian Trapanese Pesto
Low-Carb. Keto. Free from gluten, added sugar & artificial sweeteners.
- 900g/2 lbs fresh, ripe tomatoes
- 100g/3.5 ounces peeled, slivered (or whole) almonds
- 120ml/½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 bunch approx. 28g/1 ounce chopped fresh basil
- 60g/4 tbsp grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- To serve: one whole courgette/zucchini approx. 200g per person, plus olive oil for stir-frying
- Toast the almonds until brown by turning them with a spatula over a medium heat in a heavy based frying pan/skillet. Then mince the almonds in a food processor with a pinch of salt until they form even-sized granules, and transfer these to a medium sized bowl.
- Make a small slit in each tomato, and blanch them for 5 mins in just-boiled water. Then peel away the skins and remove the seeds from each tomato, and discard. Finally, chop the remaining tomato flesh and put it into your food processor.
- Add garlic, basil, and a few grinds of salt to the tomatoes. Pulse for just a few seconds in the food processor until the ingredients are crushed and mixed, but yet still rough and not too liquid.
- Add the tomato mixture to the bowl of almonds. Stir in the olive oil, more salt to taste, and plenty of black pepper. Mix well to combine.
- Ideally, if you have time, leave the Trapanese Pesto to rest for a couple of hours for the flavours to develop.
- When you’re ready to eat, then spiralise the courgette/zucchini into courgetti/zoodles. (If you don’t have a spiraliser, you can grate them, or buy courgetti/zoodles ready-prepared). Then stir-fry until softened and starting to brown.
- Trapanese pesto is a fresh sauce which should not be heated. It will warm through from the heat of the courgetti/zoodles, if these are served piping hot. So as soon as they are cooked, put them on serving plates at once and put a dollop of Trapanese Pesto on top of each pile of vegetables. Sprinkle the grated pecorino/parmesan cheese on top, and get eating!
- As an alternative to courgetti/zoodles, you can serve the Trapanese Pesto with white fish, prawns/shrimp, or chicken. Or of course you could serve it with pasta, as it is intended to be traditionally, if you’re not on a low-carb diet!
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