"Nidi": Spaghetti Nests with Sicilian Tomato Pesto, Mozzarella Cherries and Breadcrumbs
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Sicilian summers are characterised by some of the most delicious dishes of our cuisine. Fresh and tasty recipes make the most of the extraordinary seasonal produce.
As soon as the weather starts to warm up (which tends to happen quite early in Sicily), outdoor dining tables become a triumph of colours and fragrant preparations, for the delight of large families gathering together.
Among the extraordinary fruits of our beautiful island, tomato is certainly the undisputed king. Juicy and tasty tomatoes grow in abundance and come in so many varieties across Sicily.
Sicilians love to make the most of tomato season so, around this time of the year, it's not uncommon to see families making "bottiglie di salsa" (lit. sauce bottles), essentially cooking up cauldrons of tomato sauce and using very old, traditional methods to store them in glass bottles for the entire winter.
The process can be quite daunting in this heat, and take up to several days - normally involving the whole family.
Another common sight is that of "strattu" (tomato concentrate), made by cooking tomatoes to a very thick paste and then spreading it over wooden boards and letting it dry in the sun, stirring it at regular intervals.
This is usually prepared along with sun-dried tomatoes. Plump and ripe tomatoes are carefully chosen, then sliced in halves, sprinkled with salt, and left in the sun until they've completely dried up.
Usually laid over huge wooden trays, cut side up, they are covered with a fine net to keep away insects. The need needs to be removed every few hours to turn over the tomatoes and add more salt. For this reason, we also call them "pummaruoru salatu" in Sicilian (lit. salted tomatoes). Once completely dry, we store them in jars, covered with olive oil - each family adding their own special blend of herbs and spices to the recipe.
I have very fond childhood memories of tomato season, and keeping these trays of "pummaruoru salati" and "strattu" on the roof, with temperatures that would easily reach 40°C and 50°C in August.
But back to today's recipe. These delicious nests of spaghetti are a creative way to serve your pasta. Inspired by traditional Sicilian ingredients, they are prepared with a delicious Sicilian pesto, homemade with sun-dried cherry tomatoes, almonds and a little chilli; seasoned with a generous amount of Sicilian pecorino and toasted breadcrumbs; and finally, oven baked for a few minutes in muffin moulds to take the characteristic nest shape.
Before serving them, I placed mozzarella cherries and more semi-dried tomatoes inside the "nests", and glazed with a drizzle of blackberry balsamic vinegar.
The blackberry balsamic is a nice touch as it adds to the sweetness and tanginess of the tomatoes and also reminds me of home, where blackberries are cultivated in the mountainous areas around my hometown. A few drops here go a long way, but trust me when I say the syrupy texture adds a classy touch to the whole dish.
For this, use only a good quality, thick and syrupy balsamic vinegar, and only a few drops. Do not use a thin balsamic vinegar as it'll be too sour and ruin the texture of your sauce. You can thicken it by making a reduction on a low flame.
Molasses - whether grape, pomegranate, or date - are a great alternative. Again, just a few drops will do.
Ingredients (for 2)
200 g spaghetti alla chitarra
190 g Sicilian pesto - recipe below
12 mozzarella cherries
12 sun-dried cherry tomatoes
A generous amount of grated Sicilian pecorino
A generous amount of toasted breadcrumbs
A drizzle of olive oil
A few basil leaves to garnish
Blackberry balsamic vinegar - I use a wonderful one by Womersley (you can buy it from here)
Salt to taste
For the Sicilian pesto:
2 tbsp Mutti Double Concentrated Tomato Puree
70 g sun-dried cherry tomatoes
A handful of peeled almonds
A handful of pine nuts
A few leaves of basil
30 ml extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat the oven in grill mode to its highest temperature.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt and throw in the spaghetti. Cook to very al dente, about 3 minutes less than indicated on the packaging.
While the pasta is cooking, blitz all the pesto ingredients in a mixer to a chunky consistency and set aside. Drain the pasta and transfer to a bowl with the pesto, mixing to combine well.
Season the pasta with pecorino and breadcrumbs.
Brush the inside of 6 muffin moulds with olive oil and, using a fork and spoon, roll the spaghetti to form 6 equal nests, placing one in each mould. With the fork handle, make a little hole in the centre.
Place in the oven's middle rack and grill for about 5 minutes, or until the nests have become slightly crunchy and browned on top and hold their shape, but are not too dry.
Place on a plate and decorate each nest with 2 mozzarella cherries, 2 sun-dried tomatoes and a small basil leaf. Lastly, drizzle a few drops of balsamic vinegar, or keep it on the table so each person can drizzle the amount they like.