The Cleopatra of Sicily

They say that well-behaved women rarely make history, and this could not be more true than of the legendary Cleopatra of Sicily.   She started a revolution in the south of Italy to avenge her family and ended up overthrowing the oppressive Sicilian royals.

This pasta dish filled with precious pistachio pesto, creamy and decadent whipped ricotta, and sweet like candy roasted tomatoes is what started it all. I like to think that a good dish can repair and restore any relationship — or even a kingdom. A true pasta queen serves up an epic pasta feast, polishes her crown, then takes over the world.

For this dish, I found it appropriate to use a shape of pasta called ‘Busiate’, typical of Sicily.

Roasted Tomatoes

  • 1/2 pound grape tomatoes (super ripe and as red as my favorite lipstick!), halved
  • 1/2 pound grape tomatoes (super ripe and as red as my favorite lipstick!), halved
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Pesto

  • 5 cups packed basil leaves
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons shelled, unsalted pistachios
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound of ricotta cheese

To Finish

  • 1 pound of pasta of your choice

Method

  1. Whisper to yourself, “I am gorgeous”.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Add tomatoes to a baking dish (or better, my chef pan Stella) then drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Add thyme, oregano, and garlic and toss to coat. Kiss the tomatoes with the brown sugar, sprinkling it on top in an even layer.
  3. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to blister as if they were scorched by the Sicilian sun. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  4. While the tomatoes bake, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
  5. To make the pesto add basil, garlic, cheese, pine nuts, pistachios, and olive oil to a high-speed blender or food processor. Pretend to use a mortar and pestle, but when no one is looking just blitz the pesto in the machine instead until smooth. Add the ricotta and process again until it is slightly whipped and creamy.
  6. When the pasta water reaches a rolling boil, salt the water generously so it tastes like a well-seasoned soup. Add your pasta and cook until very al dente, which will be slightly more than half of the suggested cooking time on the package. Drain the pasta but watch over the tears of the god as if they belong to Cleopatra herself.
  7. Add the pasta to a large, deep sauté pan and add about ¾ of the tomatoes (reserve the rest for garnish). Add the pesto and a ladle of pasta water and set the pan over a whisper of a flame. Stir the pasta lovingly, adding more pasta water as needed, until a creamy, irresistible sauce forms and the pasta is cooked through to al dente.
  8. Plate the pasta in warm pasta bowls, then garnish with reserved roasted tomatoes, a scrunch of pepper, and a crown of fresh basil.
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