The Dish: Nicholas Elmi's Cavatelli with Trapanese Pesto from The Pump House in Bala Cynwyd

The Pump House, a brand new full-scale event space, is set to open at Ironworks at Pencoyd Landing in Bala Cynwyd on April 27.

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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Dish: Nicholas Elmi's Cavatelli with Sicilian Trapanese Pesto from The Pump House in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania
James Beard Award Finalist and Top Chef Winner Nicholas Elmi shows us how to make Cavatelli with Sicilian Trapanese Pesto in less than 5 minutes.

BALA CYNWYD, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- We're making a Southern Italian pasta recipe with a well known, award-winning chef.

Cavatelli with homemade Trapanese pesto - it's a Sicilian specialty.

James Beard Award Finalist and Top Chef Winner Nicholas Elmi brought us into the kitchen his soon-to-open events space called The Pump House in Bala Cynwyd, where we whipped up this dish in less than five minutes.

"Trapanese pesto has roasted tomatoes, almonds, fresh herbs, a little bit of cheese," Elmi explains. "It's super simple."

When people think pesto, they often think basil pesto, the green kind. Trapanese is a tomato-based pesto with a blush color.

It's on the events menu at The Pump House and we got a sneak peek.

Pop out the food processor and pop in the roasted tomatoes. The roasting is the only work-ahead in this super quick dish.

"We roasted these Roma tomatoes to get a little bit of the moisture out of them and condense the flavor a little bit," says Elmi.

Now, we add very lightly toasted almonds and garlic.

"Depending on where you're from, add one or two cloves of raw garlic," Elmi says. "We're both Italian, so we can go with two cloves."

Finally, add some grated Parmigiano Reggiano, basil and olive oil and blend.

"You don't want it to be super smooth," Elmi says. "I like a little bit of grit to it."

Elmi says "spoon pastas" work best with this sauce, a shape that's short and fits on a spoon, like cavatelli.

While the fresh pasta quickly boils, you have just enough time to make the sauce.

"We start with some olive oil, and just a little bit of roasted garlic to get it going," Elmi says.

Add some butter, a splash of pasta water, and then your homemade pesto.

"The almonds and the cheese really bring the sauce together," Elmi says.

Now, toss in the cooked pasta, then more basil and fresh tomatoes.

"We add fresh ricotta salata and a little bit of micro basil to finish," Elmi says.

Cavatelli with Sicilian Trapanese Pesto recipe


  • 2.75 cups of roasted tomato
  • .75 cup toasted, unsalted almonds
  • .3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • .75 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup of fresh basil
  • 2 cloves of raw garlic
  • .5 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 6 oz. Cavatelli pasta (or any short shape that fits on a spoon)


1. Roast tomatoes in the oven and chill

2. Use the food processor to blend all ingredients together to make the pesto: tomatoes, almonds, cheese, olive oil, half cup of basil and garlic

3. Boil Cavatelli for 3 and a half minutes

4. In a sauté pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and tablespoon of roasted garlic and cook on low until garlic is soft

5. Add two tablespoons of starchy pasta cooking water and 2 heaping tablespoons of pesto

6. Bring to a simmer and then add 1/2 a cup of raw cherry tomatoes, cut in half, the cooked pasta and some chopped basil

7. Cook everything together for 30 seconds to a minute, then spoon into bowls. Finish with grated ricotta salata cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano

The Pump House: A new full-scale events space

Top Chef Nicholas Elmi takes us into the kitchen of The Pump House, his new full-service event space in Bala Cynwyd.

This was the first time Elmi was using the brand new kitchen at The Pump House, which celebrates its grand opening on April 27th.

"It's been kind of a whirlwind of a couple of years," he says.

In March of 2021, Elmi and his business partner, Fia Barisha, opened The Landing Kitchen at Pencoyd Landing. Later that year, they opened Lark next door.

"Literally, in the middle of the pandemic, we opened two restaurants and went from zero to 90 employees in six months," Elmi says.

"It was nuts, but we got there. Now this is a destination, with a hotel and restaurants," he says.

The Pump House is the latest addition. It's a full-scale events space,.

"We've all been to weddings where the food was not great," Elmi says. "We want to be that place that's beautiful, and the food is spectacular."

Elmi won "Top Chef" back in 2013. That same year he opened Laurel, an intimate dining experience on East Passyunk Avenue.

"Starting at 18 seats at Laurel in South Philly, to now doing 400-person events here, it's a lot," Elmi says. "I like those new challenges."

We were there as they put the finishing touches on the space. The former steel and iron foundry dates back to 1852.

"This was the actual pump house for the ironworks factory that was here back in like the early 1900s, late 1800s," Elmi says. "They used to pump water from the river to cool down the iron that were using to build around town."

The original framework still stands and it's part of the design.

"It's all part of the romantic, industrial look that we are going for, and also incorporates the history of where we are and what we do down here," Elmi says.

And they're ready to open the doors!

"Honestly, it's been one of the more rewarding things I've done in my career," Elmi says.

For more information on The Pump House, visit