This easy Sicilian Pesto alla Trapanese has only 6 ingredients and is prepared in just 15 minutes! It's made with almonds, tomatoes, basil and tastes amazing tossed with pasta, smeared on bread, or paired with grilled meats, fish, and vegetables.
When fresh basil is abundant in the summer months, there's nothing better than making a big batch of pesto to put on everything. You can swirl it into soups, pile it on sandwiches or toss it with pasta.
Pesto Genovese, the classic basil pesto most people are familiar with, is a specialty of Liguria, a coastal region in Northern Italy. Pesto Trapanese is its Sicilian cousin. It's a traditional recipe that originated in the port of Trapani in western Sicily, where it's called agghiata Trapanisa in the local dialect.
There are many different variations of pesto in Sicily, like pistachio pesto or Pesto alla Siciliana, which contains ricotta. What makes this delicious Sicilian pesto different from traditional pesto alla Genovese, aside from being made with almonds instead of pine nuts, is that it also contains fresh tomatoes. The tomatoes make the pesto a bit lighter and give it an amazing tangy flavor.
My grandfather's family immigrated to the United States from Trapani, and Ironically, Genovese is our family name, so I guess you could say both Trapanese pesto and Genovese pesto are in my blood.
Why this recipe works
- A traditional recipe that's been around since ancient times.
- Similar to classic pesto Genovese, but more tangy and flavorful thanks to the addition of tomatoes.
- Easy - Only 6 ingredients and 15 minutes needed to make.
- Versatile - use it as a sauce for pasta, grilled meats and seafood, or as a dip or spread.
- Fresh Basil - Arguably the most important ingredient. Make sure your basil leaves are super fresh with no brown spots, and be sure to wash and thoroughly dry it before using.
- Tomatoes - This pesto will taste best if made with fresh, in-season, ripe tomatoes. Pesto alla Trapanese is a great way to use up any tomatoes that are slightly overripe or bruised. Just be sure to remove any brown or off-color spots and remove the seeds and extra liquid. You can use any type of tomato, but San Marazano or plum tomatoes are best becuase they contain less liquid. Avoid cherry tomatoes, as the excess skin will negatively affect the texture.
- Almonds - Blanched almonds, or skinless almonds will produce a better texture than almonds with skins. They are typically bought slivered or sliced. If you can find Sicilian almonds, all the better, but regular almonds will work just fine.
- Pecorino Romano Cheese - Sicilian pesto is made with Pecorino cheese rather than Parmigiano Reggiano, which gives it a salty, sharp bite, but some Sicilian pesto recipes don't include any cheese at all. Leave it out for a vegan version.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil - I use the best quality extra-virgin olive oil I can get - it makes a difference.
Step by step instructions
- Place the garlic and ½ teaspoon salt into the bowl of a food processor, and process until it's finely chopped, about 30 seconds.
- Add in the remaining ingredients, except the cheese, and pulse until coarsely chopped.
- Add the cheese, and continue pulsing until incorporated. Leave the pesto coarse, do not blend until smooth. Taste, and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
- Toss with hot pasta or transfer into a jar or container, drizzle olive oil over the top and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Tips for success
- The almonds should not be toasted, however if they are not fresh (meaning they are a little soft or lacking crunch), they can be crisped in a 250 degree oven for about 5-10 minutes. Do not let them turn golden in color or it will affect the flavor. Cool to room temperature before using.
- Remove the seeds and extra liquid from the tomatoes to avoid the pesto being too watery.
- Don't over blend the pesto so that it's smooth. Pulse in 1-second increments and leave it coarse for a better texture.
- Sicilians do not add black pepper to their pesto. For an extra bite and some heat, add red pepper flakes (peperoncino) instead.
The traditional way of serving Trapanese pesto sauce is with busiate pasta, a traditional pasta of the region, with crunchy breadcrumbs sprinkled on top of the pasta. It's a delicious pasta served hot, cold or at room temperature, but it's also wonderful spread on bruschetta or crostini and makes an ideal sauce for grilled meats and seafood, like seared scallops.
Faq about Pesto alla Trapanese
Pesto Genovese is from Northern Italy and is made with pine nuts, fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Pesto Trapanese is from Sicily and is made with almonds, tomatoes and Pecorino Romano cheese.
Store pesto in an airtight jar or container, leaving about an inch of room at the top, then drizzle olive oil over to cover. This will help preserve the pesto's flavor and color. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze for longer storage.
Yes, freezing pesto is simple and works very well. I like to freeze it in ½ pint containers with a thin layer of olive oil on top to protect it. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays, then pop them out and store in a zip-top bag for smaller portions.
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