(Sicilian Pesto With Almonds and Tomatoes)
When you think of pesto, you probably think of basil pesto – pesto alla
Genovese – which is arguably the best known. But it’s not the only form of
pesto that exists, and I don’t just mean modern twists.
Pesto alla trapanese is Sicily’s answer to Liguria’s more famous basil-rich
pesto sauce. They have a lot in common, as both are full of fresh basil, nuts,
garlic, olive oil, and cheese. But where Ligurian pesto uses pine nuts, this one
uses almonds, then adds juicy tomatoes on top of that. You can make this
recipe the traditional way, with a mortar and pestle, for best results, or use a
food processor for a sauce that’s less work and still excellent.
Ingredients Pesto Alla Trapanese
- 3 medium cloves garlic
- 60g toasted almonds
- 35 large basil leaves (about 4 sprigs, weighing 25g total)
- 100g grated cheese, preferably a milder aged pecorino
- 450g plum tomatoes
- 60ml extra-virgin olive oil
- If Using a Mortar and Pestle: Crush the garlic in the mortar with a
pinch of salt to form a paste. Add almonds and beat and crush into a
rough paste. Work in basil leaves, pounding and crushing into tiny
bits. Smash in cheese, followed by tomatoes and olive oil. The final
sauce should be a rough paste. Season with salt.
- If Using a Food Processor: Pulse almonds until roughly chopped. Add
tomatoes and garlic. Add basil and a couple of ice cubes to keep
temperature low. Add olive oil and cheese. Process to a rough paste.
Season with salt.
What is Pesto?
Despite what you might think “pesto” doesn’t mean sauce but instead
comes from “pestare” which means to pound or crush. This is because
traditionally you would use a pestle and mortar to make sauces like
these. The ingredients were crushed together to form a kind of paste.
The different variations you find in different parts of Italy tend to reflect
the local produce from the area. This variation is named after Trapani,
a port city in Western Sicily. It was apparently made by sailors coming
to the area from the mainland and adapting the traditional Genoan
sauce to use the local ingredients.
Fresh Pesto Perfect for Summer
To me, the fresh tomato in this really makes it quite a different sauce
from other pestos. It includes some herbs but they are not the
predominant flavor. You also only use a little olive oil since the
tomatoes make it relatively fluid already.
You have a couple of initial steps for this which you could skip, but I’d
recommend that you don’t. First, you toast the almonds. This is a
common step for most pestos as it really helps to bring out the flavors
in the nuts. You can toast them in the oven if you like, but I find it
easiest in a dry skillet/frying pan. You can do this ahead of time as
As with all pestos, since you use so few ingredients, the key is to
make sure what you use are really good. Use very ripe, good quality
tomatoes, some good almonds, and a flavorful extra virgin olive oil.
After all, you’re going to taste them!
Some recipes suggest removing the tomato seeds which you can
certainly do if you like. This would make the sauce a little thicker,
closer to a more typical pesto. Do as you prefer.
Pesto alla Trapanese is a lovely light but flavorful pasta sauce that’s
easy to make with just a few ingredients. It’s a nice change from a
classic pesto and perfect when summer tomatoes are in season. So
add it to your pasta night list!
I didn’t use any mint in the pictures here as I didn’t have any, but it appears in
many recipes and will add that bit of extra freshness.