This easy, 6 ingredient Pesto alla Trapanese recipe (Sicilian Pesto) is unexpectedly delicious. The star ingredient? Fresh tomatoes!
Pesto alla Trapanese: have you heard of it? Typically upstaged by its famous cousin Pesto alla Genovese, this spunky, Sicilian spin-off is one to watch. If you love pesto, or crave the classic combination of tomato and basil, it’s a must-try “no-cook” sauce to level up your repertoire.
What Is Trapanese?
Pesto alla Trapanese is a flavorful Sicilian pesto made with fresh basil, almonds, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and cheese, usually Pecorino, Parmesan or both. Comparatively speaking, it’s similar to classic basil pesto in that it’s a fresh, basil-forward sauce. However, since it’s made with almonds (not pine nuts) and sweet, juicy tomatoes (surprise ingredient!) it becomes a completely different recipe.
According to witty food writer Rachel Roddy, Pesto alla Trapanese was created by homesick Genovese sailors docked in Trapani, Sicily who adapted their classic basil pesto recipe to include locally available ingredients: almonds and tomatoes. Traditionally, Pesto alla Trapanese is made with a mortar and pestle. But unless you want to stain everything in sight, it can be done in a food processor or blender, which is what I do.
And The Taste?
Right off the bat, Pesto alla Trapanese tastes light and fresh from the tomatoes. The almonds add creaminess, and the cheese (which conflicting sources tell me is not traditional) ties everything together. I like cheese.
To serve, it’s excellent tossed with twisted pasta like fusilli or busiate (the classic pasta paring), or with fresh homemade pasta like spaghetti, linguine or fettuccini. Try it on grilled sourdough bread with small basil leaves as pictured above. Or, for a unique take on antipasti, consider a pesto salad like we do at Sfoglia with arugula, shaved fennel and lashings of salty Pecorino cheese.
Pesto Secrets? Read This.
The secret to successful Pesto alla Trapanese is twofold: first, the ingredients, especially the tomatoes, MUST be in season. This is non-negotiable unless you want sour pesto. Second, do not mess with the ingredient ratios. For example, if you add more tomatoes to this pesto, the sauce will become watery. Omit the cheese, and the sauce will lack flavor. I’ve tested many versions of Pesto alla Trapanese and Giada’s recipe, which I’ve adapted sightly, is spot on in flavor, color and texture.
Pesto Ingredients You Will Need:
- Fresh Basil
- Blanched Almonds (no skins)
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Olive Oil
- Pecorino Romano and/or Parmesan Cheese
Fresh Basil: Choose small, round-leafed basil for best flavor. The smaller the leaves, the sweeter the taste. This is key.
Blanched Almonds: also known as skinless almonds, you can buy them slivered, flaked or whole. I splurged and bought Sicilian almonds because I’ve always wanted to try the famous ones from Noto, Sicily.
Garlic: Fresh is best. Select garlic heads with tight papery skin. No skinny green stems. If you have access to fresh garlic from the farmers market, go for that. What a treat.
Salt: Just a pinch of fine sea salt will do!
Cherry Tomatoes: Do not even attempt this recipe with mealy, subpar tomatoes. I prefer small, cherry or grape tomatoes. They’re not as watery as the big ones. The flesh is dense and sweet.
Olive Oil: The wrong olive oil will wreck your sauce. For pesto, think light and delicate. Personally, I love this well-balanced Ligurian extra virgin olive oil made from 100% Taggiasca olives. It’s not strong, bitter or peppery at all (did I tell you I worked in the olive oil industry in a former life?). Other recommendations include: Lucini, California Olive Ranch and La Tourangelle.
Pecorino and/or Parmesan Cheese: Some recipes call for Pecorino, Parmesan or both; while other suggest a grating of ricotta salata on top with pasta. I do a blend of Pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheese for best flavor. The combo is always met with rave reviews.
How To Store Pesto
Store Pesto alla Trapanese in a small jar with a thin layer of olive oil on top. Cover and refrigerate up to 2-4 days. Bring to room temperature before using. Alternatively, portion the pesto into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen solid, transfer to zip-top bags; freeze up to 2 months.
Good to Know: Pesto alla Trapanese doesn’t oxidize as quickly as regular basil pesto. The acidity from the tomatoes naturally preserves the color, while buffering the basil from the heat of the blender blade.
Pesto alla Trapanese Pairs Well With:
- Fresh Homemade Pasta
- Perfect Pappardelle Pasta
- Fresh Spinach Pasta Dough
- Fresh Homemade Gnocchi
- Sourdough Bread
- Sourdough Focaccia
More Pasta Sauce Recipes To Try!
- Ragù Bolognese Sauce
- Quick Sicilian-Style Tomato Sauce
- Easy Golden Butter & Sage Pasta Sauce
- Classic Italian Basil Pesto (Pesto alla Genovese)
A simple, one-bowl 6 ingredient pesto Trapanese recipe from Sicily! This pesto will keep for 2-4 days in the fridge and up to 2 months if frozen. Serve with your favorite pasta or grilled bread!
Recipe adapted with changes (I do a cheese blend and omit the red pepper flakes) from Giadzy.com.
- 70 g (about 1/2 cup) blanched, skinless almonds
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 300 g (1 pint) ripe cherry or grape tomatoes
- 60 g (about 1 cup tightly packed) fresh basil leaves
- 100 g (scant 1/2 cup) olive oil
- 35– 40 g (about 1/2 cup) freshly grated, packed Pecorino Romano & Parmesan cheese (50/50 blend)
A Few Things…
- Some recipes call for toasting the almonds- I don’t. I prefer a mild almond flavor. However, feel free to toast if you prefer.
- Also: I do not blanch, peel or remove the skin on my tomatoes. It’s perfectly fine to blend them whole, skin and all.
- The color of your olive oil will impact the color of this pesto. If it’s dark, your pesto will be dark. The olive oil I use has a beautiful golden (not green-ish) color. Other recommended brands: Lucini, California Olive Ranch and La Tourangelle.
- In a food processor or high powered blender: pulse the almonds, garlic and salt together until finely chopped.
- Add the tomatoes and basil; process until blended.
- With the machine running, slowly stream in the olive oil to emulsify the sauce (you may or may not use all of it; it depends on the consistency). The texture should be loose, but creamy.
- Scrape the pesto into a small bowl. Stir in the cheese. Taste and correct with salt, if needed. Do not be afraid to add more salt and/or cheese as needed; it really depends on the flavor of your tomatoes.
To Serve: Toss with fresh homemade pasta or dried pasta, such as fusilli and busiate.
To Store Pesto: transfer the pesto into a small jar. Cover with a slick of olive oil on top to prevent browning. Refrigerate 2-4 days. Bring to room temperature before using. To freeze, portion the pesto into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen solid, transfer to zip top bags and freeze up to 2 months.
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