Pesto alla trapanese (A Sicililan pesto)

Pesto alla trapanese (A Sicililan pesto)

In pasta, primi piatti by Frank Fariello20 Comments

One of the great joys of summer is the appearance of juicy, ripe tomatoes in the marketplace. Tomatoes that, for once, actually taste like tomatoes! And, of course, think about tomatoes and you’ll immediately think about pasta. There’s something about fresh tomatoes and pasta that was just meant to be.

Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil is a summer classic, but there are other options. One of the best is this Sicilian cousin to pesto alla genovese. You will immediately recognize the family resemblance, of course, what with the presence of fresh basil, garlic and nuts (this time blanched almonds rather than pignolis). But true to its southern roots, this pesto stars abundant ripe tomato.

NB: The main recipe in this post is for the easy-peasy modern version of this pesto. The more traditional mortar-and-pestle recipe, which actually produces a remarkably different dish from the same ingredients, is described in the Notes.

Ingredients (serves 4-6 persons)

400g (1/2 lb.) ripe, fresh tomatoes (see Notes)
2-3 cloves of garlic
A handful of fresh basil
A handful of blanched almonds (see Notes)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil,
100g (4 oz.) grated pecorino cheese

400g (1/2 lb.) of pasta of your choice (see Notes)


Make your pesto by adding tomatoes, garlic, basil, almond, salt and pepper in the food processor. Process on ‘pulse’ until the ingredients are well chopped, then with the motor running, add olive oil in a stream until the mixture comes together and forms a smooth sauce. (The almonds should not become completely pulverized, however, but retain some of their crunch.)

Cook your pasta al dente. Drain and pour into a warmed serving bowl. Add your pesto and mix well, then add the cheese and mix again. (If the pasta is a little dry, add some pasta water to loosen it up.)

Serve immediately, perhaps with a dollop of extra pesto on top, and with additional grated cheese in a small bowl for those who want it.

NOTES: If using mature fresh tomatoes, you should peel them and remove the seeds before adding them to the food processor. Otherwise, your pesto will be too watery and have unpleasant bits of skin in it. Tomatoes are easily peel if the skin is loosened a bit by a quick blanch in boiling water (no more than 30 seconds or so) or by charring the skin over a flame as you would a bell pepper. You can also, as pictured below, use small grape or cherry tomatoes, which have tender skins and very little by way of seeds and water inside. They need no particular prep before they are added to the rest of the pesto.

Blanched almonds are commonplace in US supermarkets (they are used extensively in baking here) but if you can’t find them, then take regular almonds, shell them and then blanch them for a few minutes. Their skins should then slip off easily.

You want a nice, fruity, deep green kind of olive oil for this dish. This being a Sicilian dish, olive oil from Sicily would be perfect, of course, but they make similar olive oil in Puglia and that would certainly do quite fine, as would any similar olive oil from elsewhere.

The traditional recipe for this dish using a mortar and pestle produces a rather different result—which is why many traditionally minded recipes will warn you never, even to use a blender or food processor to make pesto alla trapenese. You grind up the garlic with a bit of salt, then the almonds, then the basil, just as you would a traditional pesto alla genovese. The tomatoes is not ground up with the rest, but chopped into little cubes and mixed with the pesto. The texture is, of course, quite different: he tomato retains more of its original character and the pesto has considerably more chunkiness to it. And it looks quite different on the plate, with contrasting red and green bits. Nothing prevents you, of course, from mixing modern and traditional methods by making your pesto with a food processor but folding in hand-chopped tomato to it at the end.

The traditional pasta for this pesto is the home-made Sicilian pasta called busiati. But this pesto is delicious with linguine, spaghetti or even short pastas like penne or farfalle. In fact, if you ask me, it goes well with pretty much any pasta you feel like having.

There are some variations to this dish that you can try at your leisure to see if you like. I’ve seen some recipes that call for a bit a red pepper which is actually quite nice. Others, call for topping your pasta with ricotta salata or fried bread crumbs rather than the pecorino—both very Sicilian touches. In summer a bit of mint along with the basil makes for a nice change of pace. 

Frank FarielloPesto alla trapanese (A Sicililan pesto)


  1. Taylor

    this looks great, but i am super wimpy when it comes to heat/spice… i mean super wimpy. could i skip the pepperocinis/red pepper flakes? if so, is there a substitute that might work?

  2. Frank

    Thanks for your comment, @JohnAM! It's wonderful to know that you actually tried it and liked it. It's what this food blogging thing is all about… :=)

  3. JohnAM

    Perfect summer recipe to use tomatoes and basil from my garden. Just made it for dinner tonight and I knew it would be good. Easy,tasty and will make it again.

  4. Frank

    Thanks again, guys! Hope you're enjoying your summers… looking forward to lots of fresh tomato. :)

    @shortyshawna: For this dish, at least, very little gear is needed. Just a pasta pot,a blender or food processor and, of course, a wooden spoon!

  5. Lori

    MAGNIFICA RICETTA!!! La provero di sicuro! Grazie mille dalla mamma felice in cucina :-) ciao!

  6. Spicie Foodie

    I can't believe that I've never made my own pesto. Not sure why, but that is something I'll have to remedy. Your pasta looks like my idea of the perfect summer meal. Love it Frank!

  7. Drick

    never have heard of this Frank, it sure does sound summery and inviting esp with fresh tomatoes … now when I think of fresh tomatoes I think of BLT's with lots of mayo… and I have them at least once a week during this time…hope you had a great 4th…

  8. Frank

    Thanks, folks, for your wonderful comments!

    Special thanks to @Ann—glad I could bring back some fond memories and welcome to the site!!!

  9. Ann

    Wow! I was lucky enough to live in Sicily for three years and that is perfect! Even your plates….

    I'm now following you on Google Folllow!

  10. Pola

    Love it! I heard of ricotta, walnuts and sundried tomatoes as a base for sicilian pesto, but this one with fresh tomatoes looks great!

    Question: why 400gms = 1/2 lb?

Your comments are always welcome!