Pesto alla Trapanese

For some reason baffling to me, Pesto alla Trapanese flies a bit under the radar in comparison to its northern Genoese cousin, which is deliciously laden with perfumy basil, salty cheese, and grassy olive oil. But I promise you this Sicilian-inspired pesto is just as noble and worthy of recognition. Not surprisingly, tomatoes, which grow bountifully all over the Italian south, are the foundation of this herb-driven sauce. Native to Sicily, the Pachino tomato varietal that’s typically used for this dish is small and round (and most reminiscent of what we call cherry tomatoes). In Hudson, New York, these petite, orb-like jewels start to arrive at the market towards the end of June, and aside from buying pints to pop while I shop, I know just what to do with them—this recipe is their time to shine.This no-cook sauce swaps almonds for pine nuts and comes together quickly with the help of a food processor. The pesto can be assembled while the pasta water comes to a boil, enabling you to get dinner on the table in no time. While basil is traditionally used, I like to add mint and parsley for complexity. You can certainly also use herbs such as oregano or rosemary, but I recommend treading lightly if you do; they can be overpowering. The best part about this dish is that it works just as beautifully warm as it does at room temperature, so it’s great for summer entertaining. I find it works well as a main course but makes an equally good companion to grilled chicken, fish, or pork.To drink with it, I recommend something red and chillable, preferably from the same region. We are in Sicily, after all, so why not stay awhile? Try wines from Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the only DOCG on the island, which is a strict blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato. Or a straightforward Frappato, which is juicy with great minerality and sips best after a 30-minute ice bath. Whatever’s in your glass, I hope you’re sitting outside somewhere in the sun and toasting the fact that summer has finally, finally arrived.

Pesto alla Trapanese
Photo: Caitlin Bensel
Active Time:
25 mins
Total Time:
25 mins


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

  • 3/4 pound gemelli or casarecce pasta

  • 1/4 cup blanched whole almonds

  • 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes (preferably heirloom), halved if large

  • 2 cups roughly chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as basil, parsley, and mint), plus more for garnish

  • 1 large garlic clove

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 1 ounce pecorino cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)

  • Flaky sea salt, for garnish (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil over high. Add the pasta, and cook according to package directions for al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

  2. While pasta cooks, toast the almonds in a 12-inch skillet over medium, stirring occasionally to make sure they do not burn, about 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

  3. In a food processor, combine the almonds, tomatoes, herbs, garlic, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, crushed red pepper, and black pepper; pulse until thoroughly combined. While pulsing, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture begins to emulsify. Continue pulsing until all of the oil has been added and the sauce forms a smooth paste. Transfer mixture to a large bowl, and fold in the pecorino.

  4. Add the pasta to the bowl with the pesto, and toss until coated, adding cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, to loosen up the sauce. Divide among bowls, and garnish with additional herbs and flaky salt, if you like.

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