Pesto Trapanese


Sicilian pesto typically has basil, garlic, olive oil, and uncooked (crudo) tomatoes in it.  The main difference between the traditional pesto and Pesto Trapanese is that it contains almonds.  Sometimes mint, pine nuts, and anchovy are also added.  Pesto Trapanese originated in the province of Trapani, an ancient seaport where sailors from Genoa purportedly introduced the classic pesto from the mainland.  Pesto Trapanese can also be made without tomatoes (bianco or white).  To compensate for the loss of liquid from the tomatoes, you’ll need to add some extra olive oil.  It’s important to use a mortar and pestle to make this sauce.

I’m a huge advocate for making any pesto in a mortar and pestle.  You can use a blender or food processor to blend the ingredients; however, the flavor will not be the same.  You’ve gotta put some sweat equity into making the pesto to get a big payoff.  Pounding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle releases the aromatic oils from the basil and nuts, increasing the flavors and aroma.  It’s like making mashed potatoes in a blender or food processor instead of using a potato masher.  It changes the entire composition and taste of the potatoes even though the ingredients are the same.

Lightly toast the nuts for added flavor.  If you like garlic in moderation, use the lesser quantity.  Hearty garlic lovers should use 3 cloves of garlic.  Serve Pesto Trapanese over pasta in with Pecorino cheese and/or toasted bread crumbs (in true Sicilian style), or in a pasta salad.


Difficulty Rating:  Easy
Makes 1 to 1 1/3 cups.

3 medium (1 pound) ripe tomatoes
1/3 cup blanched almonds
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1/2 cup roughly torn basil leaves (6 grams)
2 to 3 peeled garlic cloves
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Special Equipment Needed: Large mortar and pestle


BLANCH AND PEEL THE TOMATOES: Have ready a large bowl of cool water.  Bring a medium pot of water to boil.

Lightly score an “X” on the top of each tomato with a sharp knife to making peeling easier.  Place the tomatoes in the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes.  Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl of water until cool enough to handle.

Peel the tomatoes, remove the stem end and tough inner core, and cut into quarters.  For a creamier pesto, discard the inner pulp and seeds, although this step is not necessary.

GRIND THE NUTS:  Place the almonds and pine nuts in a small plastic zipper bag and briefly crush the nuts with a mallet or heavy object. This preliminary step helps to keep the nuts from flying out of the mortar.

Place the nuts and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in the mortar.  Using a pounding and rocking motion, crush the nuts with the pestle until fine in texture.  Transfer to a small bowl.

MAKE THE PESTO:  Place the basil, garlic, remaining salt, and peppercorns in the mortar and pound with the pestle until paste-like and no visible pieces of garlic remain.

Add the tomatoes and crush with the pestle using a rocking motion, until the pieces are no larger than 1/4-inch.  Transfer to the bowl with the nuts.  Add the olive oil and stir until combined. Let the pesto sit for 1/2 hour before using to allow the flavors to develop.

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