Pesto alla Trapanese

Cavatappi with Pesto alla Trapanese

Thanks, Zeppoli.

Until dinner there one night last week, I’d forgotten how much I like Trapanese, the Sicilian pesto that subs almonds for the pine nuts in its ubiquitous, basil-laden Genovese cousin.

Such a brilliant, simple, fresh dish.

I’ve seen lots of variations – in proportions, in peppers (some use vinegar-cured pepperoncini, some use the dried, red-pepper flakes), and in preparation (mortar and pestle vs. machine) – but I’m partial to Lidia Bastianich’s, from her book, Lidia’s Italy.

Of course, I tinker, too.

It’s has been a tough (read: wet) growing season for basil in these parts, so I bolstered this batch with a handful of fresh oregano. And since I rarely use oregano without lemon (and since this is a Mediterranean dish, after all), I juiced half a lemon in, too. Next time, I might even use a whole one.

Try it on pasta (a short shape with ridges works best, but use what you’ve got). Or as a side dressing for chicken. Or even, as I did on Day Two, swirled into roasted spaghetti squash.

Spaghetti squash
Psycho-good squash.

Pesto alla Trapanese

Adapted from Lidia’s Italy, this recipe makes roughly a pint of sauce. Use it up within 2-3 days (keep it in the fridge, but bring it back to room temperature before you serve it). It also freezes well, as long as you hold off adding any cheese. 

  • a scant pint of ripe tomatoes (I used half red grape tomatoes from the CSA and half Sungolds from my garden)
  • 1 cup of fresh herbs (any combo of basil and oregano), loosely packed
  • juice of half a lemon (or more)
  • 1/3 cup almonds (again, I hedged – half whole nuts and half blanched & slivered)
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (or more, to taste)
  • about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Trapanese to be
I hedged my bets, using 2:1 Genovese basil to oregano, and 1:1 red grape to Sungold tomatoes.

Toast the almonds lightly in a small skillet. If you’re using slivered almonds, be careful; they’ll quickly scorch if you get distracted. Spread them on a plate to let them cool.

Add the tomatoes, herbs, lemon juice, cooled nuts, pepper flakes, garlic, and salt to a food processor or blender. Purée until fairly smooth but not frothy (about a minute), scraping the bowl of any stray leaves or tomato skins, if necessary.

Ready to whirl
Load in everything but the oil.

Turn on the machine, and stream in the olive oil until you get a thick, emulsified paste. The amount of oil you need will vary with how juicy the tomatoes are. I usually err on the side of too thick, since I like to splash a little extra oil on everything at the end, anyway.

The color of summer
Lighter on the basil than Genovese pesto, Trapanese lets the colors of summer shine through.

Taste, and adjust the lemon and salt. Remember to go easy if you’ll be adding grated Romano or Parm down the road, since the cheese carries its own salt.

Spaghetti Squash alla Trapanese
And on the second day, she ate it with spaghetti squash. And it was good.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Geraldine says:

    this looks great, I want some right now!

  2. Tammy says:

    I love the color and the idea of an almond substitution.

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