Pesto alla Trapanese is a Sicilian dish that combines basil, mint, almonds, garlic, tomatoes, and Pecorino Romano to form a pesto that’s tossed with pasta. A delicious variation of the more well-known Genovese pesto, this one is every bit as flavorful.
In the summer months when basil grows abundantly, we love nothing more than fresh pesto.
In this recipe, the basil and mint play beautifully with the plum tomatoes and almonds for a truly delicious dish.
While this Trapanese-style pesto is perfect with pasta, it’s also great with grilled chicken, fish, or slathered on bread.
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Bring a small pot of water to boil. Slice the top off of 1 1/4 pounds of plum tomatoes and cut a cross on top. Note: if you’re using canned plum tomatoes, skip these steps and proceed to step 4.
- Submerge the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30-45 seconds or until the skin starts peeling back. Then, remove and place into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.
- Remove the tomatoes from the ice water and remove the skins and seeds.
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 1 garlic clove and a 1/2 cup of blanched almonds until a rough paste is formed.
- Add 1 cup of packed basil leaves, 1/4 cup of mint leaves, 1/4 cup of flat-leaf parsley, the tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper, and 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Pulse again until a rough paste is formed. Add 1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano and pulse one more time. If the pesto is too dry, add more extra virgin olive oil, a bit at a time.
- Move the pesto to a bowl and taste test adjusting salt if needed. Allow the pesto Trapanese to sit for at least 30 minutes to intensify the flavor. While the pesto sits, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook 1 pound of gemelli (or other short/tubular pasta) to al dente. Note: the pesto will taste even better if it sits in the fridge overnight.
- Add 3/4 of the pesto to a large heatproof mixing bowl. Once the pasta is finished cooking, add it to the bowl with the pesto. Be sure to reserve at least 2 cups of pasta water. Mix well and add 1-2 tablespoons of pasta water at a time to achieve a smooth consistency.
- Taste test and make any final adjustments to salt, hot pepper, or olive oil. Serve with a dollop of the remaining pesto on top of each plate and enjoy!
- Tomatoes. While you can buy (or grow) plum tomatoes and blanch them as we did here, you’ll probably get better results using canned plum or cherry tomatoes. The reason is that often plum tomatoes sold in stores aren’t fully ripe and don’t have much flavor. Canned tomatoes are picked at peak ripeness and canned immediately. If using canned tomatoes, be sure to drain all their liquid and remove the seeds.
- Basil. Jim grows two types of basil in the garden: sweet basil (Genovese basil is a variety of sweet basil) that’s softer, and emerald basil that’s thicker and dark green. Sweet basil is better for the pesto (and is usually the type found in grocery stores), while emerald basil is perfect for garnishing.
- Almonds. If you can find blanched almonds, those should be used here. If you have whole almonds you can blanch them yourself and remove the skin before using in the pesto. The reason for using blanched almonds instead of skin-on almonds is that the skin can be bitter and color the pesto brown.
- Pasta. Busiate is the pasta that’s traditionally used in pesto alla Trapanese but can be hard to find! Gemelli, casarecce, and penne are all more accessible and can be used here.
- Flavor. Let the pesto sit for at least 30 minutes before using it to give the ingredients time to mingle. This pesto will be even better when stored in the fridge overnight!
More summer pastas
Here are a few more of our favorite pasta dishes to serve in the warmer months. We hope you enjoy them!
- Lemon asparagus pasta – with fresh basil and Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Shrimp tomato and basil pasta – with just a touch of chili pepper.
- Pasta alla Norma – eggplant, basil, tomato, and ricotta salata.
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Pesto alla Trapanese
- 1 pound gemelli pasta or busiate, casarecce, penne
- 2 cups reserved pasta water will not need it all
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 cup blanched almonds
- 1 packed cup basil leaves
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- 1/4 cup flat leaf Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus more if needed
- 1 1/4 pounds plum tomatoes skin and seeds removed, see notes below
- 1 cup Pecorino Romano grated
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- salt to taste
- Add the garlic and almonds to a large food processor and pulse until a rough paste is formed.
- Add the basil, mint, parsley, olive oil, plum tomatoes, and crushed red pepper and pulse again until a rough paste is formed.
- Add the Pecorino and pulse one more time. If additional olive oil is needed, add at this time. Taste test the pesto and season with salt to taste. Place the pesto into a bowl and let it sit for at least 30 minutes so that the flavor gets stronger. Refrigerating overnight will further strengthen the flavors.
- While the pesto is sitting, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
- Add 3/4 of the pesto to a large heatproof mixing bowl. Once the pasta has finished cooking reserve at least 2 cups of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and add to the bowl with the pesto. Mix well, while adding a tablespoon of pasta water at a time to achieve a smooth consistency.
- Taste test and make final adjustments to salt and pepper. A dollop of the remaining pesto can be served on top of the pasta in each serving bowl or it can be saved in the fridge. Enjoy!
- Pesto all Trapanese tastes even better the next day. Placing the pesto in the fridge overnight will really concentrate the flavors. At a minimum, wait at least 20-30 minutes before mixing the pesto with the pasta.
- Any type of tomato can be used but plum and cherry tomatoes work best. You don't have to blanch the tomatoes and remove the seeds and skin, but it improves the texture of the pesto.
- Canned plum or cherry tomatoes work very well, often better than fresh tomatoes that aren't super ripe. If using canned tomatoes, drain all of the liquid and remove the seeds.
- Leftovers can be saved for up to 5 days in the fridge. The pesto can be frozen in ziplock bags and will last that way for up to 6 months.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.