Trapanese Pesto Pasta

I believe I have not hidden my devotion to America’s Test Kitchen and their rigourous testing-tasting, tasting-testing, or whatever their process is for creating the best never-fail recipes.  ATK has never let me down.

When I came across ATK’s version of pesto, as served in Trapani, Sicily, it made me decide to make it right away.  I did not have such a sauce during a trip to Sicily, but all the foods were memorable in Sicily and the Aolian island of Lipari, including the blood oranges everywhere (the inspiration for my blood orange marmalade).  So the combination of ATK with Sicily seemed like a major convergence of culinary imperative.

Living on an island not even as large as Lipari (and, of course, nowhere as big as Sicily itself), there are certain ingredients not always available.  With the urgency of making this sauce, I could not find any decent cherry tomatoes, in mid-June, so I had to resort to an island act of forced creativity, substituting a tin of Italian cherry tomatoes in its place.  This is not as much a locavore’s meal as is possible, though one could argue that it is more authentic in its Italian origins (olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, and the said tomatoes all hailed from Italy – OK, I used imported linguine, too…).

For the easy recipe…

This sauce is lighter than the pure basil-pine-nuts-Reggiano-olive-oil-garlic pesto, with toasted almonds in place of the pignoli as well as the addition of cherry tomatoes.  In my variation, the canned tomatoes worked very well and make the dish possible even when good fresh cherry tomatoes are not readily available.  However, it is richer and has more depth than many marinara sauces.  The next day, I used it for a pizza – with my own dough, fresh boconcini, and the remaining fresh basil – and it made a great base for pizza.

As always, ATK does not disappoint, even with the substitution of tinned tomatoes, and its reddish-brown luxury will remind one of the terracotta buildings of Sicily.

Trapanese Pesto Sauce (makes more than enough to serve four, generously)

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen


  • 1/4 c. slivered almonds, toasted (can be done easily in frying pan until golden, about five minutes on medium heat, watching to ensure they do not burn)
  • 2 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, fresh or 1 can (28 oz.), liquid drained, but reserved
  • 1/2 c. whole basil
  • 2 clove garlic
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 pepperoncino, minced
  • 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, with extra 1/4 c. for serving
  • one pound pasta of your choice (linguine, fettucine, or even bucatini would work well)

Easy mise-en-place for quick pesto pasta


Add above ingredients to food processor, while pasta is cooking.  Add reserved tomato liquid, if necessary to create a smooth, thick sauce, if using tinned tomatoes.
Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 c pasta water. Return pasta to cooking pot.
Add pesto.  Stir well.  Add reserved water.  Add 1/2 grated Parmigiano Reggiano and toss thoroughly.

Serve with additional cheese.

19 responses to “Trapanese Pesto Pasta

  1. looks like an easy, tasty meal! Gotta love island ingenuity…

    • Theresa, what else can you do when faced with a cherry-tomato-less island? Turn to your well-stocked pantry (thanks, Bosa, for your variety in Vancouver!). Thanks, Dan

  2. Mmm, this looks so good 🙂
    I still need to get a food processor!

    • Hi, Roxan. I got mine for free at our island’s “redirectory” or free store, sort of a recycling depot/thrift store without any cost – it was a vintage Cuisinart with all the accessories and original manual! Imagine that? I use it way more than I ever did any blender I have had. Thanks for stopping by, Dan

  3. Oh, yum! I have to try this.
    Roxan, try!

    • Thanks, Kat. I checked out your website, and I enjoyed it. You might know of the late, great Jane Rule – a famous alumna of Mills; she lived two doors down from us, just FYI. Good idea for Roxan, too. Dan

  4. Really interesting recipe.
    And your photos are beautifully done.

  5. Dan, awesome as always. You seem to be reading my mind re. common themes in recipes recently – I’m making linguine a la vongole tonight.

    Really interesting idea to use cherry tomatoes (or in your case tinned cherry tomatoes, but when one must, one must!) for a pesto sauce, too – I’ve used red peppers before, but never tomatoes. Also, ATK? How have I missed out on this?! Probably because I’m too busy watching Ina…

    Jax x

    • Jax, thanks for your feedback, which I always appreciate.

      You can visit ATK for how-to videos and instructional stuff, They do have a good free newsletter, too. Very Amurikan, but you want to live there, right? ATK is very scientific yet Vermonty, whereas Ina is very la-de-da hicky-shicky lifestyley-Hamptons (although wonderful!), so it makes a good contrast in tone.

      Good luck with the vongole,


  6. yummmmmmmmmmm! I am going through a bit of a pasta phase after not eating it for a few years. This looks so good!

  7. It sounds like I should check out ATK. I’ve heard of it before but never visited the site. I really should branch out with pesto recipes, I usually stick to basil pesto. I love tomato sauce and pesto, so why not combine the two? Excellent recipe, thanks for sharing!

  8. That looks delicious! I don’t like traditional basil pesto, but I love anything with tomatoes (fresh or canned/tinned), so I’m going to give this a go!

    • Rachel, I bet you’ll enjoy the Trapanese version, when you want a richer more complex tomato sauce – kind of like the best of classic pesto and a classic marinara!! Do let me know what you think. Thanks, Dan

  9. This looks awesome…great photos. Love your blog…can’t wait to go through your recipes!

  10. Pingback: pies and pesto but not necessarily in that order « Capability : Mom

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