From America's Test Kitchen Season 10: Saucy Italian Favorites
In the Sicilian village of Trapani, there’s a very different kind of pesto—it’s basically pesto crossed with tomato sauce. Almonds replace pine nuts, but the big difference is the appearance of fresh tomatoes—not as the main ingredient, but as a fruity, sweet accent. We wanted a recipe for a clean, bright version of this sauce, not a chunky tomato salsa or thin, watery slush.
For an uncooked sauce, fresh tomatoes were best. Cherry and grape tomatoes proved equal contenders, sharing a similar brightness and juiciness that was far more reliable than that of their larger cousins. We processed the tomatoes with a handful of basil, garlic, and toasted almonds. The almonds contributed body and thickened the sauce while retaining just enough crunch to offset the tomatoes’ pulpiness; using blanched, slivered almonds avoided the muddy flavor often contributed by papery skins. We added a scant amount of hot vinegar peppers for zing, then drizzled in olive oil in a slow, steady stream to emulsify the pesto. Parmesan was stirred in for the finishing touch to this light, bright, and texturally satisfying pesto.
Not all pesto is basil, pine nuts, and Parmesan. In Sicily, tomatoes and almonds take center stage.Watch the Video
Serves 4 to 6
A half teaspoon of red wine vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes can be substituted for the pepperoncini. If you don’t have a food processor, a blender may be substituted. In step 2, pulse ingredients until roughly chopped, then proceed with the recipe, reducing processing times by half.
1. Toast almonds in small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until pale golden and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Cool almonds to room temperature.
2. Process cooled almonds, tomatoes, basil, garlic, pepperoncini, 1 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes (if using) in food processor until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. With machine running, slowly drizzle in oil, about 30 seconds.
3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook until al dente. Reserve ½ cup cooking water; drain pasta and transfer back to cooking pot.
4. Add pesto and ½ cup Parmesan to cooked pasta, adjusting consistency with reserved pasta cooking water so that pesto coats pasta. Serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately.