Putting together a quick dinner on the fly for the family is often a struggle, so I am always looking for ideas for healthy meals that don’t take long but pack a nice punch of flavor. This one from ATK blew me away both in how delicious it is AND how fast it all comes together. Once you have your almonds toasted and cool, it seriously just requires the time to boil a pot of water and cook the pasta.
Here in North America we tend to think of “pesto” as being primarily basil and pine nuts, but technically that is Pesto alla Genovese, from the Genoa region of northern Italy. It’s great! However, there are a few regional variations and this recipe that uses tomatoes and almonds, Pesto alla Trapanese, is just one of them, coming from the Trapani area of Sicily. It uses less oil and cheese, and with the addition of tomatoes is actually also a healthier pesto variation.
NOTE: If you don’t have pepperoncini on hand, it can be replaced with a 1/2 tsp of red wine vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. That’s what I did, and it was great. Not too spicy at all, even with the addition of the optional red-pepper flakes later. You can expect this to be a pink or red pesto, however the cherry tomatoes I used were a mix of red and yellow cherry tomatoes from our CSA, which is why I ended up with a lighter colored finished product in my photo. It uses less basil than traditional pesto, so just don’t expect the vibrant green color.
Don’t skip out on toasting the almonds. It really adds a lot of flavor and aroma. Mmm.
So without further ado…
Pasta with Pesto alla Trapanese
1/4 cup slivered almonds (toasted)
12 ounces fresh tomatoes (about 2 1/2 cups), cherry or grape work best.
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1 small pepperoncini, stemmed, seeded, and minced (OR, 1/2 tsp of red wine vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes)
1 tsp kosher salt, plus approx. 1 tbsp for pasta water
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound pasta, preferably linguine or spaghetti, but you can use what you like.
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup), plus extra for serving
Toast the almonds. This is best done in small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until pale golden and fragrant, from 2 to 4 minutes. You can also use your toaster oven. Just don’t burn them!
Cool almonds to about room temperature.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil in large pot. Add pasta and about 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Reserve ½ cup cooking water; drain pasta and transfer back to cooking pot.
While water is coming to a boil and/or pasta cooks, process the almonds, tomatoes, basil, garlic, pepperoncini, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and red pepper flakes (if using) in a food processor until smooth.
Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in olive oil, taking about 30 seconds.
With cooked pasta back in its pot, add the pesto and a 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and toss to combine. If consistency is too thick, use the reserved pasta water to thin it out so that the pesto coats the pasta.
Serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately. Garnish with more basil if you want to be fancy.