Sicilian Pesto from Trapani

A white bowl of pasta with tomatoes and basil.

Trapanese pesto is a delicious and embracing sauce made of almonds, tomato pulp, and basil. It makes a very scrumptious pasta dish with a few ingredients that will remind you of Sicily. It is super easy, so let’s try it.   

A white bowl filled with pasta and sauce.

Traditional recipes are always highly debated topics here in Italy. Personal opinions differ greatly: I make mine like that,” or Mine is the most genuine recipe,” orNoooo, you cant do that way; listen to me; this is my grandmas recipe!” 

I could go on for hours and hours describing a thousand methods to prepare the same recipe. Italians might argue about the ingredients, the method, and the right kitchen tools. Blender or mortar, for instance? Mortar? Which mortar is better, a wooden or a marble one? The arguments never seem to end. 

Of course, in Italy, food is a matter of importance; no slip-ups are allowed. The truth is that the recipes are recorded, but the result may vary according to the cook and the place. Tasty? Yes, definitely, but the technique can make the difference and a few slight corrections of the authentic recipe may result in a completely different yet personal dish. But then, who cares? What matters most is that we satisfy our senses. Nothing else matters.

So lets talk about almonds, delicious tomato pulp, and fresh basil. Can just three simple ingredients make a truly amazing specialty? Yes, they can!  

A white bowl of pasta with sauce and basil.

What goes into pesto alla Trapanese?

First of all, it must taste of garlic, and it must be red. So add tomatoes at the end of the preparation along with fresh basil, which imparts freshness and a Mediterranean flavor. Almonds make the texture compact and creamy because it should not be as runny as an ordinary tomato sauce.

What you need to make a delicious pesto alla Trapanese 

  • A mortar or a food processor: every respectable pesto sauce must be prepared in a mortar, preferably a wooden one, according to the people from Trapani. However, if you are really short on time, you can use a food processor. In this case, pulse at low speed not to oxidize the ingredients. 
  • Garlic: it makes the pesto unique with its very, very strong taste (it is the same as the Genoese version). You should count from a half to 1 clove per serving. If you hate garlic, you may skip it, but it won’t be an authentic pesto. Of course, people from Trapani wont agree with you. There must be a reason why this recipe is called garlic sauce” in the Sicilian language.
  • Tomato pulp: I use peeled plum tomatoes, which are most common. Bring a pot full of water to a simmer; in the meanwhile, wash the tomatoes in cold running water and then put them in the simmering water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and let the tomatoes cool down completely before peeling and discarding the seeds; 
  • Basil: use very fresh basil; otherwise, it will impart a strong, sour taste.  If you can, grow it yourself. Why not keep a vase of basil on the windowsill in your kitchen? 
  • Coarse salt is put at the bottom of the mortar to prevent the garlic, the almonds, and the basil from escaping from the mortar; 
  • Freshly grated pecorino cheese: the finishing touch which imparts flavor and makes the dish a true pleasure! 

Sicilian Pesto from Trapani

A tricolored sauce, pesto alla Trapanese is an authentic recipe from western Sicily. Sailors, who came from the east, introduced pesto to the island. People in Trapani then replaced the typical ingredients of the Genoese recipe with their local products. Along with fresh tomatoes, they use almonds instead of pine nuts. Rich and flavorful, pesto alla Trapanese is well paired with every kind of pasta either hot or cold. Exquisite, indeed! 
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword homemade pesto, italian pesto, perfect pesto, pesto alla trapanese, trapani
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes


  • 1 pound of pasta to your taste, either short or long  (454g)
  • 1 cup of extra fresh basil 
  • 2-4  cloves of garlic 
  • 1 cup of peeled almonds
  • ½ cup tomato pulp (the less sour, the better)
  • ¼ cup + 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt
  • Pecorino cheese, grated
Servings 4 people


  • In a food processor or in the mortar, blend or smash the garlic and almonds with 3 tablespoons of oil and a pinch of coarse salt until you have a smooth paste; 
  • Rinse and pat the basil dry; add it to the almond paste; 
  • Add the tomatoes and three more tablespoons of oil;
  • Pulse at low speed until you have a well-blended sauce. Pour in abundant (3-4 tbsp about) extra virgin olive oil and let sit; 
  • Cook the pasta in plenty of salt water according to the package instructions; 
  • Pour the pasta into a serving bowl; add the pesto and toss well until it has evenly coated the pasta; 
  • Generously sprinkle with freshly grated pecorino cheese; 
  • Serve hot or cold. 

A few variations

Apart from the use of garlic (skipping it is against the law for genuine Sicilian people), some recipes want pine-nuts, raisins, and coarse pieces of tuna.

Very tempting, isn’t’ it?

A white bowl of pasta with tomatoes and basil.

Apart from the use of garlic (skipping it is against the rules for Sicilians), some recipes call for pine nuts, raisins, and coarse pieces of tuna. It’s very tempting to try new ingredients.

How pesto alla Trapanese can be kept? 

You can freeze pesto alla Trapanese into single-serve containers; defrost the sauce at room temperature before using it. Pesto keeps fresh up to 2-3 days in an airtight container in the fridge covered with a layer of oil or up to a few months in the freezer. 

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