Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto (known as “Pesto Rosso”) is a vibrantly-colored, deeply-flavored Sicilian condiment with almonds, garlic, herbs, and olive oil. Serve this hearty, unique sauce with pasta, your favorite meats and fish, or as a delicious sandwich spread.
Back in the 80’s, a snow storm meant three equally exciting prospects: a day off from school, making snow angels in my hot pink nylon snowsuit, and dunking marshmallows into steamy mugs of hot chocolate.
The flashy snowsuit has long been retired, but the hot chocolate is still a given, and I did make a snow angel a few winters back for old time’s sake (and enjoyed every minute of it).
Today, what I really get excited about is the dreamy snow light. As a natural light photographer, I get weak in the knees for the delicate, pure white light that streams through the window during a snowstorm. It hugs the food and creates beautiful, soft highlights and shadows. Be still my heart!
When it snows, my fuzzy socks and I are up and ready to shoot all the things I can possibly cook and style before my favorite light is lost. During a recent storm, one of these recipes was my Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto (Pesto Rosso).
What is Pesto Rosso?
Hearing “pesto,” most people tend to think of basil pesto (Pesto alla Genovese). Pesto Rosso (literally, “Red Pesto”) is a Sicilian variation that starts with sun-dried tomatoes. It has a rich red hue and a deep, sweet, tangy flavor.
Like all pestos, Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto recipes also vary by region and cook. The sauce typically calls for almonds instead of the pine nuts used in basil pesto. Some cooks add basil, while others complement the tomatoes with other herbs, like rosemary. A few recipes add oil-cured black olives for an even deeper flavor.
My favorite Pesto Rosso recipe is a simple one: sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, roasted almonds, and olive oil, chopped in the food processor to a hearty, spreadable texture.
Dry-Packed vs. Oil Packed Sun-Dried Tomatoes
You’ll usually find two types of sun-dried tomatoes at the market: dry-packed and oil-packed. Either can be used for this recipe.
In my market, the dry-packed are stocked in the produce section with other dried fruits. Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes are generally sold in jars, and are found in the canned vegetable aisle, or where you would find antipasto ingredients, such as marinated artichokes and mushrooms.
Be sure to read the labels; sometimes the oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes have garlic or herbs added. They’re delicious, but remember that they’ll introduce those flavors to your dish. I usually prefer to control the quantities of seasonings in most recipes myself, so I buy the plain version when using oil-packed.
Since they’re steeped in oil, jarred sun-dried tomatoes tend to be plumper than dry-packed. When using dry tomatoes, you can easily reconstitute them in water to use in recipes. (See: The Best Way to Rehydrate Sun-Dried Tomatoes from Cooks Illustrated.) For Pesto Rosso, you don’t need to take this extra step, as the sauce is blended with olive oil.
How to serve Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Pesto Rosso can be served in most dishes where basil pesto is used. It’s delicious tossed with pasta. I particularly love it with campanelle; use a little bit of the cooking water to thin the sauce and help it coat the pasta. Red pesto is also great as a spread for a steak sandwich, or to top chicken breasts or seafood, such as grilled or pan-seared swordfish.
I’ve been known to enjoy it “as is,” spread onto a crusty slice of Italian bread. (If we’ve established anything on the blog the past four years, it’s that my love of bread is strong!) Add a small dish of it to a cheese and charcuterie board for a unique, savory accompaniment.
Pesto Rosso is also a great make-ahead recipe. It will keep for 5-7 days in the refrigerator. When chilled, the oils in the pesto will solidify. Just return the sun-dried tomato pesto to room temperature before serving, and it will be luscious and spreadable again.
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto (Pesto Rosso)
With its vibrant color and deep, lightly-tangy flavor, this Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto is a unique and versatile condiment.
Makes about 1-1/2 cups pesto
- 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes (see note below)
- 1/3 cup almonds (unsalted, dry roasted)
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes , optional
- 3/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until all ingredients are finely chopped. Stop the food processor and scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice.
Store, covered, in the refrigerator, for 5-7 days.
Serve tossed with pasta, spread onto crostini, as a sandwich spread, or with your favorite meats and seafood. If refrigerated and not heating for a recipe, let the Pesto Rosso return to room temperature before serving.
I've tested batches of this recipe using both dry-packed and drained, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes. When using oil-packed, I find I only need 3/4 cup olive oil to reach the thick, yet spreadable consistency we like best; when using dry-packed, I add a full cup.