Why It Works
- A mortar and pestle crushes the sauce's ingredients, releasing their flavor more fully than the chopping action of a blade in a food processor.
- Finishing the pasta off the heat preserves the fresh, uncooked flavor of the sauce.
Pesto alla trapanese is Sicily's answer to Liguria's more famous basil-rich pesto sauce. They have a lot in common, as both are full of fresh basil, nuts, garlic, olive oil, and cheese. But where Ligurian pesto uses pine nuts, this one uses almonds, then adds juicy tomatoes on top of that. You can make this recipe the traditional way, with a mortar and pestle, for best results, or use a food processor for a sauce that's less work and still excellent.
- 3 medium cloves garlic
- Kosher salt
- 2 ounces toasted blanched almonds (60g; about 1/2 cup); see note
- 35 large basil leaves (about 4 sprigs, weighing 25g total)
- 2 to 4 mint leaves (optional)
- 3 1/2 ounces (100g) grated cheese, preferably a milder aged pecorino or a 50/50 mix of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- 1 pound (450g) plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1 pound (450g) linguine
If Using a Mortar and Pestle: Crush the garlic in the mortar with a pinch of salt to form a paste. Add almonds and beat and crush into a rough paste. Work in basil leaves and mint (if using), pounding and crushing into tiny bits. Smash in cheese, followed by tomatoes and olive oil. The final sauce should be a rough paste. Season with salt.
If Using a Food Processor: Pulse garlic with almonds until roughly chopped. Add basil, mint (if using), cheese, tomatoes, and olive oil and process to a rough paste. Season with salt.
Transfer two-thirds of the sauce to a large heatproof serving bowl.
In a pot of salted boiling water, cook linguine until al dente. Transfer pasta to serving bowl, reserving some of the pasta-cooking water. Toss well, adding more olive oil and pasta-cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time each, until a creamy sauce forms that's not dry but also not soupy. Season with salt, if needed. If the sauce gets too dry at any point, simply add more pasta-cooking water to loosen it.
Serve, spooning remaining sauce on top of each portion and adding more cheese as desired.
If you can find them, pizzuta d'Avola almonds from Sicily are an excellent choice here, adding a slightly bitter, more aromatic flavor to the sauce.