Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto, also known as “Pesto Rosso”, is a delicious and versatile Southern Italian condiment that adds a savory burst of flavor to pastas and more. This Sicilian sauce typically includes rich sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, toasted nuts, fresh herbs, and flavorful olive oil.
Why You’ll Love This Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
If you love classic basil pesto (or pesto alla genovese), you’re going to love this sun dried tomato pesto.
Below are a few reasons we love this recipe and you will too!
- Bold, Rich Flavor: The combination of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil, and nuts creates a savory, umami-packed condiment that’s hard to resist.
- Quick and Easy: With just 5 minutes of active prep time, this recipe is perfect for busy weeknights or last-minute gatherings.
- Versatile: Pesto rosso can be used for flavor-packed pasta sauces to sandwich spreads to a dip for crusty bread.
Recently, I’ve been leaning into incorporating more Italian and Sicilian inspired recipes here on the blog, not only for the amazing flavors, but because that’s where half my family is originally from (specifically Calabria and Sicily).
What is Pesto Rosso?
Pesto rosso, also known as red pesto in English or sun-dried tomato pesto, is a traditional Southern Italian condiment that originated in Sicily. Exact ingredients used will vary across different regions and cities. This variation uses sun-dried tomatoes, but other versions of Sicilian pestos include whole cherry tomatoes or roasted red peppers.
Unlike traditional green pesto, which is from Northern Italy, this Sicilian inspired sauce is made with sun-dried tomatoes (giving it a red color), garlic, nuts (usually pine nuts or almonds), basil, and extra virgin olive oil.
The result is a thick, spreadable red paste with a rich, savory flavor that’s perfect for adding depth to various dishes.
Parmigiano reggiano is optional in this specific variation- I’m opting for dairy-free parmesan cheese to make this pesto vegan.
With less than 10 simple ingredients, this easy red pesto is quick to whip up. Below are the main ingredients, plus a few optional add-ins that help take the flavor to the next level:
- Garlic cloves
- Toasted pine nuts, almonds, or cashew nuts
- Sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil (make sure to drain the tomatoes before using)
- Fresh basil leaves
- Sea salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil, or use the herby oil from the sun-dried tomatoes
- Red pepper flakes: for some spice- you could also use black pepper
- Lemon juice or red wine vinegar: for brightness and to balance the rich oil
- Dairy-free grated parmesan cheese: or parmesan of choice if not vegan
- For a nut-free version: you can substitute the nuts with sunflower seeds or omit them altogether. NOTE: the pesto will lose some of its sweetness if omitting the nuts- I recommend adding a bit of sugar to taste.
- Oil-Packed Sun-dried Tomatoes: you can use bagged sun-dried tomatoes. However, you’ll want to rehydrate them in hot water for 20-30 minutes prior to adding them to the food processor.
- Nuts: if you don’t have pine nuts, almonds, or cashews, you can use walnuts instead.
- Fresh Basil: if you don’t have fresh basil, you can also use other herbs such as parsley, rosemary, or oregano. Keep in mind, these will all add a different flavor to the pesto.
- Vegan Cheese: if you don’t have access to dairy-free parmesan cheese, you can use 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast instead.
- Food processor, or mortar and pestle
- Small pan, to toast the nuts
Step By Step Instructions
🍅 Exact quantities are in the recipe card below!
STEP 1: Start by toasting the pine nuts, almonds, or cashews. Place them in a dry skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re lightly browned and fragrant, about 3-5 minutes. Be sure to watch them closely, as they can burn quickly.
STEP 2: Next, drain the sun-dried tomatoes, reserving the oil. If the tomatoes are very oily, you may want to gently blot them with a paper towel to remove excess oil.
STEP 3: Add the garlic cloves, toasted nuts, drained sun dried tomatoes, basil leaves, vegan parm (if using) and sea salt to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil, the pulse a few times until the ingredients are roughly chopped.
📌 TIP: If using a mortar and pestle, add the garlic cloves, toasted nuts, and salt, and grind them together until they form a paste. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil, and continue grinding until the mixture forms a thick paste.
STEP 4: While the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the remaining olive oil until the mixture is smooth and well combined.
📌 FLAVOR & TEXTURE TIP: Taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add red pepper flakes, lemon juice or red wine vinegar, or grated vegan parmesan cheese to taste. If you prefer a smoother texture, transfer the pesto to a high-speed blender and blend until the desired consistency is reached.
How to Use Pesto Rosso
Pesto rosso is incredibly versatile. By far, my favorite way to use this recipe is to make sun-dried tomato pesto pasta. Below are some fun ways to use this sauce:
- As a pasta sauce: like mentioned above, this is perhaps the most traditional way to use this red pesto sauce. Toss your favorite pasta with it and a splash of reserved pasta cooking water for a creamy and flavorful sauce. You could also add a tablespoon or so of tomato paste (for more of a tomato sauce) or red peppers. This would be great for pasta salads as well.
- As a spread: spread it on crunchy crostini, a piece of crusty bread or hearty crackers.
- In sandwiches: add a few tablespoons to your favorite sandwiches for a burst of flavor.
- As a dip: serve this recipe as a dip for raw vegetables, crackers, or breadsticks.
- As a marinade: use resto Rosso as a marinade for tofu, proteins, or vegetables before grilling, baking or roasting.
This sun-dried tomato pesto can be stored in an airtight container or jar in the fridge for up to 1 week. If the oil separates, give it a quick stir to mix everything together again.
Similar to green basil pesto, this recipe can also be frozen.
You can spoon it into ice cube trays and freeze it for 3-4 hours. Once the sauce is frozen, transfer it to a freezer bag and place it back in the freezer for 3-4 months. This is one of my favorite kitchen hacks passed down from my mom- this way you have fresh pesto on hand whenever you need it!
Follow these simple tips for the best results!
- Use high-quality, flavorful sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil for the best results: if using dry-packed tomatoes, be sure to soak them in hot water for 20-30 minutes prior to adding them to the food processor.
- If the pesto is too thick: thin it with additional olive oil.
- For a traditional Sicilian version of pesto rosso: use toasted almonds instead of cashews or other nuts.
- For a creamier or smooth pesto rosso sauce: blend everything in a high-speed blender until your desired texture is reached.
NOTE: Pesto alla trapanese is a variation of red pesto that includes almonds, garlic, and fresh tomatoes (instead of sun-dried ones). Give it a try for a different spin on this classic condiment!
Pesto rosso, which translates to red pesto in English, is a traditional Southern Italian or Sicilian sauce made with tomatoes (fresh or sun-dried), nuts, basil and olive oil.
Yes, this sun-dried tomato pesto recipe is vegan since it uses dairy-free parmesan cheese. I prefer Violife’s Just Like Parmesan Wedge or Trader Joe’s Shredded Parmesan in this recipe. You can also omit the dairy free cheese or use nutritional yeast instead.
More Delicious Sauces, Pasta, and Mediterranean Recipes:
- Vegan Creamy Tomato Pasta Bake
- Baked Vegan Feta Cherry Tomato Pasta
- Creamy Dairy Free Fettuccine Alfredo Sauce
- Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant and Burst Tomatoes
Did you make this sun-dried tomato pesto rosso recipe?
I’d love to know! Leave a star rating and comment below!
- ⅓ cup toasted pine nuts, almonds, or cashews
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled & roughly chopped
- 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
- ¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- ½ tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, or use the oil from the sun dried tomatoes
Optional Add Ins:
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1-2 tsp lemon juice or red wine vinegar, to taste
- ½ cup (dairy free) grated parmesan cheese, or parmesan of choice
- Toast the nuts (if they aren’t already toasted) in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until golden. Keep an eye on them, as they’ll burn easily.
- Next, drain the sun-dried tomatoes, reserving the oil. You can use the oil from the jar instead of olive oil, or you can reserve it for other recipes.
- Add all of the ingredients and ½ cup of the olive oil to a food processor.
- Pulse to combine until the mixture is chunky paste. While the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil until the mixture is smooth and well combined.
- Taste the mixture, add any red pepper flakes, lemon juice, salt or parmesan to taste.
- Transfer to an airtight container or jar and store in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- If vegan: I recommend Violife's Just Like Parmesan Wedge for the cheese.
- Taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add red pepper flakes, lemon juice or red wine vinegar, or grated parmesan cheese to taste.
- If you prefer a smoother texture, transfer the pesto to a high-speed blender and blend until the desired consistency is reached.
- If using a mortar and pestle, add the garlic, toasted nuts, and salt, and grind them together until they form a paste. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil, and continue grinding until the mixture forms a thick paste.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 64mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 1g
Nutritional info is an estimate.
Want to Save this Recipe for Later? Pin it to Pinterest!
DISCLAIMER: Links included in this post might be affiliate links. If you purchase a product or service with the links that I provide I may receive a small commission. There is no additional charge to you! Thank you for supporting my blog so I can continue to provide you with free content each week!