Spicy Red Pesto Pasta
Today, pesto describes many sauces that don’t necessarily adhere to the traditional formula of cheese, basil, nuts and olive oil. This red version, which is inspired by pesto alla Siciliana, the scarlet cousin of green pesto Genovese, leans on sun-dried tomatoes, nuts and tangy roasted red peppers and uses basil as a garnish only. Though pesto is traditionally pounded by hand, a food processor simplifies the effort. This pasta sauce is versatile: Crown it with lemon zest for brightness, or stir in heavy cream for extra richness. Should you find yourself with extra pesto, drizzle it over steak, slather it on sandwiches or serve it alongside a cheese board or crudités.
- Serves: 4 persons
- ⅔cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ½cup drained jarred, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (about 3 1/2 ounces), roughly chopped
- ½cup coarsely chopped walnuts (a scant 2 1/2 ounces)
- 3tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste (or 1/3 cup tomato paste)
- 3garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ½cup drained chopped, jarred roasted red peppers (about 4 ounces)
- 1 ½ounces finely grated Parmesan (about 1 packed cup), plus more for serving
- 1pound rigatoni, orecchiette or other shaped pasta
- Sliced fresh basil leaves, for serving
- Fresh lemon zest, for serving (optional)
Step 1Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare the pesto: In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, tomato paste, garlic and red-pepper flakes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, until mixture is toasted and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl to let cool for a few minutes.
Step 2Add the roasted red peppers and Parmesan to a food processor. Top with the cooled tomato mixture and the remaining 2/3 cup olive oil, and pulse the mixture until you form a paste. (It makes 2 cups.)
Step 3Season the boiling water generously with salt, then add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 1/2 cups pasta water, then drain the pasta.
Step 4Return the pasta to the pot, along with about 1 1/2 cups of the red pesto and 1 cup of the pasta water, and stir vigorously until the sauce is glossy and the pasta is evenly coated. Stir in additional pesto or pasta water to taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Step 5Divide among bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan and top with torn basil. Shave some fresh lemon zest on top, if using. Serve immediately.