A nice change from traditional green pesto, pesto rosso (red pesto) is a delicious Italian condiment made with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted almonds and extra virgin olive oil. It adds a pop of flavor to any dish and is so easy to make, you don't even need to turn on the stove!
If you're a fan of pesto, you must try this delicious Pesto Rosso recipe! It's so easy to make and requires no cooking. Pesto rosso is the perfect way to dress up pasta in the summertime. It's also really versatile and can be added to many dishes to add a pop of beautiful color and flavor.
Some of my favorite pesto dishes are my Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Marcona Almond Pesto, Grilled Cheese with Avocado Pesto, and Fettuccini with Collard Greens Pesto and Grilled Shrimp.
What is pesto rosso?
Pesto rosso, or red pesto, is a variation of Italian pesto that uses sun-dried tomatoes. When most of us hear the word pesto, we think of pesto genovese. Pesto genovese is the classic basil pesto we all know and love. A traditional green sauce reigning from Genoa, Italy, pesto genovese is made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.
But there are actually many different types of pesto originating from different regions of Italy, each one taking advantage of local ingredients.
For example, pesto trapanese is a Sicilian pesto that uses fresh tomatoes. It's a light, fresh pesto that uses almonds instead of pine nuts.
My favorite variation though, has to be sun-dried tomato pesto, also known as pesto rosso. Pesto rosso, which translates to "red pesto," has a lovely deep red color and intense flavor that's hard to beat. It's adds a pop of rich flavor and umami to any dish!
Pesto rosso features sundried tomatoes and heart-healthy almonds, which are blended together with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. Some varieties also add other ingredients to the mix like roasted red peppers or olives.
There are a lot of different variations of pesto rosso. Use this recipe as a general guide and substitute other ingredients that you like.
Here are some substitution ideas:
- Add some roasted red peppers, fresh tomatoes, olives or artichokes to the pesto in addition to sun-dried tomatoes
- Instead of basil, try rosemary for a different flavor
- Use pine nuts, hazelnuts, cashews or walnuts instead of almonds; try sunflower seeds or white beans for a nut-free pesto
- Add a splash of lemon juice for acidity instead of balsamic vinegar
- You can use grana padano cheese instead of parmesan. To keep this recipe vegan, skip the cheese and use nutritional yeast instead.
How to make this dish
Pesto is so quick and easy to make and it doesn’t involve turning on the stove. Interesting fact- the name "pesto" comes from the Italian word pestare, meaning "to pound" or "to crush." This is because the traditional way to make pesto is by crushing the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle.
To make the pesto rosso, simply place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it’s combined. That's it!
I personally like my pesto slightly chunky rather than completely smooth. Not only do I prefer the texture but I also like to see the flecks of the individual ingredients.
To intensify the flavor of the almonds, I recommend toasting them for a few minutes in the toaster oven before adding them to the food processor.
What type of sun-dried tomatoes to use
Sun-dried tomatoes come either dry-packed or oil-packed. The dry-packed tomatoes can often be found in the produce section of the grocery store near the dried fruits and nuts. Jarred, oil-packed tomatoes will be in the canned vegetable aisle.
The oil-packed tomatoes are steeped in oil and are softer. If you're using dry-packed tomatoes, you may need to add a little extra olive oil to the food processor to make the sauce smooth.
The oil-packed tomatoes can be packed in plain olive oil or oil seasoned with garlic and/or herbs. You can use either kind in this recipe. You can even use the oil from the jar. However, be aware that it will change the flavor of your pesto slightly.
How to use pesto rosso
Pesto rosso is a really versatile spread and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. It's traditionally used in pasta dishes but you can use it as a spread on sandwiches, a topping for grilled meat or fish, or a quick way to boost the flavor of dishes like scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes.
Here are some of my favorite ways to use pesto rosso (sun-dried tomato pesto):
- Toss pesto rosso with pasta like spaghetti, rotini, ravioli or one of my favorites, strozzapreti. Add a little pasta water and grated parmesan cheese to coat the pasta. Try my rotini pasta with pesto rosso and eggplant.
- Spread it on hot or cold sandwiches- anything from turkey sandwiches to grilled cheese
- Use it to top grilled chicken breasts, fish or other meat
- Mix pesto rosso with a little ricotta or goat cheese and use it as a stuffing for chicken breasts or pork chops
- Use it to add flavor to vegetarian dishes. Try stirring a spoonful of pesto rosso into sautéed vegetables
- Stir it into egg dishes like scrambled eggs or omelettes. Spread some pesto rosso on toast and top with a fried egg.
- Mix it with Greek yogurt to make a healthy dip for vegetables or chips
- Spread it on garlic bread for an extra pop of flavor
- Stir it into cream sauces to make a pink sauce
- Use pesto rosso on homemade pizza as an alternative to tomato sauce
- Spread it on crostini and top it off with some arugula and shaved parmesan for a nice appetizer
You can store pesto rosso in the refrigerator for up to a week. Spoon it into a jar and then drizzle a little olive oil over the top before sealing it closed.
Pesto rosso also freezes well. I recommend freezing it in ice cube trays. Then once frozen, pop the pesto cubes out and place them in a plastic freezer bag. This way, you have individual portions of pesto readily available when you need them. You can store the pesto rosso in the freezer for up to 6 months.
To defrost frozen pesto rosso, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight or microwave it on a plate until it reaches room temperature.
Yes! Some variations of pesto rosso don't use any cheese so you can simply leave out the parmesan. Another option would be to substitute nutritional yeast for the cheese.
You can use shelled sunflower seeds instead of almonds to keep this pesto nut free. You can also try white beans. While they won't give you the crunch of almonds, they will add a nice creaminess to the pesto.
You can find prepared pesto rosso at the grocery store. It's sold either as pesto rosso or sun-dried tomato pesto. However, I think that homemade is best! With homemade pesto rosso, you can use fresh, quality ingredients and you know exactly what's going into your food.
Cook and drain your favorite pasta, making sure to reserve some of the cooking water. Then mix the hot pasta with some pesto rosso, adding some of the pasta water to form a sauce. Top with grated parmesan cheese or dollops of ricotta cheese, if desired. Try my Red Pesto (Pesto Rosso) Pasta with Eggplant.
More tasty Italian recipes
Pesto Rosso (Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto)
- 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil*
- ⅓ cup whole roasted almonds (unsalted), toasted*
- 2 cloves garlic
- ⅛-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ cup fresh basil
- ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until the ingredients are finely chopped. If needed, stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Toss pesto rosso with pasta or serve on crostini. Try it in my Red Pesto (Pesto Rosso) Pasta with Eggplant.
- Store pesto rosso in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- I tested this recipe using sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil. If using dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, you may need to use more olive oil to achieve the proper consistency.
- Toast the almonds in a toaster oven for a few minutes to intensify their flavor.