Pesto Rosso (red pesto) is a great recipe even though it might be the lesser known brother of Pesto Genovese (green pesto) named after the Italian city of Genoa. It’s easy, quick to prepare and no cooking is involved.
Originally prepared in a mortar and pestle, this is where the name of this Italian classic comes from. I think making pesto by crushing all ingredients using a pestle and mortar is a great cooking experience and you should do it at least once.
For convenience, however, I tend to use a food processor in this recipe which works fine as well. There are different variations of Pesto Rosso, some use fresh cherry tomatoes, some sun-dried tomatoes. It really depends on the region and also what people like most.
I use semi-dried tomatoes in my Pesto Rosso as I like their sweetness compared to fresh tomatoes but I also want the freshness and fruity flavor. So, semi-dried is right for me, but you can make a great Pesto Rosso with fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes. If it’s the season you can make your own semi-dried tomatoes in the oven, but I find the canned quality really quite good.
Of course, Pesto Rosso is a sauce and you will need to serve it with pasta to turn it into a meal.
For 4 generous portions or 6 normal portions you will need
- 200 g semi-dried tomatoes (if you use canned ones let them drain of excess oil)
- 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped before putting it in the food processor
- 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (take one from Modena, the quality pays off)
- 50 g Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) or Grana Padano or Pecorino
- 100 g almonds (dried pumpkin seeds are nice, too)
- a small handful of fresh basil leaves (5-7)
- a pinch of sea salt or fleur de sel (the parmesan cheese is already salty)
- ¼ teaspoon of coarse black pepper (I use Tellicherry black pepper)
- 1 pinch of chili or cayenne
- 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
For the pasta you should could about 100g of dried pasta per person, 125g for a generous portion.
This list of ingredients might sound rather expensive, and yes, pesto is not exactly what I would call cooking on a budget. But as it is such a simple and fresh dish the quality of the ingredients you use will really pay off in the taste. It’s just a different kind of dish than slow cooked ragouts for instance where you can easily use some cheaper cuts of meat and it will taste great. So buy authentic balsamic vinegar from Modena, use good quality extra virgin olive oil and a piece of real parmesan cheese.
The preparation itself is very simple. Place all ingredients in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Start with your hard ingredients, the nuts or seeds, the cheese and then your softer ones, the tomatoes, garlic, basil. Add your oil and balsamic vinegar and spices.
You still want to see the different ingredients, you don’t want to get one uniform paste.
Your tastebuds will be thankful, it’s much more exciting to taste the sweet and fresh tomatoes, the parmesan cheese, the nuts etc individually.
Tip: To help you find and distinguish the authentic ingredients many European products are labeled as “Protected Geographical Indication” by the European Union. If you see the seal on a product, you know it is the real deal. In the case of balsamic vinegar this is especially important as the name and the recipe was not protected which means that every producer around the globe can create her own version of balsamic vinegar. What you need to look for is Aceto Balsamico de Modena as this is the only one that comes from the region and is made traditionally using local products. It’s really worth it.
If you make a bigger portion of pesto, you can easily store it in an airtight jar for a couple of days or even weeks in the fridge. Just make sure to cover the pesto with olive oil to avoid air getting to it which will turn the basilic grey.