A few weeks ago I posted a traditional pesto recipe and spent some time ruminating on the bastardisation of recipes. This week, I’m going to continue the pesto theme with a recipe for a delicious sun dried tomato pesto, or pesto rosso. I would love to say this is a traditional Italian recipe adhering to the specific ingredients handed down through generations by all Italian chefs, however I’m not sure that’s not entirely possible. Whilst the traditional, green basil pesto has a fairly consistent set of ingredients that are in attendance in all recipes, pesto rosso seems to be a little bit more vague and open to the whimsical tastes of the creator. There are wild variations in content and ingredients from recipe to recipe, and as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is undoubtedly applicable to food as well, leaving a lot of room for adaptations.
Therefore, Sun dried tomato pesto is more of an interpretation, rather than a specific recipe made to traditional standards. There are, nonetheless a few things which to my mind are fundamental constituents, the first of which is sun dried tomatoes, the very essence of what we’re trying to create here. I also believe basil, oil and garlic should always be in attendance and with just those and the tomatoes we would have a damn nice sauce, so from thereon, it’s a bit more vague. The use of cheese is pretty common, but I like to leave it out where possible, adding it at the plate instead and leaving the sauce dairy free. Olives and pine nuts play very important support roles and I also vote them in, opting for the decisive flavour of Kalamata olives and a sprinkling of pine nuts. Lastly, I dust in a part teaspoon of chilli flakes because I love chilli, especially when you hit that delicate balance of flavour and heat where you barely realise it’s there until halfway through the meal and you feel a gentle mouth warmth.
When all brought together you will find a thick, intensely rich pesto free of dairy and full of flavour. It’s also simplicity defined to make and is great to freeze, a perfect recipe to make a large batch, I always have some portion bags of it hibernating in the freezer ready to come out when required. Pesto is extremely versatile, there are multitudinous ways of using it, but my favourite two options are on pasta, then piled with grated pecorino or simply loaded onto a halved avocado as a starter. Both of these mirror the ease of producing the pesto, allowing you to make a lip-smacking starter or main course in just a few minutes.
Having eaten all of the food in the photos last night for dinner, I find myself craving yet more of it for lunch. Given there’s a bowl of leftover pesto rosso in the fridge, the reality is that I may be sampling another pile of it before you can say ‘pesto rosso’…
Sun dried tomato pesto (pesto rosso)
By Gavin Wren
Uses a food processor
185g (drained weight) sun dried tomatoes in oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
80g pitted Kalamata olives
25g pine nuts
6 tablespoons oil (use the oil from the sun dried tomato jar, then add olive oil if more is needed)
25g basil leaves
0.25 teaspoon chilli flakes