Mint Pesto: Sicilian-Style

This vegan version of Pesto alla Siciliana is a pesto for fall – hearty, chunky, and filling with a touch of heat to warm you up on a crisp evening.
By Stephanie Kirkos

Sicilian pesto - with tomatoes

Little history lesson (because I love history): Basil pesto, otherwise known as Pesto alla Genovese, hails from Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region located on the northwest coast of Italy. The name “pesto” itself derives from the Italian verb pestare, meaning “to pound,” as the sauce is traditionally made with mortar and pestle instead of a food processor or blender. While we use pesto on just about everything today, the original uses were simple and few – to flavor pasta and garnish soups. That’s it. (For a really interesting first-hand account of the Genoa pesto tradition, check out Glorious Pesto in Saveur. I personally think it should be made into a documentary – or a feel-good culinary-themed cinematic adventure.)

I respect, admire, and find food traditions fascinating. On one hand, they are an origin story, the foundation of an enduring narrative on the evolution of food and diet. On the other hand, food traditions also fuel creativity, providing a base structure from which to innovate and experiment with new techniques and flavors. This recipe for Sicilian Mint Pesto was created by drawing from tradition, embracing regional differences, and adding my own, vegan twist.

While I didn’t use mortar and pestle, I did draw from the traditional elements of pesto (minus the cheese): Herbs, garlic, nuts, olive oil, and salt.

My vegan version of Pesto alla Siciliana is pesto for fall – hearty, chunky, and filling with a touch of heat to warm you up on a crisp evening. The pesto is so thick that I eat it as a snack with crackers, scooping it up like a dip. My husband likes to add cold spoonfuls on top of his salads. While I haven’t tried it yet, I imagine it would make a flavorful taco garnish. Then there’s always the trusted, pasta route. The options, while non-traditional, are quite endless.

Notes on this recipe –

While I omitted cheese in this vegan version, you can add cheese if you prefer. If so, I recommend stirring in three tablespoons of Parmesan to the sauce after pouring the minced contents from the food processor/blender into a bowl.

If you are someone who doesn’t care for much heat in dishes, back off the crushed red pepper flakes to a half of a teaspoon.

I added walnuts instead of almonds for a more earthy flavor, but you can certainly go the more traditional route and use almonds if you prefer.

Mint Pesto: Sicilian-Style
 
Notes on this recipe - While I omitted cheese in this vegan version, you can add cheese if you prefer. If so, I recommend stirring in three tablespoons of Parmesan to the sauce after pouring the minced contents from the food processor/blender into a bowl. If you are someone who doesn’t care for much heat in dishes, back off the crushed red pepper flakes to a half of a teaspoon. I added walnuts instead of almonds for a more earthy flavor, but you can certainly go the more traditional route and use almonds if you prefer. Adapted from Cuisine at Home Magazine (Aug 2012)
Author:
Recipe Type: Condiment, Side
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 5 medium roma tomatoes, deseeded
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves, packed
  • ½ cup walnut halves
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt, to taste
Instructions
  1. Deseed the Roma tomatoes by slicing in half along the equator. Take one of the halves in your hand and hover over a bowl. Squeeze the tomato gently so that the seeds and gooey "insides" fall into the bowl. Repeat for all the tomatoes. Quarter the halves and load into a food processor.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor. Pulse until well combined.
  3. Cover and refridgerate for 2 hours, or overnight, before serving. Yields approximately 2 cups.
 

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