Pasta cù l’agghia (al pesto trapanese) (Pasta with garlic, almond and tomato pesto from Trapani, Sicily)

“Pesto alla trapanese” is a vibrant, intensely garlicky Sicilian pasta sauce made with almonds, tomatoes, garlic and basil – it is lesser know that its Ligurian basil and pine-nuts cousin, but equally glorious. It comes from Trapani, on the west coast of the island ,and it is generally eaten with busiate, a spiral-shaped, chewy, durum-wheat, egg-less fresh pasta (here, if you want to learn how to make it). Pasta con il pesto alla trapanese is also known as pasta cù l’agghia, pasta with garlic (in dialect): if you are after a delicate sauce, this is not for you. Researching for this recipe, I have realized there are endless variations: with more or less tomatoes (fresh or even sun-dried ones), with untoasted or toasted almonds, with or without pecorino cheese, with basil or with mint ecc…What never changes is the bold nature of this sauce.
I make it in my mortar, just because I love it but I am no purist and I am certain it is equally good if made in the food processor. In my version,the almonds are un-toasted but they have been plumped up in cold water: their milkiness softens the punch the garlic delivers; I use baby plum tomatoes, unskinned and chopped up with my mezzaluna, mainly because they are intensely sweet and with a nice firm texture at the moment; for four people I have used two fat cloves of young and juicy garlic, but many sources reccomend one should use one clove per person plus one.. for the teapot!
I have paired the pesto with fusilli and with bucatini and I have used both pecorino cheese and toasted breadcrumbs atop the dish – I cannot decide which version I prefer.

Pesto alla trapanese
4 to 6 portions
50 g whole, un-skinned almonds, soaked overnight in cold water, drained, blanched and skinned
2 cloves of peeled garlic
a generous handful of basil leaves
300-500 g baby plum tomatoes, chopped up with a mezzaluna
extra virgin olive oil
Pecorino cheese or toasted bread crumbs to serve the pasta

Start by pounding the garlic with a little salt. Add the almonds and pound them too.
Add the basil leaves and pound everything to a coarse paste, adding some olive oil to lubrificate and amalgamate everything; I have kept my pesto trapanese rather chunky, but it is a matter of taste – generally it is finer.
Add the tomatoes, stir well and add extra oil to taste.

Dress the pasta with the sauce, passing round either pecorino cheese or toasted breadcrumbs.



5 thoughts on “Pasta cù l’agghia (al pesto trapanese) (Pasta with garlic, almond and tomato pesto from Trapani, Sicily)

  1. that’s why I use the mortar and pestle: it is quiet! 🙂
    I cannot honestly say I noticed a difference between pesto made in the blender (kept in the freezer) and the one made by hand..serious eats made a comparison, if u r interested…

    to my palate: one can make an excellent pesto also in a blender.

    If u read Italian (and I think u do): check this very good scientific explanation about pesto here:

    it really debunks many mythis

    dario bressanini is an esteemed food scientist in Italy

    (by the way: never say never, but I would say that the majority of Italian eating places, restaurants and delis, make pesto by machine)

    here is the official Italian site about pesto, that shows the correct mortar and pestle technique (I must buy a wooden pestle: my marble one is perhaps too heavy for pesto making)



  2. I agree, I like this pesto just as much as its more famous Genovese cousin—when I can find tomatoes with real flavor. Over here that’s usually grape or cherry tomatoes, although around this time of year one can sometimes find really good plum tomatoes, as well.

    One of these days I’ll try my hand at making busiati… I’m usually pretty hopeless with tasks that require small motor skills!


  3. I love pesto alla Trapanese, but have to make it with shallot (which I par-cook to soften) instead of garlic due to my allergy. I will never know what the real pesto tastes like but my version is wonderful! I love that you use your mortar and pestle for this recipe. I once made pesto alla Genovese in my mortar and pestle and it actually felt different on my tongue – creamier… probably my imagination but it was a fun experiment.


    1. ciao david… I suspect your version is not that far… more gentle perhaps
      + mortar and pestle: I have been re-reading Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray and I was inspired to usy my ancient mortar more often.. now I want to buy a wood one; I m off to Lucca in early september and I will look out for one.
      ps I don’t know if u know Patience Gray… here is a beautiful article about her and her partner
      ps: if u don t know her.. get a copy of Honey from a Weed straight away! 🙂


      1. I don’t know her and will be ordering the book as soon as I finish this comment! You actually inspired me to use my mortar and pestle (marble and actually from Lucca!) this past week. Once to make a sauce, and the other time to crush nuts and biscuits for a crust. It felt good. It was quiet. I felt mor connected to the food. Interesting. Pesto alla Trapanese this weekend! A presto, d


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