Red Pesto: Where’s the Basil?


This is a simple, light dish, perfect for entertaining. It takes less than an hour to make.

The spaghetti is topped with an untraditional pesto made with sun-dried tomatoes, salt-cured black olives, hot pepper flakes and a small amount of olive oil. It comes from Patricia Wells’ new book, “Trattoria” (William Morrow).

With the pasta, you might serve a salad of mixed greens in balsamic dressing and a loaf of Italian bread. As an appetizer, serve bruschetta (grilled toasts, topped with slices of roasted sweet red peppers); sliced, peeled oranges accompanied by biscotti and cups of espresso could end the evening.



3 tablespoons sea salt

1 pound dried Italian spaghetti

10 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil and drained

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper flakes

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

20 salt-cured pitted black olives such as Italian Gaeta, French Nyons or Kalamata

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves, or 2/3 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, snipped with scissors

1/2 cup freshly grated Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, optional

Place 6 quarts water in large pan and bring to rolling boil over high heat. As water is heating, warm large serving bowl over pan.

At same time, process tomatoes, garlic, hot pepper flakes, olive oil, olives, thyme and rosemary in food processor until sauce is lightly emulsified but still quite coarse and almost chunky. Do not overprocess. (Sauce can be refrigerated in jar up to 1 month. If you do so, first cover pesto with film of olive oil. Drain off olive oil and heat before serving.)

When water is boiling, add salt and spaghetti, stirring to prevent pasta from sticking. Cook according to package directions until tender but firm to bite. Carefully drain pasta, leaving few drops water clinging so sauce will adhere.

Add pasta to warmed bowl. Toss with tomato-olive mixture. Add parsley and toss again. Transfer to warmed shallow bowls and pass cheese at table. Makes 6 servings.