Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Penne

published May 1, 2023
Pantry Pasta
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Penne Recipe

This bold pesto pasta gets its magic from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil.

Serves4

Prep10 minutes to 15 minutes

Cook20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Pasta with sun-dried tomato pesto topped with cheese in a bowl.
Credit: Laura Rege

Sun-dried tomatoes are decidedly ‘90s, along with pizza bagels and Cosmopolitans. Nowadays, the ’90s are trending, so I am declaring that it’s time for my favorite pantry staple to make a much-deserved comeback. 

Here, sun-dried tomatoes are celebrated in a cheesy pesto that’s the perfect pairing for al dente penne pasta. Besides tossing it with pasta, this pesto can do many, many things.

Credit: Laura Rege

I Never Stopped Loving Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I’ve been keeping these sweet treasures stocked in my pantry for years because, despite their recent lack of popularity, they’re flavor-packed gems that are endlessly useful in the kitchen. The ones that are not packed in oil can be rehydrated in water and both the plump sun-dried tomatoes and its umami-rich broth can be used in a cozy risotto. Meanwhile, marinated sun-dried tomatoes and their flavorful oil can be used in easy sheet pan dinners, where the oil helps crisp up vegetables or even gnocchi.

In this recipe, it’s the oil-packed variety that forms the base of this dead-simple pesto rosso, or red pesto. This Sicilian twist on the classic basil pesto is just as versatile — and you don’t have to wait for the basil in your garden to flourish either. Using the herby oil that sun-dried tomatoes are packed in means you don’t have to use additional oil, which is a flavorful no-waste trick. Aside from the usual pesto ingredients like toasted nuts, garlic, and cheese, a bit of parsley adds freshness, and a touch of balsamic vinegar rounds out its sweet-salty savoriness.

Pesto rosso is a bold pantry sauce for pasta, but like all pesto, that’s just the start. Spread it on a sandwich or burger, dollop it onto grilled fish or chicken, fold it into scrambled eggs, use it instead of pizza sauce, and more.

Pantry Pasta is Sheela Prakash‘s monthly column of easy, accessible pasta recipes. You’ll discover a new, inspired recipe each month that takes advantage of grocery staples and highlights one pantry hero. Follow along and grab all the recipes here.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Penne Recipe

This bold pesto pasta gets its magic from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil.

Prep time 10 minutes to 15 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup

    walnut halves or pieces

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup firmly packed freshly grated or 1/3 cup store-bought grated), plus more for serving

  • 1/2 medium bunch

    fresh parsley

  • 1 clove

    garlic

  • 1 (8.5-ounce) jar

    sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    balsamic vinegar

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 pound

    dried penne pasta

  • Red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place 1/4 cup walnut halves or pieces into a small skillet. Place over medium heat. Stir, toss, and shake the nuts a few times as the skillet heats up and continue to do so until the nuts are golden-brown and toasted, 4 to 7 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.

  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, make the pesto.

  3. Finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 packed cup) or measure out 1/3 cup store-bought grated. Pick the leaves and tender stems from 1/2 medium bunch fresh parsley until you have 1/2 packed cup.

  4. Smash and peel 1 garlic clove. Add the garlic to the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, about 6 pulses. Add the Parmesan, parsley, 1 (8.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes with their oil, 1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt to the food processor. Pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until a coarse paste forms, 20 to 25 pulses. (Makes 1 1/4 cups pesto.)

  5. Add 1 pound dried penne pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente, 10 to 11 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta.

  6. Return the pasta to the now-empty pot. Off the heat, add the sun-dried tomato pesto and toss until the pasta is evenly coated, adding 1 tablespoon of pasta water at a time as needed if the pasta seems dry . Serve topped with more grated Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Make Ahead: The sun-dried tomato pesto can be made up to 1 week in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container. Alternatively, freeze for up to to 3 months. Let thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.