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Food & Recipes

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto Is The Easy Secret to More Flavorful Sauces & Sandwiches

You can whip up a batch in 5 minutes — and it keeps for months in the freezer

When we want to add big flavor to pasta dishes, pizzas, sandwiches and more, there’s nothing easier than pesto — in fact, it’s one of our favorite cooking cheats. And while store-bought pesto will do the trick, it’s so easy to prep a fresh batch in 5 minutes using your trusty blender and the results are full of even more flavor. For a tasty twist on traditional basil pesto, we like to swap in sun dried tomatoes. It’s just as versatile as the regular variety, but sun dried tomato pesto’s slightly tart flavor that wakes up any dish. Plus, sun dried tomatoes from a jar are inexpensive and require no chopping before blending into a hearty pesto. Keep reading for tips on making sun dried tomato pesto to keep tucked away in your fridge or freeze for easy weeknight meals that wow without the work.

What is pesto?

Pesto (Italian word for “to pound” or “to crush”) is a sauce traditionally made with fresh basil and other ingredients including oil and garlic. The ingredients are combined to form a chunky sauce that doesn’t need to be cooked or heated before it’s used in savory dishes.

The ingredients in sun dried tomato pesto

This type of pesto is made by blending sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and sometimes garlic. Once a paste forms, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is gradually poured in so it turns into a thick sauce. Then, the pesto is ready to toss into pasta dishes, spread on warm bread, mix into dips, include in meat or fish marinades or spoon over fluffy scrambled eggs.

How this pesto differs from regular pesto

A ramekin of sun dried tomato pesto next to a ramekin of basil pesto
AlexPro9500/Getty

Sun dried tomato pesto stands out from regular pesto as it boasts a sweet, tangy flavor and rich red color. This is thanks to sun dried tomatoes, which are a version of the fruit that’s dehydrated and preserved in jars with oil. In contrast, traditional pesto is made with basil for an intensely herby and green sauce.

Beyond the vibrant flavor and color, you need just an 8.5-oz. jar of sun dried tomatoes from a brand like California Sun Dry (Buy from Walmart, $5.47) to make around 1 cup of pesto. Meanwhile, prepping a cup of basil pesto would require 2 to 3 bunches of fresh leaves — possibly costing you more than $6 if it’s the organic kind. So, for a yummy homemade pesto that won’t break the bank, the sun dried tomato variety is worth trying!

How to make sun dried tomato pesto

To make this pesto at home, follow this recipe from First for Women Test Kitchen Manager Susan Chiusano — it features the option of adding white balsamic vinegar to balance the richness from the tomatoes and EVOO. You also can substitute it with the same amount of apple cider vinegar for a sharp finish that doesn’t affect the pesto’s eye-catching red hue.

Homemade Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

A small bowl filled with sun dried tomato pesto
Allyso/Getty

Ingredients:

  • 1 (8.5 oz.) jar oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, not drained
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil + more if needed
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • ⅛ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper

Directions:

  • Yield: approximately 1 cup
  1. Place sun dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts in blender or food processor. Blend until dry paste forms.
  2. While motor runs, gradually pour in oil until combined. Dribble in more oil if pesto is too thick.
  3. Once sauce reaches desired consistency, add vinegar (if desired), salt and pepper and give a final blend. Use pesto immediately or store for later.

    Note: Store pesto in an airtight container in the fridge for 1 to 2 weeks. Or freeze portions in ice cube trays for up to 3 months and thaw in the fridge overnight when you’re ready to use it.

2 recipes that use sun dried tomato pesto

With your homemade pesto handy, use it to make these two recipes from our test kitchen. It’s no surprise that this sauce will likely become a favorite of yours to spread, toss or mix into everyday dishes!

Sausage Pepita Pizzas

A recipe for Sausage Pepita Pizza using sun dried tomato pesto
Bhofack2/Getty

These meaty pies get a delicious boost, thanks to convenient store-bought pita bread and sun dried tomato pesto.

Ingredients:

  • 3 links Italian sausage 
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 4 pita breads
  • ¼ cup sun dried tomato pesto
  • 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 1 cup drained roasted red peppers, sliced
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • Oregano leaves (optional)

Directions:

  • Active: 20 mins
  • Total time: 55 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings
  1. Heat oven to 400°F. Coat nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add sausage; cook, turning, until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover; cook until no longer pink in centers, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly; slice.
  2. Brush oil over pitas; place on baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, 5 minutes. Dividing evenly, spread pitas with pesto; top with cheese, sausage and peppers. Bake until cheese is melted, 4 to 5 minutes. Top with onion. If desired, garnish with oregano.

Turkey and Fontina Paninis

A recipe for Turkey and Fontina Paninis using sun dried tomato pesto
Boblin/Getty

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbs. sun dried tomato pesto
  • 4 ciabatta rolls, split
  • 2 cups sliced cooked turkey breast 
  • 4 oz. Fontina cheese, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:

  • Active: 20 mins
  • Total time: 25 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings
  1. In bowl, mix mayonnaise and pesto. Spread over cut sides of rolls. Top bottom half of rolls with turkey, cheese, tomatoes and basil, then tops of rolls. 
  2. Heat sandwich press according to manufacturer’s directions. Cook sandwiches until toasted and cheese is melted, 4 to 5 minutes.

Continue reading for more DIY pantry and fridge staples to take your meals up a notch:

Cowboy Butter Is the Easy Secret to Add Big Flavor to Any Dish — Here’s How to Make It

Discover the 3-Ingredient Italian Secret to Flavor-Up Pasta Sauces, Soups & Stews

Bacon Jam Is the Latest Tasty Spread to Try — Here’s How to Make It

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