MATAROCCU, a Sicilian pesto

At this time of year basil is plentiful and many of us enjoy pasta with pesto, so it is time to revisit a post I first wrote in February, 2009 about the Sicilian pesto called Mataroccu (and also Ammogghia in some parts of Sicily).

It is made with ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and almonds.


The name pesto comes from the word for pestle or to pound. The ingredients are pounded in a mortar and the results are much sweeter than ingredients chopped in a food processor – the differences are much the same as the results obtained from chopping herbs by hand and using a food processor fitted with the steel blade (will taste grassy).


Most associate pesto with the traditional combination of basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and good quality grated cheese; pesto originates from the region of Liguria.

Some of us would be amused about the way that Ligurians discuss a genuine pesto – Ligurian pesto can only be made with basil grown in Genoa and close environs (region of Liguria) and that Ligurians generally use as the cheese component, half Parmigiano and half Pecorino sardo – Sardinian (sardo) Pecorino is a much sweeter tasting and less salty than other pecorino. As it should be, Pecorino is made from sheeps’ milk – the word pecora is Italian for sheep.

To dress pasta, also like to make a Sicilian alternative, a pesto from around Trapani – Mataroccu or Ammogghia and sometimes Pesto Pantesco (if it is from the island of Pantelleria, south-west of Sicily).


As expected there are different regional versions of the same pistu (Sicilian word for pesto)  It contains similar ingredients as the Ligurian pesto but also raw, fresh, ripe tomatoes, which at this time of year, like basil, should not be a problem. Some Trapanesi prefer to use blanched almonds instead of the pine nuts.

I never weigh ingredients when I make pesto, but the following amounts should provide a balanced sauce for pasta. As I may have written at other times, in Australia we tend to overdress our pasta – the pesto should coat the pasta (and it is assumed that you will use good quality, durum wheat pasta) but not overpower the taste.

almonds or pine nuts, 1 cup
garlic, 8-10 cloves,
ripe tomatoes,  400g, peeled, seeded, and chopped
basil, 1 ½ cups loose leaves
parsley ½ cup, cut finely (optional)
extra virgin olive oil (your most fragrant), about 1 cup or as much as the pesto absorbs
salt, and red pepper flakes to taste

Pound garlic in a mortar with a little salt to obtain a paste (I like it fine but with some uneven bits).
Add some of the tomato, some herbs and a little oil and pound some more.
Keep on adding a few ingredients at the time, till they have all been used and until you have a homogeneous, smooth sauce.

Because we live in a modern age you may wish to use a food processor.  First grind the nuts. Add the rest of the ingredients gradually and process until creamy.



9 thoughts on “MATAROCCU, a Sicilian pesto”

  1. This is a sensational pesto. Took your advice about use of a mortar and pestle as opposed to a food processor. I used almonds rather than pine nuts (little wonder as pine nuts are currently A$56 kilo) and pounded them in a mortar – creates a lovely moist crumb compared to the drier texture of nuts that have been blitzed in the food processor. The creamy pesto texture came together beautifully with the mortar and pestle. I particularly liked the earthier taste of the almonds compared to the richness of pine nuts. Served it with spaghetinni and some freshly grated grana padano. Delcious and very well received!

  2. Hi Marisa, this is a pretty accurate receipe – well done!

    However, in Marsala (which is my hometown) there is also a fantastic variation of it. The ingredients are similar:

    – Chopped fresh tomatoes
    – Garlic
    – Olive Oil
    – Salt
    – Basil
    – Few drops of lemon juice
    – Water

    It’s a very basic and old receipe. The variation here is that it is not used with past and watered. It is in fact a dip where sop up chopped home made bread. It was the typical breakfast for the grapepickers in Marsala’s vineyards during the harvest time.
    We call it “Matarocco cu pane” (Matarocco and bread)

    I was surprised that by surfing on internet I could not find such a great receipe. It’s not mentioned anywhere. Do you want to be the first one to do some more research on it and pubblish?



  3. Gaspare, how interesting!! Many thanks. I love to receive information like this.
    I have never heard about the lemon juice nor about it being a typical breakfast dish.

    Your comment demonstrates just how diverse Sicilian recipes are – for every recipe there are local variations.

    And by the way Gaspare, what a lovely name you have been given.

  4. I like the look of this one with the addition of tomatoes and pepper, though I never use parsley in a pesto – is this a Sicilian thing? Yes, making it in a mortar and pestle is always much better. ( As with salsa Verde- its cousin)

  5. I have never used a mortar and pestle for salsa verde – I always chop ingredients by hand.
    And also… It is just that the Ligurian pesto is so commonly known that we associate only basil to be part of a pesto. Pesto means pounded – so anything that is made with a mortar and pestle is a pesto.When I make a Ligurian pesto I do not use parsley either.

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