This tomato pesto pasta with roasted tomato pesto, fresh mozzarella, basil, and a garlicky breadcrumbs gremolata is simple to make for a delicious and filling dinner everyone loves.
Have you ever tried Sicilian pesto aka pesto alla Trapanese? It’s basically a typical Genovese basil pesto (I love my classic, easy pesto recipe) but with the addition of cherry tomatoes and almonds instead of pine nuts. The Sicilian tomato pesto version is equally versatile as basil pesto and exceptionally tasty, especially because of an extra (easy) step I take by roasting my tomatoes. Roasting the cherry tomatoes creates an even sweeter, richer, more complex flavor and can be added to anything. My favorite way to eat it is tossed with rigatoni and melty mozzarella pearls topped with lots of fresh basil, lemon zest, and the most addictive, crunchy garlicky toasted panko breadcrumbs. It’s a fresh, easy, vegetarian pasta recipe that’s filling and delicious served straight from the skillet or at room temperature.
What’s in This Pasta with Tomato Pesto
The star of this pasta is the vibrant cherry tomato pesto. Sweet and savory roasted tomatoes, toasted almonds, umami-rich parmesan, and basil mingle together to make a robust sauce.
For the pesto, you’ll need:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Slivered almonds
- Fresh basil
- Kosher salt
- Parmesan cheese
For the pasta, you’ll need:
- Rigatoni (or any other short, tubular pasta)
- Panko breadcrumbs
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Red pepper flakes
- Mozzarella pearls
How to Make Rigatoni with Tomato Pesto
This pasta comes together so effortlessly and fast (especially if you’ve made your tomato pesto ahead of time). Here’s how to make it:
Make the Tomato Pesto
- Roast the cherry tomatoes. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Toss the tomatoes with olive oil (no need to add salt, since you’ll do that later). Roast for 20 minutes, then set aside to cool.
- Toast your almonds. Toasting the nuts makes them so much more flavorful, but keep a watchful eye so they don’t burn. While the tomatoes roast, toast your almonds. Add them to a small skillet over low heat and cook, tossing occasionally (so they toast evenly) for about 5 minutes.
- Blitz everything together. Add the toasted almonds and garlic to a food processor and pulse until finely ground (almost paste-like). Then add the cooled roasted tomatoes, basil, parmesan, and salt, and pulse well to combine, using a spatula on the sides of the food processor (this can be on the chunkier side if you prefer but I like mine on the chunkier side). Drizzle the olive oil while the processor is running through the shoot until the mixture is emulsified and smooth.
Prep the Pasta and Crunchy Topping
Make the garlicky breadcrumbs aka gremolata. I use this same crunchy panko topping in my crab spaghetti and it adds the best flavor and texture. Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat and add the olive oil, Panko, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. Stir well to combine so there are no dry bits of Panko. Cook until the breadcrumbs are evenly golden brown and fragrant.
Cook your pasta. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook the rigatoni according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and add to a large serving bowl.
Assemble the Pasta
Combine the pesto with the pasta (you will have some pesto left over) and toss to combine. Then add the mozzarella pearls and toss again. To serve, top each portion with fresh lemon zest, basil, red pepper flakes, garlicky breadcrumbs.
Tomato Pesto Pasta Variations
I love this pasta exactly as is, but it’s super versatile, and here are some easy swaps or additions you could make:
- Try a different short pasta, such as fusilli, penne, farfalle, gemelli, or orecchiette
- For some veg, chop some kale or spinach, blanch it, and toss with the pasta
- For some protein, add grilled chicken or shrimp (or serve alongside)
- Swap the mozzarella for ricotta, burrata, or shaved Parm
How to Store Pesto
Leftover pesto will keep in a jar with a tightly fit lid and stored in the refrigerator or up to 1 week.
Tip: Add a generous drizzle of olive oil to the top of the pesto. This will form an oily seal so it doesn’t turn dark. Simply stir into the sauce before using.
What to Serve with This Tomato Pesto Pasta
- The BEST Garlic Bread
- Garlic Grilled Shrimp Skewers
- The Best Grilled Chicken Breast
- Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons
- THE BEST Kale Salad with Parmesan and Pine Nuts
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Pasta with Tomato Pesto and Garlicky Breadcrumbs
For the tomato pesto:
- 12 ounces cherry tomatoes , 1 pint
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- 1 garlic clove , peeled and smashed
- 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the pasta
- 1 pound rigatoni (or other short pasta)
- ¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 garlic clove , pressed or grated
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 lemon , for zesting (you will only zest about half)
- 1 cup mozzarella pearls
- 1 cup fresh basil , torn or roughly chopped, for serving
- Make the pesto. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with aluminum foil. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and move them around with your hands to coat the tomatoes. Roast for 20 minutes, then set aside to cool.
- While the tomatoes roast, toast your almonds. Add them to a small skillet over low heat and cook, tossing often (so they toast evenly) for about 5 minutes.
- Add the toasted almonds and the garlic to a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add the cooled roasted tomatoes, basil, Parmesan, and salt. Pulse well to combine, using a spatula on the sides of the food processor (this can be on the chunkier side if you prefer but I like mine pretty smooth). Drizzle the olive oil through the shoot while the processor is running until the mixture is emulsified and smooth.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook the rigatoni according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and add to a large serving bowl.
- While the pasta is cooking, toast your breadcrumbs. Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat then add the olive oil and garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Stir in the Panko, red pepper flakes, and salt, tossing until there are no dry bits of Panko. Cook, stirring frequently until the breadcrumbs are evenly golden brown and fragrant (about 5 minutes), taking care that nothing burns. Remove from heat and grate the lemon zest into the breadcrumb mixture.
- Add 1 ½ cups of the pesto with the pasta and toss well to combine. Add the mozzarella pearls and toss again. Divide between 4 serving bowls and top each portion with more fresh lemon zest, basil, red pepper flakes, and 1 tablespoon of Panko breadcrumbs (or more, if you like).
- Depending on how much breadcrumbs you add to each pasta serving, you may have some left over. If you do, sprinkle over salads or roasted veggies (or save for other pasta dishes).
- Leftover pesto will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
More Tomato Pastas to Try
- Easy Tomato Pasta Sauce
- Simple Roasted Tomato Sauce
- Penne Pasta with Marinara
- Shrimp Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Quick and Authentic Pasta Pomodoro Sauce
- Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Ricotta Cheese
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