Recipe: Pasta with Pesto and Tuna in the Style of Carloforte, Sardinia

Written by Katie Parla on August 1, 2023

Pasta con Pesto alla Carlofortina | Pasta with Pesto, Tuna, and Tomatoes in the Style of Carloforte Sardinia | Katie Parla

Certain brand names become eponymous with the products or foods they represent. Even in this new era of heightened awareness of regional cuisines, the word “pesto” has met a similar fate, becoming synonymous with a specific version: pesto alla genovese, a blend of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and grated cheese. But pesto isn’t defined by a single city’s tradition, and it’s not unique to northwestern Italy. It can be any pasta sauce made by mashing together ingredients in a mortar and pestle (or blending them in a food processor, which is far more common among Italian home cooks these days) and is typically composed of herbs, nuts, cheese, and olive oil. Some pesto, like those found in Trapani, Pantelleria, Linosa, and Carloforte use tomatoes.

Of all the pesto recipes in Food of the Italian Islands, pesto from Carloforte in Sardinia is the one that looks the most like pesto alla genovese, which makes sense because Carloforte on the Isola di San Pietro was founded by fishermen originally from the region of Liguria. The addition of tuna is a nod to the island’s main export. Make it this week and send me your results! 

Makes 2 cups pesto, to serve 4 to 6

For the tuna:
12 ounces fresh tuna, cut into ½-inch pieces
Sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup cherry tomatoes, halved

For the pesto:
1 cup pine nuts
Leaves from 1 bunch basil (about 1 packed cup), plus more for garnish
1 garlic clove, peeled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 recipe fresh trofie or 1 pound dried fusilli

Make the tuna: 
Season the tuna on both sides with salt. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the tuna and cook just until it is firm and opaque, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer the tuna to a plate and set aside. Add the tomatoes to the pan, season with salt, and cook until they soften, 4 to 5 minutes.

Make the pesto: 
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the pine nuts, basil, and garlic and pulse until chunky. With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth.

Transfer the pesto to a large bowl and fold in the cheese, tuna, and tomatoes.

When the water comes to a boil, add salt until it tastes like a seasoned soup. Add the pasta and cook until it floats and loses its raw flavor if it’s fresh, or cook until al dente if it’s dried.

Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the pesto and stir to coat. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking water a spoonful at a time as needed to loosen the sauce. Season with salt to taste.

Serve, garnished with basil.
Get more island pesto recipes in Food of the Italian Islands!

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