Spice Up Your Pasta With Trader Joe's Unique Pesto Flavor

Traditional pesto sauce is a slam-dunk meal component for many basil devotees –– but what if that pesto is red and has little, if any, basil in the mix? It definitely calls for a reconsideration of what qualifies as pesto versus other Italian-born sauces and spreads. Fortunately, Trader Joe's did the prodding and pesto prying, emerging with its own take on an old-time saucy favorite. 

The name gives away its defining ingredients: Organic Roasted Pepper and Almond Pesto Sauce. Before recoiling in pesto-purist indignation or an assumption that peppers mean hot and spicy, keep an open mind. You just might be finding a new go-to for quick, flavorful pasta dishes –– sans the sizzle. 

The pivotal roasted red peppers in this TJ's alternative pesto sauce rate practically zero in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), far from the similarly colored capsicum, cayenne, cherry, and infamous Carolina reaper peppers used to fire up many a tastebud. Peppers in Trader Joe's pesto are instead the humble red bell peppers prevalent in many home-kitchen recipes. Within the bell pepper clan, the red ones tend to be sweeter, more flavorful, and denser in nutrients because they're left on the vine longer than their less-ripe green siblings. That intense rich flavor, brought out even more during the roasting process, is what to expect from this type of pesto.

Aside from the roasted red bells, there's a lot more happening inside that 9.87-ounce jar of upscaled Trader Joe's pesto sauce. There's even a bit of the green stuff for traditional pesto fans. 

What's in that jar of TJs roasted bell pepper pesto

Considering the Middle-Ages etymology of the word "pesto," meaning to pound or crush, don't expect large chunks of peppers when spreading Trader Joe's red pepper pesto over garlic toast, pizza, or mixing into a steaming bowl of fusilli, bucatini, or capellini pasta. Though pesto is characteristically thick, the ingredients are well blended, aided by a generous base of cooking oil. In this case, the TJs pesto guru uses organic extra-virgin oil along with some organic sunflower oil. Sharing the label name with the roasted red peppers are almonds, also organic, which add some texture and nutty flavor to the sauce. That's not really a surprise given the pine-nut flavors in a traditional basil-based pesto sauce. 

Nuts aren't the only similarity between the two TJs pesto sauces. Though not enough to influence color, there's actually some green basil tucked inside the company's red-pepper pesto recipe, along with a parade of organics: onions, garlic, PDO pecorino Romano cheese for some cheesy flair, and spices such as marjoram and paprika. Touches of organic cane sugar and apple cider vinegar bring in some sweet and tart influences. 

It's not the first time around the pepper block for Trader Joe's. Other red roasted renditions appear in its tomato and roasted red pepper soup as well as in jars of "fire roasted red peppers" to use in any dish you dream up. 

Red pepper pesto renditions and uses

Trader Joe's is a leader in the experimental grocery world, constantly introducing new products and rotating them based on availability and popularity. But they do have some company when it comes to roasted red pepper pesto sauce. Food suppliers such as Freak Flag and Thrive Market offer their own renditions, while plenty of home-kitchen chefs offer tips and ideas for making and using this colorful sauce. Some chefs suggest trying pistachios, pecans, or walnuts instead of almonds as in the TJs version. You can also experiment with adding varying herbs, spices, or greens such as cilantro, mint, rosemary, or kale. All these twists and takes on red pepper pesto will infuse subtle or wildly pronounced flavors, which is part of the gastro fun. 

Whether making your own or popping open a jar of TJ's roasted red pepper and almonds pesto sauce, the way you use it is limited only by your imagination (or that of your family and friends.) Pasta is a given, but many chefs smooth it over flatbread pizzas or slide it into a pita or layered sandwich. Try adding a spoonful of the sauce into bruschetta, mixing it with a cold pasta salad, or tossing it into vegetables, rice, or baked potatoes. Bland fish or chicken dishes may perk right up with a dollop of earthy red pepper pesto. 

Whichever type of pesto becomes your go-to pantry staple, it's worth putting a roasted red pepper one in the mix.