Red Chilli Pesto | Pesto Rosso with Chilli (so versatile in the kitchen!)

Red Chilli Pesto recipe. Essentially, this is the traditional Italian Pesto Rosso with red chillies! Make it hot, or be a wuss, and keep it mild! xx
Red Chilli Pesto
Red Chilli Pesto

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Red Chilli Pesto

Red Chilli Pesto is one of those must have staples for me. It’s saved me on many a day when I’ve been a bit stuck for lunch, not just for ideas, but also for time. Chilli pesto, like your regular pesto, is such a versatile ingredient or sauce, that it offers many, many possibilities in conjuring up a meal.

You can buy chilli pesto or pesto rosso (without chilli) pretty easily in jars, sitting next to your regular old pesto, but, what do I always say? Yep, nothing beats homemade! You can make it heavy on the cheese, light on the garlic, heavy on the chilli, light on the – you get the idea.

Our chilli pesto here is based on the Italian Pesto Rosso. Rosso means red in Italian, and the colour comes from the tomatoes in the paste. Some people use fresh tomatoes to make their pesto rosso, while others use sundried tomatoes. My preference is definitely for the latter or a mix of the two, as I just love the deep, full on flavour of sundried tomatoes and sundried tomato paste.

Spaghetti with Chilli Pesto
Spaghetti with Chilli Pesto

How to use Red Chilli Pesto

In so many different ways! And you would use it in exactly the same way that you would use basil pesto.

  • Naturally, it’s great with pasta, of whatever shape or form, like our plate of spaghetti above
  • It is amazing as a sandwich spread
  • You will just love it to flavour omelette or frittata
  • It makes a great dip too, next time you need one

And, if you’ve been following me a while, you’ll know that I have a thing for pesto, and make so many different recipes with it. Take a look at the gallery below, this red chilli pesto can be used in every single one of the recipes below, instead of regular basil pesto:

And, it is my favourite sauce to serve Gnudi or Malfatti with. Gnudi or malfatti, as they are also known, are a kind of gnocchi. Gnudi and malfatti are little balls or rolls of spinach and cheese, cooked in boiling water, just like pasta.

Think spinach and ricotta ravioli, but only the filling, with no pasta dough covering it. Click here or on the image below for the post and recipe.

Gnudi in Chilli Pesto
Gnudi in Chilli Pesto

Making Chilli Pesto at Home

It’s a super easy process, takes no more than 10-15 minutes, made in a food chopper. Naturally, it is up to you if you want to use a pestle and mortar, the traditional way, but finely chop the sundried tomatoes first, and cut up the chillies.

If you look at the recipe here, I’ve stuck pretty much to the traditional basil pesto theme with the nuts, cheese and herbs.

So let’s take a look at the ingredients that make up our Chilli Pesto: 

Red Chillies

This is a red chilli pesto, so for a start, we want red chillies. Want to make a green chilli pesto? Don’t tell any Italians and add some green chillies in the regular pesto recipe!

The type and number of red chillies you use will determine how hot your chilli pesto is, and to some extent, how red it is. As you can see from the image above, I used some birds eye type chillies. These were a Thai variety that we grew last year. I picked all of them in late November, froze some, and these ones have been left in a bowl in my cool utility room since. They’ve kept very well, haven’t they?

I also added some mild red jalapeños, also homegrown, and amazingly, still bearing fruit in our cold-in-the-night conservatory. The jalapeños lend colour and heighten the fruity flavour of the pesto.

If you don’t want a spicy chilli pesto, use mild red chillies, even a red capsicum (bell pepper), if you must, for flavour and colour. Although, in my opinion, if you’re going to make a chilli pesto, make it hot. Why bother, otherwise? Might as well just make pesto rosso. Right? 

Red Chilli Pesto

Nuts in Chilli Pesto

I love pine nuts, I could eat a whole bowl in 5 minutes. And not stop. So I use pine nuts here. You can use almonds if you like, maybe cashew nuts, but go light on the cashews as they are very creamy.

Herbs in Chilli Pesto

Basil’s traditional, flat leaf parsley is a popular alternative. You can use curly parsley too, if you can’t get the flat leaf variety. Sometimes, I even use half a handful of each. Variety being the spice of life and all that.

Tomatoes in Chilli Pesto

As mentioned, I love using sundried tomatoes. When I first made chilli pesto, I used only sundried tomatoes, and it was a super delicious recipe.

However, over the years, I’ve occasionally added a couple of fresh tomatoes to the mix, and have found that they add just that little bit of fresh and light notes to the pesto, making it more superior to the sundried one. So, that’s the recipe I give you here, the way I make it these days.

You could blanch and peel the tomatoes first, if you like, if you’re not a fan of tomato skin bits! It’s only an additional 3-5 minutes of work.

This is how to blanch and peel tomatoes:

  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to boil.
  2. With a sharp knife, score an X or a + on one end of your tomato. When the water is boiling, drop the 2 fresh tomatoes in and blanch them for 45 seconds.
  3. Fish the tomatoes out and drop them into your bowl of cold water. As the tomatoes cool down, the skin will start to curl.
  4. Just peel the skin off and use the tomatoes.

How long will Homemade Red Chilli Pesto Keep?

In an unsterilised container, I would say, no more than 3 days. In sterilised ones, the pesto will last a minimum of 7 days, covered in a layer of oil.

Sterilising Jars for Pesto

  1. Turn the oven on to a cool 130˚C/250˚F/Gas Mark ½.
  2. Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water.
  3. Place the jars and lids upside down in the oven and leave them to dry, with the door closed for 15 minutes.
  4. Leave the jars and lids in there, bring them out only when you are ready to fill. Be careful, as they’ll be hot.

Let get grinding, pounding or chopping, whatever your preference is!

If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Thank you! 

And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor, and hashtag it #linsfood

Lin xx

More Chilli Recipes

Red Chilli Pesto | Pesto Rosso with Chilli

Red Chilli Pesto recipe. Essentially, this is the traditional Italian Pesto Rosso with red chillies! Make it hot, or be a wuss, and keep it mild! xx
5 from 65 votes
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Course: Sauces
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: italian, pesto
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 6 (Serves 4-6)
Calories: 270kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor


  • 2 fresh tomatoes
  • 6 sundried tomatoes in oil drained
  • 5 chillies of your choice
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 30 g parmesan
  • 30 g pine nuts
  • small handful fresh basil leaves
  • 125 ml EV olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of white sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper


  • Place everything in a chopper and blitz to your heart’s content.
  • Scrape down the sides after a few seconds, and stop when you are happy with the consistency and the smoothness. I like to bite into bits of pine nuts, tomatoes and basil, so leave it semi coarse, but it’s up to you.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning. Be generous with the freshly ground black pepper. Also, it may taste salty to you but it needs to be salty. In fact, the 1/2 tsp of salt is probably not enough if you are going to stir it through pasta. You will have to add more salt when actually using this red chilli pesto in another recipe.
  • Store in a sterilised container, covered in a layer of extra virgin olive oil for about 1 week. It will definitely last a week. Use as described above, as you would basil pesto.


Nutrition is based on 6 servings.


Calories: 270kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 3mg | Sodium: 289mg | Potassium: 295mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 776IU | Vitamin C: 63mg | Calcium: 70mg | Iron: 1mg
Did you make this recipe?Mention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!
Made it? Upload your photosMention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!

21 thoughts on “Red Chilli Pesto | Pesto Rosso with Chilli (so versatile in the kitchen!)”

  1. Lin,
    I love following your posts since they bring so much of newness in cuisines for me… I am totally in love with this Chili Pesto and plan to give it a try soon!! Since I am all about a CHILI GIRL, this is a yayyyyy to me.. I am eyeing your spinach and cheese balls also!!

  2. Gareth Watkins

    Cool, I love all things chilli. Was on your chilli page and saw this, had to check it out. Making this right now for lunch today. Thanks.

      1. Gareth Watkins

        Oh Lin, what can I say? I’ve had these things from jars before but this recipe of yours is just RIGHT! The perfect amount of depth, freshness, everything! I didn’t change a single thing and really loved it. Had mates around for lunch and they all want to marry you! Thank you darling! I’m a loyal subscriber now! And so are a couple of my mates, although I think they only did it because they are in love!

  3. Sebastian March

    Great, I saw your gnudi post last week, and told myself to send you a message about this recipe, as I desperately want it! I know I can find them online, but I love your recipes because you give a reason for everything you do! Other food bloggers only give the recipes, because they’ve just copied, changed a bit and don’t really understand! So I thank you for this recipe.

  4. Matthew Watson

    Great stuff, always wanted to try my hand at this, thank you, have printed the recipe.

  5. Gabriella Conti

    Wonderful, wonderful! Just came from your gnudi post, and I think I will definitely make this to go with them. But yes, with mild red chillies! Grazie!

  6. Wonderful recipe, I can’t live without some spice in my food. I’ve often seen this in jars, and have always wanted to try one. Looking at your recipe, I might as well make it myself. It sure will be better than the shop bought, as you say! Thanks Lin!

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