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Authentic Pesto Genovese: History and original recipe

Blog Italian tradition Italian traditional meal Pasta Primo Piatto Recipe Ricetta Tradizione Italiana

written by Valentino Addevico


Pesto Genovese is one of the greatest Italian food and wine excellences, we are used to seeing the shelves of supermarkets all over the world with these green jars, but it is fair to know that what we find in the supermarket, unfortunately, is not the real Genovese pesto.

If you check most of the labels well, especially those of the cheapest products, you will find written: "Pesto alla Genovese" or "Pesto Ligure" and not Pesto Genovese, this difference in the name allows us to easily understand that the product we are buying or that we intend to buy is not the authentic pesto Genovese.

The name Pesto Genovese is protected, by virtue of the use of Genovese basil, by the consortium of Genovese Basil, which obtained recognition in 2008 as a Product of Protected Origin, D.O.P.

The consortium has the aim of enhancing the Genovese Basil D.O.P. - ingredient behind the pesto - and protect consumers from any counterfeit products.

The pesto Genovese, therefore, should not be confused with the more commercial "alla Genovese" since the products used are not the same - indeed in the Genovese pesto, we find the use of chemical agents that alter the flavor and heat at the expense of the quality of the product.

Pesto Genovese, as the name suggests, was born in Genoa in Liguria around the 19th century. The first traces of this dish are found in the book "Genovese Cuisine" by Giovanni Battista Ratto even if the use of aromatic herbs, such as basil, has very ancient origins in Liguria.

But as with any large Italian dish, there is a legend to tell that leads to the birth of the dish. It is said that in Prà, in the province of Genoa, and specifically in a convent dedicated to San Basilio there was a friar who collects the aromatic herb, which grew in the heights of Prà, of the basilium (Basil in fact and called in honor of San Basilio) and he combined it with other ingredients, of simple workmanship, which he had received from the faithful and this is how the first basil pesto was born which was perfected over time.

But how do you prepare the pesto Genovese? The Ligurian tradition tells us that to make pesto we need a mortar - a marble/wood container that is used now in the kitchen, but in the past also to make medicines, which grinds the substances using a pestle (perhaps also from here the name pesto). The mortar nowadays is replaced by the blender but you must be very careful in its use, if you blend the basil at too high a speed you risk oxidizing the basil and the pesto would lose color resulting darker.

In addition to the mortar (or blender) what we need here is the list of ingredients to make Genovese pesto at home for 5-6 people. 

This is the original recipe, with quantities, reported on the website of the consortium of Genovese basil D.O.P.

  • 8 bunches or 1 bouquet of PDO Genovese Basil equivalent of about 70 g of leaves
  • 50g of Parmigiano cheese, the 36-month seasoned one is preferred
  • 10 g of Sardinian pecorino, also here the seasoned one of at least 15 months is preferred
  • two spoons of fresh pine nuts, specifically from Pisa
  • 3 cloves of Vessalico garlic
  • a pinch of coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil DOP

 We begin by peeling off the basil leaves and then washing and drying them gently.

Once the basil preparation phase is finished, we move on to the pesto making phase, mince the ingredients in the low-speed whisk, and at the end of the preparation add the crushed garlic to create the right balance between flavors, and finally add the extra oil - virgin pouring it flush. Et voilà, our Genovese pesto is ready, but it's not over here.

As we said earlier, true Genovese pesto requires the use of a mortar and this is why we also report the procedure, for those who have a mortar at home and want to have fun with this traditional tool.

Pesto with mortar sees few very precise stages. We clean (peel) the garlic and put it in the mortar and then pound it until it is reduced to a pulp, immediately after we add the pine nuts and repeat the process. Once the preparation of the garlic and pine nuts is finished, add basil and salt and mash everything until a homogeneous mixture is obtained, finally add the cheeses, which we have previously grated, and mash everything by inserting the oil flush.

Now let's go to see all the possible ideas to give this product the right glory.

The first course to mention is obviously the more classic one, Trofie with Genovese pesto. The trofie is a pasta shape typical of Ligurian cuisine with a long and slender shape, this pasta, in the past, was made by hand (now the process involves the use of specific machinery). In addition to the trofie, which can also be made at home, we have gnocchi with Genovese pesto or Lasagna with Genovese pesto as an alternative. If instead, we want to get away from the first courses and want to go on a more gourmet and new variant we can make a pizza with Genovese pesto, this variant is certainly more complicated than the other three but it is also more intriguing, but perhaps it is better to taste this dish in one pizzeria, don't you think?

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