Probably one of the most famous Italian exports, pesto originated in Genoa in the Liguria region of Italy before spreading across the rest of the country, and indeed the world. The recipe utilizes the very best of Ligurian produce which includes excellent quality extra-virgin olive oil, a large quantity of fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan cheese. Although the locally produced Genovese pesto is by far the best of the bunch, it is an easy and satisfying dish to make at home wherever you may be. Oh, and it is also considered by many to be an aphrodisiac.
While you can use a food processer to save time, the most authentic method is to use a pestle and mortar which will give the freshest, most flavoursome result - provided you have the patience and muscles needed to obtain the right consistency. Pesto gets its name from the Italian verb pestare which means to crush or pound, and it is traditionally made by using a wooden pestle and a marble mortar to grind the dry ingredients to a paste to which a drizzle of olive oil is slowly added to create a thick sauce.
Pesto alla Genovese is most commonly served with pasta or gnocchi, but it also makes a great condiment for meat and fish. Below is the most common recipe but in Genoa it was originally also mixed with green beans and potatoes which would be boiled along with the pasta. Another interesting and delicious twist is to substitute the basil leaves with rughetta or rocket which produces a slightly bitter, more peppery version and is particularly tasty served on a warm bruschetta.
Pesto alla Genovese (serves 4 as a pasta sauce)
50g of fresh basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic
100ml extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
A pinch of sea salt
If you using a pestle and mortar:
First crush the garlic and salt then add the basil leaves and grind until it starts to release its oil. Then add the pine nuts, crushing them until they become almost creamy. Mix in the parmesan and then slowly drizzle in the olive oil which mixing until you obtain a thick sauce.
Alternatively mix all the dry ingredients using a food processor or hand blender and then gradually add the olive oil.
If serving with pasta or gnocchi, mix thoroughly with the pesto and serve with a good sprinkling of parmesan.
By Kate Zagorski