Pesto is one of the most famous sauces in the world. It is traditionally made with garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, basil leaves, and hard cheese, all blended with olive oil. It originated in Italy and especially in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria. Therefore, it is also known as Pesto alla Genovese (Genoese Pesto in English).
THE HISTORY OF PESTO
According to Wikipedia, “the name pesto is the past participle of the Genoese verb pestâ (Italian: pestare), which means “to pound,” “to crush,” in reference to the original method of preparation. According to tradition, the ingredients are “crushed” or ground in a marble mortar through a circular motion of a wooden pestle.”
Pesto, according to historians, is considered to have originated in ancient times, specifically in ancient Rome. The ancient Romans used to make a sauce called “moretum”, which was prepared using garlic, salt, cheese, herbs, olive oil, and vinegar (and sometimes pine nuts). All the ingredients were crushed and mixed together. Moretum is mentioned in several Roman texts and survived as a popular traditional dish in the region of Liguria during the Middle Ages.
PESTO ALLA GENOVESE
The recipe for moretum that had survived in Liguria was transformed into its modern version by adding basil as the main ingredient. This transformation was first documented in the mid-19th century, when gastronomist Giovanni Battista Ratto published his book La Cuciniera Genovese in 1863. Basil was an ingredient that came to Italy from India and became very popular in the region of Liguria. The recipe has several variations, and some recipes are kept a family secret and passed down from generation to generation. The Ligurian families consider pesto one of the things that determine their identity, and they cherish the preparation of pesto with genuine love.
But Genoese are also proud of their basil. The name “Basilico Genovese” is protected by the European Union with the Denominazione di Origine Protetta certification. Genoese basil is produced in the provinces of Genoa, Savona, and Imperia. It is a variation of the sweet basil exclusively cultivated in these regions.
The most common recipe for pesto Genovese is the following: In a bowl, you put garlic, pine nuts, basil leaves, and salt and crush them until they have the consistency of cream. Then you add the cheese (which is usually a mix of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino) and finally the olive oil. Pesto is commonly served on pasta. In Liguria, traditionally, they use “mandilli de sæa” (“silk handkerchiefs” in the Genoese dialect), trofie (a short, thin, twisted pasta) or trenette (a type of narrow, flat, dried pasta). In most cases, potatoes and string beans are also added to the dish and boiled in the same pot as the pasta.
Pesto alla Genovese
A national treasure
The best pesto in the world
4 places for THE BEST PESTO
Two unique restaurants for the best pesto in the world:
Cavour Modo 21 (Genoa): Cavour Modo 21 (it started as Cavour 21 and in 2016 was renamed Modo 21) is a small trattoria that serves authentic Ligurian cuisine. The specialty here is pesto, which is made according to the family recipe of one of the founders. It is a recipe that won the 2014 World Pesto al Mortaio Championship. From the moment it opened, the restaurant became extremely popular among the citizens and visitors of the city. As a result, the trattoria has ranked highly on many websites during the past four years. The line waiting to be served is usually long, but you can reserve a table ahead of time by following the instructions on the restaurant’s website. (Piazza Cavour 21, 16128, Genova)
La Trattoria (Rapallo): La Trattoria in the centre of Rapallo is an excellent opportunity outside of Genoa to try Ligurian cuisine. Among the traditional dishes served here, the mouthwatering pesto made to perfection stands out. It is made the authentic way with pasta, potatoes, and beans. La Trattoria is an excellent proposal for food. During the summer months, the experience is combined with tables next to the sea in front of the Rapallo castle. (Via Montebello 11, 16035, Rapallo)
Two alternative suggestions for tasting excellent pesto:
Pestobene Genova (Genoa): In the historical centre of Genoa, this small deli produces its own pesto with excellent results. Here you can order pesto with focaccia or pasta (the types of which change regularly) and enjoy them as you stroll through the city’s alleys. You can also buy the pesto sauce in a jar to enjoy at home and use it in your own recipes. (Via S. Pietro della Porta 1/r, 16123, Genova)
Focaccia e Dintorni (Genoa): Genoa, however, apart from its pesto, is also proud of its focaccia tradition. In no other part of Italy will you find a greater variety and better quality of focaccia (known as focaccia Genovese). Therefore, what could be more unique than combining freshly baked focaccia with delicious pesto? Focaccia e Dirtorni is the best place to try this delectable combination. Its pesto is excellent, with all the aromas emerging in every bite along with the full flavour of the warm bread. (Via di Canneto Il Curto 54r/56r, 16123, Genova)
Read our article Where to taste the best focaccia in Genoa for more suggestions.
PESTO AND GENOA
Liguria, although a relatively small region of Italy, has one of the most unique gastronomic traditions. Centered on Genoa, which is inextricably linked to the tradition of pesto, it is worth discovering the region’s culinary treasures. No walk in the centre of Genoa is complete without the smell and taste of basil.