While traditional Genovese Pesto uses a marble pestle and mortar to tirelessly pound the ingredients, this easy recipe uses a modern electric blender.
What is Genovese Pesto?
Traditional Genovese Pesto is an uncooked sauce made with a marble pestle and mortar. It’s commonly used to coat pasta such as trofie. I survived off cheap supermarket pesto mixed with some boiled pasta at university. I called it a complete meal, even getting excited at my weekly dose of what we all called “pesto pasta.”
As its name suggests, Pesto originated in Genoa, the capital of an area in Italy called Liguria. It consists mainly of pounded basil, crushed garlic, parmesan, coarse salt, and olive oil. Its name stems from the Italian verb “Pestare”, meaning to crush, which comes from the same Latin root word which gave English the word pestle, as in pestle and mortar, the traditional piece of equipment used to make Pesto.
It may cause some alarm to traditional purists, but this recipe uses electrical help like I did with my Thai Green Curry Paste. This is because using a pestle and mortar requires a level of physical exertion that would not be welcomed by the summer sun. And Pesto is a sauce most loved during summer for all its glory and hard work.
Pesto is a generic term that refers to any pounded sauce and is used throughout Italy to refer to any dish that isn’t the traditional basil pesto. However, Genovese Pesto, a simple basil pesto, remains the undisputed ruler of the name.
Ingredients in Genovese Pesto
Basil – Most recipes call for Genovese basil, which may cause confusion in some people. However, regular supermarket basil may be used in its place. The European Union protects Genoese basil and must be grown in Liguria. However, supermarket basil is similar in flavour with a slightly more peppery flavour. While it would be traditional to use Genoese basil, it’s easier to find generic basil in all UK supermarkets.
Parmesan Cheese – Tha traditional cheese used to make Pesto is Parmigiano- Reggiano or more commonly known as parmesan. However, any hard Italian cheese can be used if there’s another hard cheese stuck in your fridge or you prefer a particular type. However, if unsure what cheese to use, stick with parmesan, preferably aged. Parmesan has a nuttier flavour than other hard cheeses, such as pecorino Romano, which can be sharper.
Pine Nuts – Pine nuts, despite their name, aren’t nuts but the seeds of pine trees. As someone with a nut allergy, I’ve often struggled with eating Pesto out, as some restaurants swap pine nuts for real nuts, and my experience has taught me to stay away. However, nut-free Pesto does exist, although those with pine nuts are also technically nut free. Making my own is far easier. For Pesto, pine nuts are usually blended untoasted.
Olive Oil – I’m not a connoisseur of olive oil. I guess neither of us could tell the difference between one extra virgin olive oil and one pressed from Ligurian Taggiasca olives.
Pesto in its other Forms
Pistou – A French sauce similar to Genovese Pesto but without parmesan and pine nuts. The pine nut omission is due to the lack of pine trees growing in the Southeastern French region, Provence, to provide the seeds.
Sicilian Pesto – Or tomato pesto, uses less basil and sometimes replaces pine nuts with almonds.
Calabrian Pesto – This version of Pesto from Calabria uses grilled peppers. It has a spicier flavour, such as everything associated with this region of Italy.
Genovese Pesto – Pesto alla Genovese
- 1 Food processor
- 50 g Basil Leaves. Around 2 bunches with the stalks removed.
- 2 Tbsp Pine Nuts
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- 100 ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 50 g Parmesan Finely Grated
- Coarse salt to taste
- In a small food chopper or blender, blend the pine nuts, cheese, and garlic together, adding a splash of olive oil if it proves too tricky to blend.
- Next, add the basil, and blend to a paste. Again, add a splash of olive oil if the sauce doesn’t blend.
- Add the olive oil, season to taste, and blend until the sauce has combined.
- Serve with bread.