Pesto is one of Italy’s most prized sauces. Basil is this fragrant, green treasure which counts as the star of Italian herbs. Perfect for putting purpose into your favorite recipes with its bold, peppery, grassy flavor, pesto is more than just a pasta sauce.
Pesto’s birth mother is Liguria. Liguria is a small but gorgeous region set up against the Mediterranean Sea in Northwest Italy. Because of its particular location situated in the hills of the Appennini Mountains, Liguria owns a unique microclimate. This amazing landscape produces all of the ingredients used to make a traditional pesto: basil, Ligurian extra virgin olive oil and pine nuts from the Stone Pines that grow in abundance.
Ligurians are very proud of their pesto and fiercely defend their traditional recipe. There are strict rules and regulations about ingredients and preparation methods which are established by the Regione Liguria and the Pesto alla Genovese consortium. In Italy, this struggle to defend the integrity of local products, recipes and traditional methods is considered a kind of national sport.
Pesto is one of the high points of Italian regional cuisine. There is a bit of mystery about the origins of this sauce, but some distant form of this sauce probably existed in Persia or in the Arabian Peninsula. Some explain it as an evolution of a Salsa di Noci, or walnut sauce, which is known to have existed in the Middle Ages. Centuries later, in 1627, Salvatore Massonio gives one of the first mentions of a sauce with garlic and different herbs in his essay. In 1860, a recipe for pesto, very similar to the one we know today, was codified by Giovan Battista Ratto in his “La Cuciniera Genovese.”
A traditional, and universal, recipe for pesto includes fresh basil, garlic, coarse sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and aged Italian cheese, ideally both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano. And while you may not have ingredients fresh from Liguria, it’s easy to make a great pesto, just follow our recipe.
Garlic 3 large cloves
Fresh basil 3 good handful
Pine nuts 1 handful, toasted
Grana Padano cheese 60 g, shredded or cut in small chunks
Extra virgin olive oil
Gently wash the basil, pulling all the stems off and preserving only the leaves, and allow them to dry on a towel. Start mash the garlic in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of salt. Using a pestle and mortar is essential! Add the basil leaves. As soon as basil juice starts to form in the bottom of the mortar, it’s time to add and crush the pine nuts. Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil and stir in the Pecorino Romano cheese, and continue bashing and pounding until smooth. If it seems too stiff, you can add a splash of water to make it a little runnier.
If you don’t have pestle and mortar, you can use a food processor. Just whiz in all the ingredients and you are done. But we highly recommend to use pestle and mortar. That way it’ll be made with love and attention, the way it should be!
You can use pesto with:
1. Grilled meat or fish. Just spoon a dollop of it over the hot meat and it will melt through right away.
2. Spread it on warm homemade focaccia or ciabatta bread.
3. Role it into a hot platter of freshly made pasta or gnocchi. Add a little bit of lemon zest, just to give a little twist to the peppery flavour. Or instead of the lemon zest, you can add some cherry tomatoes, just cut them in half, and spread across the dish.
4. Spread it on your sandwich bread between a generous peace of mozzarella and juicy in season tomatoes.