Nonnas around Italy despair at the proliferation of jarred processed pesto sauces in supermarkets, especially when making your own is simple, satisfying and tastes MUCH better. Here’s all you need to know about how to prepare a delicious pesto alla genovese.
Pesto traditionally comes from Liguria, and it is recognised by the Ministero delle Politiche Agricole. It’s production is subject to regulations of the formidable Consorzio del pesto genovese.
The key ingredient is, of course, basil, but the correct choice of leaves is crucial. Look for small leaves shaped like a teaspoon for the best results. The olive oil should be from Liguria as it has a particularly light taste unlike the peppery ones from Tuscany. However, it must be remembered that pesto is a dish of the poor, created from necessity, and so many families have their own variations on the classic: adding ricotta, or walnuts for example. Below is the traditional pesto recipe, but feel free to invent (just as long as the Consorzio don’t hear of it).
- 50 gr basil leaves
- 2 cloves of Vessalico garlic (a variety that is less strong and more palatable)
- 15 gr pine nuts
- 70 gr Parmigiano Reggiano
- 30 gr Pecorino Fiore Sardo
- 100 ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil (preferably from Liguria)
- A pinch of salt crystals
- Clean and dry the basil leaves trying not to rip or damage them (which can sometimes impart a bitter taste to the pesto).
- Using a pestle and mortar crush the garlic and salt. Add the basil leaves and grind until the leaves release a green liquid. Now add the pine nuts.
- At the end add the grated cheese and oil a little at a time while continuing to mix.
- Never use a blender!
How to Use Pesto
Fresh pesto can be kept in the fridge for up to 10 days, or can be frozen. The classic pesto dish is, of course, with pasta. However, avoid the rookie pitfall of using the wrong pasta, a crime akin to cutting up spaghetti. The classic pasta for pesto is called trofie, which are short, thin and twisted and come from Liguria. Another Ligurian pasta which can be used is trenette, which are long flat ribbons narrower than fettuccine and linguine. Gnocchi are another option for a primo piatto, or a vegetarian lasagne (replace the meat with pesto). For an elegant antipasto spread pesto on slices of crunchy bread, adding tomatoes or mozzarella if desired.