What to Know About Pesto Genovese (& The Best Pesto Recipe Around) (2024)

How it should be: pesto alla genovese on trofie pasta (photo by lucadea on Flickr)

Pesto pasta is one of the most popular dishes in Liguria, Italy—and it’s one that’s found lots of popularity worldwide! But in many cases, what you find when you order a pesto dish abroad just isn’t the same as what you’d find in Liguria. Here’s what “pesto” really means, whatpesto alla genoveseshould be… and how to make it at home!

First of all, in Italy, “pesto” doesn’t necessarily refer just to that green, basil-filled paste we’ve come to think of. Instead, it can refer to almost any mix of herbs that are pounded together and put over a pasta. In Sicily, for example,pesto rossouses tomato and almonds.

No matter what herbs go into it, pesto has a long history. Ancient Romans pounded together garlic, cheese, and herbs, a paste they called moretum.In the Middle Ages, Italians mashed walnuts with garlic, a mix that was especially popular among Liguria’s seafaring culture: The paste was thought to help ward off sickness during long sea voyages.

Still, the most famouspesto—and the one we tend to think of when we hear the word—ispesto alla genovese.The first recipe for this kind of pesto turned up in 1863 in the first major book of Ligurian cuisine, so it’s relatively new. But it already has a very carefully-defended tradition!

What to Know About Pesto Genovese (& The Best Pesto Recipe Around) (3)

Pesto alla genovese is one of the most famous foods to come out of Liguria.

In fact, pesto alla genovese isD.O.P.-protected, meaning that in Italy and Europe, only sauces made in this precise way, and with these ingredients, can even call themselves pesto genovese. The ingredients must include D.O.P. basil from Genoa, for example, because the soil and climate in that particular area gives the basil a flavor that’s impossible to replicate elsewhere.

Want to make it at home? Here’s the official recipethat won the Genoa Pesto World Championship (yes, that’s a real thing!). Of course, depending on where you’re making your pesto, you might not be able to get all of the very-specific ingredients – like that fresh basil grown outside Genoa. But get as close as possible, and you’ll be in good shape!


  • 4bunches of fresh D.O.P.basil from Genova
  • 30 grams (about 2 tablespoons) pine nuts
  • 445-60 grams (about a pound) of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 20-40 grams (about one ounce) of Pecorino cheese,grated
  • 1-2garlic cloves from Vassalico
  • 10 grams (about 1.5 teaspoons) coarse salt
  • 60-80 cc (1/4 to 1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, D.O.P., from the Italian Riviera


First off, make sure you have a marble mortar and wooden pestle. Well, okay, you don’t haveto. But if you’re doing it the “authentic” way, that’s how pesto is traditionally made.

Secondly, keep in mind that you want to do the following stepsquickly.Why? Taking too long can oxidize the oil and the ingredients… so work fast to make everything taste as fresh as possible!

The ingredients you need for pesto alla genovese

Ready? Okay! Let’s go.

First, rinse the basil leaves with cold water and leave them to dry, without rubbing them. Crush the garlic clove and pine nuts in the mortar until smooth; add some of the salt and basil, then pound it some more. (According to the recipe, you should use“a light circular movement of the pestle against the sides). Keep going until the basil drips with a bright-green liquid.

Add the cheese and the oil to blend.

And… you’re done!

Just remember: If you’re doing it like the Ligurians, this pestonevergoes over chicken. Instead, it’s mixed with pasta—most traditionally, Genoa’s mandilli de sæa, trofie,trenette,although at home, easier-to-findpenneorfusilliwill also do the trick. (You want to use a small, ridged pasta rather than a long, flat, smooth one, so it “grabs on” to the pesto better). While you’re grinding the pesto, boil that pasta in salt water until it’sal dente;keep a little of the water and toss it with the pasta and pesto for a dish that’s the perfect consistency… and delicious!

What to Know About Pesto Genovese (& The Best Pesto Recipe Around) (5)

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What to Know About Pesto Genovese (& The Best Pesto Recipe Around) (2024)


What is the difference between pesto and Genovese pesto? ›

While traditional pesto alla Genovese typically includes non-vegetarian cheeses (including Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Sardo), pesto by nature invites interpretation - feel free to substitute the traditional cheese for a vegetarian alternative.

What does pesto alla Genovese taste like? ›

Pesto alla Genovese

The fresh herbaceous flavor of basil, the salty savoriness of cheese, the zing of garlic plus rich olive oil and pine nuts make magic together.

What is the meaning of pesto alla Genovese? ›

'Genoese pesto') is a paste made of crushed garlic, pine nuts, salt, basil leaves, grated cheese such as Parmesan or pecorino sardo, and olive oil. It originated in the Italian city of Genoa, and is used to dress pasta and sometimes soups. Pesto. Alternative names. Pesto alla genovese.

What makes pesto taste better? ›

Add a pinch of salt if the basil tastes too bitter or the pesto needs more zing. Add more Parmesan if you'd like a creamier/cheesier pesto. If desired, you can thin out the pesto with more olive oil.

What are the ingredients in Trader Joe's pesto Genovese? ›

Ingredients. Canola oil, basil, parmesan cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, powdered cellulose), walnuts, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, spice.

Is pesto healthier than tomato? ›

As you would expect, pesto's wider variety of ingredients means it does slightly better in the vitamin and mineral stakes. Pesto outsmarts tomato sauce in many of these, but the pasta sauce still provides a sizeable chunk of your recommended daily targets.

What cuts bitterness in pesto? ›

Acid in the form of vinegar or citrus juices can make a pesto taste less bitter and could even enhance the flavour of the sauce at the same time. In low concentrations, salt can be used to suppress bitterness, which is why people have been adding tiny amounts to coffee for decades. Always go easy to start with.

What kind of olive oil is best for pesto? ›

Premium quality extra virgin olive oil is undoubtedly the best choice for making fresh pesto. Not only does it impart a rich and fruity flavor, but it also contains high levels of antioxidants and healthy fats. These properties not only enhance the flavor profile of your pesto but also make it a healthier option.

What pasta shape for pesto genovese? ›

Pesto, on the other hand, flourishes best when paired with thinner noodles, such as spaghetti and linguine, and with shapes that have plenty of twists, grooves, curls, and troughs. Fusilli is not only one of the most well-known pasta shapes; it's also the UK's most popular and our ultimate shape to use with pesto.

What to serve with pesto genovese? ›

I like it with Gnocchi and chicken. You can add other stuff to it like tomato's and mushrooms it's so good. Pasta, turkey or chicken sandwich with pesto or pesto mixed into mayo, in scrambled eggs (green eggs and .... not ham), etc.

What is the difference between pesto Genovese and pesto Siciliano? ›

What makes it different from Pesto Alla Genovese is that it uses almonds as opposed to pine nuts, and gets finished with fresh tomatoes, which are bountiful in the south. In Sicily, they use the Pachino tomato - which are small, sweet, and similar to cherry tomatoes.

What is the history of pesto alla genovese? ›

The classic “Pesto Genovese” has its origin in the small city of Genova in Liguria, Northern Italy. Here, the Italian gastronomist Giovanni Battista Ratto was the first to officially write down the recipe in 1863 with his book on local food cuisine, La Cuciniera Genovese.

Why is pesto so expensive? ›

Its scarcity, plus the fact that the plants are picked roots, soil, and all to ensure that only juvenile leaves make it into pesto, makes it extraordinarily expensive and something that only premium, artisan pesto makers can justify using.

How to jazz up pesto sauce? ›

Additions - Some roasted or fresh cherry tomatoes would be delicious, I like to add fresh basil leaves to the top too. Pesto usually has pine nuts but you could add some extra toasted ones into the sauce. To add some greens you could mix through some chopped fresh spinach.

Why do you put ice in pesto? ›

The ice will shock the herbs and prevent them from browning. You can do this with any type of pesto with other herbs and greens such as parsley, mint or arugula.

Is Genovese basil the same as pesto basil? ›

Genovese Basil

Also called sweet basil or sweet Genovese, this is the most common variety and what you'll find in those plastic packages at the supermarket. The oval-shaped leaves are about 2-3 inches long and have a strong aroma and peppery flavor. This is the classic choice for pesto, Caprese salad, and pizza.

What is the most popular pesto in Italy? ›

Today, pesto Genovese is the condiment that best represents Genovese and Ligurian cuisine, and this is why the most famous pesto in Genoa, produced by the Rossi family since 1947, is distributed throughout Italy and in over 15 countries worldwide, sold to restaurants, pizzerias, delicatessens and stores of all sizes, ...

Are there different types of pesto? ›

From the traditional Ligurian version, to Mexican-inspired pepita and cilantro pesto, to a bright-tasting lemon and pistachio variety, these 11 types of pesto are delicious spread on crackers, tossed with pasta, or drizzled over grilled vegetables or meats.

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