Liguria: Pesto the Regional food

Liguria: Pesto the Regional food

Needless to say. Every Italian region has its own specialties: each one has its own history, each one is good to try. This week we will give you some information about “Pesto genovese”, a sauce that traditionally consists of basil and pine nuts blended with olive oil and Parmesan or pecorino cheese. Pesto is commonly used on pasta traditionally with linguini and trofie (a short, thin, twisted pasta from Genoa), or with gnocchi or lasagna. A delicacy to be absolutely tasted!

Pesto originates in Genoa in the Liguria region. It seems that the first “inventors” of pesto, however, were the ancient Romans. Virgil is supposed to have mentioned a green paste made of herbs, cheese and garlic in one of his poem. But it was also known by Pliny, Avicenna and Galen.

In the Middle Ages the Ligurian people used to eat a sauce similar to pesto made of walnuts, garlic, olive oil and salt. It was called “garlic sauce”. Sea-going people would eat it to prevent common diseases that sailors had during sea voyages. It was also used to preserve cooked food or flavor meat during putrefaction.

The modern recipes for pesto, very similar to the one we know today, began to appear only in the 19th century, but they did not include pine nuts. Being a popular food, people often added potatoes, beans, and even zucchini to the basic recipe. At the time, garlic was one of the main ingredients, not basil, perhaps because of the Arab-Persian influence on Genoese cuisine from the Middle Ages to the 19th century.

Pesto is famous throughout the world thanks to the ships that sailed from the port of Genoa. It was particularly known in La Boca, the Genoese neighborhood of Buenos Aires and in the port cities of the United States. After the Second World War, some companies began to export it. In the nineties, it had a lot of success due to the marketing of Frank Sinatra’s pesto sauce, who put his face on the label.

Pesto is so good because of the basil plants growing in a mild climate of Liguria, close to the sea. The best place for the cultivation of basil is next to Genoa.

The real pesto is made by adding basil leaves to other ingredients, pounded in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle.

A curiosity: every year since 2007 Genoa hosts the Pesto World Championship. Other events are held all over Liguria in order to promote this world famous culinary specialty along with other Ligurian food products, including fish ones.

And now, the original Mortar-made pesto sauce recipe for the World Cup:
4 bunches of fresh PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) Genoese basil
30 g pine nuts
45-60 g aged Parmesan cheese, grated
20-40 g Fiore Sardo cheese (Pecorino Sardo), grated
1-2 garlic cloves from Vassalico (Imperia)
10 g coarse salt
60-80 cc PDO extra-virgin olive oil


The marble mortar and wooden pestle are the tools traditionally used to make pesto. Wash the basil leaves in cold water and dry them on a tea towel but don’t rub them.

In a mortar finely crush the garlic clove and pine nuts until they are smooth. Add a few grains of salt and the non-pressed basil leaves, then pound the mixture using a light circular movement of the pestle against the sides. Repeat this process. When the basil drips bright green liquid, add the Parmesan cheese and the Fiore sardo cheese. Pour in a thin layer of PDO extra-virgin olive oil, which lightly blends the ingredients without overdoing.

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