It is the cold emerald green basil sauce we Ligurians consider as almost holy.
This yummy sauce was already well known in the XVII century and similar recipes were prepared even in the middle Ages.
Tradition wants it to be prepared by mashing all the ingredients in a precise order, in a marble mortar using a pestle. Obviously today many people prefer the blender to speed things up … the result is still good, but the speed of the appliance heats up the sauce and tends to oxidize the basil leaves, that has to be small and tender and not those huge lettuce-like I sometime see around – we are more picky and we love to grumble -, but to obviate these drawbacks you can blend a few seconds at a time, preferably using cooled plastic blades.
The pesto can flavor many different types of pasta. Personally I love it with trofie (a local handmade pasta), potato gnocchi, lasagne, trenette (with potatoes and green beans or even just potatoes) and it is great in minestrone alla Genovese, that I actually prefer the day after, warmed up in a pan.
Now, a very important notice: pesto should NOT be heated and should NEVER be eaten with hard pasta (penne, fusilli, etc.) NOR stuffed pasta like ravioli! I told you, it’s holy 😉
It is so important that there’s even a World Championship of Genovese Pesto prepared with a mortar. The latest and fifth edition was won by a myth! Alfonsina Trucco of Montoggio (a small village in Liguria). She is 85 years old and prepare the traditional pesto in the ancient family mortar since ever. If you are planning a trip to Liguria I suggest you check the next edition dates and pass by and maybe even enter the competition.
In the meantime you can start practicing with my family recipe:
- 2 bouquets of fresh basil (if you are in Italy ask for the Prà one)
- garlic – I do put two cloves
- 20 grams of pine nuts
- 100 grams of Parmesan cheese
you will also need:
- 1 pinch of coarse sea salt
- olive oil, more or less 100 ml
After having washed and left to dry the basil leaves, peel the garlic and start to pound it in a mortar along with the pine nuts and salt. Then add the basil and as soon as it begins to release its emerald green liquid add the grated parmesan and continue to pound in a circular motion till obtaining a smooth cream. At this point add the olive oil.
I love the pesto a bit more delicate and for this reason I only use Parmesan cheese, but for a bit stronger taste just reduce the dose and add the same amount of pecorino cheese. Same thing for garlic. By changing the amount you can get a flavor that satisfies your taste.
Try it and let me know!
Once ready, you can store it in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days covering it with a thin layer of olive oil. You can also freeze it, but in this case do not add any olive oil layer and defrost it only last minute by adding some cooking water or if you have time by simply taking it out from the freezer a few hours before your meal.