Pesto alla genovese, or commonly known as basil pesto as well, is a sauce that originated in Genoa, the capital of Liguria, in the North of Italy. It consists of basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmigiano, Pecorino, and olive oil. If you think making pesto is complicated, change your mind. Here you will have a very easy pesto recipe.
Origin and etymology
The history of pesto has it that it has two predecessors:
- The first traces back to the ancient Romans, who used to eat a similar sauce, called moretum. It was made with garlic, cheese, olive oil, herbs, salt, and vinegar.
- The second was was instead known in Genoan cuisine during Middles Ages, where people used to make agliata, which was a sauce made of garlic and walnuts.
The basil was introduced in the 19th century and, even though it originated in India, it was widely spread in Liguria. When not available, parsley and marjoram were used to replace it. Basil, however, became the most popular herb to use.
As regards the name of the sauce, it comes from the verb pestare, which means to crush. Pesto is indeed made by crushing the ingredients in a mortar.
The ingredients for an authentic Italian basil pesto
Pesto alla genovese is a PAT, or Prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale, so it has received official approval from the Italian Government, being a traditional regional food. The approval is granted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry policies in accordance with Italian regions.
The list of authentic PAT ingredients are as follows:
- Basil leaves. The basil originally should come from Liguria, and precisely from Pra’, the area of Genoa, where the basil is a DPO. The leaves have to be as small as possibile. For this easy pesto recipe, we opted for a very locally produced alternative by using basil grown in our own balcony. We wish Genoans will forgive us!
- Olive oil from Liguria. We brought ours from Apulia, a region that is the largest producer of olive oil in Italy. (again, wishing Genoans are fine with this!)
- Pine nuts
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Pecorino cheese
Easy pesto recipe
If you are afraid of making it because you think it might be difficult, worry not! This is a very easy pesto recipe. Just try it out and tell us if you agree!
- Wash the basil leaves very quickly in cold water and put them to dry on a kitchen towel.
- Begin by crushing the cloves of garlic with a small amount of salt with a mortar and pestle. Keep crushing until a paste is formed.
- Add the pine nuts and keep crushing. Then add some basil leaves and crush them. Use a soft rotating movement and keep adding the leaves until all of them have been added and a paste has formed.
- Add the grated cheeses and the oil, mix into the paste. The pesto is ready to be used.
How to use pesto for?
Basil pesto can be used as a sauce for pasta. Whether you wish to cook long or short pasta, your homemade pesto will do. Alternatively, another great way of using it is on pizza, for instance when making a simple Margherita but adding some pesto.
Yet, another way is to spread it on toasted bread. In this way, you can prepare some very easy snacks or starters for a meal. Just take toast bread, cut it in two, forming two triangles, toast it, and spread some pesto on them.
Do I really need a mortar?
Well, let’s be honest: the answer is no. We bought a mortar because we wanted to make basil pesto in the traditional way and it was really worth it. It’s the experience that matters and it turns out that it doesn’t take a long time to make pesto with it. If you do not have or do not want to buy a mortar, feel free to skip this purchase and use a food processor. An immersion blender is not recommended because it will facilitate the oxidation process and your pesto will turn brown very easily. Whichever method you use, this easy pesto recipe is quick and the result will be tasty.
Why does it become brown?
Basil pesto can easily turn brown because of the oxidation that basil faces. It is the same reaction that occurs with avocados, for example. Here are some main suggestions on how to avoid it:
- Use basil leaves that are fresh and healthy. Avoid any old and rotten leaves. The leaves have to be quite dry because otherwise the water will cause the change in colour. This is why it is also good to only quickly wash the leaves and only in cold water.
- The mortar is the best tool we can use because the process is slow, but if you can’t use it, feel free to use a food processor. Do not use an immersion blender because it will take in too much air, and thus oxigen. When using a food processor, do not blend all the ingredients at once because this will do no good. If the basil gets too hot, it will turn brown.
- Dip the basil leaves in oil before starting and remember to cover the pesto in olive oil once completed the process.
- The ingredients have to be as cold as possible. Once again, the heat will cause no good to your pesto.
How can I store homemade basil pesto?
If you want to store the pesto in the fridge, put it in a glass jar and cover it in oil to avoid oxidation and mold. Use it within a few days for the best taste and freshness.
Alternatively, it can be vacuum-sealed and stored, or even stored in the freezer for up to three months. To thaw it, leave it out in the open or move it to the refrigerator for the night. Do not use the microwave.
What do you think of this easy pesto recipe? Have you ever made it?
Easy pesto recipe
Wash the basil leaves very quickly in cold water and put them to dry on a kitchen towel.
Begin by crushing the cloves of garlic with a small amount of salt with a mortar and pestle. Keep crushing until a paste is formed.
Add the pine nuts and keep crushing. Then add some basil leaves and crush them. Use a soft rotating movement and keep adding the leaves until all of them have been added and a paste has formed.
Add the grated cheeses and the oil, mix into the paste. The pesto is ready to be used.