Pesto: the traditionally mystical Italian sauce

Pesto is one of the sauces of the Italian culinary tradition typical of the Liguria region, a jagged arch on the sea, cradle of aromatic herbs. The original pesto is a cold sauce made from basil and cheese, enriched with pine nuts, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

As every recipe has undergone many transformations, in fact, there are many variations of pesto: dried tomatoes, basil and almonds; pistachios; citrus fruits; radicchio and walnuts; zucchini and pine nuts; and so on … After all, the pesto name comes from the action of “crushing” the ingredients by hand just like an ancient apothecary.

A recipe with mystical harmony based on the accordance and contrast of the ingredients. Although the recipe of coded pesto as we know it dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, its origins are much older. Let’s see them together.

Pesto: a bit of history

Pesto comes from the use of aromatic herbs, a tradition that originated in the Middle Ages. The rich share their banquets with refined spices, while the poor used them to flavor not tasty soups. One of the herbs used was basil, in the dialect baxaicò or baxeicò (from the Latin basilicum), a plant of Arab origin with a curious botanical name Ocimum basilicum (royal herb).

There is a legend that tells of a convent on the heights of Pra, near Genoa, dedicated to San Basilio in which lived a friar who gathered medicinal herbs. One day he picked up the basilicum, to which he had given this name in honor of the saint of his convent, and grind it together with other ingredients. Thus the first pesto of history was obtained which was gradually perfected.

It could also be said that pesto is the evolution of an older recipe, the so-called aggiadda (agliata), a 13th century garlic-based mortar sauce that was used for storing cooked foods.

The original recipe for pesto dates back to the second half of the 19th century. To quote it was a well-known gastronome of the time Giovanni Battista Ratto in his work The Genoese cuisine.

That recipe, consisting of a mix of garlic, basil, Dutch cheese and grated Parmesan, could be the dressing for lasagne and gnocchi (called trofie).

During the nineteenth century Pesto pasta did not undergo particular variations and was already considered a popular food at that time. The amount of garlic varied at most. It was practically considered a medicine, especially for sailors during long periods aboard ships. These trips have made it possible to make this dish known in many countries, after all from Genoa harbor ships left for La Boca in Buenos Aires or for the seaside cities of the United States.

Pesto is not used just as a pasta sauce but also as a dressing for bruschetta with fresh tomato.

Pesto: the recipe


Basil leaves 25 g

Extra virgin olive Oil 50 ml

Parmigiano cheese for grating 35 g

Pecorino cheese for grating 15 g

Pine nuts 8 g

½ Garlic clove

Salt 1 pinch


Preparing time 20 min

Serves 2



First of all, to prepare the pesto alla genovese important is that the basil leaves are not washed, but clean with a soft cloth. Start preparing the pesto by placing the peeled garlic in a mortar with a few grains of salt. Begin to pound and, when the garlic is reduced to a cream, add the basil leaves together with a pinch of salt, which will serve to crush the fibres and maintain a beautiful bright green colour.

Crush the basil against the walls of mortar, turning the pestle from left to right and rotating the mortar in the opposite direction (from right to left). Keep it up until the basil leaves will not come out a green shiny liquid; at this point add the pine nuts and start to pound for reducing cream.

Add slowly the cheeses, stirring continuously, to make it even more creamy, and at the end add the extra virgin olive oil, stirring constantly with the pestle. Mix well the ingredients until you get a smooth sauce. Your authentic pesto alla genovese is ready to be used!

To prepare pesto pasta put the water in a saucepan to boil. Once it reaches boiling, pour the fresh fettuccine. While the pasta is cooking in 2 or 3 minutes, drain it and add your fresh pesto sauce. Finally, put it back in the pot so that the sauce blends.

Enjoy your pesto pasta!

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