Here in Liguria, where I was born and where I live, pesto Genovese is the quintessential food. It’s that preparation that you make for Sunday family meals, the dish that you prepare when someone comes home from afar and that flavor that you miss the most when you are away and you feel homesick. Therefore, it’s that one recipe that everyone from here needs to know how to prepare.
In theory, original pesto Genovese should be prepared exclusively with a marble mortar and a wooden pestle. Nowadays. however, these time-honored tools have become more and more often just fancy ornament and a way to remember our ancient cooking traditions. Today, the great majority of home cooks makes pesto with the help of a small food processor.
In fact, with just a few tricks, you can make a delicious pesto sauce in less than 10 minutes. That said, if you have a mortar and pestle and some time to spare, you can definitely try this recipe the more traditional way, the sauce will just come out a little chunkier. If you use a food processor, the only thing you have to keep in mind is not to over-process the sauce. In order to do so, all you have to do is to pulse gently and in an intermittent fashion.
Finally, as this recipe is made with just a handful of ingredients, the golden rule to achieve a great result is to use top quality raw materials: young and bright green Genovese basil (sweet basil) is an absolute must, as well as great extra virgin olive oil.
This pesto sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days in an airtight container and it also freezes very well. The most traditional way to eat it is with Trofie pasta, boiled along with a few potatoes and some green beans. However, there are endless preparations that feature it as a main ingredient!
Prep notes: this original recipe calls for a small amount of Pecorino Sardo, a sharp sheep cheese produced in Sardinia. If you are not able to find it at your local store, you can replace it with any other Pecorino cheese or you can simply increase the amount of Parmesan cheese. If this is the case, however, you may want to adjust the amount of salt accordingly as Pecorino Sardo is sweeter than regular aged Pecorino cheese.
A few of our other favorite pesto recipes:
Pesto Genovese (Traditional Italian Pesto)
- 3.5 ounces Genovese basil leaves (sweet basil)
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup Pecorino Sardo cheese
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus 1 tbsp to add on top)
- Gently wash basil leaves under cold water and drain them thoroughly until they are very dry.
- In a food processor, blend Parmesan cheese, Pecorino Sardo cheese, pine nuts and garlic.
- Add basil leaves and salt.
- Continue to blend until you reach a smooth consistency, slowly drizzling the olive oil on top of the other ingredients during the process. Be careful not to over-blend the sauce or the blades will start to cook the basil.
- Finally, transfer the pesto into a jar and cover it with some more olive oil to avoid oxidation.