Brilliant green, it owes its beautiful color to Basil. Let's discover how to make pesto Genovese, with the traditional recipe.

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Pesto Genovese is a typical bright green condiment native to Liguria and owes its name to the fact that the sauce is made by 'pounding' raw ingredients in a mortar.

Its basic ingredient is Genovese Basil, which hues pesto with its lushious color.

Come with us to discover the history and curiosities of one of the Excellence of Italian Cuisine that the whole world envies us!

Pesto Genovese between history and legend

The first recipe of Genoese pesto dates back to the mid-19th century, although it almost certainly has older origins and seems to derive from a garlic-based sauce popular in the 13th century.

The first person to mention the recipe of Genoese pesto, as we know it today, was Giovanni Battista Ratto in 'La Cuciniera Genovese, ossia la vera maniera di cucinare alla Genovese' (Genoese cuisine, i.e. the true way of cooking Genoese style) of 1863.

"Take a clove of garlic, basil [...], Dutch cheese and Parmesan grated and mixed together, and some pine nuts, and pound the whole in a mortar [...]. Then melt it with plenty of fine oil. With this batter you season lasagna and gnocchi (troffie), adding a little hot water without salt to make it more liquid."

In the 1865 edition of 'La Vera Cuciniera Genovese. Maniera di preparare e cuocere ogni sorta di vivande all'usanza di Genova' (The genuine Genoese cuisine. Manner of preparing and cooking all manner of food in the custom of Genoa) the recipe was later taken up by Emanuele Rossi, who called it pesto d'aglio e basilico (garlic and basil pesto).

Like any recipe whose origin dates back to the old past, there is a legend about the birth of pesto, according to which a monk who lived in the convent of San Basilio on the heights of Prà (Genoa) collected the aromatic herb called basilium (named this way to honor Saint Basilio), that grew around there, and pounded it in a mortar along with a few other ingredients brought as an offering by the faithful: alas, the first pesto was born.

The ingredients for a great Pesto Genovese

According to tradition and the Specifications of the Genoese Pesto Consortium, the ingredients for pesto are 7

    1. Genoese Basil PDO (Protected Designation of Origin); 

    2. PDO extra virgin olive oil from the Ligurian Riviera, typically delicate and not very fruity; 

    3. Italian pine nuts (the finest are those from the San Rossore pine forest in Pisa);

    4. Parmigiano Reggiano DOP aged at least 30 months;

    5. Sardinian Pecorino DOP cheese aged at least 10 months; 

    6. Ligurian garlic, characterized by a sweeter and more digestible taste; 

    7. Coarse sea salt.       

The different ingredients must be mixed with balance in taste, without one prevailing over the other, and it is of paramount importance to use fresh and high-quality raw materials to produce an excellent pesto

Making Pesto Genovese requires a marble mortar with a wooden pestle and ... a lot of patience!

Begin rinsing the basil leaves, then dry them, taking care not to break them.

Crush in the mortar one clove of garlic for every 30 basil leaves; reduce garlic to a batter, add the coarse salt and then the pine nuts, keeping on pounding with the pestle against the walls of the mortar.

When a smooth sauce is obtained, the basil leaves will be added little by little and then the previously grated cheeses. Keep on mixing the ingredients with rotating movements of the pestle. Only at the end pour flush of the olive oil.

The pesto will be ready when it has reached a thick consistency with a bright green color and can be used to season trofie, trenette or even vegetable minestrone

The old Genoese tradition is to add potatoes and green beans when cooking pasta to add creaminess to the dish.

Grandma's tip:

If necessary, before using it as a pasta sauce, the pesto can be diluted with pasta cooking water to make it creamier.

- In 2007, the World Pesto Genovese al Mortaio Championship was established and is held in Genova every two years organized by the Palati Fini Cultural Association.

After lengthy selections around the world, 100 finalists (50 from Liguria, 25 from Italy, and 25 from the rest of the world) compete, mortar by mortar, in the splendid hall of the Maggior Consiglio of Palazzo Ducale in Genoa to make the world's best pesto according to the recipe codified for the World Championship. 

- The name "Genoese Pesto" is subject to a specification developed by the Genoese Pesto Consortium and is included among the Traditional Ligurian Food Products (PAT) recognized by the Ministry of Agricultural Food and Forestry Policies.

- The official definition of the famous Ligurian sauce is 'pesto genovese', while the term pesto 'alla' genovese refers to modified versions of the original recipe by adding or replacing the main ingredients with ingredients that are not always of good quality.

If your mouth is beginning to water after reading this article, you just have to come to visit its native region to enjoy a great dish of Pasta al Pesto Genovese!

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