The true Pesto Genovese
Pesto, as we know, is recognized as a basil-based sauce. Pesto Genovese (note: not “alla Genovese”) is a preparation that requires a precise choice of ingredients of absolute excellence: extra virgin olive oil Dop from the Riviera Ligure, Genovese basil Dop, pine nuts from Pisa (top quality), garlic (preferably from Vessalico), Parmigiano Reggiano Dop (or Grana Padano), Pecorino (preferably Fiore sardo Dop), and coarse salt. Even the worthy canned and bottled pestos require these ingredients. In recognition of the value of this extraordinary sauce – a benchmark of Italian cooking, but recognized internationally and imitated ad nauseum – Pesto Genovese was nominated as a candidate for the Unesco world heritage list, just like our pizza.
The story of real, true basil
After years of study, the coastal area running from Ventimiglia to Sarzana has been recognized for basil plants that develop distinct and profound aromas, never tainted with the intrusive off-notes of mint. Researchers came to this conclusion after planting the same seeds in different parts of the world under similar environmental conditions. There was no denying it: the “Genovese” strand maintained a presence of essential oils in irreplaceable quantity and quality. This little plant is more than deserving of its Dop recognition, and coming at such high demand, it is generally cultivated in greenhouses. The plant produces all year, excluding the winter months, but particularly excels between late spring and summer.
Little leaves, great amounts of patience
The size of the basil leaf is fundamental, guaranteeing delicacy and low fiber content: the “perfect” leaf is slightly bigger than a teaspoon. And it must be convex, just like a spoon: no flat leaves! Purists particularly hail the basil of Prà, a province within Genova. But the real secret of pesto, crucial though impossible to define, is the nuance of the chef: the sauce must be prepared in mental harmony, with relaxation and determination. In fact, the name “pesto” draws from the procedure itself, where the basil is worked with a marble mortar and wooden pestle (“pestello”) for at least 20 minutes. He who prepares it must prepare it with a certain bravado, animated with passion and consistency.
Mortar and cutter: two systems, one overarching attention
Basil suffers from haste: if it gets too hot or intakes too much oxygen, the leaves darken and the sauce suffers. Alessandra Fasce, the new world champion of the Mortar Pesto Championships, explained to us that when she prepares her sauce she closes all contact with the outside world, quietly and calmly concentrating on her work. The herb cutter can be used as an alternative, but the same attention must be paid to avoid heat and excess air.
The pesto recipe
Preparing pesto for 5-6 people: first, grind the garlic (3 peeled cloves) and pine nuts (2 tablespoons); remove this mixture from the bottom of the mortar, and continue with the basil leaves (70 of the 200 total grams) and course salt. The key movement is rotation: inside, with the pestle, and outside, rotating the mortar with the other hand by assisting with the “ears” (four semicircles on the rim). Then add the extra virgin olive oil (3 tablespoons), Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese (50g) and Pecorino cheese (10g). Voilà! The pesto is ready to be enjoyed immediately, ideally, but can also be frozen. The happiest marriage is with potatoes and green beans, served as a first course.
The best producers
Baccicin du Caru via Fado 115, Mele (Genova) 010.63.1804
Ristorante Il Genovese via Galata 35 rosso, Genova 010.86.92.937
Paolo Calcagno via Posetta 45 a, Celle Ligure (Savona) 0199.93961
Pesto più via Branega 23, Genova 010.66.71.774
Bovio il pastaio via Albaro 34 rosso, Genova 010.36.20.604