“You will see a majestic town, backed against the hills of the Alps, superb both for its men and its walls, the view of which alone suggests its being dominant over the sea.” – Francesco Petrarca
When life gives you basil, make pesto – an almost accurate quote that sound like the wisest words ever said.
Pesto is one of my favourite sauces, I love the traditional version of it but I also like to experiment with different ingredients and pasta shapes; and I have to say, pesto never disappoints me.
It can be used with lasagne, gnocchi, or more traditionally with trofie – but it can also bring to life “boring” dishes like minestrone or chicken salad.
We need to thank Genova for this gift to the world, as pesto was originally created in this beautiful city.
Called La Superba (The Superb) due to the impressive landmarks and the glorious past in the commercial trade between the 12th and 15th century, today Genova is a little gem in the North of Italy that is absolutely worth visiting.
Curiosity: There are several theories behind the origin of the name Genova, but my favourite is that it comes from the god Janus, as they both have two faces: one face of this city looks towards the sea, the other one towards the mountains.
Pesto sauce is quite modern, as it was listed on a recipe book from the first time in 1863, but it probably derives from another sauce called agliata (roughly translated as garlic-y), a mixture of garlic and nuts very common in the 12th century.
The original pesto recipe is quite different from the one we know today: it was a mixture of basil or alternatively parsley or marjoram, mixed with garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan and Dutch cheese, and made it more creamy by adding butter and oil. Today, basil is considered a key ingredient to make pesto sauce, but it wasn’t always available at that time and people could only use what was in season.
It is not surprising that the recipe mentions Dutch cheese (which is believed to be Gouda) as it was very popular in Genova due to the intensive commercial activities between this city and North Europe.
As it happens quite often in Italian recipes, there is a legend behind the creation of pesto: it is believed that it was invented by a monk, who after collecting the herb that was growing near the monastery of Prà (a small neighbourhood in province of Genova), mixed the leaves together with the few ingredients provided by the members of the church.
Pesto is not difficult to make, you need just a few ingredients, crushed together using pestle and mortar: basil leaves-25g, grated pecorino cheese-15g, grated parmesan cheese-30g,pine nuts-10g, garlic-1 clove, olive oil-50ml.
However, pestle and mortar are not always available, while most of us have a blender. Well, I have good news! It is absolutely fine to use the blender, but I have one little tip to prevent the pesto to become brownish: place the blender blades and the bowl in the fridge one hour before using them, and blend the ingredients as quick as possible (this tip also applies when using the pestle and mortar)!
Another pro tip: the basil leaves must be dry, so to make the pesto it is sufficient to clean them with a soft cloth.