Pesto alla genovese, an easy and cheap Italian dressing

Pesto alla genovese is a very versatile dressing for your pasta, sandwiches and main dishes, fish and meat. Learn how to prepare it with simple ingredients.

I have four big vases full of basilico, so I decided to prepare some simple pesto alla genovese before it blossoms and leaves get hard. Pesto is one of my favourite dishes of the summer.

Some background information. Pesto alla genovese, in Italian simply pesto (in Ligurian language pestu) is a typical condiment originally from Liguria, northern Italy, the region of the famous Cinque Terre, and its capital Genova. There was something similar our ancestors the Romans called moretum but of course they did not have any pasta back then. The basic ingredients of pesto alla genovese are basil (Ocimum basilicum) or, better, the Genovese Basil (in Ligurian language baxeicò). The second key ingredient is pine nuts, then we have Ligurian sweet garlic,  Parmesan cheese (or Sardinian pecorino) and Ligurian olive oil.

I already know Ligurians will complain against a simple Milanese like me for spoiling their recipe, but they will understand that normal people around the world can’t find regular ingredients used in their famous sauce. So…

I used:

  • 100 grams of fresh basil from my garden
  • 50 grams of tender Sicilian almonds (sorry I didn’t have pine nuts in my cupboard)
  • 4 tbs of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a glass of Italian Olio Extra Vergine di oliva 30 cl
  • salt

The word pesto comes from the verb pestare, to crush, because pesto is traditionally produced with a mortar made of marble and wooden pestle. I have a simple hand blender, built in 2012. No history or romantic tradition here! Nowadays, it is used more than the mortar. Don’t tell the Ligurians, they might say it’s not true.

I grind all the ingredients separately and mix them together in a later stage. So, first I ground the almonds pretty thin, making sure they didn’t turn into a powder. Then grated the parmigiano. Whole garlic is heavy on your stomach, so it’s better to take the core out. The critical step is mixing the olive oil with the basil and the garlic. Add the basil in two or three times. I usually click just a few seconds on the hand blender, let it cool down and start again. You don’t want to heat the ingredients. I like it when basil leaves are not completely turned into a paste. Then finally add the ground almonds, the ground parmigiano, stir and taste it for adjusting salt. Check the texture. If your pesto is too solid, add olive oil.

You should obtain a half pint of pesto. I usually eat some the same evening and freeze the remainder. You can freeze it in ice cube molds.  If you keep in in your fridge, make sure there is always a film of oil on the surface, protecting the content form air. When you cook your pasta, before adding the sauce, mix pesto alla genovese with some spoons of cooking water and make it soft. I cooked it with a typical Ligurian pasta called trofie.

Penny-pinching Ligurians (believe me, they are…) add potatoes and French beans (in Italian fagiolini or cornetti) to spare some more expensive pasta. I have to say the combination of those two ingredients is superb, so try it!

You can use your pesto alla genovese for dressing a sandwich with mozzarella and tomato, or with your fish or white meat. Try it in your potato salad or on your toasted bruschetta with tomato. If you like simple pasta with tomato, add some pesto and double cream (panna da cucina in Italian), you will get a very delicate sauce, called “le 3 P” (3 P’s –> Pesto Panna Pomodoro). I like to add a couple of spoonfuls of pesto alla genovese to my minestrone, in summertime as well as in winter. Please try it at home!

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Milanese, graduated in Italian literature a long time ago, I began teaching Italian online in Japan back in 2003. I usually spend winter in Tokyo and go back to Italy when the cherry blossoms shed their petals. I do not use social media.

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