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Grana Padano

How to prepare and serve Pesto Genovese in the correct, traditional way

Pesto alla Genovese

By Mario Caramella

Prepare the Pesto sauce according the recipe below and serve it the traditional way! Trofie and Trenette are the pasta used in Liguria, however linguine or spaghetti al dente will make a good companion to this sauce, and as well potato gnocchi. Serving pesto to dip the bread is not really the traditional way to serve this sauce and also to mix it with other sauces is not recommended. The natural way of serving pesto is with pasta cooked in the same water with green bean and potato and then dressed like a salad (away from the fire) in a hot ceramic bowl. A spoon of pesto mixed  in a minestrone soup (with out tomato sauce) taste just great.

Many non Italian chefs tent to use this sauce in very baroque preparation, and I have seen the most silly combinations around the world, things like pesto in a pizza… You can imagine how the pesto comes out of a 300/400 Celsius oven!

Do not cook pesto! OK!

Other chefs mixed Pesto with soya and wasabi and than spread on a roasted quail in a bed of polenta mixed with dry figs… This was a dish in a wine dinner for “Far Niente”, a Californian wine.  I do not want to look like a bigot purist but I guess there is a limit to creativity, if you can call that so!

In my recipe below I modify a few things and eliminate others, for example I do not toast the pine nuts and I do not give a choice between walnut and pine nut, also I prefer to use a young Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano and eliminate the Pecorino, the reasons for this changes are, dictated first from my personal taste , and second from the need to give our non Italian colleagues a clear direction, to be honest mixing two great cheese like Pecorino and Parmigiano or Grana Padano does not do any good to both.

Probably this recipe will raise some controversial comments, but in my opinion and experience, this is a recipe that respects the tradition and at the same time gives a clear direction and allows anybody in any part of the world to be able to produce e great Pesto Genovese.

Pesto alla Genovese

Pesto Sauce Recipe

Essential equipment

  • 1 marble mortar
  • 1 wooden pestle


  • 100 gm of fresh Genovese basil. If you have challenges to import the fresh PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) Genoese basil which guarantees high-quality taste and flavor, use your local basil but make sure is not too strong or  is one of those variety that  tastes almost like mint
  • 30 gm pine nuts ( Sicilian are the best but also in California there is a great quality of this product)
  • 60 g aged Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese freshly grated, do not compromise on this ingredient and make sure is good quality
  • 2 garlic cloves from Vassalico (Imperia) if you can! Or just your local garlic would do, just make sure is no pre peeled and already fermented or you will obtain Korean keem chee instead of Pesto Genovese, just buy a garlic knob and peel the clove just before you need it
  • 10 g Maldon flaky salt
  • 80 cc Extra Virgin Olive Oil from “Ligurian Riviera” d.o.p., renowned for its sweet and fruity taste, which adds flavour to the basil and dressing.


  1. The marble mortar and wooden pestle are the tools traditionally used to make pesto.
  2. Wash the basil leaves in cold water and dry them on a paper towel but don’t rub them.
  3. In a mortar finely crush the basil leaves the garlic clove and pine nuts ,add  the salt  and cheese to he mixture and keep pounding using a light circular movement of the pestle ,add some of the Extra Virgin Olive from time to time and keep pounding  and mixing until  you obtain a very fine and smooth creamy sauce, pesto should not be greasy and the amount of oil used must be well absorbed and not floating on top
  4. The preparation must be done as quickly as possible to avoid oxidation problems
  5. You have now obtained more less 300 gm of pesto which should be more than enough to dress 6 to 8 portions of Trenette

NOTE: The reason why, you should not use a blender, is because rather than having its juices released by crushing action of the wooden pestle, the metal blade of the blender will chop the leaves and this action will compromise the flavor.