How to prepare Pesto Genovese

There’s a certain serenity in the tradition of Italian cuisine, where each dish tells a story of family, heritage, and the land from which its ingredients come. Today, I’m eager to share with you a recipe that is close to my heart: Pesto Genovese. This isn’t just a sauce; it’s a whisper of the Italian Riviera, a green-hued jewel that brings the essence of Genoa to our tables.

The motivation to create this dish stems from a longing to capture the essence of simplicity and the art of blending simple ingredients to achieve a symphony of flavors. The Pesto Genovese is a humble yet profound nod to the beauty of basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil—each element bringing its own voice to a chorus that sings of summer gardens and sun-drenched landscapes.

Crafting this pesto is like weaving a tapestry of tastes, each thread an integral part of the whole. It’s a culinary endeavor that speaks to the soul, reminding us that some of the most enchanting experiences come not from complexity, but from the purity and quality of what nature provides. Whether stirred through a bowl of al dente pasta or spooned over fresh, crusty bread, this pesto is a celebration of life’s simple pleasures.

In sharing this recipe, I invite you to embrace the rustic elegance of Italian cooking and to find joy in the act of creating something that is both nourishing and evocative. Let’s journey together through the process of making Pesto Genovese, and may it inspire you to savor each moment and each bite with gratitude and delight.

Pesto Genovese Recipe

Pesto Genovese (Classic Basil Pesto)

Pesto Genovese

Pesto Genovese is a classic Italian sauce hailing from the Liguria region, particularly the city of Genoa, which is its namesake. At its core, Pesto Genovese is a vibrant green, uncooked sauce known for its simple yet robust flavors. The traditional recipe calls for fresh basil leaves, which are the star ingredient, providing an aromatic freshness that is unmistakable. These are combined with pine nuts, which add a subtle nuttiness and creamy texture, and garlic, which contributes a pungent kick that enlivens the palate.
Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino cheese bring a savory depth and a touch of saltiness to the sauce, while extra-virgin olive oil binds all the ingredients together into a smooth, rich emulsion. The method of preparation is also key; historically, the ingredients are ground together using a mortar and pestle, which is said to release the flavors in a way that mechanical processing cannot match.
Pesto Genovese is versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes, most commonly as a pasta sauce, where it clings to the noodles, imparting its bold, herbaceous flavor with every bite. It's also used as a condiment or a spread, adding a burst of flavor to sandwiches, pizzas, and more. The sauce is not only cherished for its taste but also for its association with the Mediterranean diet, being made from fresh, wholesome ingredients that are emblematic of the region's cuisine.
In summary, Pesto Genovese is a celebration of Italian culinary tradition, encapsulating the essence of its ingredients in a sauce that is both simple in its composition and complex in its flavor profile. It stands as a testament to the beauty of Italian cooking, where quality ingredients and time-honored methods come together to create something truly special.
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Sauce
Cuisine Italian
Servings 5 people
Calories 231 kcal


  • 1  special boxwood hammer


  • 50 grams of fresh basil
  • ½ cup of cold pressed olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp Pine nuts


  • A few grains of coarse sea salt Crush the garlic and salt in a mortar. Add the pre-washed and dried basil leaves little by little. The basil leaves are also crushed with careful, swirling movements. When the leaves release their fragrant oils, it’s time to add the pine nuts. Once the ingredients are well crushed in the mortar, add the grated Parmesan cheese and a thin stream of olive oil. Cooking is done at room temperature, and consumption is best done immediately to avoid oxidation and darkening of the sauce. If it accidentally remains or we make a larger dose, we can store it in a tightly closed jar in the refrigerator, but not more than 2 days.
  • The other option is freezing. The recipe is different in each family or restaurant, but it is these small differences that make the tasting of the sauce a real thrill. Tradition dictates that pesto be prepared in a marble mortar and without access to any metal tools. The ingredients are crushed in the mortar with a special boxwood hammer. From the word pestello (hammer), by the way, comes the name of the sauce.
  • Although there is no heat treatment in its preparation, the pesto requires a solid dose of patience. Especially in cases where the traditional way of cooking by hand is followed. Naturally, it was not lacking for the Italian hosts from the Liguria region, who, while waiting for their husbands to return after a long voyage, had enough time to indulge in labor-intensive culinary magic. A little out of tradition are all the other variations of the pesto. And they are really many: pesto of dried tomatoes, with different types of nuts, with capers and anchovies, with arugula.


Keyword basil, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese

History of Pesto Genovese

Pesto Genovese | Authentic Italian Basil Pesto - Recipes from Italy

The options are really diverse and range from saturated with the aroma of garlic and basil sauce to very light versions with sour cream or ricotta cheese, suitable for garnishing fish and vegetables. The basil in the pesto can be replaced with a variety of green herbs and spices: parsley, mint, coriander, yeast (wild garlic). Nuts can also range from cedar, as in the classic recipe, to more affordable – walnuts, cashews, pistachios and almonds.

What they have in common is the texture, the way they are prepared and the fact that they can be successfully combined with different types of pasta, fish, vegetables, bruschettas and even pizza, instead of the traditional tomato sauce. The possibilities for variations are endless not only in the ingredients, but also in the ways of preparation and combination with food, and this is what makes pesto so unique and popular.

The health benefits of this product can be guessed at first glance, given its all-natural plant ingredients. They fit perfectly into the well-known Mediterranean diet, and basil itself is a great source of vitamins A and K and has strong antioxidant properties. The raw nuts in the sauce are an indispensable source of useful fats and amino acids, and olive oil is a real balm for the gastrointestinal tract.

Anything to say about the useful properties of pesto will be small especially Caprese salad. It is even more difficult to talk and write about its taste and aroma. Pesto must be tried, and when that happens, you either stay a fan of it for life, or you just don’t try it a second time. Naturally, I fall into the first category. For me, pesto is a real spectacle of wonderful aromas and my summer favorite, spread on a thin slice of homemade bread with a slice of sweet summer tomato. Its health qualities are indisputable and free me from all remorse, despite its high caloric value.

Tips for making Pesto Genovese

Genoese pesto (Pesto alla genovese) - Italian recipes by GialloZafferano

Cooking tips

Pesto Genovese, a fragrant and verdant sauce hailing from Genoa, Italy, is a testament to the beauty of simplicity in cooking. The traditional recipe calls for just a handful of fresh ingredients—basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil—each playing an essential role in creating a harmonious blend that is both versatile and timeless.

When preparing Pesto Genovese, one’s kitchen is filled with the heady aroma of fresh basil, evoking a sense of warmth and comfort. There’s a certain joy in hand-picking the leaves, bright and tender, and watching them transform as they are gently crushed with the other components. The process is almost meditative, a culinary ritual that connects us to the generations of cooks who have lovingly prepared this sauce before us.

I find that using a mortar and pestle, the traditional method, allows for a more intimate experience with the ingredients. The gentle grinding releases the oils and aromas in a way that a food processor simply cannot replicate. It’s a slower process, yes, but the texture and depth of flavor achieved are well worth the patience required. Of course, modern conveniences have their place, and a food processor can be used for a quicker preparation with delightful results.

The key to a perfect Pesto Genovese lies in the quality of the ingredients. Fresh, vibrant basil, the very best extra-virgin olive oil you can find, authentic Parmesan cheese grated finely, and the freshest garlic will make all the difference. Toasting the pine nuts ever so lightly brings out their nuttiness, adding another layer to the sauce’s complex profile.

One of my personal tips is to blanch the basil leaves briefly before blending them. This helps to lock in that bright green color, ensuring that your pesto remains visually appealing even after a few days in the refrigerator. And while purists might disagree, I believe there’s room for a touch of creativity—perhaps a sprinkle of lemon zest or a substitution of walnuts for pine nuts for a different twist.

In the end, Pesto Genovese is more than just a sauce—it’s a reminder of the power of simple, fresh ingredients and the magic that happens when they come together with care and intention. Whether tossed with pasta, spread on a sandwich, or used as a marinade, it’s a celebration of flavor that can elevate the most humble of dishes to something truly special.

Serving suggestions

Basil Pesto (Pesto Alla Genovese) - Host The Toast

Pesto Genovese, with its vibrant green hue and aromatic bouquet of fresh basil, is a true celebration of the Ligurian coast’s culinary heritage. This verdant sauce, traditionally made with a blend of sweet basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil, has a way of elevating the simplest of dishes to something truly special.

When it comes to serving Pesto Genovese, I find that its versatility is part of its undeniable charm. There’s a certain joy in drizzling this fragrant sauce over a steaming bowl of al dente pasta, allowing the warmth to release the full spectrum of its flavors. It’s as if each strand or shape, whether it be trofie, linguine, or fusilli, becomes a canvas for the pesto’s bright and herbaceous notes.

But the magic of Pesto Genovese doesn’t end with pasta. It whispers of summer when spooned over ripe, heirloom tomatoes in a caprese salad, the basil echoing the garden-freshness of the tomatoes. Or consider it as a sophisticated spread on a crusty baguette, perhaps accompanied by a delicate layer of mozzarella or a few slices of crisp cucumber—it’s a simple yet sublime pleasure.

For those who enjoy exploring the boundaries of traditional recipes, Pesto Genovese can also be a delightful addition to a variety of dishes. Imagine it as a dressing for a new potato salad, lending its rich, nutty flavor to the tender potatoes. Or as a vibrant finishing touch to a grilled vegetable platter, where the smokiness of the charred veggies dances with the pesto’s garlicky zest.

In every dollop of Pesto Genovese, there’s a story—a story of Italian coasts, of hands tenderly picking basil leaves, of the mortar and pestle crushing together ingredients into a paste that’s more than just a condiment; it’s a work of art. Whether you’re sharing a meal with loved ones or savoring a quiet moment alone, incorporating Pesto Genovese into your cooking is an act of love, a nod to tradition, and a testament to the beauty of simplicity in food.

Top 5 FAQs about Pesto Genovese

  • What are the authentic ingredients in Pesto Genovese? The authentic Pesto Genovese is made with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Pecorino cheese, raw garlic, coarse salt, and high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. The ingredients are traditionally ground together using a marble mortar and wooden pestle to achieve the perfect texture and amalgamation of flavors.
  • Can Pesto Genovese be made without pine nuts? While pine nuts are a traditional ingredient, they can be substituted due to allergies, cost, or availability. Alternatives include walnuts, almonds, or even sunflower seeds, though these will slightly alter the taste and texture of the pesto.
  • How should Pesto Genovese be stored? To maintain its freshness and vibrant color, Pesto Genovese should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. A thin layer of olive oil on top can help prevent oxidation. It can also be frozen, often in ice cube trays, for long-term storage.
  • Is Pesto Genovese vegan-friendly? The traditional recipe is not vegan, as it contains cheeses made from animal milk. However, vegan versions can be made by substituting the cheeses with nutritional yeast or vegan cheese alternatives to mimic the umami and salty flavor profile.
  • What dishes pair well with Pesto Genovese? Pesto Genovese is incredibly versatile. It’s most commonly tossed with pasta, but it can also be used as a spread on sandwiches, a topping for pizza, a drizzle over grilled vegetables, or a flavor booster in soups and stews.

Nutritionally, Pesto Genovese is rich in unsaturated fats due to the olive oil and pine nuts, which are beneficial for cardiovascular health. However, it is also calorie-dense, so portion control is recommended for those monitoring their caloric intake. The inclusion of fresh basil provides antioxidants, and the garlic offers potential antimicrobial properties.

In terms of its cultural significance, Pesto Genovese is emblematic of Italian culinary traditions, showcasing the importance of regional ingredients and the preservation of historical food preparation methods. It is a reflection of the Mediterranean diet’s emphasis on plant-based ingredients and healthy fats, fitting into a broader context of nutritious and flavorful eating patterns.

In conclusion, Pesto Genovese is a vibrant, herbaceous sauce deeply rooted in Italian culinary heritage, valued both for its flavor profile and its role in traditional and contemporary Italian cuisine.

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