Green liquid gold—this divine sauce is so delicious if the ingredients are chosen correctly and a bitter disappointment if not. Pun intended.
You must find the sweetest basil possible–and also an extra virgin olive oil that is fruity and light.
We have a very good friend and Italian artisan baker Jo from La Spiga Bakery. He is from Genoa(Genova) and well he is what I one might consider a food snob–we consider him to have a highly selective palate and he might consider himself to be a food critic. When he and his wife had just moved here we were going to host them for dinner and I had the idea to make pasta with our homemade pesto made with basil from our garden. My love told me that, that would not do. I was surprised knowing that Jo was from Genova and Genova is known for two major foods–Focaccia (which I also believe I make amazingly–and Jo also makes) and PESTO.
David said that to feed Jo pesto from our garden would be like a non-Italian serving pasta to an Italian (which happens more surprisingly more often than you would think!). I was so confused by this! How could our Pesto be so different than that of the Genovese pesto?!!!!
I served Tomato basil sauce made from our organic tomatoes over whole-wheat spaghetti. They loved it! While eating I jokingly told Jo about what David had told me and Jo seriously said, in his strong Italian accent,
“Yes, I would not have appreciated your pesto.”
I couldn’t believe it! He then went on to describe Pesto alla Genovese….how basil from Genova is a special variety only grown in that region. The leaves are small and sweet. The olive oil used is not bitter and also sweet. Nowhere else can you find that variety of basil and because of that no one else can make that pesto!
That is what I love about Italy and their food! Each region has their specialties, their own unique richness and horticulture and terrain that gives their food it’s special flavor and depth that you might not find somewhere else.
So I give you this recipe, but know that if Jo comes to your home, or any other Genovese, they might just consider it a green sauce, not Pesto. Don’t be offended! Just appreciate the fact that they have come far from home and dream and long for their sweet Genovese pesto that is not to be found unless they return back home.
4-5 cups basil
1⁄2-3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Slight amount of fresh lemon juice
*1⁄2 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano + extra for garnishing
(original recipe calls for parmigiano reggiano but for dairy free option use pecorino romano)
Sea salt, to taste
**1/2 to 1 ladle of pasta water if serving pesto on pasta
- Carefully wash basil making sure not to press or crush leaves. Shake water gently off of leaves, but don’t worry if there is water still on plant. This will add to the gentleness of the pesto.
- Place all ingredients in blender. Blend on medium speed. Once Pesto is well emulsified, *add parmigiano or pecorino.
- We add the parmigiano last so that it doesn’t clump together or melt inside the pesto. As the ingredients are blended the pesto becomes warm and can heat up the parmigiano causing it to clump together. We are looking for a smooth emulsion. Adding the parmigiano last will give us the results we are looking for.
- **If serving pesto with pasta, KEEP the pasta water. You will need the water to help the pesto spread evenly on the pasta. This is where Italians have mastered the art of making and serving pesto on pasta. The pasta water is used to create a beautiful emulsion that will help the pesto glide along the surface of the pasta and as the pasta soaks up the flavors and pesto you may need to add one to two teaspoons of pasta water to each dish to help the dish stay smooth and creamy instead of oily.
- Last garnish with parmigiano or pecorino
- If storing, place in container and pour a thin film of EVOO on top to help prevent oxidation.
- If you don’t use all of the pesto, remember to pour a thin film of EVOO on top again and store again.
Should keep in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks if in tight container. 3 months in regular freezer. 8 months in deep freezer.