During all this coronavirus confusion I realised that I have never written about pesto … that is actually the most important and famous product from Liguria 😉 What is more, I saw the pesto recipes that have nothing to do with the original one! That’s why now I decided to make up this gap 🙂
Pesto is a sauce originating from Genoa that consists of crushed garlic, pine nuts, salt, basil leaves, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Sardo and olive oil.
We have to go back to the Roman age. The ancient Romans used to eat a similar sauce called moretum, which was made by crushing garlic, salt, cheese, herbs, olive oil and vinegar together. The use of this sauce in the Roman cuisine was mentioned by Vergilio in an ancient collection of poems. During the Middle Ages, a sauce that became very popular in the Genoa was agliata. It was a mash of garlic and walnuts, as garlic was a staple in the nutrition of Ligurians, especially for the sailers. The introduction of basil, the main ingredient of modern pesto, occurred in more recent times and is first documented in the mid-19th century. From that time, Ligurians were using pesto as we know nowadays. However, the real popularity of pesto arrived in the ’90s when more and more American and Europeans tourists started visiting Liguria.
The name comes from the Genoese verb pestâ, which means “to pound”, “to crush”, in reference to the original method of preparation: according to tradition, the ingredients are “crushed” or ground in a marble mortar through a circular motion of a wooden pestle.
4 bunches of Genoese basil (60-70 g of leaves)
45-60 g of Parmesan cheese
20-40 g of Sardinian pecorino cheese
60-80 cc of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Ligurian Riviera
10 g of coarse sea salt
30 g of pine nuts (preferably from Pisa or, at least, from the Mediterranean area)
1 or 2 cloves of garlic (preferably from Vessalico, Liguria, for its delicate taste)
Wash the basil leaves and then dry them thoroughly on a tea towel.
Pesto is traditionally prepared in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle.
First, garlic and pine nuts are placed in the mortar and reduced to a cream and then the basil leaves are added with coarse salt and ground to a creamy consistency.
Then a mix of Parmesan cheese and Sardinian pecorino is added. To help incorporate the cheese a little extra-virgin olive oil is added. And voilà, your pesto is ready!
You should never squish the leaves too much. You should gently rotate the pestle along the walls of the mortar, so as to tear them up without cutting them.
However practical, the use of the blender should be avoided because the steel blades and the heat alter the taste and flavour of the sauce.
Pesto can be kept for a few days in a fridge, you can cover it by a layer of extra-virgin olive oil. It can also be frozen for later use.
Pesto is the second most famous sauce in the world, just after the tomato sauce. It is a symbol of excellence of Made in Italy and of Liguria, its culture. In 2019, Giovanni Toti, the governor of Liguria and Marco Bucci, the mayor of Genoa launched the request to include pesto Genoese among the heritage to be protected by UNESCO, as already happened with pizza. We will see … maybe after the coronavirus emergency …
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