How to make Pesto like a Ligurian
I used to make pesto with my food processor. I just had to blend all ingredients and there you have – a quick and easy sauce. Little did I know that using a mortar and pestle would change the taste of this ancient recipe. Indeed, pesto dates back to the mid 800’s and – of course – Ligurian cooks did not have any electrical appliances back then.
Even though a lot of people find this culinary tool impractical – and somewhat underused, there are numerous creative and tasty recipes you can come up with:
- You can prepare the best guacamole you have ever tasted;
- You can make salsa;
- You can make your own Garam Masala;
- You can make salad dressings;
- You can prepare wonderful curries;
- You can crush spices like peppercorns; and
- You can prepare PESTO!
Pesto comes from the Italian verb “pestare”, which means to crush / to grind; so when making pesto, the use of a marble mortar and a wooden pestle is essential to get good results. The process of grinding using downward pressure and a circular motion is the best way to release natural oils in herbs, as well as to extract all the aromas and flavors from nuts and spices.
In Italy there are different kinds of pesto (pesto alla Siciliana , pesto alla Trapanese, etc.),but the most popular pesto is Pesto alla Genovese (the recipe comes from Genova, the capital city of the Liguria Region).
Since there are many versions of this sauce, I browsed through the sites of the Italian region of Liguria, and I came across the official site of the Consorzio del Pesto Genovese, an association engaged in the protection of the traditional pesto recipe. Therefore, after finding the best source I could ever hope for, I wanted to share with you the secrets of making Pesto as Ligurians do.
Sticking to the traditional version is time consuming and it takes patience, but if you have a passion for food, making pesto the old way won’t be an unpleasant task!!!
Pesto alla Genovese
Ingredients for 600 grams of pasta
- 50 gr basil (about 60 basil leaves)
- 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 6 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 tablespoons Pecorino cheese (romano, toscano, sardo or siciliano)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts
- Some coarse salt
Utensils: a marble mortar and a wooden pestle (but I am using a marble pestle)
- Wash basil leaves in cold water and pat dry. The smaller and younger the leaves, the more aromatic the pesto will be. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle crush 2 garlic cloves. The rule is to crush 1 garlic clove per 30 basil leaves.
- Add little by little the basil leaves crushing them using a light and steady circular motion while adding some coarse salt (be careful when adding salt since cheese is already salty!).
- When basil leaves produce a bright green liquid, add pine nuts. Pine nuts have essential oils that will soften and will amalgamate the sauce.
- Add cheese
Add extra virgin olive oil little by little and blend.
A suggestion: use pesto as soon as it is done for a better and fresher taste. If you want to conserve it (and since pesto is prepared “ a freddo”, which means at room temperature), the best way is to omit oil and keep it as a paste and freeze it. When ready to prepare pesto, unfreeze the quantity of paste you want to use and blend it with oil before serving.