You may already have several recipes for homemade pesto, but trust me, this Pesto Genovese is worth a try. It’s an award-winning family recipe direct from an Italian chef raised in Genoa, and relies on a unique preparation method to ensure it comes out scrumptious, vibrant and silky smooth!
Genovese Pesto You’ll Make Again and Again!
An aromatic, vibrant and fresh pasta sauce, pesto originated in the early 1600s, in Genoa, a port city in Northwestern Italy. Authentic Genovese pesto calls for just 7 high quality ingredients – fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses. The key to a really good pesto is how the ingredients are combined together, and this Pesto Genovese is, well, simply divine.
Origins of this Pesto Genovese recipe
This particular basil pesto recipe came to me from Chef Paolo Laboa at Solo Italiano restaurant in Portland, Maine. While on a bike trip in Maine, Robert, our friends and I enjoyed a fabulous meal at Solo Italiano. I ordered a pasta dish featuring their “authentic Genovese pesto.”
I’m here to tell you, it was the smoothest, most well balanced pesto I’d ever eaten – and I’ve had a lot over the years. The texture was so silky. Not too garlicy, not too cheesy, not too oily. I was fascinated. So, channeling my mother, I walked into the kitchen and asked to speak to the chef. Chef Paolo couldn’t have been nicer – or more proud of his Pesto Genovese. He said it was an old family recipe that had won several awards in Genoa, where he was born and raised. He graciously offered me the recipe. I was thrilled!
What is the difference between Pesto and Pesto Genovese?
The name Pesto Genovese refers to the traditional pesto sauce that originated in the Italian port city of Genoa. The ingredients are very specific, as is the preparation method (both of which are reflected in this recipe). If a sauce is referred to simply as “pesto” it may have different ingredients than a traditional Pesto Genovese.
Genovese Pesto Recipe Ingredients
Authentic Genovese pesto calls for just 7 high quality ingredients:
Fresh basil leaves
- Toasted pine nuts
- Extra virgin olive oil, preferably Italian
- Fresh garlic
- Kosher salt
- Parmesan cheese
- Pecorino cheese
How to Make Pesto with Fresh Basil
The key to a really good pesto is how the ingredients are combined together. Here is Chef Paolo’s method for creating his award winning Pesto Genovese (he’s okay with using a blender or food processor, rather than the traditional mortar and pestle):
- Soak basil.
Soak basil leaves in cold water for 1 hour.
- Process nuts, oil and garlic.
Place pine nuts, olive oil and garlic in a small blender or food processor. Pulse just until mixture is a coarse paste.
- Add basil.
Shake most, but not all, of the water off 1 cup of the basil leaves. Add to blender and pulse a few times. Repeat with remaining basil leaves, adding 1 cup at a time. Process, pulsing, until puréed and smooth.
- Add salt, then cheeses.
Add salt and pulse until smooth. Add the cheeses and pulse just until blended. Do not over blend, as the sauce can separate.
- Place in bowl.
Place pesto in a small bowl or jar. If preparing more than 30 minutes ahead, cover with a thin layer of olive oil.
Secrets to making a silky smooth pesto
According to chef, the secrets to this Pesto Genovese’s clean, smooth texture are:
- soaking the basil leaves in cold water, and leaving a bit of water on them,
- using finely grated cheeses,
- following his unique, step-by-step blending process (he’s okay with using a blender or food processor, rather than the traditional mortar and pestle),
- pulsing rather than constant processing, so the sauce doesn’t heat up and cause the oil to separate, and
- stirring 1 tablespoon of hot pasta water into the pesto and letting it sit for a few minutes before serving, to melt the cheeses.
How to Store this Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe
Pesto should be spooned into a bowl or jar with a thin layer of olive oil placed on top, covered and refrigerated. It will last for around 2 weeks. It can also be frozen (see below).
Pesto Genovese Recipe FAQ
You should always wash basil leaves before using, unless you purchased them in a package that expressly states they have been washed. For Chef Paolo’s recipe, you actually soak the basil.
Yes, you can substitute other types of nuts (toasted pecans work well), but a traditional Genovese Pesto should be made with pine nuts.
Chef Paolo’s recipe calls for only using the leaves. However, I think you can process softer stems. Just stay away from the thicker ones as they can change the texture of the pesto, and not in a good way.
This is a really difficult question to answer. For 1 pound of pasta, I’ve seen recommendations for anywhere from 3 tablespoons to 1 cup of pesto! It’s really to taste. I usually use around 1/3 to 1/2 cup pesto per 1 pound of pasta. If you accidentally add too much pesto, just add in a bit more pasta water.
While refrigerated pesto will last for up to 2 weeks, I think its flavor is best within a week. Make sure to put a thin layer of olive oil directly on top of the pesto and store it in an airtight container.
Yes, it can be frozen and thawed in the refrigerator. As with refrigeration, make sure to put a thin layer of olive oil directly on top of the pesto and store it in an airtight container. It will last for up to 3 months.
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Recipes Calling for Pesto Genovese
- Goat Cheese, Pesto and Tomato Crostini
- Tuna and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
- Grilled Tarragon Chicken with Pasta, Pecans and Spring Greens
- Roasted Eggplant, Zucchini and Red Pepper
- Smoked Salmon Chopped Salad
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves (stems removed), loosely packed
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic (1 clove)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese
- Soak basil leaves in cold water for 1 hour.
- Place pine nuts, olive oil and garlic in a small blender or food processor. Pulse until mixture is a coarse paste.
- Shake most, but not all, of the water off 1 cup of the basil leaves. Add to blender and pulse a few times. Repeat with remaining basil leaves, adding 1 cup at a time. Process, pulsing, until puréed and smooth.
- Add salt and pulse until smooth. Add the cheeses and pulse just until blended. Do not over blend, as the sauce can separate.
- Place pesto in a small bowl or jar. If preparing more than 30 minutes ahead, cover with a thin layer of olive oil.
When serving: add 1 tablespoon hot pasta water to the sauce and let it sit for a few minutes, to melt the cheeses and make it silkier.
Make ahead: pesto can be prepared, a thin layer of oil added to the top, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Can also be frozen up to 3 months.
- Category: sauces, pasta, make ahead
- Method: food processor or blender
- Cuisine: Italian