The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Monday, 8 August 2011

The true pesto "alla Genovese"

It is really true that secrets can only be discovered with the locals.

I have always loved pesto but often found it difficult to forget (= *digest*). It was all that raw chopped garlic that you could not even to dodge (having become invisible in the mix) that only "les Gaulois" or Vampires could enjoy.

It took me a trip to Genoa to find the answer.

Liguria is that thin moon shaped region of Italy boarding with France. The weather is mild almost all year round (the coldest is 6C). It is almost impossible to find an ugly village, town. What gives the area an element of extreme charm is the mountains which almost touch the sea forcing the Arlecchino houses to perch on steep hills.

Grape harvest is a real climbers' job making the local wine, Vermentino, quite expensive - and even more is the sweet, fortified version of it that grows only on even steeper hills, Sciacchetra', making you appreciate every drop of what you drink.

I cannot figure out where they grow the mountains of basil that Ligurians seem to consume to produce their pesto. I reckon there must be hidden forests of make enough pesto for 6 people for example you need 2 big bunches of basil, equivalent to two small/medium plants.
The sacrifice is well worth it though!

I am not reporting the entire recipe, as you can dig it out yourself from last year's posts. Instead, here are some mega-tips you will need if you want to impress your guests (and yourself too!).

#1 Pine nuts: try to find Italian pine nuts rather than Chinese ones that every supermarket seems to sell. Believe me, they do taste different!

#2 The garlic affair: instead of chopping the garlic, simply peel the clove and infuse it whole in the mixture for at least 20 minutes. Just before using the pesto, remove it (and use it for another occasion).

#3 The Parmesan: do not add the grated parmisan and hard pecorino to the mix. Only sprinkle a generous amount of it on your plate. Even more if you plan to keep it in the fridge. Without the cheese and with an extra layer of olive oil, the green potion can last for almost a week!

The true way of eating pesto is to dress short pasta, ideally trofie (short tight swirls with pointy ends) or otherwise potato gnocchi, and serve them with small pieces of boiled potatoes and green beans which you can cook in the same pot of the pasta, simply mind the cooking time - first the potatoes, then the green beans, and then pasta.

Try to believe me!...have I ever lied to you?

Genova is a maritime city, and this means that it has been, and still is, a real melting pot - Arabics, Chinese, Portorican, Ecuadorians, Senegaleses...all living in a labyrinth of narrow lanes staircases. The Lonely Planet describes it as an "inside-out" city. Not sure what that really me it is more a fat snail with its feet in the water.

The timid tourist will be quite surprised to find dotted over a couple of roads (via Pra seemed to be the most crowded one), in full day light, a number of "ladies-in-waiting"...but custa l'e' Zena!


  1. I think I could probably survive on pesto alla genovese alone. It has everything a chap needs all in one bowl. And the colour is amazing!

  2. I agree - and the shade of green of their pesto is unique! Truly magnificent.

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  4. il bello e' che e' facile da farsi ma ci vuole tanto basilico e in UK e' difficile farlo crescere in abbondanza!!! se hai un segreto nel farlo rigoglire fammi sapere xx

  5. Good point Giulia! My only secret is to keep the plants away from sneaky snails or slugs, keep them warm and in the sun, water them very often and if too crowded in one pot to move some of the roots. I do believe that Liguria must have forests of basil!

  6. It does! Why else do you think the road and railways have so many keep the uninformed (and the sneaky snails or slugs) away from the basil forests, of course!