Genoese pesto’s unique flavor is famous all over the world, and countless are its variations, but the concert of flavor of the original recipe is comparable to no other. The ingredients are only six, but they must be selected and processed with the uttermost attention and following some essential secret tips.
Basil is the main ingredient and the best is the one grown along the slopes clinging on the sea along the coast between Genoa and Savona. The secrets concerning it are its freshness, using the younger smaller leaves, which have a gentler taste and crush more easily, without the stem. Ideally the basil should not be washed so that it doesn’t lose any essential oils, or it must be completely dried after washing it. The best garlic for pesto is Aglio di Vessalico, grown in Valle Arroscia, in the back-country of the Italian Riviera’s west coast. It is important to remove the garlic’s inner green bit, which is very strong, and to adjust its quantity while making pesto in order to obtain a balanced flavor. The nuts of choice are pine nuts, preferably the one cultivated in Tuscany, from Pisa precisely. They are important to give a sweet flavor to pesto and confer a certain creaminess due to the oils that they contain. As far as cheese is concerned it must be Parmesan cheese (even if, some Genoese add also matured Pecorino cheese, which is more spicy and salty), and it must be matured at least 24-30 months, as it melts better with the sauce and gives a more defined and harmonic taste.
The perfect oil is an extra virgin olive oil (EVO) from the Italian Riviera, which is delicate and not too pungent. EVO is very important because it amalgamates all the ingredients, encapsulate the essentials oils given off the basil leaves and prevents the pesto from oxidizing keeping its bright green color. Finally, the last ingredient is salt, and the secret here is to use rock salt because, on top of preventing oxidation, it helps grinding and it makes easier to break the basil leaves with the pestle. Yes, pestle. This is the most important secret of the original Genoese pesto: marble mortar and pestle. These tools tear up the basil leaves without cutting them allowing them to perfectly liberate the green essential oils they contain. Furthermore, the marble of the mortar is cold and this prevents the oxidation of the basil. Pesto made with the mortar, therefore, is definitely tastier, more scented and pleasantly light green. Indeed, it is said that a true Genoese must be able to tell if a pesto has been made with a food processor or with mortar and pestle.