Classic Pesto Sauce: How To Make It

Pesto can be purchased in almost any supermarket, and it’s so popular you’ll even find a selection of recipes online to help you create your own pesto.

However, before you try any of them, take a moment to check out the authentically Italian original Liguria recipe. This pesto recipe uses real Genovese pesto, along with the best local ingredients. You’ll instantly appreciate the difference between this and more modern versions.

What Is Pesto Used For In Italy

Traditionally, pesto, or pesto sauce, is created from pine nuts, crushed garlic, salt and parmesan cheese. A basil pesto recipe will also include the herb basil. Most importantly, genuine pesto will contain olive oil. The best versions of this sauce are those that use local Italian ingredients, such as extra virgin olive oil, and replace the parmesan with a Grana Padano PDO. That’s a hard yellow cheese made from raw cow's milk. It’s even acceptable for those with a lactose intolerance.

The original pesto is believed to date back to the Middle Ages, or perhaps even Roman times. However, the flavor that Italians know so well today dates from the mid-19th century.

Pesto sauce is generally used with pasta. Traditionally, it would be paired with ‘mandilli de saea’, which translates as silk handkerchiefs and is a form of pasta. Originally, this pesto dish would be served with potatoes and string beans, usually cooked after the pesto pasta but in the same pot to enhance the flavor.

Pesto has spread across the globe and many people consume it with pasta. However, it is sometimes served with boiled potatoes, sliced beef and also tomatoes.

How To Make Pesto

Wondering how to make pesto or fancy trying to recreate the authentic Italian taste? Your first decision is whether to recreate the traditional recipe or choose something more modern.

If you want to stick with the tradition, you’ll need Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, Genovese basil, European pine nuts and either Grana Padano or Parmigiano. Coarse salt is also added.

Less traditional options have appeared outside of Italy: these will often use a different type of nut, such as cashew or macadamia. It’s also possible to replace the pine nuts with tomatoes and almonds, creating a red pesto sauce.

Should you be ready to make your own pesto you can try the following recipe. However, if you invest in a jar or two of the original Ligurian recipe, as mentioned earlier, you’ll probably prefer to buy it ready-made. The taste is fantastic!

You’ll need:

  • 3 cups of fresh basil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 100g cheese, ideally Grana Padano but parmesan will do
  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

You will need to crush the garlic and nuts. This can be done in a food blender or you can do it by hand with a mortar and pestle.

Once you’ve crushed the garlic and nuts you can finely shred the fresh basil and add it along with the cheese, and blend it further. The aim is to mix it while breaking it into small pieces.

Add your olive oil to help turn the dry powders into a delicious paste.

It’s worth noting that making pesto sauce with a pestle and mortar brings out more flavor in the sauce.

Summing Up

The answer to how to make pesto depends on your commitment to trial and error. While all the recipes online are genuine and taste great, it’s difficult to compare them to the original. Although, it is fun to try and learn in the process.

In short, you’ll probably prefer to order your pesto sauce from people that have been making it the traditional way for years.