What Is Genovese Pesto?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Also known as pesto alla Genovese, Genovese pesto is a basil-based sauce from northern Italy. The vibrant green sauce is made from grinding together basil, pine nuts, and a variety of other ingredients that vary depending upon each individual chef's recipe. The pesto is traditionally used for dressing pasta, though it may be used on many other foods if preferred. It should be clarified that the name Genovese pesto does not refer to a specific variety of the sauce; any authentic pesto sauce is essentially Genovese pesto.

Kalamata olives, which are sometimes included in Genovese pasta.
Kalamata olives, which are sometimes included in Genovese pasta.

In addition to the main ingredients of basil and pine nuts, most Genovese pesto recipes call for garlic and olive oil. Finely grated cheese is another traditional element in the pasta sauce. Depending upon the recipe, different cheeses may be used. Romano is often called for. Parmesan, however, is also a popular choice, as is Grana Padano.

Genovese pesto pasta.
Genovese pesto pasta.

Pesto can be made without cheese if desired, which can make the sauce vegan-friendly as well as less caloric. Vegan cheese can also be used in place of regular cheese if desired. Some Genovese pesto recipes also call for kalamata olives, though these are not necessary to make the sauce. Salt and pepper are often listed as ingredients in some recipes.

Basil, which is used in making Genovese pesto.
Basil, which is used in making Genovese pesto.

The traditional Genovese pesto from ancient recipes of the Liguria region is made by hand with a mortar and pestle. Modern cooks often adapt this cooking method, however, with a food processor. If the pine nuts are thoroughly crushed, a blender or mixer may also be used if those are the only other tools on hand.

Parmesan cheese is sometimes used in pesto sauce.
Parmesan cheese is sometimes used in pesto sauce.

To make Genovese pesto, washed basil leaves are traditionally crushed together with pine nuts until the mixture is very fine. The rest of the ingredients are added and gently pounded until the entire sauce is uniform and creamy. No added cooking is necessary, though many cooks prefer to heat the pesto before serving it. If the food being topped with pesto, such as pasta or pizza, is already hot or being heated, additional heating should not be necessary.

A less common use for Genovese pesto is pouring the sauce into a ramekin or similar small dish for dipping breads or other food items. Some chefs also serve the pesto on top of other sauces, such as marinara or meat sauce, as a garnish. Grilled meats are sometimes drizzled with pesto for flavoring, as are vegetables. Casseroles, soups, and other hearty dishes can be flavored with pesto, which can also add bulk to a recipe if desired. Pesto can also be spread on sandwiches or salads as a dressing.

Genovese pesto can be used instead of red sauce on a pizza.
Genovese pesto can be used instead of red sauce on a pizza.
Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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