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What's your recipe and technique for the best Genovese Pesto?

I use basil, paremsan, garlic, pine nuts (very lightly toasted first), olive oil (extra virgin) and I like a little lemon juice too. I use a food processor to blend it and serve onto spaghetti (bit it also works great spread over one layer of bread in a steak sandwich).

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@Brendan: that's not Genovese pesto. –  Lorenzo Aug 2 '10 at 9:11
    
@Brendan: and I'm sure your spinach pesto is very good but... –  nico Aug 31 '11 at 15:57
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closed as not constructive by SAJ14SAJ, Jay, rumtscho Apr 28 '13 at 16:56

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8 Answers

Use very fresh, young basil. The smaller the leaves are, the better. If it's got flowers or buds on top, it will be bitter. Take the leaves off the stems and submerge in cold water for a few minutes while you get everything else together.

Peel a clove or two of garlic. Not too much. Remove the germ. I like to cut it up a bit into pea-sized chunks; makes it easier to grind. Throw it into your biggest mortar. Add a handful of very fresh pinenuts (check to make sure they aren't rancid!). Grind using a circular motion until it's a uniform, creamy consistency.

Lift the basil out of the water and lay them out on a towel. Pick out a few of the best-looking leaves for garnishes later. Roll the rest up in the towel, and twist the ends gently. They should be reasonably dry, but you don't want to wring the oils out of them. Put a handful of basil and a good pinch of coarse salt into the mortar. Keep grinding away until it's reduced to a paste. Add a couple more handfuls of basil and grind. Taste it. If it's still too garlicky, add another handful of basil and grind away.

Take out the pestle and scrape your pesto into a bowl. Add a few tablespoons each of grated parmigiano reggiano and pecorino sardo (if you can't find it you can use pecorino romano, which has a stronger flavor, but use less), and a healthy drizzle of the best olive oil you have. Stir it in with a spoon. Taste for salt.

Serve tossed with big squares of homemade pasta. I run my pasta through on the thinnest setting, then cut them into squares as wide as the sheets my pasta maker rolls out. It would be better to use a wooden rolling pin and roll out the pasta by hand, but I'm lazy. Anyway, toss the pasta with some pesto and a little pasta water, put it on warm plates, and spoon more pesto over the pasta. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a dusting of cheese, and a couple basil leaves.

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I am TOLD that the native "small leaf" Genovese basil makes a better pesto.

I KNOW that leaves from an old plant that has been on your window cill for a long while makes lousy pesto.

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Genovese pesto is a very simple dressing to do, but the key is to use state of the art ingredients and absolutely not use a food processor. You have to use a marble pestle with a wood mortar. The name pesto comes from the pestle tool you have to use!

You start by crushing garlic in the pestle (a clove for each 30 basil leaves) and add salt. Then gradually add basil and press until releases its own "oil", then add pine nuts (Pinus pinea), then grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or Grana Padano) and some grated Pecorino Sardo. Only at the end add extra-virgin olive oil (preferably from Liguria coast, as you are doing a Ligur dish) and continue crushing until the desired result is reached.

You have also to carefully choose the kind of pasta. Avoid spaghetti, you should prefer linguine.

PS: If you really can't get a pestle, just add all the ingredients in the food processor with the notable exception of olive oil. When the sauce is done, then you can add oil mixing it with a spoon (and not with the processor).

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To help make the food processor work, bruise the Basil with a wooden spoon first. –  yossarian Aug 9 '10 at 12:32
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@yossarin: the problem is that you shouldn't use a food processor at all: if you use it, you will get a "cream", but pesto is definitely not a cream, it should have it very own consistence. –  Lorenzo Aug 11 '10 at 22:32
    
Lorenzo is right: this is the traditional recipe. I would add that the pasta traditionally used with this sauce is trofie, but even in Italy it's usually a little hard to find outside of Liguria region. –  MaD70 Oct 27 '10 at 16:23
    
Another technique for crushing instead of chopping is to place ingredients (minus oil and salt) into a very heavy duty plastic bag with a "zip lock" and use a rolling pin, kitchen hammer, or small block of wood. Go easy, you are crushing not smashing. Some computer circuit boards come in such bags, they just need a good wash first –  TFD Nov 26 '10 at 1:45
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For those of you who can read Italian, in this page you will find the official recipe, of the Pesto Consortium. Note that you can also (optionally) add some walnuts. –  nico Aug 31 '11 at 16:01
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My personal experience with pesto does not mince the components a lot. cut the pine seeds with a knife, and do the same with the basil. Don't smash them into a powder. Add the oil and the finely grated parmigiano and you are ready to go. personally I find it much more pleasurable this way.

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I often put a tablespoon or so of tahini in, which adds that sesame flavor... And lime or lemon juice, and sometimes a big squirt of something hot, like vinegar that has had hot peppers marinating in it. Or just Tabasco or something like that.

We like things hot. You could even grind some red pepper flakes into the processor pot.

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I've had success with flat leaf parsley or radish leaves instead of basil, walnuts or hazelnuts instead of pine nuts, and pecorino instead of parmesan.

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If you substitute basil it is no longer Genovese pesto... About the pecorino, the original recipe actually requires it in addition of parmigiano. –  Lorenzo Aug 2 '10 at 9:35
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Passed from my Sicilian forebears:

Fresh basil, a ton. The farmer's market is your best bet for a source, you need a whole in-season bundle for a 1.5 liter food processor. That's something like 8 to 10 fully grown stems.

Pine nuts, olive oil, garlic

Fill the bottom third of the food processor with pine nuts. Add enough olive oil to just cover them. Add two cloves of garlic. Then fill the food processor with washed fresh basil leaves and blend until its a fine paste. Fill it and blend it again. Repeat this step until the paste reaches the liquid line of the food processor.

It can be put into tupperwares and frozen for up to a year and thawed in servings in the microwave. I generally use an 8oz serving for a 1 lb box of rotini pasta. I add freshly grated Parmesan cheese when I add the pesto to the pasta. If you're having difficulty getting it to spread evenly on the pasta, then add a little olive oil.

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If you really have to use a food processor (you should use a pestle), then at least don't add the olive oil at the beginning! You should add it at the end and just mix it a spoon. –  Lorenzo Aug 2 '10 at 9:33
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I use a food processor too, but recently I started doing the cheese, the nuts + oil + garlic, and the greens separately. I mix them by hand to finish.

I toast the nuts in the oil with most of the garlic before chopping that. I think it improves the taste a lot. Also I often use pistachio nuts (not "authentic", though "authentic pesto" is mostly a 20th century fabrication by the Italian food industry) and/or almonds in addition to pine nuts.

Because I make it for my kids, I often add a bunch of fresh spinach (six ounce pre-washed bag, usually). It barely affects the taste (certainly not negatively) and it's like the only way to get greens into the one kid who "doesn't eat leaves".

Oh and another good but definitely non-traditional addition is a small (small) amount of good-quality Chinese roasted sesame oil. It complements the nuts nicely. I suppose you could use walnut oil too but that's kind-of expensive and I don't keep it around.

edit — John Dickie's Delizia! is a very good read and totally fascinating. That's my source for what I wrote about "authentic pesto" - there's much of a chapter devoted to it.

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