.. I'm hoping a native Genoan can tell me. Every recipe for Pesto Genovese I've found out there includes a fair amount of garlic. But I barely cook the sauce. I really just warm it through, tossing with the pasta and a little pasta water to form an emulsion. This means the garlic is pretty much raw. Even a little is pungent enough to detract from the other ingredients.. is this really traditional? Am I doing something else wrong? I've taken, instead, to melting a little garlic in a frying pan before introducing the pasta, pesto, and water.

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    Fresh raw garlic isn’t supposed to be pungent. Try (a) reducing the amount of garlic, and (b) finding fresher garlic. Cooking or blanching the garlic will completely change its taste. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 6 '18 at 17:16
  • @KonradRudolph I suspect you're right - I can't get the right kind of garlic, and it isn't fresh enough. – Robin Betts Jul 6 '18 at 20:10
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    Remark: even in Italy, not everyone enjoys the taste of garlic in pesto. There are many recipes for garlic-free pesto, and it's even sold in supermarkets (well, at least the mass-produced version of pesto, to which many Genoans will object). So don't feel weird for that. – Federico Poloni Jul 7 '18 at 10:07

According to the CONSORZIO DEL PESTO GENOVESE, which defines what is considered official Pesto Genovese, it does contain garlic. They suggest that traditionally it contained less garlic than the current official recipe calls for - one clove for 600g of pasta versus two. Later on they mention that it contains one clove for each thirty leaves of basil, and also leave the following suggestion:

The garlic must be sweet, it must not prevail while making itself felt in the background ... in short, it can not be missing!

Note that pesto is traditionally not cooked at all; it’s made solely in the food processor (or of course a mortar and pestle or mezzaluna truly traditionally).

As far as your taste - I would suggest leaving out the garlic if you truly don’t like it!

Some suggestions for keeping the garlic taste down:

From Cooks Illustrated:

  • Blanching the garlic (briefly cooking it in boiling water).
  • Microwaving the garlic until warm
  • Toasting the garlic in a dry pan

From Fine Cooking:

  • Remove the germ, or the thin center piece of the garlic, which often turns green (like a sprout); this is more bitter than the rest of the garlic.

Avoid cooking it in butter or other preparation methods that will substantially alter its flavor, as that will also alter the flavor of the pesto excessively (unless you like that flavor change!).

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  • Well you can't get more authoritative than that! Thanks for finding it. I suspect my problem is ( as is true of most great, simple Italian recipes ) the raw materials must be spot on, and I can't lay my hands on them. In particular the 'sweet' garlic. I'll have to improvise. – Robin Betts Jul 6 '18 at 14:13
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    If you want to moderate the garlic, maybe try blanching it in water, rather than cooking the sauce (please don't!) or cooking it with oil - that will change the flavor less. – Silenced Temporarily Jul 6 '18 at 16:25
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    I'm certainly having impressed on me the importance of not cooking pesto at all! – Robin Betts Jul 6 '18 at 16:44
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    @RobinBetts I added a few suggestions for moderating the garlic, including A. Leistra's suggestion, and a few references. – Joe M Jul 6 '18 at 17:27
  • FWIW, I generally roast or toast my garlic per above. It mellows the flavor, and that way I don't have to be as careful about exactly how much I add. – FuzzyChef Jul 6 '18 at 18:42

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