Pesto alla genovese

Pesto sauce, Genoa-style   Traditional recipe from Liguria

Pesto sauce is one of the most popular Italian recipes in the world. Too bad that it isn't very often done in a workmanlike manner, in Italy and even outsde Italy. It is a recipe from Genoa and around Genoa at least 60 different versions have been counted. It happens every family in the area has its own recipe!! All this introduction to say that the doses for all ingredients (basil, pine nuts, garlic, Pecorino and Parmesan cheese, olive oil and salt) are highly variable. This explains why you should add "at least" before the various amounts of ingredients needed to make pesto sauce. So everyone can calibrate his doses according to his own personal taste.

Pesto sauce for tossing Italian pasta; it is made with pine nuts, olive oil, basil, pecorino and Parmigiano cheese, garlic
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Pesto sauce

Ingredients / Serves 4

  • 40g (1 1/2 ounce) fresh basil (about 50 leaves)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 10g (1/3 ounce) pine nuts
  • 10g (1/3 ounce) grated Pecorino cheese
  • 10g (1/3 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 80ml (2 2/3 fluid ounces - 1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt
  • Time:
    preparation: about 60 minutes
    cooking: no required
    total: 60 minutes
  • Difficulty:
    medium difficulty
  • How many calories in a serving?
    Calories: 233 (kcal) 12 % GDA (*)- 975 (kJ)
    Protein: 3.4 (g) 7 % GDA
    Total fat: 24.1 (g) 35 % GDA
    Total carbohydrate: 0.7 (g) 1 % GDA
    Sugars: 0.7 (g) 1 % GDA

Look at infographic of nutrition facts

Download free PDF version (154 download).
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Pesto sauce recipe


  • - Prepare basil.
    Wash basil leaves in cold water twice. Make this step quickly, don't let basil leaves be in water too long.
    Pat dry them with absorbent kitchen paper.
  • - Begin making sauce.
    Put basil leaves in a mortar together with 2 or 3 grains of coarse salt, pine nuts and garlic.
    Press all these ingredients with a rotatory motion using a pestle. You must obtain an homogeneous mixture.
    At this point add the two kinds of cheese and continue pressing and rotating.
    Then pour in half the olive oil, little by little, while you continue pounding.
    You must have a creamy sauce.
  • - The last step.
    Complete your sauce adding remaining olive oil and stir.
    Your sauce is ready!
    Arm yourself with patience, a lot of patience! Of course the comparison with the different times of execution (mortar or food processor) helps to choose food processor ... right? ;))



  • - Recipe versions.
    Lots. I've already written in my introductions. Some people use only Pecorino cheese, others only Parmesan cheese.
    Doses of ingredients are very different and there are ingredients rich in fat so you must be careful if pesto becomes a habit or you.
    In Italy we can find version of pesto without garlic easily. If you want to prepare a similar version at home it is enough not to use it. Someone replaces it with a piece of onion.
  • - Mortar or food processor?
    If you use a mortar you need at least 45 to 60 minutes. If you use a food processor you need only 5 minutes plus the time for cleaning and washing basil but it isn't the same thing!
    In any case if you decide to use a food processor I suggest how you can not overheat basil leaves, ruining the taste of pesto sauce hopelessly. First of all you have to keep blender jar in the freezer for about an hour. And then don't use the highest speeds. Finally, put all the ingredients together but don't use all the olive oil.
  • - How to preserve pesto sauce.
    Pesto sauce should be stored in the refrigerator for four to five days at the most, covered with a thin layer of oil.
    You can also store it in your freezer for one to two months. Remember to divide it into the portions you use to toss pasta. So if you are pesto lovers you can enjoy it in late fall too. Let it thaw at room temperature and use it only on hot pasta.

Menu planning

  • - You can use pesto sauce to toss pasta (trenette, trofie, lasagna, spaghetti, ...) and gnocchi (potato dumplings) or for making other kinds of recipes with eggs and asparagus.
    It can also be the topping for Italian pizza.
    In all cases it tastes fantastic!
  • - Basil is in season in summer from May to September. So I suggest you not to do pesto sauce in winter even if you find fresh basil at the supermarket. Its leaves can't have the same scent.
    In fact people who live in Liguria and Genoa prepare winter pesto in the cold months :))
  • - Recipe for winter pesto.
    Ingredients / Serves 4
    50g (1 3/4 ounces) tender Swiss chard leaves, cleaned
    1 garlic clove
    15g (1/2 ounce) pine nuts
    10g (1/3 ounce) Pecorino cheese, grated
    10g (1/3 ounce) Parmesan cheese, grated
    100ml (3 1/3 fluid ounces) extra virgin olive oil
    Swiss chard leaves must have no veining. Combine all ingredients as you've just read for summer pesto recipe.

Useful links for this recipe

Healthy eating

  • - The calories of pesto sauce without the addition of pasta do not say anything at all. You will find much more interesting to look at the notes I wrote for pasta with pesto whose link is above.
    Instead, here, I show you nutrition facts of winter pesto that are definitely slightly higher for the variation of pine nuts.
    Energy: 269 kCal (1126 kJ)
    Protein: 2.9g
    Total fat: 28.4g
    Carbohydrates: 0.6g
    Sugars: 0.6g
    Fiber: 0.3g