what’s cooking wednesday: pesto alla genovese

OK, show of hands. Who loves basilico?

Me me me!

Today’s What’s Cooking Wednesday recipe is Pesto alla Genovese, and although many of you probably know this basil and garlic-based sauce as a companion for pasta (often paired with linguine or spaghetti), I’m here to tell you that this should in no way limit your creativity.

I’m giving you a basic pesto recipe and one very easy serving suggestion (great for summer snacks!), but the possibilities are truly endless–Jamie Oliver told me so just the other day. He even mentioned chicken, and he’s a genius in the cucina.

But before we get to the recipe, a little information on pesto:

First of all, the word “pesto” means pounded or crushed; indeed the traditionally made pesto is made in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle. “Genovese” means that the recipe originated in the city of Genoa (Liguria region), as legend goes, as far back as the 16th century when a sauce called “battuto d’aglio,” loosely, crushed garlic, is referenced.

The traditional ingredients are basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, and Pecorino Sardo (a strong cheese from Sardinia), but most modern recipes also add pine nuts and/or other ingredients.

Note that Pesto alla Genovese isn’t the only pesto in town though; there’s also Pesto alla Siciliana from Sicily. Perhaps I’ll give you a recipe for that someday as well, but for now I’ll tell you that it includes far less basil and…tomatoes! Love those tomatoes!

Pesto alla Genovese

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed (no stems)
2 medium-sized garlic cloves
4 tbsp pine nuts
1/4 tsp salt (can leave this out if your cheese is salty enough)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (if you don’t have this, use all parmigiano)

If you’re using a mortar and pestle, I’ve been told (and I’ve read) that the trick is to chop the ingredients separately and then combine them bit by bit (except the cheese, which should be added last).

I, however, use a hand-held blender because that’s what I have. You may use a food processor. I put in the garlic, basil, pine nuts, salt, and olive oil and blend well, but not too well–you don’t need it to be completely amalgamated. Sometimes I add a little extra olive oil if it looks too dry.

Then I stir in the cheeses.

That’s it!

As shown above, I’ve sliced a big beefsteak tomato, spread on an espresso spoonful of pesto, then shaved some parmigiano on top–looks pretty, we’ve got the green, white, and red of the Italian flag covered, and it’s delicious to boot.

Would it gross you out to know I had this for breakfast?

Another idea would be to stuff cherry tomatoes with pesto. Yum! I just love tomatoes and pesto together–can you tell?

I’ve also had roasted red peppers stuffed with scallops and pesto, and they not only looked impressive, but also tasted fabulous.

So you see, pesto ain’t just for pasta anymore (not that it ever was), so get grinding!

Buon appetito!


[tags]pesto, basil, basilico, pesto alla genovese, recipes, what’s cooking wednesday[/tags]

53 Beans of Wisdom to “what’s cooking wednesday: pesto alla genovese”
  1. Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah)

    Hmm-mmm, I love basil, adore pesto allo genovese, adore an insalata caprese, relish pomodori e melanzane with lashings of basilico (Okay, I confess, I’m an Italophile… who wouldn’t be!)

  2. Loulou

    I love basilico!
    Pesto is one of life’s greatest pleasures and one of the kitchen’s most versatile sauces. It screams summer!

  3. Romerican

    yummmmmm basil! I love basil but i just can’t seem to keep any basil plant alive on my balcony. dunno if they’re delicate plants or if i’m just incompetent (=
    do you buy your basil or grow it?

  4. Caffienated Cowgirl

    Yummy! I also have pesto in our house…an absolute staple item! And you’re right…putting it in tomatoes…on tomatoes…it’s the best.

  5. sognatrice

    AV & A, I love all those things too…and I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be an Italophile either πŸ˜‰

    LouLou, so true! I have been so patiently waiting for our basil to be ready for pesto, which leads me to…

    Romerican, we grow our own basil (although not from seeds). Your balcony just may not be the right setting, but I did find some info for you: How to grow basil. There are lots of resources I’m sure, but this might point out something that isn’t working for you (proper drainage, light, soil, etc.). I hope you can work it out, because there are few things better in the world than fresh pesto made from your very own basil πŸ™‚

  6. sognatrice

    Cowgirl, isn’t pesto wonderful? I just love the mixture with the wet juicy tomato and the pasty pesto…yum πŸ™‚

  7. indah

    Yum! My son LOVES pesto, in fact that’s the only thing he would eat nowadays ..plus mommy’s ‘smashed’ cheese sandwiches – basically cheese in between two cinque cereali bread slices and flattened by a rolling pin. I tried sneaking in spinach in the pesto and it worked πŸ™‚ any idea what else I can sneak in???

  8. Roam 2 Rome

    I think just about everyone loves basil! πŸ™‚ and you have noooo idea how good that looks right about now! πŸ™‚

    I’m ready for a midnight snack…

    Even though I don’t have a green thumb, I was able to grow my own basil! but it was an outdoor patio, I think it must have been just plain luck since with me even cactuses can’t survive πŸ™

  9. Giulia

    Yum, I LOVE pesto, especially homemade pesto. I tried on a few occasions to buy different brands from the supermarket but was dissapointed each time. Nothing beats homemade! When I make mine, I make a pretty big batch and then freeze it in my ice cube trays. They make perfect size portions. A little goes a long way. I really miss making my tomatoe pesto pizza. Really simple… pizza dough with a thin layer of pesto spread all over and then thin sliced tomatoes on top. OMG, it is delicious!

  10. blondie

    Just found your blog through Clare of sunflowersky and have to say “hello”.

    Love your work – I am totally into any thing Italian (I even studied it at Uni), but especially food. So I look forward to trying your pesto alla genovese recipe and any others you throw our way…

    πŸ™‚ blondie

  11. KC

    I love pesto, too, and the idea of stuffing it into cherry tomatoes is just divine! I have to try that!

  12. Karen

    I think it would make a wonderful breakfast. Can’t wait to try it out with the cherry tomatoes. I’ll serve it as an aperitif! Thanks for the recipe.

  13. Judith in Umbria

    I must have made every pesto over the years, but this one is a clear winner for me.

    I love pesto chicken salad, which is one of the few things I think chicken breasts are good for. I spread it on bread for sandwiches. A dollop goes into this or that and often improves it unbelievably. Strangely, or perhaps not, finely slivered mint and pesto together can work miracles– basil is in the mint family– but short on the mint and long on the pesto. You don’t want mint-basil-chip anything.

    It will also get things moving if that’s a problem!

    One of my cats trembles when she smells it. We are closely related.

  14. sognatrice

    Indah, oh there are tons of pesto recipes mostly varying the greens (arugula/rocket is another idea) and nuts (walnuts are popular). Other than that…hmmm…perhaps Judith can help? Judith?

    Roamer, pesto is an anytime snack as far as I’m concerned (I probably wouldn’t make it at midnight though!); hope you get to make some soon.

    Giulia, completely agreed. Jarred pesto is a whole other animal. I will say, though, that the best jarred I’ve had is Barilla brand. Interestingly when I was looking for that link, I see that Barilla also has “Pesto alla Calabrese” with red peppers, ricotta, pecorino, grana, and of course peperoncino. I’ve *never* seen that here or heard of anyone who makes it. Odd. Barilla’s pesto alla siciliana isn’t bad though.

    About freezing, I forgot to write that in the post; I’ve never had enough left over to even do it–seriously, no matter how much I make, we seem to eat it! It’s sick! I’ll try to sneak some by for the winter though. It’d be great to have some in the middle of February, just when my cravings are kicking in. I’ve read that you should freeze it before you add the cheese though, b/c the cheese doesn’t freeze well. Any truth?

    Blondie, welcome! Thanks for commenting, and I do hope you’ll try out the recipe; if you click on the label at the end of post “What’s Cooking Wednesday” and you’ll find lots more Italian recipes πŸ™‚

    KC, and the little tomatoes look so cute too!

    Karen, those are great appetizers–I love when things look kind of fancy and unique but they’re really just so easy.

    Judith, the basic pesto is definitely my fave as well. I’ve seen recipes with pesto in a soup/minestrone, but I haven’t tried it yet…don’t tend to make soups when I actually have pesto (see above comment on how freezing doesn’t end up happening here).

    I don’t know if people just don’t really use mint down here or what, but I’ve never even seen it at the market. Although I have, come to think of it, seen it wild. Thanks for the tip.

  15. Italiana Americana

    mmm that looks delicious! Pesto is my favorite salso per pasta! I don’t know why but I love it! My mom doesn’t make it here and the jar kind can be icky! So thanks i’m going to try out your recipe! πŸ™‚

  16. chris & erin

    you take the most wonderful photos overlooking your balcony! This looks so tasty…but do you have the recipe for the valley and sea in the distance?

    btw, grazie for the encouragement on my last post πŸ˜‰

  17. stefanie

    Yum. That looks great, and your photos are beautiful!

  18. goodthomas

    I really like you sognatrice but I really hate to visit your blog on Wednesdays. It is not quite 9 am in Chicago and my stomach is howling. Oh man. If you listen closely, you might be able to hear it from there.

    This is really lovely, sognatrice, so . . . delicious in (only) images and words.

  19. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    pesto and gnocchi – ’nuff said. πŸ™‚

  20. The Other Girl

    I can no longer imagine your village without picturing yummy snacks and drinks floating overhead.

  21. Marmite Breath

    My husband and kids made this for me from scratch the other day while I was at death’s door (or at least feeling like crap). They picked fresh basil from the yard, Hadleigh chopped up and weighed the parmesan before it went in the processor, Tom washed the basil and measured the pine nuts and Aaron measured the olive oil. They made me the yummiest pesto and I think it revived me!
    Also, bruschetta with our home grown tomatoes has healing properties too.
    Must make Tom some oatmeal as he is hanging around the computer with a 5lb tub of oatmeal and I think he may drop it. Also he just kissed the tub of oatmeal. He worries me.

  22. sognatrice

    Italiana, I’m going to let you in on a little secret–I hated pesto until I came to Italy. The jarred stuff made it so gross to me that I wouldn’t even eat it. Then P convinced me that I should try it fresh. Now it’s one of my absolute favorite things in the world. I should’ve mentioned this in my post yesterday on his good qualities πŸ˜‰

    Erin, ah, but this photo was out the window! Fooled you! OK, it’s pretty much the same view, but at least there’s a ledge to put the plate on instead of the railing. I don’t normally do photos there b/c the sun only hits it very early in the morning. Luckily I was awake πŸ™‚ The only recipe I have for the valley and sea involves visas and plane tickets…you’re all set then πŸ˜‰

    Stefanie, you can do this one. I promise. Impress your friends! Pesto for dinner and blueberry surprise for dessert! Yum πŸ™‚

    gt, it’s not my fault, I swear! It’s the time difference!

    NYC, oh my goodness, gnocchi with anything OR pesto with anything are tops on my list of favorite things…together…oh…wow…

    TheOG, it’s really like that you know–you just need to reach up and grab what you like. At first I found it a little Jetsons, but you know, you get used to flying cannoli.

    Nat, ah the healing properties of basil! You bring up a great point–this is a great dish for kids to help with. As for the tub of oatmeal kissing, well, I suppose there are worse things he could be making oral contact with. I love your play-by-play comments, btw πŸ™‚

  23. Melissa R. Garrett

    Oh, my mouth is watering! And look at that view – ahhh!

    Would it gross you out to tell you I had Lucky Charms for breakfast? Well, I did. And it just about grossed ME out!

  24. JennieBoo

    (Raises hand and hops in seat) ME! ME! ME!


    I ALWAYS love your recipes and today’s selection is no exception.

    Basil is heavenly and I am jazzed to try this new recipe for Pesto….yummmm!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  25. J at www.jellyjules.com

    My family likes pesto in small doses…meaning I can spread it on some crunchy bread and make a chicken sandwich with it, but not so much a bowl of pasta. So your serving suggestion looks PERFECT for around here! I’m going to print up this recipe and try it. πŸ™‚

  26. Karen Cole

    What a delicious loooking and relatively (for me) easy pesto recipe. Can’t wait to try it out. For breakfast or any meal, for that matter.

  27. sognatrice

    Melissa, gross me out? Never! Make me a tad homesick, definitely πŸ˜‰

    Jennie, glad you like this one–it’s so easy and is usually good for a “wow” too πŸ™‚

    J, yeah for some reason, I’m not a big fan of pesto with pasta either–a little bit is fine, but then I get sick of it half way through. On crackers, bruschetta, or tomatoes though, you have to tear me away. Thanks for visiting and commenting πŸ™‚

    Karen, it’s *so* easy. The only thing you need to watch out for is the garlic…and whether you plan on kissing someone soon after you eat πŸ˜‰

  28. Frances

    Boy am I ready for lunch.
    Grandma used to grow pots and pots of fresh basil every summer.
    She used to spread a cloth over the stove hood and dry it up there and then store it in empty mayo jars.
    I’m thinking fresh sliced tomato, mozzarella, olive oil and chopped basil – yum!
    Thanks for sharing,

  29. Calabrisella

    MmMMMmm! your pix are so good…i can practically taste it!
    i posted one of my favorite recipes today..im going with the “what’s cooking wednesday” trend… hehe

  30. JΓ©r

    I love pesto, but I’ve learned to be very careful about ordering it in Stateside restaurants, where the term is often used very loosely to mean “green sauce with basil and other stuff.” The hideous, viscid concoctions I’ve choked down have to be seen to be believed.

    I have had fresh pesto alla siciliana (prepared by a siciliana, fittingly enough) but, like you, I’ve never heard of or eaten fresh “Pesto alla Calabrese.” That didn’t stop me from becoming thoroughly addicted to Barilla’s product, though, or from trying unsuccessfully to reproduce it here in the U.S. As I recall, though, even though Barilla’s recipe included peperoncino, it lacked bite, and I always ended up sprinkling the dish with hot pepper oil and grana/parmigiano before serving it.

  31. Judith in Umbria

    Take your pick– don’t seem like the jarred one at all.

    ngredienti per 4 persone della ricetta del pesto alla siciliana ( pesto alla trapanese):
    pomodori da sugo tondi, uno a persona
    aglio: tanti spicchi quanti sono i commensali ed uno per il mortaio
    basilico abbondante
    sale e pepe q. b. , peperoncino
    4 o 5 mandorle pelate a persona
    olio extravergine d’oliva
    formaggio caciocavallo grattugiato o di altro tipo a seconda delle preferenze


    50 g di pinoli, 3 teste di aglio, 2 pomodori maturi, basilico, prezzemolo, sedano, olio, sale, pepe.


    Pestate in un mortaio i pinoli, i pomodori spellati e privati di semi un trito di basilico e prezzemolo, una foglia di sedano tagliuzzata, e l’aglio schiacciato, sino ad ottenere un composto omogeneo.

    Aggiungete l’olio, sale e pepe e continuate a mescolare.

  32. Poppy Fields

    I would absolutely have this for breakfast, too.

  33. qualcosa di bello

    girl, you had me at basilico! this sounds like dinner tonight (or breakfast tomorrow – def. not gross)…ciao bella!

  34. Wanderlust Scarlett

    Sognatrice… PSOK,

    Can I tell you how much I would LOVE to take cooking classes from you every week in person?
    Go to some great little villa near the beach with a huge kitchen, everybody in aprons with spoons held up ready for the lesson of the week. Laughing, learning, and eating together every wednesday.

    We kind of do that now, but not really, and you live too far away.

    sad pout.

    So… I am beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t give one of your easier recipes a try and let you know how it goes.
    There’s always hope, right?
    And the fire dept. if that back fires. …back fires. ha ha.

    ahem. sorry.

    So… what do you think, shall I start with cold coffee so as not to kill myself on the starting line?

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore (he’s looking at me with that one eyebrow of doubt raised loftily above the other in uncertainty).

  35. Kimberly

    Oh my…oh my oh my oh my…

  36. Chris

    Yum! Pesto is so great. And Basil…well, its wonderful! I use it quite often. The best thing I have done is grow my own this summer. My mom will go straight to it, when visiting, and eat the leaves right there…by the plant! πŸ™‚

    And – your plating? Love the dish!

  37. JennDZ - The Leftover Queen

    This looks absolutely beautiful and summery! I just want to let you know I nominated you for Rockin’ Girl Blogger on my blog!

  38. Shan

    Oh yum! I’d totally join you for breakfast!

  39. Kathy

    I love basil! But I can’t keep a basil plant alive either.

    I buy fresh basil at our farmer’s market every week, so I’ve added this recipe to my list of things to try!

  40. Scribbit

    Which is prettier? The tomato or the view? Hard to tell and yes, I love pesto.

  41. sognatrice

    Frances, I truly love anything with basil–including a great Caprese salad. So, so good! I hope you enjoyed it πŸ™‚

    Calabrisella, yeah! I’ll be right over to drool, er, check it out!

    JΓ©r, pesto is definitely something I would hesitate order in a restaurant. Too risky. Barilla’s Sicilian pesto has peperoncino? Yeah, I wouldn’t have guessed that. It’s good, but it does need a kick.

    Judith, the first one with almonds sounds interesting–love those πŸ™‚ Celery in the second one…huh. Never would’ve thought that. I’ll have to try both of these.

    Meredith, who needs bagels when you’ve got pesto? OK, that’s pushing it πŸ˜‰

    Qualcosa (or should I say qualcuno?), leading off with a mention of basil would keep me reading too–I’m tricky that way πŸ˜‰

    Scarlett, perhaps you won’t believe me, but I was definitely thinking of you while writing this up–no cooking necessary! Perhaps this is why I subconsciously left the pasta out of it πŸ˜‰ Talk of the (wooden) spoon made me think of my grandmother and how the brandishing of that was the threat of all threats!

    Kimberly, I wish I could say there’s plenty leftover for you, but….

    Chris, thank you! I love having a basil plant around–I add it to just about everything all through the summer.

    Jenn, thank you much–I’ll be right over!

    Shan, maybe you can catch one of those Canadair “Superscoopers” or something–they’re always flying around here these days πŸ˜‰

    Kathy, well, the important thing is that you do, indeed, have basil. I *love* farmer’s markets for all the things we can’t/don’t grow–I hardly ever buy produce at the supermarket anymore.

    Scribbit, thanks, and I *did* notice that basil/pesto didn’t make your icky foods list. Phew!

  42. Mauryn

    The smell of fresh basil reminds me of my great grandmother’s garden in Friuli.

    Sometimes I sautee the garlic before adding it to my pesto to tone down the flavor.

    I have basil growing on my balcony too, but I don’t think the air here in Milan is as condusive to growing good basil as the air in Calabria is!!!!

  43. Figs Olives Wine

    Hello fellow rockin’ blogger! I am also a guilty pesto-for-breakfast offender. My parents always keep a tub of it in their fridge, and I dive in whenever I’m home in NH. So pesto has actually become comfort breakfast food for me. It’s slightly sick, I know, but why not? Gorgeous post by the way.

  44. Caroline in Rome

    I find that most people don’t put nearly enough pesto sauce in the pasta for my tastes. But I tend to overdo everything. You should see how much ketchup I put on my hamburgers!

  45. sognatrice

    Mauryn, interesting tip on the garlic. Sometimes I find the garlic a bit much too (so hard to tell if one particular clove will be strong or not), so I’ll have to try that.

    Figs, sounds like your parents’ house would be an awesome vacation spot πŸ˜‰

    Caroline, no shame in liking sauces and condiments–I say if you’re going to do it, do it BIG!

  46. Karina

    OOOH…oh, I am totally making this, it’s totally a healthyish diet food in the tomato!!! YAY!!!

    Thanks Sognatrice!!!

  47. sognatrice

    Karina, I like the way you think πŸ™‚

  48. Nora B.

    That sounds and looks delicious. I love the view too! I used pesto in a quiche last week, you can have a look on my blog if you are interested.

  49. Heidi

    MMMMMMM I love pesto!!!! Thanks for sharing this recipe, I’ll be trying it out soon!

  50. tongue in cheek

    This gives new meaning to the room with a view!
    Ah Italy take me away!!

  51. Sharon

    Your pictures are so nice. Pesto is a good thing….

  52. sognatrice

    Corey, well you can always come on over and have a peek in person πŸ™‚

    Sharon, thanks, and I agree πŸ™‚

  1. [...] tell you, if we’re not having Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil or homemade Pesto alla Genovese,... bleedingespresso.com/2008/07/whats-cooking-wednesday-caprese-salad.html
Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio



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