Pesto Genovese Sauce: Excellent Cornerstone of the Italian Cuisine

Pesto Genovese is a cornerstone of the Italian cuisine, which has conquered the tables of many dining rooms all over the world. This is a traditional dressing to pasta originated in Northern Italy, in the Ligurian town of Genoa, 220 miles of crescent-shaped Mediterranean coastline, where people enjoy one of the freshest cuisines in the country. The rocky, mineral-rich seaside soil of Liguria’s fishing villages and mountain towns is well-suited for growing exquisite vegetables and herbs. This wealth of vegetation has greatly influenced Ligurian cuisine, making it particularly healthy.

Liguria is home to excellent products, most notably the sweetest, mildest basil. Indeed, in this area, the peculiar microclimate favours the growth of a variety of basil which is especially balanced in terms of taste and aroma. In the past, the Genovese families usually kept small plants of this herb on their balconies and the same was for the captains on their ships during their long journeys. Fresh basil is the most important ingredient of Pesto, a tasty paste-like sauce that is always added at the end of the preparation of the dish and never cooked, as cooking would significantly reduce its aroma and vivid colour.

The origins of Pesto are somehow uncertain but undoubtedly ancient. Basil has been known to all the Mediterranean people since the age of the Romans, probably originating from the northern coasts of Africa. The ancient Romans ate a cheese spread that was made with such herb. People in Genoa took the dish and adapted it, using a combination of basil, crushed garlic, grated hard cheese, and pine nuts with a little extra-virgin olive oil to form the delicious condiment. While Pesto was traditionally used mostly to accompany vegetable soups, since1910 it began to be used as a dressing for pasta.

The Genoese take such great pride in their Pesto that they have sought protective name of origin status for its recipe. The D.O.P. labeling distinguishes a product for its authenticity and quality. Ligurians claim that authentic Pesto can only be prepared using young basil plants of the small leafed variety. Unfortunately, the large leafed basil is the kind most commonly available throughout European stores. Beyond basil, the recipe implies extra virgin olive oil, salt, pine nuts, and Parmesan or Pecorino cheeses. Additionally, the sauce contains garlic, which is an uncommon ingredient on the Northern Italian table, but makes numerous appearances in Ligurian cuisine. As the exact proportions of the ingredients are much argued over, you can follow your own taste, preparing a stronger or sweeter sauce. More or less of one ingredient or another will not affect the pesto but make it uniquely your own.

Variations to basic Pesto imply the addition of a good handful of flat leaf parsley, substituting almonds for the pine nuts or adding a few chopped sun-dried tomatoes. The amount of olive oil is whatever is enough to make a not too thick and not too thin paste. Delicious pestos can be made with walnuts and hazelnuts. Mint leaves can also be mixed with basil ones. Furthermore, it is also possible to add butter to the composition for additional creaminess. Some people combine Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses; others prefer using only one. Pesto is commonly available in supermarkets in either green (original) or red (with sun-dried tomatoes or red peppers) varieties, produced by major manufacturers or under a generic or cheaper brand. A slightly different version of the sauce exists in Provence, where it is called pistou and it is made with olive oil, basil, and garlic only, cheese may be included, but no nuts are added.

Pesto is excellent as a seasoning, condiment, topping or spread for countless uses. Ligurian cooks often add a dollop of pesto to minestrone soup. Pesto can also be found in lasagna, on gnocchi, and atop cooked meats, fish and vegetables. Pesto is vegetarian, low in carbs and packed with fresh ingredients: a bright, healthy addition to your meals. Hence, keeping a good jar of pre-made pesto around can make any dish excellent in only a matter of minutes.

The name is the contracted past participle of the Italian word pestare, meaning to crush, in reference to the classical procedure of preparation, consisting in a circular motion to press and pound the ingredients in a marble traditional device called mortar, namely a bowl with a coarse interior, using a pestel, that is a stick with a rounded base for mashing which is best made of wood, as this generates little heat rubbing against the stone, so that it doesn’t cook the fragile sauce.

In other words, according to the original recipe, the little leaves of basil should always be crushed by hand in order to allow the full release of its aroma. The movement of the wrist plays a key role in the process: it should be a round movement, allowing to squeeze the leave either then crush them. Pour some Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, then put some unrefined salt and again squeeze all the compost, and finally add in the cheese and the pine nuts and some more olive oil. The result should be a creamy pesto, thick but not hard solid.This is still considered the best method to prepare it at home, but nowadays very few people do actually follow this procedure. However, it must be pointed out that even if using a hand-held blender certainly speeds up the process, the contact with the metal of blender produces a darker sauce. The mortar and pestle technique generates the brightest green pesto, releases the maximum flavours, and gives the texture necessary for a good paste.

Marzia Vaccaro - I Like Italy

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