Pesto alla Genovese: The Best Authentic Italian Basil Pesto

POSTED ON

August 11, 2021

Want to learn how to make a real authentic Italian Genovese Pesto aka Pesto alla Genovese? This authentic basil pesto is made using traditional Italian methods that will help you create a vibrant and flavorful Italian basil pesto sauce that will bring the exceptional flavors of Italy right into your kitchen.

Pesto alla Genovese: The Best Authentic Italian Basil Pesto

Growing up in an Italian household fresh pesto was a traditional part of summer, and is one of the foods that I associate most strongly with my Sicilian food culture. Each summer, my parents would grow as much basil as we could so that we could constantly be harvesting and prepping fresh Italian basil pesto to enjoy for summer meals, and to freeze for eating all year long.

While it would seem like a lot of work in the summertime, we would always be thankful for the time spent making it when we would have fresh pesto in the dead of winter. A little taste of summer that would help get us through some of those long winter months.

What Is Pesto all Genovese?

Genovese pesto is a traditional Italian sauce made by grinding ingredients together finely to create a vibrant and flavorful sauce. While the word pesto in Italian will often be heard referring to a variety of different dishes, most commonly around the world and here in the USA it is used to describe pesto alla genovese or basil pesto.

The best part about making genovese pesto or Italian basil pesto, is that you really only need a few simple ingredients to make it at home: olive oil, pine nuts (walnuts work too), basil, garlic, sea salt, parmesan (nutritional yeast works for a dairy free option). Ultimately the success of any amazing pesto really comes down to patience, and the freshness of the ingredients you choose.

Don’t think that you will be able to get a truly authentic and flavorful genovese pesto by purchasing out of season basil and garlic in the dead of winter, or by pulverizing all your pesto ingredients together in a food processor. Making pesto takes patience and requires the traditional methods of finely chopping and grinding the pesto sauce ingredients together, which will always result in the most flavorful and delicious pesto possible. Trust me, I have tried it all, and always come back to the old-fashioned way my grandma taught me.

Pesto alla Genovese: The Best Authentic Italian Basil Pesto

How To Make Genovese Pesto The Traditional Way

The word pesto actually comes from the Italian word ‘pestare’ which means ‘to pound, crush, or pestle’. This is why to really achieve a traditional Italian basil pesto you need to use old fashioned techniques of finely chopping and then grinding the pesto ingredients together using a mortar and pestle.

While the process absolutely takes more time that using a food processor, it really is the only way to get a truly authentic Italian pesto sauce. While I love how easy it is to make big batches of pesto using my food processor, I often prefer to take the extra time to make it the traditional Italian way as it really does result in a much better pesto.

Step One

Wash and dry your basil well and remove all stems.

Step Two

Finely chop up your basil, nuts, and garlic until very small pieces remains.

Step Three

Using a mortal and pestle, slowly start to grind your chopped ingredients together, working in small quantities.

Step Four

At this point you can begin to add the salt, parmesan cheese and olive oil slowly to the mortar and pestle. Grinding the ingredients together until eventually a runny sauce begins to form.

Step Five

You will know that your pesto is complete when all ingredients have been combined, yet you can still see tiny individual pieces of basil, nuts, and parmesan and oil. The pesto sauce should be slightly thick and able to easily run off a spoon.

How To Make The Best Basil Pesto With A Food Processor

  • If you do choose to use a food processor I would begin by quickly pulsing your basil, garlic, and nuts until small pieces form.
  • Next, remove the pulsed ingredients from the food processor and place in a large bowl or mortar and pestle.
  • Add the parmesan, salt, and olive oil slowly to the bowl and using a large spoon or a mortal and pestle begin to grind the pesto ingredients together, adding more oil and parmesan slowly until the ingredients form a runny basil pesto sauce.
  • Making the basil pesto sauce this way will help ensure that all of the ingredients do not turn into a homogenized paste, which is what would happen if you added all the ingredients at once to a food processor. While a pesto paste is still delicious and is what you most likely are used to when buying pesto at the store, it is not true to the consistency of a traditional Italian basil pesto.
Pesto alla Genovese: The Best Authentic Italian Basil Pesto

Tips For Making The Best Authentic Italian Basil Pesto (Pesto alla Genovese)

While basil pesto really is easy to make there are a few common mistakes that people may make that I want to help you avoid.

  1. Chop Your Ingredients Finely: Making pesto the traditional Italian way will require about 20-30 minutes of finely chopping ingredients and then grinding together with a mortar and pestle until a beautiful sauce forms. This process takes times and if you try to cut corners you will end up with a lumpy pesto sauce.
  2. Do Not Over Process: If you choose to use a food processor to make your basil pesto you absolutely need to make sure that you do not over process your pesto it will turn from more of a sauce or dip into a paste. While it still would taste great the consistency won’t be as appealing so make sure you don’t over process.
  3. Make Sure Your Basil Is Clean And Dry: In order to get the best pesto possible you really want to make sure that your basil leaves are dry. If they are wet when you go to freeze your pesto it could end up crystalizing on the inside of the jar.
  4. De-Stem Your Basil Leaves: No one wants stems in their pesto, make sure you remove the stems of your basil before making your pesto.
  5. Add Oil To The Top Of Your Pesto Jars: If you want your pesto to avoid freezer burn and maintain its color/taste I always like to add a layer of olive oil to the top of each jar. Then when you go to heat up the pesto it will just melt into the sauce and will ensure that your pesto tastes just as good months later.

Other than that genovese pesto is a really simple sauce that almost anyone can make, and I promise that once you start making it yourself you most likely wont be able to go back to the store bought kind. 

Pesto alla genovese (Italian basil pesto) with basil pesto ingredients on a table
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Pesto alla Genovese: The Best Authentic Italian Basil Pesto

The Best Authentic Italian Basil Pesto (Pesto alla Genovese)

  • Author: Megan Faletra
  • Prep Time: 30 min
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Want to learn how to make an authentic Italian Genovese Pesto or Pesto alla Genovese? Using traditional Italian methods this basil pesto is the real deal.


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts (I often prefer to use walnuts, but choose pine nuts for a traditional recipe)
  • 2 cups of fresh basil or 1 large bunch
  • 1/31/2 cup parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Instructions

  • Finely chop basil, garlic, and nuts into tiny pieces.
  • Add chopping ingredients to a large mortar and pestle (or a large bowl) and begin to slowly add the olive oil, salt, and parmesan cheese, while grinding the ingredients together using the mortar and pestle or a large spoon.
  • Continue until all ingredients are well combines and a vibrant pesto sauce has formed.
  • Taste as you go and add more olive oil, salt, garlic, or parmesan to meet your personal preferences.
  • Spoon pesto into glass jars and top with a layer of olive oil.
  • Store in the refrigerator for ~1 week, or in the freezer for homemade fresh pesto all year long
  • Note: See instructions above for tips on making pesto using a food processor.

Notes

This pesto will keep in a refrigerator for up to a week and will keep in the freezer for about a year if you place it in an airtight container. My recommendation is to make a big batch during the summer when pesto ingredients are fresh and in season to enjoy all year round.

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Meet Meg
Mom to a happy baby girl, and registered dietitian specializing in prenatal, postpartum, and infant wellness. My passion for supporting moms and babies began more than a decade ago, but nothing made me more committed to helping moms and babies thrive than going through my own pregnancy and postpartum journey.

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