Pesto alla Genovese – Pesto Palooza, Columbus is Bringing the Basil!

10 Jan

Ligurian Pesto alla Genovese Recipe; Please Pass the Pesto Pronto!
Recipe by

One of the great classic pasta dishes hailing from the northern port city of Genoa within the region of Liguria is Pesto alla Genovese. I’m surprised that Genoa’s own Chris Columbus (yeah, we were on a first-name basis) didn’t share his pesto recipe with the Americas. Maybe he wasn’t interested in bartering the city’s famed pasta dish??? I know chances are that pesto was not around then and I also know that Vespucci saw the Americas first but remember, he was Tuscan and pesto was probably a lot lighter to export for Mr. “Double C” Columbus (like I said, we’re real close) than Grilled Bistecca alla Fiorentina in the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Perhaps the pesto got lost among the other items and herbs Columbus traded for along the way? Come to think of it, Pecorino Sardo was probably hard to come by in the 1500’s. Today I’m sharing my pesto recipe with you that I personally took back (not the actual pasta and sauce, that would be gross since it’s been a few years) from Liguria, the region and home in Italy where pesto was created!

Presto Pranzo!!! Mr. and Mrs. Paggi Pazzo having lunch in Cinque Terre, Liguria along the Mediterranean sea with the classic and authentic Trofie al Pesto.

Presto Pranzo!!! Mr. and Mrs. Paggi Pazzo having lunch in Cinque Terre, Liguria along the Mediterranean sea with the classic and authentic Trofie al Pesto.

For full disclosure… I am actually not a big pesto fan! Ha-ha, I know, I know….you’re saying, “What you talkin’ about Willis?” But the truth is where my family is from in Rome, pesto is not a common dish or known in the region of Lazio. I do however own a U.C. Sampdoria soccer jersey (shocker!), who are from Genoa compliments of my cousin as a Christmas gift (Grazie Cugino!). But with that said, my wife loves pesto. I mean, looooooooves pesto! So when we were in the beautiful resort towns of Cinque Terre, Liguria, my wife made sure to enjoy pesto at least once a day. I have to say even for a non-crazed pesto fan like myself, it was delicious! The pasta most common served with pesto is known as “trofie“, which resemble little worms and are made without eggs, and considered to be closer to gnocchi than traditional pasta. For the traditional pesto ingredients, there are a simple few, but it’s important to get the most authentic of them to make the pesto taste like Ligurian pesto. For starters, get 3-4 cups of fresh basil and make sure after you clean the basil, it’s dry for the sauce. Then, get garlic cloves, olive oil, Italian or European pine nuts (which can be found at any Italian specialty market or Salumeria), and the most important… Pecorino Sardo and Grana Padano cheese. Both are the authentic and classic cheeses for pesto and they are not always easy to find, so if you must replace, use Reggiano Parmigiano in place of the Padano and Pecorino Romano in place of the Sardo. But, do so at the risk of taste…I’m just sayin’. Preparing Pesto alla Genovese with basil, garlic, pine nuts, Pecorino Sardo and Reggiano Parmigiano from Paggi Pazzo

Once you have all of your ingredients, the true classic preparation for the Pesto alla Genovese is to use a wooden mortar and ground the basil, garlic, and pine nuts together. Now, if you have a few days to do so and nothing else on your plate (unlike myself who has two children under the age of 3), then I would recommend using your food processor to make the pesto (“Double C” has just regretted ever setting foot in America! Wait a second??? He wasn’t looking for us anyway, right?!?!?). But before you do, cook the pine nuts in a pan with olive oil for 5 minutes to give them a light roast flavor. Then take your basil, garlic, and slowly roasted pine nuts with olive oil and add them in your food processor and pulse for about 10-20 seconds. Then add grated Sardo and Padano and purée this time before adding some pepper, and a little more cheese. Once the consistency of the pesto is a light cream, then you’re done! D-U-N, done!!! It is such an easy pasta that my wife is insisting I make it all the time (we’ll see). If trofie pasta is difficult to find, any short pasta will do (we used penne) but be sure to save a little bit of the pasta water after draining the pasta in case your pesto gets a little too thick.

While in Liguria we enjoyed some tremendous wines, which is not surprising since it’s neighbored to Tuscany and Piedmont, the recognized wine King regions of Italy. At every restaurant we enjoyed the house wine and asked for vino specifically from Liguria. One inparticular, the Colli di Luni is an enjoyable red that we had several times and even brought a bottle home that lasted maybe an evening! We also returned with a bottle of Sciacchetra, which I kept calling Shaka-Khan! It was a very sweet dessert wine that you can only find in Cinque Terre and as a matter of fact, we still haven’t cracked that bottle open yet. Whatever wine or pasta you decide with your pesto, I think you’ll find the Pesto alla Genovese recipe from Paggi Pazzo very satisfying, whether you’re in Liguria or at home!

Authentic Ligurian Pesto alla Genovese recipe from Paggi Pazzo

Pesto alla Genovese Recipe

Prep time: 15 min

Cook time: 15 min

Total time: 30 min

Yield: 8 servings


  • 1 pound trofie pasta or penne (Barilla)
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Sardo
  • 3/4 cup grated Grana Padono
  • 3-4 full cups fresh basil
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup Italian or European pinenuts

Cooking Directions

  1. Grate Pecorino Sardo and Grana Padano into a bowl. If cheeses are not available, substitute with Pecorino Romano and Reggiano Parmigiano
  2. Add tablespoon of olive oil to pan and add pine nuts, cooking for 5 minutes then let sit for another 5 minutes
  3. Add fresh basil into food processor (but make sure basil is not wet after cleaning as the dryer the better for the pesto sauce), pine nuts, garlic, black pepper, salt, and 3/4 cup of olive oil
  4. Use pulse option in Food processor for 10-20 seconds until pesto starts to cream then add grated cheese (but save a handful for after pasta is done), and remaining olive oil and then purée for 10-20 seconds
  5. If pesto begins to take on a creamy consistency, then pesto sauce is ready. If still thick, add a little more olive oil and stir
  6. Bring pot of water to a boil and add your choice of short pasta if trofie is not available or not your preference. If cooking with trofie, once they rise to the top, they are ready (I do not add salt to the water because the sharp cheeses provided carry enough salt flavor for the sauce)
  7. Once pasta is ready, strain but be sure to keep a ladil of pasta water on hand should sauce be too thick
  8. Quickly mix pesto sauce with pasta and add remaining grated cheese
  9. Sing a verse of the Salve Regina hymn and you’re ready to serve!

Pesto alla Genovese Recipe

5 out of 5
stars based on 5 ratings.

Click here for full Pesto alla Genovese with Penne Recipe and other Paggi Pazzo recipes.

4 Responses to “Pesto alla Genovese – Pesto Palooza, Columbus is Bringing the Basil!”

  1. Linda January 16, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    I love this recipe! This dish is such a treat because it’s not only delicious and healthy but it’s also hard to find. You won’t often see it on a restaurant menu – unless you’re in certain parts of Italy! So when I do get the opportunity to indulge in some pesto, I take full advantage. Seconds please!

    • Paggi Pazzo February 1, 2012 at 12:39 am #

      We’ll have to take advantage more often then. Time to go shopping for some Pecorino Sardo 😉

  2. Renata January 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    Like you, I do not go crazy for pesto, but I love basil and garlic so I can put up with it. It is certainly a very healthy food. Once again you came through with a very intresting dish, rather easy to do and your instructions are very clear. Bravo!

    • Paggi Pazzo January 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

      Why thank you (mom)!
      Pesto is a healthy dish as you mentioned and does not require a lot of effort to prepare. Having the right ingredients though make all the difference. Mille grazie!

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