Genoese pesto (Pesto alla genovese)



Pasta and pesto – one of Italy’s iconic first course dishes and one of the best summer recipes there is. Let’s be honest, when you bring pesto alla genovese to the table, it’s always a party, and when it’s the real thing, made with the right ingredients and perfect technique, it’s a whole other story. Traditional Genoese pesto is made in a marble mortar, where the small, tender Genoese basil leaves are ground together with garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, and extra virgin olive oil. It’s music for the palate, while this extraordinary magic takes shape before your eyes. Don’t worry, though: As also suggested by one of the top experts and producers of pesto alla genovese in Italy, Roberto Panizza from the restaurant Il Genovese in Genoa, you can also use a food processor. The important thing is to follow some tricks and choose the highest quality ingredients. You can also make it without garlic if you prefer! Discover how to make the perfect Genoese pesto to go with your favorite pasta or to make the classic trenette pasta with pesto, potatoes, and green beans.

What can you pair pesto with? Here are some ideas:

Check out our variations of pesto:

Ingredients for 9¼ oz (260 g) of pesto
Basil 2.5 oz (70 g)
Extra virgin olive oil ⅓ cup (70 g)
Parmigiano Reggiano PDO cheese ½ cup (50 g)
Sardinian pecorino cheese ¼ cup (30 g)
Pine nuts 1 oz (30 g)
Garlic 2 cloves
Coarse salt ¼ tsp (3 g)

How to prepare Genoese pesto (Pesto alla genovese)

To make Genoese pesto, first remove the basil leaves from the stems and place them in a colander 1. Rinse quickly under cold running water 2, then transfer them to a dish towel and dry them by blotting and rubbing gently 3. Pay attention to the leaves’ concave shape as water can pool in them; the leaves must be nice and dry.

Remove the germ from the garlic cloves and cut them in half 4, then place in a marble mortar. Work the garlic with a wooden pestle until you get a cream 5. At this point, add the pine nuts 6 and continue to grind.

Once a paste has formed 7, add the basil leaves 8 and coarse salt 9.

Always start with pounding movements, then moving on to circular movements 10. Make sure you scrape around the inside of the mortar with a spoon to unstick the ingredients; that way, you’ll get an even pesto. Once the consistency is creamy and even, add the pecorino 11, in chunks, and grind in the same way to incorporate it, then add the Parmigiano Reggiano 12, doing the same.

When all the ingredients have been reduced to a cream, pour in the oil 13 and circle the pestle around for a couple of more minutes 14. Your genoese pesto is ready to be used 15!


This Genoese pesto can be used right away or kept in the fridge in a jar topped up with oil, for four days.


Otherwise, it can be frozen in small containers.


To get the perfect pesto, you should use “basilico genovese DOP” basil, which is a local variety with protected designation of origin and small, concave leaves, and that’s particularly aromatic: If the basil isn’t high quality, it will tend to oxidize and turn black.

Fiore Sardo is an ancient pecorino cheese, made using raw milk according to traditional techniques.

Instead of Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, you can choose another oil with a sweet, delicate flavor, such as Umbrian olive oil, for example; Tuscan olive oil is not suitable because it usually has a flavor that’s too strong.

The consistency of the coarse salt helps to grind the basil better; it’s not recommended to swap it for fine salt.

If you don’t have a mortar, you can use a food processor, taking care to blitz using the pulse function to get the right consistency in as short a time as possible. If you use an immersion blender, first work the garlic and salt with a teaspoon and then add the rest of the ingredients. The oil always goes in at the end.

The amounts can be modified based on your tastes: By changing the proportions of Parmigiano and Pecorino, you’ll get a pesto that’s sweeter or more robust in flavor. If you only use pecorino, be sure to reduce the amount of salt.

There isn’t just one sequence for adding the ingredients, and each family has its own... In fact, you’ll never find two pestos that are the same!


Remember that the pesto should definitely not be heated; if needed, you can dilute it with a little pasta cooking water to make it creamier and more velvety.


Roberto Panizza is the owner of the restaurant Il Genovese and the company Pesto Rossi, which since 1947 has been carrying on the tradition of protected designation of origin pesto alla genovese. The use of local raw materials, including protected designation of origin (DOP) basil and Ligurian oil, of course, is the first step to get high-quality pesto that’s unquestionably good, with the typical bright green color. Making the pesto in a mortar – strictly marble – is a special tradition that Panizza still passes on and carries on in his restaurants and all over the world. He is also an organizer of the World Pesto Championships in Genoa. Pesto alla genovese is one of the most popular and widely used sauces in the world, a real delight that’s the pride of one of the most beautiful regions in Italy!