Pesto, that gloriously green, garlicky, sludgy stuff, has gotten a bad reputation for itself in the UK. Ranking somewhere between a jar of Dolmio’s and a packet of Uncle Ben’s, it is now the remit of impoverished students and busy parents, poured from a La Sacla jar onto a bowl of penne, served with profuse apology and accompanied with a ‘so sorry, its just pesto pasta’.
In Liguria, pesto is revered. A bowl of Gnocchi alla Pesto Genovese deserves as much love and respect as the best of any of the ragus and marinaras of this world. Fresh, raw and delicious, the proper salsa fresca is one of the best little gifts the region has given the world.
Originating in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, the first printed recipe for ‘pesto’ appeared in La Cuciniera Genovese in 1863, but Italians have been preparing something akin to a pesto for centuries. The word ‘pesto’ comes from the word ‘peste’ meaning ‘to pound’, which refers to the method of preparation, by wooden pestle and marble mortar. So, ‘pesto’ in Italian actually refers to any number of different raw sauces which have been prepared in this way; it isn't necessarily all pine nuts and basil. Pesto alla Siciliana, for example, is a pesto rosso which is prepared with the addition of tomatoes, far less basil and almonds instead of pine nuts.
Pesto alla Genovese (the green one we’re all most familiar with) is prepared by pounding basil, salt, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, pine nuts and grated cheese (usually parmigiana reggiano or grand padana) together. Liguria has its own microclimate, and these ingredients flourish here. Genovese basil has become a particular culinary icon.
So revered is this salsa fresca, that every other year Genoa hosts the Genoa Pesto World Championship, which sees hundreds of pesto connoisseurs compete for the crown.
Pesto here is traditionally eaten with trofie or trofenette pasta, or tossed with fresh gnochhi. Another traditional dish here sees lashings of pesto mixed with trofie, beans and small cubes of potato.
Ligurians are extraordinarily particular about where they buy their pesto from, if it hasn't been made at home. Whilst you can purchase it from the supermarket in small tubs, Italians won’t.
In Camogli there is apparantly only one place worth of buying the sauce - Pasta Fresca Fiorella