The History of Pesto Sauce

Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy. From the time pesto was invented culinarily speaking, has not changed.

The recipe has always consisted of crushed garlic, basil, and European pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and including Fiore Sardo, a cheese made from sheep’s milk.

It is possible the mineral-rich seaside soil and temperate climate of Liguria is why pesto sauce has become a beloved sauce in northeren Italy, as they have the perfect conditions for growing basil.


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The Meaning of Pesto

The Italian word for pesto: pestare, means to pound, or to crush. Pesto was originally prepared with a marble mortar and wooden pestle.

The ingredients were pounded or crushed with a circular motion of the pestle in the mortar.

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The book “Pesto Genovese: an Ageless Benchmark of Great Italian Cuisine – writes that the ancient Romans ate a paste called moretum, prepared by crushing cheese, garlic and herbs together.

Because the term pesto is a generic word for anything that is made by pounding or crushing, that leaves the original pesto sauce recipe open to flexible and differing ways to prepare the sauce.


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Flexible Ways to Prepare Pesto Sauce

In accent Provence, France the pesto was prepared without using pine nuts, as no pine trees grow there to provide the nuts.

Sometimes almonds, pecans and walnuts are used instead of pine nuts, and mint leaves are mixed in with the basil leaves. Some have even used spinach or cilantro in place of basil.

Differing Italian cheese can also be used, such as Asiago or Romano cheeses in place of Parmesan.

The interchangeable use of the nuts, cheese and greens just depends on your taste.

Making Pesto Sauce

The History of Pesto Sauce

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, no stems

¼ cup pine nuts

2 large garlic cloves

½ cup grated Romano/Parmesan or Asiago cheese

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all the ingredients in a food processor, except oil, and pulse. Start to add oil slowly, pulsing until ingredients form a smooth paste.

Note: If you do not use right away, or there are left overs, store in a jar with a layer of olive oil on top to prevent discoloration, and top jar with a tight lid and store in the refrigerator. Will store for 3 to 5 days.

Pesto is no doubt one of the worlds most loved sauces, next to the mayonnaise and the Mexican traditional salsa.


You’ll enjoy these Italian dishes with pesto sauce.


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  1. Pingback: Genovese Pesto with Bowtie Pasta – Cuisine by Kristina

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