Pesto from the Motherland

I remember being introduced to pesto in the 90s and I wasn’t a fan. It was the pine nuts that ruined it for me. All I could taste was nuts and I remember thinking to myself ‘well, I don’t know what all the fuss is about?’ For the next few years I’d make it for work but never really got excited about it and never made it for myself to eat for pleasure. It was also around this time that I started disliking nuts, they tasted so rich and fatty that I couldn’t stand the taste or texture in my mouth. Brazil nuts were my contender for worst nut of all.

It wasn’t until I met Nic in 1999 that I was re introduced to pesto- he loves the stuff! In fact his whole family loved pesto and I ate it more in the following months than I had ever eaten it in my life. The first time I sucked it up because I wasn’t go to say anything, I was trying to make a good impression. When I ate my future MIL’s vegetarian lasagne with a pesto topping I was pleasantly surprised. Nic being Nic saw the pesto and told his mum I didn’t like pesto (I died), however, I managed to say I just wasn’t big on nuts and Pam told me she also didn’t like a lot of nuts in her pesto. I started to slowly eat pesto and enjoy it.

I have made pesto in so many different variations, a little more parmesan than pine nuts; more olive oil, less olive oil; a mixture of arugula and basil; plain basil; walnuts instead of pine nuts; with garlic without garlic. The list goes on. I think we have all read a pesto recipe but it is one of those recipes that everyone has an opinion about and their way IS the ‘authentic’ way. It is a recipe that I now make up as I go and do it by feel rather than recipe but I have always been curious as to how they make pesto in Genova, the motherland of pesto.

On our trip up north Genova was always on our day trip list. I had never been and Nic had only been there once before. He is a sixteenth-century Italian historian and he’s following some leads in Genova. He wanted to take another look at the city, so it was set: we would spend the day looking around Genova and I could try out a few pesto samples.


Pesto in Genova

Our first sample was the kids’ lunch! Yes, it is true I could have ordered my own bowl of pesto pasta; however, there are a few things you have to consider when visiting Genova:

a) The city is a port city

b) I hadn’t had a decent seafood meal (bar my 40th b’day dinner that E cooked) since arriving in Italy six months ago

c) I’d been smelling the salt sea air all morning and my body was craving seafood…FRESH SEAFOOD!

I did end up bribing the boys with chocolate for a couple of mouthfuls of their pasta and they dutifully agreed (and also ate large portions of our meals too…we got the raw end of the deal!) I know the picture isn’t the best but the pesto was fabulous and the boys really enjoyed it. From what I tasted it was very much like one I usually make but with more olive oil and maybe not as much cheese added, or pine nuts for that matter. It was fresh, packed a punch and devoured in minutes.

The cuttlefish Nic and I shared was delicious and stuffed with bread, sardines and parsley, served in a beautiful tomato broth (Alex liked this a little too much)



Our other main was a beautiful clam and garlic pasta which was insanely tasty. I love it when the seafood is so fresh you can’t help but taste the sea in the sauce.


Clam and garlic pasta

Lunch was very filling and satisfying, however, my pesto urges were not yet met so I decided to find a deli and buy some to take home with me. We did a lot of walking around Genova and it reminded us a lot of Sydney. The boys particularly loved the harbor area and would have been happy to stay the rest of the week there. Genova is a beautiful city with a seedy side that is slowly getting pushed out. Of course the boys had no idea what was seedy and what wasn’t.


Alex hanging out at the wharf


For me, I guess it was the prostitutes standing on the corners of the old port streets that got my attention. It was just as we where coming out of the Palazzo Spinola, I didn’t mind but when they started pulling in business with my kids a few meters away we thought it might be time to find that pesto deli on the high streets. It was time to leave the port!

 I found a deli back in town (away from the port and prossies) and we went in. I was a bit blown away by the massive bowl of pesto in the fridge, not because it was so big but because of the colour, consistency and foam on the pesto.



It was SO fine in texture. I got Nic to ask the lady at the deli if this was ‘typical’ Genova pesto and she said that it is a personal taste as to how you make pesto. She said they make theirs like this because this is how they like to eat it, someone else will make it differently. I love this answer because all those people I have met over the years telling me they make the most authentic pesto were in fact full of BS. Pesto is however YOU like it to taste and that is why my pesto has more cheese and less pine nut. One thing I did take away from this batch of pesto was the amount of oil used…sooooo much more than I would use. I am also guessing that this was made in a Thermomix because I don’t know of any other machine that would chop and blend to this consistency without ruining the basil leaves. You know it is blended at a high speed because of the foam on top and let me tell you that foam was jam packed with flavour- INTENSE!

So back in Turin that night I was dying to try out this pesto with the recommended pasta the lady also sold us. This is in fact the traditional way to eat pesto pasta with Trofie Bianche


It was semi dried and extremely starchy. I was told some people like to add more pasta water to the pesto…but that is only if you want too! 

When all was said and done, the taste was deep, rich and flavourful. The pasta was very starchy and a little gluggy, something I wasn’t expecting as I was serving it, however, it didn’t taste gluggy when we were eating it. But I wouldn’t like to eat this cold. I loved it and can’t wait to go home and make pesto in the Thermomix to see if I am right. The boys didn’t enjoy this one as much as the one they had for lunch but that could also have something to do with me making them eat pesto pasta twice in one day!


However you choose to make pesto, just remember it’s never going to be wrong; it’s just the way you like it and that’s all that counts.




14 thoughts on “Pesto from the Motherland

  1. Mmm… love pesto! That is one thing I definitely did not eat enough of in Italy. I remember buying it in a grocery store in Italy once and thinking it was so much better than the pesto here. I make a decent pesto (bring on the pine nuts!) but that’s nearly impossible this time of year. Wish I could find a decent brand in the store. Lizzy has always loved pesto and Ethan actually even ate some recently (on chicken… he still likes his pasta plain). Yours looks delicious!!!

  2. I haven’t tried to make my own pesto yet! I always imagined using a pestle & mortar, not a food processor so this post is helpful for me. Especially discovering there is no right way to make pesto! I will give it a go in the next few weeks.
    It sounds like you and I not only married our hubbies at similar times but also started dating them at similar times too! We started dating in March 1999. Mind you neither my mother or MIL would have made pesto – both are from an older generation I think!

  3. I am not a huge pesto fan, but your pictures make me want to try it.
    I am a huge pasta fan though. I would love to try all the different pasta’s in Italy. I’m a little jealous. 🙂

  4. I can’t believe you didn’t like pesto at first sight!

    This post is actually a bit of a coincidence because I was lamenting over our lack of pesto earlier today when I was making what my son calls “Spanish Pancake” (probably a grave insult to both Spaniards and pancakes but he eats it much more readily than when I call it “leftovers omelette plus some olives” – I won’t even try to rival you in the kitchen).

    Anyway, I usually add a tablespoon of pesto (which I admit I usually buy off the shelf…) but today I had none so I went with tomato paste and what do you know. Same result. So it really is all in the name for him.

    I can’t remember the point of telling you that story. I think it was supposed to be “we love pesto and we’re glad you’ve found a way to love it too” but in the end it seems the real moral was you can make up for a lack of ingredients and/or cooking skill by learning to name your dishes enticingly??

    • Seriously it is all in the name when it comes to kids! I make them a chilli and then put all the things they hate in it with a bit of meat and beans and it is eaten up before they can taste it! Leftover omelet sounds yummy pesto or not

  5. Great post! I LOVE pesto, but I totally agree with you about pine nuts…. I only sprinkle in a few when I make my pesto. I will have to try blending mine until smooth next time, since I usually keep it with a bit of texture. Now you’ve made me hungry for pesto and it’s only 8:30 am here!

  6. Great post! I LOVE pesto, but I also do not care for pine nuts, so I just sprinkle in a few when I’m making pesto. I will have to tr blending mine to a smoother consistency sometime like you tried in Genova, since I too always leave my pesto with a bit more texture. You’ve made me very hungry for pesto and it’s only 8:30 am here in Michigan! Have a great weekend and thank you for sharing!

  7. I have a love hate relationship with pesto. I only like it if it’s made while the pasta is cooking. After it been in the fridge for a day or two it loses it’s aromatic freshness. Hooray for outing the authenticity pedants too!! I’ve has people telling me I can’t call a dish a particular name because my recipe varies from the one they read in a book. They seriously need to travel!

  8. I don’t remember the first meal I cooked for you Milly but do remember about disliking nuts. I’m not a big nut fun but love pistachios!

  9. I love pesto, and mine is rarely the same each time. Recently I bought a jar in a pinch, and I was floored at how CHUNKY it was, I loved it so much that I now make mine super chunky. How fun to travel to a city with a food in mind to explore….

    • Hmmm chunky? How chunky? Like a few pulses of the processor just to blend? How much oil? Please tell me more! I am feeling very privileged indeed and think myself very lucky to do what I am doing and have done…..I can’t wait to share it with my cookery students when back in Sydney 🙂

      Sent from my iPad


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