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.




Pesto parmesan bread

Nic and I were sitting back having our afternoon knock off beer the other night, watching the sun go over the hills and enjoying the cool evening breeze when our tummies started calling. We decided after Rome that we in fact are NOT on a 12 month holiday and we really shouldn’t keep on eating ‘chips and dips’ before dinner on a nightly basis!

We have been good, beer/wine only but it doesn’t stop as talking about what would be really yummy to eat at this moment in time; you know lemon/rosemary marinated olives; spicy eggplant, garlic and parsley dip; cheese platters of any description……. It sounds like torture I know but I figure if you’ve eaten the food before then you can recall the flavour in your memory and wash it down with a sip of cold beer.

We kind of fell off the band wagon last weekend (it was the weekend after all!) with a beer snack I swore and declared a decade ago I would NEVER make again as long as I live. Chef Anthony Green of Fabulous Fine Food in Melbourne will laugh at me for making pesto parmesan bread again after all these years, in fact I am sure when we both left our old stomping ground we both swore we’d never make it again……..It’s amazing what a decade of absence will do and what a walk down memory lane brings forth; maybe it was because we are in Italy and had all the ingredients in the kitchen?? Who knows, but one thing I do know is it tasted sooooo good!


The reason I swore I’d never make pesto parmesan bread again wasn’t because it was bad, it was because we use to make so much of it every day/night at the restaurant, I’m talking in the thousands. It was the ‘go to’ snack before dinner, waiting for friends, sorting out a hangover on Sunday mornings/afternoons, basically a really yummy snack that was too moorish to ignore and prefect with pretty much any beverage.

Ridiculously easy to make; first get some day old thick bread (fresh is fine but day old stands up better), toast one side, flip over and spread liberally with a good quality pesto then sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese (and I don’t mean the pre grated/shaved type).


Pop the pieces on a tray then back under the grill until the parmesan melts and gets a slight colouring. Remove, cut into bite size pieces and sever straight away for best results.


As I’m sitting here wishing I had some pesto left I am thinking this would be prefect served as a side with roast chicken and salad for a quick, easy summer dinner……