The Best Pesto alla Genovese (Classic Basil Pesto Sauce) Recipe

After many rounds of testing, we found this method and ratio of ingredients produces the absolute best classic pesto sauce.

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Using a mortar and pestle results in the best pesto. Photographs and video: Vicky Wasik
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Why It Works

  • Using a mortar and pestle creates a luxurious sauce with a rich, deep flavor and a beautiful, silky texture that's superior to what a food processor can do.
  • Pecorino Fiore Sardo is a slightly milder sheep's-milk cheese, and creates a more balanced, less harsh pesto sauce.
  • Mild olive oil results in a more balanced, less aggressively spicy sauce.

This pesto sauce, through rounds and rounds of testing, has been honed to the perfect ratio, ingredients, and method. And, while a mortar and pestle requires a bit of work, the superior sauce it produces compared to a food processor can't be argued with. This is the true, best pesto. Still, if you want to use a food processor, you will end up with a very good pesto using this ratio of ingredients. (Just pulse the garlic, salt, and pine nuts together first, then add the cheese and follow with the basil; stir in the oil.)

Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 30 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • Coarse sea salt, as needed
  • 3 ounces basil leaves (from about a 4-ounce bunch), washed with water still clinging to the leaves
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) pine nuts
  • 3/4 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 3/4 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) Pecorino Fiore Sardo (see note)
  • 3/4 cup (175ml) mildly flavored extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Using a mortar and pestle, combine garlic and sea salt and grind to a paste.

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  2. Add pine nuts and continue to crush with pestle, smashing and grinding them, until a sticky, only slightly chunky, beige paste forms.

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  3. Add basil leaves, a handful at a time, and pound and grind against the walls of the mortar. Continue until all basil leaves have been crushed to fine bits.

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  4. Add both cheeses, then slowly drizzle in olive oil, working it into the pesto with the pestle until a fairly smooth, creamy, emulsified, sauce forms. Add more oil, if desired.

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  5. Pesto can be served with pasta right away, or transferred to a jar or container, covered with a small layer of olive oil, sealed, and refrigerated overnight.

Special equipment

Mortar and pestle

Notes

If you can't find Pecorino Fiore Sardo, you can use Pecorino Romano instead, but increase the Parmigiano Reggiano to a 1 ounce, and cut the pecorino to 1/2 ounce. To serve this pesto on pasta, toss the sauce with the drained noodles off the heat, adding a little reserved pasta-cooking water to help bind it all together. Adding pieces of cooked new potato and green beans to the pasta is a traditional Ligurian touch.

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