Sunday Pasta®: Trofie al Pesto Genovese (Basil Pesto Sauce)

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Sunday Pasta Trofie al Pesto 640

I once had a bowl of trofie al pesto for dessert. We were young, carefree, and on the Italian Riviera, Zelda and I. We wandered into a trattoria. It could have been any trattoria in Liguria. The pasta arrived at the table. I can only describe it as undescribably delicious.  Then came the secondo — also delicious, but not life altering, like the pesto was. When the chef emerged from the kitchen, I lunged to hug him as he asked if we wanted dessert. All I could say was, “Yes, Si, more trofie al pesto.” He laughed and obliged. I could have eaten more.

I am always amazed by how far Pesto Genovese in America has strayed from its original, idealic perfection. How could something 1200 years old and so beautiful, be so damned by one generation? I blame laziness and greed. Sure we don’t have government protected basil growing near the Mediterranean Sea. And sure most of our pine nuts come from China, not Italy. And sure, most Americans get their “parmesan” cheese out of a hideous green shaker. (Think Kraft, but replace the ft at the end with a p.) But more than that, pesto in America suffers because the real stuff isn’t easy or cheap to make. Let me clarify, it is relatively easy and cheap to make, but I just haven’t found a restaurant willing to go the extra mile to make it correctly, and thus it becomes over processed, over salted, over oiled, and often times, creamed (gasp), all with inferior ingredients. How far we have fallen…

It’s time for pesto’s second act in America. In order to set the record straight once and for all, I’ve gone to the Consortium of Pesto Genovese Producers in Liguria for the official recipe. No more debate: This is how you make pesto Genovese (more or less). Here are a few ground rules. 1) Use a marble mortar and a wooden pestle*. 2) There are only a few ingredients here, so don’t be cheap. Although you probably can’t find actual DOP Genovese Basil, use the freshest basil you can find. Try to use Italian olive oil, cheese, and pine nuts. 3) Trofie and trennette are the preferred pasta choices. If you can’t find either, substitute fresh short pasta for the trofie or use linguine for the trenette. 4) Practice and enjoy the process. It gets easier and better. And 5) Because you’re worth it.

Buon Appetito!

Ed Garrubbo

p.s. Check out our wine pairings for Trofie al Pesto Genovese, as well as our About post on the origin behind the dish.

Sunday Pasta™: Trofie al Pesto Genovese (Basil Pesto Sauce)

Total Time: 1 hour

Serves: 4-6

Sunday Pasta™: Trofie al Pesto Genovese (Basil Pesto Sauce)


1 lb trofie or trenette (or gemelli or spaghetti)
2-3 cups basil leaves (preferably young and fresh)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 tablespoons Pecorino, grated
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon pine nuts


Gently wash the basil in cold water and pat dry with a towel. Crush a glove of garlic in the mortar and add some basil (30 leaves per clove), and then a sprinkle of salt. In a gentle circular motion, use the mortar to tear the basil until it turns into a bright green oily liquid. Repeat this process until all the basil and garlic are added. Add the pine nuts and gently crush them into the mixture. Next, add the cheese. When the cheese is mixed in, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and mix together. At this point, the pesto is ready to use. Cook the pasta, retaining some of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and place it in a serving bowl. Slowly mix in the pesto sauce and a few tablespoons of the cooking water, as necessary, if it looks dry. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of Parmigiano.


* If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a food processor, but use it on pulse mode, so as to avoid turning this into a puree. There should be a fine, leafy consistency.




Edwin Garrubbo

Edwin Garrubbo

Ed Garrubbo has been studying, cooking, searching for, and thinking about la cucina italiana for as long as he can remember. He cooks a wide range of Italian dishes, but loves his pasta most. He visits restaurants, cooking schools, markets, and food artisans across Italy, and wherever Italians practice their craft. He is a member of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, and is a citizen of both the United States and Italy.

7 Responses to Sunday Pasta®: Trofie al Pesto Genovese (Basil Pesto Sauce)

  1. Ed,
    Your commentaries alone are worth getting your wonderful Garrubbo Guide for.
    Great overview on pesto. How right you are! Parmesan out of a bottle – puleeze.
    As you well know, this pesto with shrimp & linguine is another divine combination.

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  2. Jan Zandvoort says:

    If you go through the trouble of making your own pesto you might as well make your own trofie, really a piece of cake to make, I’ve been doing this for years, you can’t beat it with trofie from packet

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  3. Sounds good! send your recipe for trofie!

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  4. BP says:

    I made this today with fresh basil..and all fresh ingredients. With one bite we were brought back to Vernazza. Thank you, the recipe was perfect!

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  5. Dave says:

    Your recipe is too vague to be useful. The Consorzio specifies 50 grams of basil. You say 2-3 cups. Measuring basil by the cup is quite imprecise. What variety of basil—the large leaf kind that’s most commonly available in the U.S? Or the smaller leaf varieties that are closer to the actual DOP? How tightly packed? Torn into pieces or whole? Why not simply say 50 grams? Serious cooks almost always measure ingredients by weight.

    Second, your order of operations is different from what the Consorzio says. The correct method is to start with the garlic and some coarse salt. After this has been reduced to a smooth consistency, the pine nuts are added and mashed. Only then is the basil introduced into the mortar. You have the cheese and oil in the right order.

    Finally, you use the term “Pecorino” as if there were only one kind. Again, in the U.S. Pecorino Romano is the most commonly available, but the Consorzio specifies Pecorino Sardo—not quite the same thing. Pecorino Romano tends to be sharper and saltier than Sardo.

    If you are going to “set the record straight”, by giving out information from the Consortium (Consorzio del Pesto Genovese), you might as well be accurate, otherwise, why bother?

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