Pesto, a long-standing staple to traditional Italian cooking evolved from the time of the ancient Romans. As the name indicates, pesto originated in the Ligurian city of Genoa, nestled between the sea and the mountains in northern Italy. Though Genoa boasts that its seaside hills are the source of the best basil in the world, the evolution of pesto shows its origins in more garlic-centered sauces, as garlic was considered essential for warding off illness, especially for Genoa’s many sailors. Basil gradually took on a more prominent role in pesto dishes, and by the 19th century, pesto was appearing in culinary texts as we recognize it today. For authentic Pesto Genovese, you are supposed to use fresh DOP basil from Liguria. This won’t be easy outside of Italy, so get the freshest basil you can find or grow your own!
The term “pesto” comes from the Italian “pestare,” meaning “to crush.” From this verb we also get the word “pestle,” and used with a mortar, this is the traditional method for making pesto.
Contributed by Nicole Battisti.