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The History of Pesto
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The History of Pesto

Few culinary creations encapsulate the essence of Italian cuisine quite like pesto. This rich, green sauce, bursting with the vibrant flavors of basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, has become a staple in kitchens worldwide. But where did this delectable sauce originate? Join us as we explore the fascinating history of pesto, from its ancient roots to its modern-day popularity.

Ancient Origins

The word "pesto" comes from the Italian verb "pestare," which means "to pound" or "to crush." This reflects the traditional method of making pesto, which involves grinding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. However, the concept of pounding herbs to create a sauce is far from new. In fact, it dates back to Roman times.

The Roman Connection

The ancient Romans used a sauce called "moretum," a pounded concoction of herbs, garlic, salt, cheese, olive oil, and vinegar. While not identical to the pesto we know today, moretum laid the groundwork for future herb-based sauces. As these recipes traveled through time and across regions, they evolved into various culinary traditions.

Genoa: The Birthplace of Pesto

Pesto as we know it today has its roots firmly planted in the Ligurian region of Italy, particularly in the port city of Genoa. The rich, fertile landscape of Liguria, with its abundant basil, pine nuts, and olive trees, provided the perfect ingredients for what would become the classic pesto alla Genovese.

The Classic Recipe

The first recorded recipe for pesto alla Genovese appeared in the 19th century. It included the now-iconic combination of fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese (or Pecorino), and extra virgin olive oil. These ingredients were traditionally ground together using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle, creating a thick, aromatic sauce that could be mixed with pasta or used as a spread.

The Evolution of Pesto

Over time, pesto has seen many variations. In Liguria, you might find pesto mixed with additional ingredients like potatoes and green beans, often served with the region's trademark trenette or trofie pasta. Beyond Liguria, creative culinary enthusiasts have experimented with a multitude of substitutes, such as using arugula or spinach in place of basil, or walnuts instead of pine nuts. Each region and even household can have its unique twist on this timeless sauce.

Pesto Goes Global

Pesto's rise to global fame began in the latter half of the 20th century, thanks in large part to the growing popularity of Italian cuisine worldwide. As Italian immigrants brought their culinary traditions with them, pesto began to grace kitchens far removed from its Genoese origins. Today, you'll find jars of commercial pesto in grocery stores and pesto-inspired dishes on menus from New York to Tokyo.

Contemporary Applications

While traditionally served with pasta, pesto has transcended its original use. Creative chefs and home cooks alike have discovered myriad ways to use this versatile sauce. Spread it on sandwiches, swirl it into soups, drizzle it over grilled vegetables or seafood, or even use it as a pizza sauce. The possibilities are endless, limited only by one's culinary imagination.

The Mortar and Pestle Renaissance

Despite the convenience of food processors and blenders, many purists and chefs argue that using a mortar and pestle is essential for making authentic pesto. The manual method is believed to release more of the aromatic oils from the basil and other ingredients, resulting in a richer, more complex flavor. As a result, there's been a resurgence in the use of traditional tools when making this beloved sauce.

Ready to bring the authentic taste of Italy into your kitchen? Explore our selection of authentic Italian pesto at Cucina Mercato. Whether you're mixing it with pasta, spreading it on a sandwich, or drizzling it over your favorite dish, our premium pesto will elevate your culinary creations to new heights. Shop online and discover the true essence of Italian tradition, delivered straight to your door.

Buon appetito!



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