Pesto di Prà, or Pesto alla Genovese, history of a traditional sauce

We are in the middle of the 19th century and we are naturally in Liguria, the land which traditionally has always been the cradle of aromatic herbs. The use of these herbs has very ancient traditions, going back to the Middle Ages and, just like for many other foods, it was the social categories to differentiate their use.
Pesto was born just starting from Ligurian aromatic herbs, used as a cold condiment from basil. The original recipe seems to be dated back to the second half of the 19th century by Giovanni Battista Ratto, described in a volume of his book called “La cuciniera Genovese” (The Genoese Cook).

The excerpts are easily retrievable: ‘Take a clove of garlic, basil (baxaicö) or in the absence of this marjoram and parsley, grated Dutch cheese and Parmesan cheese mixed together and some pinoli and pound all in a mortar with a little butter until it is reduced to a paste. Then melt it with plenty of fine oil. This mixture is used to dress “trofie”, adding a little hot water without salt to make it more liquid.

We are now in a convent in Prà, a small district of Genoa, dedicated to Saint Basil where lived a monk who gathered all the aromatic herbs growing on the hills around and inside the convent. The aromatic herb in question was, of course, basil and the monk combined it with some ingredients brought by the faithful and, with a mortar, he pounded everything obtaining the first pesto ever produced.

Basil from Pra’ is considered very special due to the favourable micro-climatic conditions of this area. The district of Pra’ is located in an extraordinary position: sandwiched between
the sea and the mountains, high up but close to the sea, its peculiar exposure makes this basil renowned for the delicacy of its scent and the intensity of its flavour.

Linguine al Pesto


Yield: 4 servings



– Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water; set aside a ladleful of the cooking water, then drain the pasta al dente.
– Meanwhile, place the pesto in a shallow mixing dish and set aside.
– Add the pasta to the pesto in the shallow mixing dish but do not place over heat! Toss to combine, and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. If needed, add a small amount of the pasta’s cooking water to thin the pesto.
– When the pasta is completely coated in pesto, place it into a warmed serving dish, and serve


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