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Photo Credit: Aubrie Pick

We've Got a Crush on Pesto, Italy's Most Versatile Condiment

01 February 2024
by Giadzy
Photo Credit: Aubrie Pick

We've Got a Crush on Pesto, Italy's Most Versatile Condiment

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There's more to this beloved Italian sauce than just basil and cheese.

Those who hold up authenticity with great importance might think pesto is just one thing: Pesto alla genovese, the deliciously cheesy, garlicky green condiment we put on everything from pasta to pizza to grilled chicken. Made with fragrant basil, pine nuts, and parmigiano-reggiano, it's got a simple formula that's as recognizable as other Italian classics like pizza margherita and caprese salad. However, pesto is found in many forms all across Italy, and its history goes much deeper than you might think.

The word itself is a clue to its versatile nature: pesto means "to pound" or "crush," referring to the method of pounding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle until smooth. Any variety of herbs, cheese, nuts, and other robust ingredients can be pounded in the same way to make a pesto with local flavor, just as people in Genoa used their abundant basil to make theirs. There are dozens of local variations of pesto that you can find across Italy today—more than we could possibly list. Here, we're shining the spotlight on a few of our favorite kinds.

 

Different Types Of Pesto In Italy

Pesto Genovese

Pesto alla Genovese

If there were a king of pestos, this one would be it. Whenever a recipe calls for pesto, or a menu on a restaurant simply says "pesto" without any further clarification, we all know this is what they're referring to. Basil, parmigiano-reggiano, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and salt—that's all that it is, and it comes together to make something really beautifully tasty. The fresh herbaceous flavor of basil, the salty savoriness of cheese, the zing of garlic plus rich olive oil and pine nuts make magic together. Grab Giada's recipe here to see what we mean! 


 

Pesto Trapanese

Pesto alla Trapanese

This Sicilian pesto, like many Sicilian dishes, is much lighter and "fresher" tasting than the dishes of northern regions. What makes it different from Pesto alla Genovese is that it uses almonds as opposed to pine nuts, and gets finished with fresh tomatoes, which are bountiful in the south. In Sicily, they use the Pachino tomato, which are small, sweet, and similar to cherry tomatoes. It's the perfect summer sauce to toss with pasta! You can grab Giada's version of this recipe here.


Pesto agli Agrumi

Pesto agli Agrumi

This is another Sicilian-born pesto, which you might see as simply "citrus pesto." Essentially, it contains the same ingredients as Pesto alla Genovese, with almonds in place of pine nuts and the added zest and juice of lemons, oranges, or both. This pesto is especially good as a sauce for seafood pasta.


Pesto Rosso

Pesto Rosso

Pesto rosso ("red pesto") uses sundried tomatoes and almonds to give it a rich red color. Some varieties also include roasted red peppers, which add a deliciously smokey quality. There are many versions of this loosely defined pesto out there—you'll sometimes see it with red pepper flakes, rosemary, or even olives.

 

Pesto Modenese

Pesto Modenese

This type of pesto hails from the Emilia-Romagna, a northern region of Italy that contains the cities of Bologna, Modena, Ravenna, Parma and more. This pesto is a far cry from Pesto alla Genovese, but it's still absolutely pesto! The main fat in Pesto Modenese is lardo, which is a kind of cured salumi from pure pig fat. It gets crushed or pureed with Parmigiano Reggiano, garlic, rosemary or thyme (or both), and sometimes black pepper. The result is a deliciously creamy, decadent spread - just as good as you would imagine it to be! It traditionally gets served on bread or pizza as opposed to pasta.

 

White Pesto

White Pesto 

Giada's viral take on the pesto formula increases the cheese factor with ricotta and umami-packed parmigiano-reggiano. Toasted walnuts stand in for the pine nuts, while lemon zest and garlic add oomph. Inverting the famous pesto alla genovese, she finishes her dish with torn basil leaves, so you get a creamy, cool no-cook pasta sauce that sings with bright summery flavor. Get her recipe here.



While the above are just a handful of the pestos you can find in Italy, you can really make pesto out of anything. Let your imagination run wild and have fun trying out different ingredients—and you can get started with some of Giada's recipes below!

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