Photo Credit: Aubrie Pick
Pesto! We all know it, we all love it. But did you know how many different types of pesto there are in Italy?
Those who hold up authenticity with great importance might think traditional pesto is just one thing: Pesto Alla Genovese . You know – the deliciously cheesy and garlicky green condiment we put on everything from pasta to pizza to grilled chicken. However, pesto knows many forms all over Italy, and goes much further than just this one variety.
To kick off this little pesto tour, we should look at the word itself. “Pesto,” means “to pound” or “to crush,” which is in reference to the preparation of the condiment, not the actual ingredients. It’s named this way due to the classical preparation of pesto, which is with a mortar and pestle. While classic Pesto Alla Genovese most certainly reigns supreme in its popularity globally, there are so many different types of pesto in Italy – literally hundreds! While we can’t name every kind under the sun, we’ll shine the spotlight down on a few popular kinds in Italy.
Different Types Of Pesto In Italy
Pesto Alla Genovese
If there were a king of pestos, this one would be appointed. 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 – sometimes with some Pecorino as well – 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. It’s something we never use an actual recipe with quantities to make – it’s all by feel. So, what other pestos are out there?
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.
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. The addition of tomatoes gives the entire sauce a much lighter, brighter flavor, along with sweetness that its Genoese counterpart doesn’t have. Sounds like the perfect summer sauce to toss with pasta! You can grab Giada’s version of this recipe here.
Pesto agli Agrumi
This is another Sicilian-born pesto, and it also goes by “Citrus Pesto”. Essentially, it contains the same ingredients as Pesto Alla Genovese, with almonds in place of pine nuts, and the addition of lemon or oranges, or both. It also sometimes has capers as well. This variation is one that we have unknowingly been making in our home kitchens for a long time – the addition of lemon juice and zest to a “regular” pesto brightens up the flavors and makes it even more delicious than before. This version is especially good with seafood and pasta together.
Pesto rosso, or “red pesto,” is a version of the condiment using sundried tomatoes and almonds to get a rich red color. Some varieties also include roasted red peppers, which give it a deliciously smokey quality. This version of pesto has many variations – you’ll sometimes see it with red pepper flakes, rosemary, or sometimes even olives.
While the above are just a handful of official “types” of pesto 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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