Pesto has a varied history that can be tracked back to Ancient Rome. It was found that the Romans used a pestle and mortar to crush garlic, salt, cheese, herbs, olive oil and vinegar, sometimes they even used pine nuts. This method is similar to that of making pesto, but they called it “Moretum” in the early years.
During the 13th century in the Ligurian region, a popular sauce called “Agliata” (garlic sauce) was created using the same methods as the Romans, however unlike the Moretum it contained breadcrumbs.
Modern-day pesto was born in 1863, when it was first published in Giovanni Battista Ratto’s cookbook “La Cuciniera Genovese”. This was when the first pesto was created using basil as the main ingredient.
Since this date, the capital of the Liguria region, Genoa, has been well known for producing the highest quality basil in the world. This is due to the unique microclimate it finds itself in. The city of Genoa even hosts the bi-annual World Pesto Championships to find out who has made the best pesto. The prize for the top pesto is a pestle made of olive tree wood and the handle is plated gold.
The meaning of pesto is to pound or crush ingredients. The traditional way of doing this was with a wooden pestle and a marble mortar. It is still highly recommended that the pesto is made in this way instead of using an electric blender as it prevents oxidizing and the ingredients heating up. There are many flavours of pesto in the world and some of the most popular are:
Pesto Alla Genovese – This is the most well-known pesto to many in the world. All the basil has to originate from Genovese area and is crushed with coarse salt, garlic, Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, Italian pine nuts and, of course, parmesan cheese. With all these ingredients combined together, the Pesto Alla Genovese is allowed to carry the DOP label which means it has “Protected Designation of Origin”.
Pesto Alla Trapanese – This red pesto is a creation from the islands of Sicily. It has been known that sailors inspired locals to create their own version of pesto, like they had seen in the Ligurian region. All of the ingredients contain local Mediterranean products such as sun-dried tomatoes, almonds and extra virgin olive oil. They also use ricotta cheese, which makes the sauce a lot creamier than if using parmesan. As with the world-famous Pesto Alla Genovese, all of the ingredients are traditionally crushed in a pestle and mortar.
In Italy you will find that pesto is rarely cooked and is usually added to a dish at the last moment before serving. The most commonly known dish pesto is used in is with pasta. The traditional pasta used is a short Ligurian pasta which have a twisted shape called “Trofie”. This is because the shape helps to coat the pasta with the pesto. The other traditional use of the pesto is to mix in with gnocchi. The dumpling like cuisine soaks up all of the natural oily liquid and basil flavouring from the pesto to give this simple dish a refreshing taste.
If having pesto with pasta is not your thing then there are many other ways in which you can use this versatile product. You can add a generous spoonful into a tomato soup. The combination of the tomato and basil is always a hit. You could also use a similar combo to create a tomato and pesto tart. These are perfect for lunchtime snacks. If you are looking for a dinner idea, then why not stuff your chicken breasts with pesto before cooking in the oven. This will give a plain bland chicken breast a mouth-watering burst of flavour and distinctive basil aroma.
In this modern day there are so many types of pesto because you can use any ingredients you wish. This could be a difference to the type of nut from the traditional pine nuts. Instead of using basil you could use coriander.
If you are feeling more adventurous then you can have a pesto made with truffle. We offer a pesto with truffle which combines two of Italy’s luxurious ingredients into one jar. This pesto gives an earthy taste with a hint of basil in the background.
As pesto is generally made up with cheese you would think that it cannot be for vegans. This is where you are wrong. We have two vegan options in our range which offer the same great taste and quality without the cheese. What is more unique about our vegan range of pesto is that the cheese has been replaced with tofu. This tofu gives the pesto a similar texture to one which contains cheese. If you are vegan or looking for vegan options, then our vegan range of pesto is on another level, which you must try.
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