Pesto is one of the Italian masterpieces and among the most famous cold sauce in the world. Although the classic “Pesto alla Genovese” was created in Liguria only in the XIX century, the practice of blending aromatic herbs with cheese and garlic has a very long tradition.
Virgilio, in one of his scripts, says that in the Ancient Rome ages there was already such “Moretum” which was a mixture of cheese, vinegar, oil, garlic and herbs. Moreover, in Medieval times was quite common the usage of “agliata”, a blend of garlic and walnuts, which is considered to be the most direct ancestor of pesto.
In the Medieval times, Genova was one of the maritime republics and there used to be trade many elements including aromatic herbs and garlic. Rich people used to manage aromatic herbs as a garnish in the dish while the poor ones to flavour vegetable soups. Garlic was considered by the sailors an essential natural medicine to recover during their long journeys on the sea.
Thus the frequent use of garlic and aromatic herbs encouraged the idea to generate the modern Pesto as is proved in the book “La Cucina Genovese” written in 1863 by Giovanni Battista Ratto. The Italian writer described the recipe like this: “Take a piece of garlic, basil, grated parmesan and Holland cheese mixed with pine nuts. Then mix everything with a bit of butter and dilute it by olive oil”. It’s interesting to note how the ingredients were already the same except Pecorino that was added only at the beginning of the XX century to replace Holland cheese.
Pesto became popular quite quickly also because the port of Genova used to host merchant ships and passengers from all over the world. The fame of Pesto grew so much among the Americans that, after the second world war, some enterprises started the production of jars to transport the Italian speciality to the USA.
Nowadays there are many mutations of the original Pesto, counting almost 40 variations within the use of different elements such as pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnut etc… Since 2007 in Genova takes place, every two years, the “Pesto Championship”. The maximum number of participants is 100 people which 50% has to be from Liguria, 25% from Italy and 25% from the rest of the world.
In Genova, since 2005, takes place every year the “Pesto fair” where the famous sauce is presented in combination with any food from classic pasta to dessert. Pesto, nowadays, is not anymore used only as a sauce for pasta or bread but also to flavour biscuits, ice cream, desserts, liquors etc…
Pesto is a very savoury sauce and, in terms of wine pairing, it can benefit from a wine high in acidity. Hence to pair with pesto, the best match would be Selene 2021, Grillo 100%, Baglio Diar organic winery, Sicily.
This Grillo on the nose gives aromas of tropical fruit like yellow melon and mature pineapple along with the aromatic smell of dill and rosemary. On the palate, the wine is light-bodied, with crisp acidity, a lovely flinty taste and notes of apricot and orange zest.
Therefore, the acidity of the wine helps to clean the palate from the grainy sauce and enhances the perfume of the pesto. Moreover, the strong flavour of the basil matches well the aromatic compounds of the wine and both blend beautifully together in a long-after taste.
Disregarding the way to enjoy it, Pesto stands out for its authentic taste made with simple ingredients and seems a picture of the Mediterranean scrub: green, dense and wonderfully fragrant.