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Pesto alla Genovese

1 cup

30 minutes

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We learned to make pesto alla Genovese in its birthplace—Genoa, Italy. It traditionally is made in a mortar and pestle of nothing more than basil, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, salt and olive oil, emphasis on the basil. We use a food processor for convenience but follow the tradition of processing ingredients separately to ensure we preserve the appropriate texture of each. Good quality cheese is essential for a rich, full-flavored pesto. Seek out true Italian Parmesan cheese, as well as pecorino Sardo, a sheep’s milk cheese from Sardinia. If you can’t find pecorino Sardo, don’t use pecorino Romano, which is too strong. The best substitute is Manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese. To store pesto, press a piece of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate for up to three days.




Don't toast the pine nuts. In Italy, the pine nuts for pesto are used raw. Don't be tempted to add all the ingredients at once to the food processor. Adding them in stages ensures the pesto has the correct consistency and texture, and that it won't end up thin and watery, the result of overprocessing.

30 minutes


  • ounces Parmesan cheese (without rind), chopped into rough 1-inch pieces

  • 1

    ounce pecorino Sardo cheese (without rind), chopped into rough 1-inch pieces


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Diana L.
August 8, 2022
Great pesto
It was easy to make but I did not have PECORINO SARDO cheese, so I put Manchego. It was delicious. My son could not stop eating it.
Maria S.
July 14, 2022
Abundance of Basil
Just made a double batch since the basil is growing like crazy. Substitute the cheese with Pecorino Romano since I already had some. The pesto was tasty, probably even better with the right cheeses. Will freeze the rest and defrost on the counter when needed before adding to pasta or pizza.
Pat T.
August 11, 2022
Only complaint is that the ingredients arent all weighed. I used only parmesan and mashed it because that bruises the cells differently and my blender sucks. Turned out creamy and great
Tricia S.
July 16, 2022
Easy and So Fresh
I have lots of different basil varieties but made the bulk of it with Genovese. I subbed tangy feta for the second cheese - I live too far from the grocery store for impulse runs. I don't care for pine nuts, so I used blanched, toasted almonds. The result was not as smooth as the original pine nuts probably produce, but the flavors are so good -- nothing like the glop in a jar. I'm serving it to company tonight, with grilled pork tenderloin in Tuscan herbs and another Milk Street side of zucchini.
Lynn B.

Can this recipe be made with a substitute for, or without, pine nuts? We have a minor allergy to pine nuts and would consequently like to avoid them. I love pesto though... just need a substitute item.

Janelle C.

Hi Lynn,

You can try walnuts, almonds or pecans.

The Milk Street Team

Roger E.

I make pesto all the time and just leave it out most times. Honestly, I can't really tell much difference. In fact, some have told me they prefer it without. I have also substituted roasted pumpkin seeds. I do this because of a nut allergy in our family.

Jeanne M.

can this pesto be frozen?

Robert B.

Yes. It freezes fine. I Usually make a 6X batch and freeze it in 8 oz. containers.

Richard W.

How can i transpose this and most of your other recipies for 2 servings. I have made many of your recipies and always have too much left over which is not a problem but i ended up having a refrigerator full of leftovers but want to always try something new?

Janelle C.

Hi Richard,

You'll need to halve the ingredients list, which may get a little tricky with certain recipes and their measurements. Eye it the best you can.

The Milk Street Team

Sharon P.

This is the best pesto recipe I’ve ever made! Thank you!!!

David M.

I’m curious as to why this recipe says “Don't toast the pine nuts. In Italy, the pine nuts for pesto are used raw.” When my 1st edition 1969 Ada Boni ‘Italian Regional Cookbook’ translated from Italian says to toast the pine’s a rather bold sweeping statement about this now ubiquitous sauce.

Lynn C.

Hi David -

When we traveled to Genoa we spoke with the preeminent expert on pesto in the region of its origin, Roberto Panizza, who told us that the pine nuts should always be raw. You can read the story about our visit and our conversations with Roberto at this link: or in the upper right hand corner of this page.

The Milk Street Team

Richard W.

Made this 3 times already for company and they all loved it and of course asked me for the recipe!

Beth M.

Best pesto ever. I have made this many times now. First, I love not having to toast the pine nuts. Second, using Manchego as a substitute is amazing and easily found. I do microwave the garlic in a little olive oil prior to processing as that helps tone it down for our group who have little garlic tummy issue.

Valerie P.

How much pasta should I cook to use an entire recipe of pesto as written? Will I need to use pasta water to get this dish to the correct consistency?

Lynn C.

Hi Valerie -

This amount of pesto should sauce 12 ounces of pasta. I would reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water and start by adding 1/4 cup with the pesto. You can then gauge whether you need to add more to loosen it up.

The Milk Street Team

Jon S.

Yup, delicious. Also, different enough using the manchego (Sorry, no Sardo available.) that it warrants a look. Not just a parm/basil remix.

Diana S.

Can parsley be substituted for the basil? I’m long on parsley from my garden! Thanks.