Pesto alla Genovese

The name of Paola Oliveri’s gem of a restaurant, Osteria Creuza de Mä, in the Boccadasse neighborhood of Genoa was inspired by a wildly popular 1984 album of music celebrating the area’s tiny alleyways, fish restaurants, picturesque port, and patches of pebbly beach. Chef Antonio Amato, originally from Naples but happily transplanted to Genoa, makes some of the best pesto in town.

Most cooks prefer to use pesto with trenette, or little twisted braids of pasta, but Antonio opts for picage (from the local dialect’s word for “napkin”) instead. This is a flat, lasagna-type pasta, cut into rough large squares that fold onto themselves and trap the pesto within. He also uses less garlic than the classic measure because he considers its taste too strong; lovers of garlic can add more.


With its crisp apple and orange flavors and dry but rich mouthfeel, the Sardinian white wine Vermentino plays well with the brisk basil and garlic in this dish; recommended producers include Guado al Tasso, Capichera and Santadi.

  • 2 cups tightly packed fresh young basil leaves
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, preferably a light colored Ligurian oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 pound lasagna (or any non-egg pasta)

Place the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a mortar and lightly grind into a paste with the pestle. Allow the basil leaves and pine nuts to coagulate, then add the cheese and mix until evenly combined. Continue to mix as you add the oil in a thin stream.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and then the pasta. Boil the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, then lay the strips on the work surface and cut into 4-inch rectangles.

In a bowl, toss the pasta with one small portion of the pesto at a time, until the pasta is thoroughly coated. Continue to add the pesto, tossing after each addition. Serve at once.

Note: Cubed boiled potatoes and cooked string beans are sometimes added to this dish.

Published on December 17, 2009
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Dylan Garret

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