What’s the Big Deal About Pesto

Everyone loves a good pesto sauce, but few people know much about it. Even in Italian restaurants, many cooks rely on a jarred pesto sauce and don’t really think about the ingredients. However, the ingredients are what make pesto special. They combine to create a sum that is far more than it’s parts.

Traditional pesto sauce is made of pine nuts, garlic, basil leaves, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Many versions also use pecorino sardo, a cheese made from sheep’s milk. The origins of pesto are a little murky – the Romans used a similar sauce known as moretum, made of herbs, cheese, olive oil, garlic, and vinegar. During the Middle Ages, a garlic and walnut sauce agliata was popular in Genoan cuisine.

The basis of modern pesto is basil leaves, but the first mention of basil in this style of sauce came in 1863. In his book La Cuciniera Genovese, famed gastronomist Giovanni Battista Ratto wrote

“Take a clove of garlic, basil or, when that is lacking, marjoram and parsley, grated Dutch and Parmigiano cheese and mix them with pine nuts and crush it all together in a mortar with a little butter until reduced to a paste. Then dissolve it with good and abundant oil. Lasagne and troffie are dressed with this mash, made more liquid by adding a little hot water without salt.”

This recipe is surprisingly similar to that used today by many pesto-makers. After all, why mess with perfection? Traditional hand mixing with a stone or marble mortar and wooden pestle produces the ideal texture, although most cooks today use a food processor.

Today there are countless minor variations, however. Many are the result of ancient family recipes. Region is more important in Italian cuisine than in many cultures, so different herbs or cheeses might be featured. In Provence, it is known as pistou and only contains garlic, olive oil, and basil – it may occasionally include cheese but never pine nuts. Some recipes might use almonds instead of pine nuts, while others include mint leaves along with the basil.

Today, there are many variations of pesto sauce to tempt any palate. Whether you purchase a commercial pesto sauce or make your own, inclusions such as tomato, roasted pepper, and other flavors pair seamlessly with a variety of other dishes. It is one of the most versatile foods in Italian cuisine. Pesto can be served hot or cold, as a sauce or as a dip with fresh vegetables or bread.

At Casa Foods, we pride ourselves on providing some of the finest Italian ingredients available. We offer several varieties of pesto from Bear Pond Farm. Artichoke, cilantro, pepperoni, premium basil, spicy vegan, and tomato-basil pestos are delicious options designed to meet your exacting standards and deliver the flavor and texture that you want in a premium pesto sauce.

Since 2005 we have been one of the premier Italian food distributors in the Boston metro area. Family owned and operated, we are dedicated to your success. Casa Foods pestos are only a small part of our available offerings. For more information on what we can do for you, call us at 978-777-1619.