It’s late morning and we’ve had a wonderful stroll through the fascinating “caruggi” of historical Genova but, more sightseeing will have to wait, it’s time to think about lunch…and lunch today will be something very authentic, local and delicious because it will include the regional specialty, pesto.
We find our way to Mercato del Carmine, an indoor market whose history dates back to the medieval times. Of course, it wasn’t always a market. Like most structures in historic cities such as Genoa, it has enjoyed several “lifetimes” beginning with olive and fruit tree orchards and then a piazza before becoming an open market. Then, in 2010, it was enclosed, restored and reopened with a market, restaurants, bar, and offering workshops and special events.
♦ Today, our workshop will be a “live cooking experience”, scuola di cucina, with Mario and Cristina of Creattivando. ♦
You may not have known that pesto originated here in Genova and, although everyone seems to have their own recipe and technique, there’s simply nothing like going to the source and learning from local experts. (Plus we get to enjoy sampling our own efforts!)
As soon as we enter the Mercato we are greeted warmly by Mario and Cristina. After introductions we receive our aprons and we’re ready to begin. With obvious passion, pride, and expertise, Mario enthusiastically introduces us to the tradition and art of making of pesto genovese.
Mario shares details about the cooking utensils and ingredients we will be using. First the traditional mortar * made from Carrara marble (Carrara was one Genoese property) and the pestle made from the hard wood of the olive tree…
…And then, of course, the ingredients:
♦ Basil (basilico) – fresh Basilico Genovese DOP from nearby Prà*, all the leaves from a single plant
♦ Pine nuts (pignoli) -from Pisa/Tuscany – 3 spoonfuls
♦ Extra virgin olive oil (olivo olio) – always local – count to 4 swirls
♦ Parmesan cheese – freshly grated from Emilia Romagna
♦ A sliver of garlic (aglio)
♦ Pinch of sea salt (sale)
♦ We’re ready to begin! Despite the fact that there are no measuring cups or spoons (God forbid, certainly no mixer or blender!), only a mortar and pestle and a knife (used only to take a slice of garlic), the instructions and techniques are very specific.
We watch and follow Mario’s example.
♦ Start by virtually liquefying the thinnest sliver of garlic until it lightly coats the mortar.
♦ Now, for the star! Since were making pesto the main ingredient is, of course, basil. But not just any basil – it has to be Genovese DOP basil, preferably grown in nearby Prà.* The plant and leaves are small tight clusters of bright green leaves.
♦ We gently pick all of the leaves from the plant, then into the mortar they go and the real work begins. The smashing and turning, begins…
♦ With great patience and a lovely sense of humor he demonstrates how and when to add the other ingredients…
A pinch of this, a scant spoonful of these, and swirls of olive oil. We muddle, smash, smoosh and mix while turning the mortar until we get the desired consistency…
♦ We are not as adept as Mario but it’s a lot of fun trying. The soft clack clack clack of pestle against mortar as the basil and other ingredients are magically transformed into an aromatic and mouthwatering blend… and soon enough: Ecco! Pesto!
♦ Pesto is served in a variety of delicious ways and with several different pastas but the most traditional is trofiette which looks a bit like a small twisted rope. (Trofiette is made with farina made from castagne (chestnuts) and water (no eggs) and requires 20 min to cook.)
We will let our pesto rest while the pasta is cooked but we can begin our traditional pranzo (lunch) which is very much in the cucina povera tradition.
♦ Our Pranzo Menu ♦
All served with chilled Vermentino, the local white wine.
Pan bruschetta or pan bagnon = “wet bread”, with tomatoes, olive oil, basil, a little onion
Torta da riso – traditional rice pie (or vegetable pie/torta)
Salami di St. Lucchese & Peccorino Formaggio
Olive Taggiasche – tiny black olives
Trofiette with our pesto served in the mortar (just add a spoonful of the water from cooking the pasta to the pesto to get the best consistency)
Canestrelli cookies (made from butter, flour & sugar) accompanied with an herbal digestivo (erba luisa)
Everything is absolutely divine and we have been such stellar students that we even receive a Creattivando Cooking Experience Certificate! Favoloso!
* A few fun facts:
♦ The name “Basilico Genovese” is protected by the European Union with the Denominazione di Origine Protetta certification.
♦ Genoese basil is produced in the provinces of Genoa, Savona and Imperia. The best genoese basil is said to be grown in Prà, a western delegation of the city of Genoa. (Wikipedia)
♦ Pestle is derived from the verb pestare = to smash
♦ Basil is in the mint family.
♦ For other sauces (pesto, pine nut, anchovies, fava), use the same ingredients as above just replacing the basil
♦ Wash mortars carefully with a sponge using just a little soap and water (wipe dry as marble is absorbent)
Wouldn’t you love to join us and make pesto as well as enjoy so many other amazing experiences in Genoa and the spectacular Italian Riviera?
Join me for “la dolce vita” on the Italian Riviera!