Pizza with pesto. Pesto pasta. Pesto sauce. If there’s one thing more emblematic of Genoa than Christopher Columbus, it’s pesto. But just like every other “sacred” local dish, pesto alla genovese absolutely must stick to tradition. In addition, finding a “proper” pesto outside of Liguria is no mean feat. So here’s a short list of places where you can eat (or rather sample!) Genoa’s most famous dish.
But first, remember the magic recipe: Genoese basil DOP, Italian pine nuts, parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino sardo, Vessalico garlic, coarse sea salt and Ligurian extra virgin olive oil. Any change to the basic recipe may well give you a lovely sauce, but it won’t be pesto.
As for the basil, if the green leaves are long and wide, just discard them. The best leaves are to be found on plants that have come straight from the greenhouses of Prà, an area of Genoa that’s almost entirely given over to growing basil.
Have you just arrived to the airport and want to try “real” Genoese pesto? OK, but where do you go? If you search online you’ll find hundreds of bars and restaurants claiming to serve pesto, so here’s a local’s guide to the best ones around!
If you’re hiring a car, a quick drive inland will reward you with some true culinary delights. The Ostaia da U Santu in the hills above Voltri has breathtaking views over the Gulf of Genoa and is just a few miles from the city center. Weather permitting, I recommend eating al fresco with the scents of the countryside adding the finishing touch to your gourmet tour of Ligurian cuisine.
Not far away, on the road leading to the mountains that surround Liguria, sits another “historic” restaurant. Siblings Gianni and Rosella Bruzzone inherited the Osteria Baccicin du Caru, a 19th century coaching inn on the Via del Sale, from their grandparents and have refurbished it. The Osteria is in the Mele area, which differs greatly from the nearby coast. Here, the countryside reigns supreme and the dishes start to show signs of influence from the Basso Piemonte region. But the Baccicin du Caru’s pesto will certainly tickle your taste buds!
Moving on to the center of Genoa, there are three very different restaurants that I’d recommend that will introduce you to the wonder of authentic Genoese pesto.
Let’s start in Piazza Caricamento and head into the carruggi – the little alleyways – from the bottom. In the heart of these old streets, in Via dei Giustiniani, you can grab a spot to have lunch or dinner at the renowned Sa Pesta (but be aware that the kitchen closes at 9.30). This age-old restaurant is frequented by tourists and locals alike, who come along at lunchtime to calmly enjoy the famous savory pies and homemade pesto.
If you prefer a more intimate setting, for a romantic dinner perhaps, then try Mangiabuono in Piazza San Bernardo, just around the corner from Sa Pesta. There you’ll find traditional dishes cooked to perfection, simple yet elegant surroundings, and a great chef at the helm. Then, there are the ambassadors who’ve sent pesto global. One of these is Roberto Panizza, proprietor of Il Genovese, near Brignole train station. Here, pesto is most definitely homemade!
So all that’s left is to climb aboard your flight and make sure you remember to bring a fork!