Pesto is a herby sauce that first originated in Northern Italy, and traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil, European pine nuts blended with olive oil and Fiore Sardo cheese which is made from sheep’s milk.
In ancient Rome, a pesto-like paste known as ‘moretum’ was eaten. Moretum was made by combining crushed cheese, garlic and herbs together. The main ingredient of modern pesto, basil, likely originated from India, and was first domesticated there.
Depending on where it is made, the ingredients of pesto can vary. Some pestos are modern, others made traditionally. For example, a slightly different version of pesto sauce is made in Provence, where it is known as ‘pistou’.
Almonds are sometimes used instead of pine nuts, and mint leaves are mixed in with the basil leaves.
Pesto is most commonly used to garnish pasta, but has also been used for all sorts of cold sauces and dips. However, this is mostly without any of the original ingredients. For example, arugula is added instead, or as an addition, to basil. Black olives are also used, as well as lemon peel, coriander or mushrooms.
Other variants of pesto include that of red pesto, sometimes referred to as ‘pesto rosso’ which originated from Sicily. This pesto is similar to that of pesto genovese, but with the addition of tomato, almonds in the stead of pine nuts, and noticeably less basil.