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The Perfect Pesto with Pasta Squares

We've all made our share of pesto in the food processor and it's quick and delicious.  But when you watch this charming video of Chef Paolo Laboa of Farina, you will be tempted to try his authentic Genovese method of making pesto with "il cuore" - the heart.  When I heard Marcia Gagliardi of Tablehopper describe this dish of pasta in the video, I knew I had to try it - when Marcia raves about a dish, you know it has to be outstanding. But first I needed the real, authentic ingredients that Chef Laboa describes in the video.  This was no easy task.


First was the issue of the pine nuts.   Chef Laboa says that you need the real Italian pine nuts.  Well, aren't those pine nuts in the grocery store the same?  It turns out, they are not.  Almost all of the pine nuts that any of us have ever purchased are from China.  That's right.  The real pine nuts from the Mediterranean are much harder to find.  It took me a while but I did find an online source that had them, NutsonLine.  When I saw the price, however, for the real thing I understood why all those pine nuts in the grocery store are from China. I wanted to make this pesto, though, with all the ingredients that Farina uses, so I bought them.  Once.

Then came the olive oil.  Chef Laboa says that you need to use a light, Ligurian olive oil, not extra virgin olive oil because it "kills the flavor" of the basil.  After looking very, very carefully at the video and freeze framing, I was able to identify the olive oil he used.  It was Opera Prima from Liguria.  It was not as easy to actually find the oil, though.  There was only one source I found that had it -  

The basil was easy.  My farmer's market has a lot of beautiful basil and I also grow some myself.  So, armed with all the ingredients that Chef Laboa recommended and a great mortar and pestle, I made this pesto. 

 I ground the pine nuts and coarse salt together first and then slowly added the basil.  It definitely is a process to do it this way - a labor of love.  Then I slowly added the olive oil and finally, the parmesan cheese.  I could not get my pesto to become as creamy as Farina's, but maybe I did not grind it long enough.  I thought I had ground it about as long as I could, though!  But I will say that, without a doubt, this was the best pesto I've ever had.  The flavor was unlike any other pesto I've ever made.  It was worth it.   

One interesting note about the homemade pasta that Chef Laboa makes is that it contains a little white wine - something specific to Genoa.  I made my pasta this way, also.  The pasta is rolled into sheets and then simply cut into squares.

I give a recipe here, but it is only an estimate - the recipe is really about technique. You can adjust it the way you like it .   

Pasta Squares With the Perfect Pesto


for a printable recipe click here


  • 1/2 cup Mediterranean pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, soaked in water and dried
  • 1/4 cup or more light Ligurian olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 cup all purpose flour (or Italian 00 flour)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons white wine 


For the pesto: In a the bowl of a mortar, place the pine nuts and coarse salt and start grinding.  Add the garlic and grind until a fine paste forms.  Scrape down the pesto with a spoon periodically.  Slowly add the basil leaves and grind until completely smooth.  Add the olive oil slowly and grind and then add the cheese last.  

For the  pasta: Place flour on workspace and make a well in the center.  Crack the eggs in the well and beat lightly with fork. Add white wine to beaten eggs and mix with the fork.   Slowly incorporate the flour with the fork until a dough forms.  Knead and add flour until the dough is not sticky any more.  This may take a little more flour - you need to just go by the feel of the dough.  Wrap in floured plastic and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Cut into thirds and take each piece and run it through pasta rollers on the widest setting.  Fold in thirds and run through several more times.  Adjust rollers to next thinnest setting and pass pasta through. Pass through until you get to the thickness you like - usually #5 or #6.  Lay pasta sheets on floured counter and cut into squares.  

If you do not want to make homemade pasta, you can buy lasagna noodles, boil them and then cut them into squares.

Assemble: Bring large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta sheets and boil for just a couple of minutes.  In a cold skillet (not over any heat) add the pesto and just a little of the hot pasta water and stir.  Add the boiled pasta squares and toss gently.  Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle a little more olive oil and garnish with fresh basil.


Note:  If you don't know about "The Perfect" series published by Chow, you should.  Chow has a series of "The Perfect" - a video series of something that is "unparalleled - the best in show".   And they are worth watching - The Perfect Hamburger, The Perfect Martini. . . you get it.   Now watch it.  

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Reader Comments (19)

Love the squares and your morta and pestler. Thanks for the "perfect" tip.
Is your site enjoying its new home?

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela@Spinachtiger

If you knew how obsessed with pesto I am you would be worries! I eat it on EVERYTHING... toast, pasta, pita chips, you name it! This sounds perfect!

p.s. keep thinking about mexico - I am going to go I think!

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGaby

China?? Scary. I never knew. I guess I'll have to pay more attention to my pine nuts. This is a beautiful dish!

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLori @ RecipeGirl

I love pesto. I made a bunch to freeze...this looks delicious!

October 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

I love your determination Elaine to hunt down those ingredients! After seeing the video I can understand why. Your version looks so creamy as well. I learned so much here today. Wine in the pasta, pine nuts from China, and the "perfect" video series. Marcia and you, made me a believer!

October 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermarie

I love these little squares. And what a great tip on the addition of white wine to the pasta. I have so much to learn about Italian food. Your photgraphy is beautiful and your blog inspiring. I will definitely look to it for more Italian recipes.

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDarina

I love your pics! And your dish sounds delicious :)

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKarine

You said you bought the pine nuts "once." I was wondering if you've tried making this dish again with the regular pine nuts that are apparently from China. Did it make a huge difference? I'm not sure I'm willing to pay so much for some nuts! :)

October 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

From The Italian Dish:

Caroline: I think the pine nuts did indeed make a taste difference. They are so expensive, though. I have been told that if you take regular pine nuts and toast them a little, that will help replicate the flavor of the real Mediterranean pine nuts. Try that! I'm going to. Thanks.

October 10, 2009 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

What determination! It was worth it, though. That is a truly beautiful dish! Brava!

I visited the Ligurian region of Italy several years ago and for only a few days. I recall that the pesto was made with a combination of pecorino and parmigiano cheeses. Umm.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

Hi Elaine, im Paolo, I want to say thank you for your attention to try my recipe. And I think you did a great job, im so happy that the recipe from my mama can go around the world that you cant imagine. Thank you again.

Paolo Laboa

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo Laboa

From The Italian Dish:

Chef Paolo: Grazie! I am so delighted that you found your way to my post about your pesto. It really was the best pesto I've ever made, thanks to you. And I love that you give the honor to your mother. One of my first stops the next time I am in San Francisco will be to Farina. I can't wait!

March 12, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I propose not to hold back until you earn big sum of money to buy goods! You can just get the home loans or credit loan and feel free

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMalone24MARQUITA

The best way to make “pesto alla genovese” is using a traditional mortar in marble but if you don’t have it, you can use a food processor on low speed to avoid overheating the basil leaves.

To maintain the bright green color, you can put the bowl of the food processor in the freezer, or add some ice cubes to the basil leaves.
A typical variation, in Italy, is to cook some potatoes in cubes with French beans in the pasta cooking water, and combine them with the pesto.

The most classic ligurian recipe with pesto are "Trenette al pesto" (I hope to see this dish on your site, in the future):

May 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMario Grazia

From The Italian Dish:

Mario: Thanks for the useful information! I'm going to have to try the ice cube trick with the basil. And I do love the greens beans, potatoes and pesto dish - my mom used to make that in the summer, I really should post it sometime. Thanks for the link to the Trenette al pesto. I wonder if linguini is an acceptable substitute for trenette?

May 27, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

What is the serving size of this recipe? Thanks!

December 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

From The Italian Dish:

Frank: This recipe makes enough for two people as a main dish or four people as a side dish. Hope this helps.

December 12, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

The recipe looks good. Will definitely try it out. Btw, the motar and pestle is from Williams Sonoma. Thanks for the tip on the Olive Oil.

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentervan foodie

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