Chef Alfio Longo’s Traditional Genovese Pesto Recipe

Pesto RecipeThere’s a misconception that pesto should have a strong garlic flavor. But, Chef Alfio Longo, executive chef of Circo Restaurant, feels pesto is best with just a light touch of garlic.

“In order to appreciate the richness of the Italian extra olive oil, you can’t use too much of any of the ingredients,” Longo said. “It’s about balance.”

And Longo would know. He just won a pesto competition that launches him into the International Pesto competition in Italy next March. Longo will represent New York City during a weeklong competition in the Royal Palace of Genoa.

The most important component of making great pesto is the feeling, Longo shared.

“It depends on your own taste and feeling for the taste,” he said. “You can’t really give a recipe.”

His earliest memory of making pesto was at age four, during large Sunday family brunches in Pistoia, Italy.

Pesto Secrets

Longo was one of the last of the 15 competitors to finish at the recent competition. He spent extra time meticulously picking the smallest and freshest basil leaves.

“My pesto is always light green, never dark,” he said. “A dark pesto signifies that the basil leaves used were too big.”

He uses a marble pestle and mortar called the mortaio to crush the ingredients into pesto sauce.

Ceramic plates can also be used for crushing, but only if a more rustic taste is preferred. The traditional way of making pesto via a mortaio.

Longo uses house made torchio pasta. The cheese he uses is imported from Italy. The extra virgin olive oil is imported from Castellina in Chianti.


  1. 30 grams / 1 ounce
 pine nuts
  2. 4 bunches / 80 grams / 3 ounces
 basil, small leaves only
  3. 20 grams / 0.7 ounce
 Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  4. 15 grams / 0.5 ounce Fiore Sardo Pecorino cheese, grated
  5. 2 garlic, half cloves, cut off the middle part (too strong) 40 ml / 3 tablespoons extra virgin Italian olive oil
  1. Press the pine nuts in the mortar until almost creamy.
  2. Remove nuts and add the basil leaves to mortar.
  3. Press the basil with the pestle with a gentle hand until you have an almost creamy consistency.
  4. When you have a bright green color from the basil, add the parmesan and pecorino cheeses little by little, pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
  5. Continue pressing until well incorporated.
  6. Add salt to taste.
  1. Special Equipment: Mortaio; marble mortar and pestle. [Ceramic plates can also be used for crushing, but only if a more rustic taste is preferred.]
  2. • Use authentic Italian ingredients for best flavors.
  3. • The conversions from grams are approximate only, please use grams as the measurement for most accurate results.
By Alfio Longo