Jun 222018

Today is the birthday (1805) of Giuseppe Mazzini who was a major force in the unification of Italy and spearhead of the Italian revolutionary movement. I (and Italians) think of him in the same breath with Cavour and Garibaldi, and, in my case, Garibaldi took a more prominent place for years, probably because he visited the town where I lived as a teen in England, and my local pub was named after him. So much for being a rational historian. Now I rank him much higher than Garibaldi and Cavour because he provided the intellectual underpinnings to the Risorgimento. When I lived in Italy I constantly asked my students whether the unification of Italy was “a good thing” or a “bad thing” (echoing 1066 And All That). They all believed it was “a good thing” even though culturally Italy is far from unified nowadays. Palermo and Milan, for example, are both Italian cities, but they could scarcely be more different from one another. The crucial point in favor of the Risorgimento in the 19th century was that before unification the various Italian states were constantly subject to domination by neighboring powers because they were too weak to resist. A strongly unified Italian nation could establish its own destiny. I have spoken repeatedly of the perils of nationalism (Mussolini, for example), but when you have to choose between national unity and fragmentation, national unity tends to have a majority of backers.

Mazzini was born in Genoa, then part of the Ligurian Republic, under the rule of the French Empire. From an early age Mazzini showed a precocious interest in politics and literature. He was admitted to university at 14, graduating in law in 1826, and initially practiced as a “poor man’s lawyer.” Mazzini also hoped to become a historical novelist or a dramatist, and in the same year wrote his first essay, Dell’amor patrio di Dante (“On Dante’s Patriotic Love”), published in 1837. In 1828–29 he collaborated with a Genoese newspaper, L’indicatore genovese, which was however soon closed by the Piedmontese authorities. He then became one of the leading authors of L’Indicatore Livornese until this paper was closed down by the authorities, too. In 1827 Mazzini travelled to Tuscany, where he became a member of the Carbonari, a secret association with a political agenda. On 31st October of that year he was arrested in Genoa and interned in Savona. In early 1831, he was released from prison, but confined to a small hamlet. He chose exile instead, moving to Geneva in Switzerland.

In 1831 Mazzini went to Marseille, where he became a popular figure among the Italian exiles. Mazzini organized a new political society called Young Italy. Young Italy was a secret society formed to promote Italian unification: “One, free, independent, republican nation.” Mazzini believed that a popular uprising would create a unified Italy, and would touch off a European-wide revolutionary movement. The group’s motto was “God and the People,” and its basic principle was the unification of the several states and kingdoms of the peninsula into a single republic as the only true foundation of Italian liberty. Mazzini’s political activism met with some success in Tuscany, Abruzzi, Sicily, Piedmont, and his native Liguria, especially among several military officers. Young Italy counted about 60,000 adherents in 1833, with branches in Genoa and other cities. In that year Mazzini first attempted insurrection, which he hoped would spread from Chambéry (then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia), Alessandria, Turin, and Genoa. However, the Savoy government discovered the plot before it could begin and many revolutionaries (including Vincenzo Gioberti) were arrested. The repression was ruthless: 12 participants were executed, while Mazzini’s best friend and director of the Genoese section of the Giovine Italia, Jacopo Ruffini, killed himself. Mazzini was tried in absentia and sentenced to death.

Despite this setback Mazzini organized another uprising for the following year. A group of Italian exiles were to enter Piedmont from Switzerland and spread the revolution there, while Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had recently joined Young Italy, was to do the same from Genoa. However, the Piedmontese troops easily crushed the new attempt. On 28th May 1834 Mazzini was arrested at Solothurn, and exiled from Switzerland. He moved to Paris, where he was again imprisoned on 5th July. He was released only after promising he would move to England. Mazzini, together with a few Italian friends, moved in January 1837 to live in London in very poor economic conditions.

On 30th April 1840 Mazzini reformed the Giovine Italia in London, and on 10 November of the same year he began issuing the Apostolato popolare (“Apostleship of the People”). A succession of failed attempts at promoting further uprisings in Sicily, Abruzzi, Tuscany, and Lombardy-Venetia discouraged Mazzini for a long period, which dragged on until 1840. His mother pushed Mazzini to create several organizations aimed at the unification or liberation of other nations, in the wake of Giovine Italia: “Young Germany”, “Young Poland”, and “Young Switzerland”, which were under the aegis of “Young Europe” (Giovine Europa). He also created an Italian school for poor people active from 10th November 1841 at 5 Greville Street in London. From London he also wrote an endless series of letters to his agents in Europe and South America, and made friends with Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane. The “Young Europe” movement also inspired a group of young Turkish army cadets and students who, later in history, named themselves the “Young Turks”.

In 1843 he organized another riot in Bologna, which attracted the attention of two young officers of the Austrian Navy, Attilio and Emilio Bandiera. With Mazzini’s support, they landed near Cosenza (kingdom of Naples), but were arrested and executed. Mazzini accused the British government of having passed information about the expeditions to the Neapolitans, and a question was raised in the British Parliament. When it was admitted that his private letters had indeed been opened, and its contents revealed by the Foreign Office to the Austrian and Neapolitan governments, Mazzini gained popularity and support among the British liberals, who were outraged by such a blatant intrusion of the government into his private correspondence.

In 1847 he moved again to London, where he wrote a long “open letter” to Pope Pius IX, whose apparently liberal reforms had gained him a momentary status as a possible nexus of the unification of Italy. The pope, however, did not reply. By 8th March 1848 Mazzini was in Paris, where he launched a new political association, the Associazione Nazionale Italiana. On 7th April 1848 Mazzini arrived in Milan, whose population had rebelled against the Austrian garrison and established a provisional government. The First Italian War of Independence, started by the Piedmontese king Charles Albert to exploit the favorable circumstances in Milan, turned into a total failure. Mazzini, who had never been popular in the city because he wanted Lombardy to become a republic instead of joining Piedmont, abandoned Milan. He joined Garibaldi’s irregular force at Bergamo, moving to Switzerland with him.

On 9th February 1849 a republic was declared in Rome, with Pius IX already having been forced to flee to Gaeta the preceding November. On the same day the Republic was declared, Mazzini reached the city. He was appointed, together with Carlo Armellini and Aurelio Saffi, as a member of the “triumvirate” of the new republic on 29th March, soon becoming the real leader of the government and showing strong administrative capacity for social reforms. However, when the French troops called by the pope made clear that the resistance of the Republican troops, led by Garibaldi, was in vain, on 12th July 1849, Mazzini went to Marseille, and then to Switzerland.

Mazzini spent all of 1850 hiding from the Swiss police. In July he founded the association Amici di Italia (Friends of Italy) in London, to attract consensus towards the Italian liberation cause. Two failed riots in Mantua (1852) and Milan (1853) were a crippling blow for the Mazzinian organization, whose prestige never recovered. He later opposed the alliance signed by Savoy with Austria for the Crimean War. The expedition of Felice Orsini in Carrara of 1853–54 was also futile.

In 1856 Mazzini returned to Genoa to organize a series of uprisings: the only serious attempt was that of Carlo Pisacane in Calabria, which again met a dismal end. Mazzini managed to escape the police, but was condemned to death by default. From this moment on, Mazzini was more of a spectator than a protagonist of the Italian Risorgimento, whose reins were now strongly in the hands of the Savoyard monarch Victor Emmanuel II and his prime minister, Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour. In 1858 Mazzini founded another journal in London, Pensiero e azione (“Thought and Action”). Also there, on 21st February 1859, together with 151 republicans he signed a manifesto against the alliance between Piedmont and the Emperor of France which resulted in the Second War of Italian Independence and the conquest of Lombardy. On 2 May 1860 he tried to reach Garibaldi, who was going to launch his famous Expedition of the Thousand in southern Italy. In the same year he released “Doveri dell’uomo” (“Duties of Man”), a synthesis of his moral, political and social thoughts. In mid-September he was in Naples, then under Garibaldi’s dictatorship, but was invited by the local vice-dictator Giorgio Pallavicino to move away.

The new kingdom of Italy was created in 1861 under the Savoy monarchy. In 1862, Mazzini joined Garibaldi in his failed attempt to free Rome. In 1866, Italy joined the Austro-Prussian War and gained Venetia. At this time Mazzini frequently spoke out against how the unification of his country was being achieved, and in 1867 he refused a seat in the Italian Chamber of Deputies. In 1870, he tried to start a rebellion in Sicily, and was arrested and imprisoned in Gaeta. He was freed in October, in the amnesty declared after the kingdom finally took Rome. He returned to London in mid-December.

Mazzini died of pleurisy at the house known now as Domus Mazziniana in Pisa in 1872, at the age of 67. His body was embalmed by Paolo Gorini. His funeral was held in Genoa, with 100,000 people in attendance.

Mazzini rejected the Marxist doctrines of class struggle and dialectical materialism, and stressed the need for class collaboration, making him an enemy of both communism and capitalism. Mazzini also rejected the classical liberal principles of the Enlightenment based on the doctrine of individualism, which he criticized as “presupposing either metaphysical materialism or political atheism.” In fact, Mazzini’s thought was characterized by a strong religious fervor and deep sense of spirituality. Mazzini described himself as a Christian and emphasized the necessity of faith and a relationship with God, while vehemently denouncing rationalism and atheism. He regarded patriotism as a duty, and love of homeland as a divine mission.

Mazzini occasionally criticized the way the Catholic priesthood operated, but was staunchly opposed to Protestanism which he saw as:

divided and subdivided into a thousand sects, all founded on the rights of individual conscience, all eager to make war on one another, and perpetuating that anarchy of beliefs which is the sole true cause of the social and political disturbances that torment the peoples of Europe.

Mazzini formulated a concept known as thought and action, in which thought and action must be joined together, and every thought must be followed by action, therefore rejecting intellectualism and the notion of divorcing theory from practice. He likewise rejected the concept of the “rights of man” which had developed during the Age of Enlightenment, arguing instead that individual rights were a duty to be won through hard work, sacrifice and virtue, rather than “rights” which were intrinsically owed to man.

Mazzini was also an early advocate of a “United States of Europe” about a century before the European Union began to take shape. For him, European unification was a logical continuation of Italian unification. In Doveri dell’uomo (“Duties of Man”, 1860) Mazzini called for recognition of women’s rights. After his many encounters with political philosophers in England, France and across Europe, he had decided that the principle of equality between men and women was fundamental to building a truly democratic Italian nation. He called for the end of women’s social and judicial subordination to men. Mazzini helped intellectuals see women’s rights not merely a peripheral topic but as a fundamental goal necessary for the regeneration of old nations and the rebirth of new ones.

Karl Marx, in an interview with R. Landor from 1871, said that Mazzini’s ideas represented “nothing better than the old idea of a middle-class republic.” Marx believed, especially after the Revolutions of 1848, that Mazzini’s point of view had become reactionary, and the proletariat had nothing to do with it. In another interview, Marx described Mazzini as “that everlasting old ass”. Mazzini, in turn, described Marx as “a destructive spirit whose heart was filled with hatred rather than love of mankind” and declared that “Despite the communist egalitarianism which [Marx] preaches he is the absolute ruler of his party, admittedly he does everything himself but he is also the only one to give orders and he tolerates no opposition.”

Mazzini’s home town of Genoa is well known for many specialties, some of which I have mentioned already. Less well known than those I have mentioned so far is farinata, a baked dish made of chickpea flour, water, and olive oil. It is surprisingly good, even though it is simple to make. In standard Italian, the dish is called farinata (“made of flour”) while in the Genoese dialect it is called fainâ. It is now a common dish – with variations – all along the Ligurian coast, and in places where Genovese people migrated (especially Buenos Aires). In Nice and the Côte d’Azur, it is called socca, in Tuscany, cecina (“made of chickpeas”) or torta di ceci (“chickpea pie”) and in Sardinia fainè. In Argentina and Uruguay it is called (la fainá (feminine) in Argentina, and el fainá (masculine) in Uruguay). In Buenos Aires it is common to find fainá served on top of pizza, which I find to be a bit too much of a good thing.

I used to make farinata in a cast-iron skillet. You need a heavy pan that you can use on the stove top and in the oven. Begin by mixing 1 ½ cups of chickpea flour and 2 cups of lukewarm water in a deep bowl. Whisk well so that the flour and water make a completely homogenous batter. Cover and let sit for 2 hours. After 2 hours the mix will be slowly bubbling and there will be a film of foamy scum on top. Carefully skim off as much of the scum as possible, and then stir in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 500˚F/260˚C and put the skillet over high heat. When it starts to smoke, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and let it heat until barely smoking. Dump the chickpea batter into the skillet and quickly swirl it around to be sure it is evenly distributed. Then transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and let it cook, undisturbed, for 35 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and immediately lift the farinata out on to a cutting board. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and cut into slices (like a pizza) or – more traditionally – into irregular triangular and oblong shapes. Serve warm.

It is very common in Genoa to add a little fresh chopped rosemary to the batter before baking farinata, but, as you might expect, you can add anything you wish. Chopped onions or artichokes, are common, but the most famous derivative recipe is the fainâ co i gianchetti (“farinata with whitebait”).

Oct 272016


Today is the birthday (1782) of Niccolò Paganini, Genovese violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer. He was the most celebrated violin virtuoso of his time, and is still known as one of the pillars of modern violin technique. His 24 Caprices for Solo Violin Op. 1 are perhaps the best known of his compositions, and have served as an inspiration for later composers.

Niccolò Paganini was born in Genoa, then capital of the Republic of Genoa, the third of the six children of Antonio and Teresa (née Bocciardo) Paganini. Paganini’s father was an unsuccessful maritime trader, but he managed to supplement his income through playing the mandolin. At the age of five, Paganini started learning the mandolin from his father, and moved to the violin by the age of seven (mandolin and violin have the same fingering). His musical talents were quickly recognized, earning him numerous scholarships for violin lessons. Paganini studied under various local violinists, including Giovanni Servetto and Giacomo Costa, but his progress quickly outpaced their abilities. Paganini and his father then traveled to Parma to seek further guidance from Alessandro Rolla. But upon listening to Paganini’s playing, Rolla immediately referred him to his own teacher, Ferdinando Paer and, later, Paer’s own teacher, Gasparo Ghiretti. Though Paganini did not stay long with Paer or Ghiretti, the two had considerable influence on his composition style.

The French invaded northern Italy in March 1796 forcing the Paganinis to flee to their country property in Romairone, near Bolzaneto. It was in this period that Paganini is believed to have developed his guitar playing. He became adept on the guitar, but preferred to play it in exclusively intimate settings, rather than at public concerts. He later described the guitar as his “constant companion” on his concert tours. By 1800, Paganini and his father traveled to Livorno, where Paganini played in concerts and his father resumed his maritime work. In 1801, the 18-year-old Paganini was appointed first violin of the Republic of Lucca, but a substantial portion of his income came from freelancing. He quickly earned fame as a violinist, gambler, and womanizer.


In 1805, Lucca was annexed by Napoleonic France, and the region was ceded to Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi. Paganini became a violinist for the Baciocchi court, while giving private lessons to Elisa’s husband, Felice. In 1807, Baciocchi became the Grand Duchess of Tuscany and her court was transferred to Florence. Paganini was part of the entourage, but, towards the end of 1809, he left Baciocchi to resume his freelance career.

For the next few years, Paganini returned to touring in the areas surrounding Parma and Genoa. Though he was very popular with the local audience, he was still not very well known in the rest of Europe. His first breakthrough came from an 1813 concert at La Scala in Milan which was a great success. As a result, Paganini began to attract the attention of other prominent, but more conservative, musicians across Europe. His early encounters with Charles Philippe Lafont and Louis Spohr created intense rivalry. His concert activities, however, were still limited to Italy for the next few years.


Paganini’s violin technique (and virtuosity) are still the subject of debate among music historians. Though some of the virtuoso techniques frequently employed by Paganini were already practiced by other musicians, most accomplished violinists of the time focused on intonation and bowing techniques. Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) was considered a pioneer in transforming the violin from an ensemble instrument to a solo instrument. In the meantime, the polyphonic capability of the violin was firmly established through the Sonatas and Partitas BWV 1001–1006 of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). Other notable violinists included Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) and Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770), who, in their compositions, reflected the increasing technical and musical demands on the violinist. Although the role of the violin in music drastically changed through this period, techniques requiring agility of the fingers and the bow were still considered unorthodox and discouraged by the established community of violinists.

Much of Paganini’s playing (and his violin composition) was influenced by two violinists, Pietro Locatelli (1693–1746) and August Duranowski (Auguste Frédéric Durand) (1770–1834). During Paganini’s study in Parma, he came across the 24 Caprices of Locatelli (L’arte di nuova modulazione – Capricci enigmatici or The art of the new style – the enigmatic caprices). Published in the 1730s, they were shunned by the musical authorities for their technical innovations, and were forgotten by the musical community at large. Around the same time, Durand, a former student of Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755–1824), became a celebrated violinist. He was renowned for his use of harmonics and the left hand pizzicato in his performance. Paganini was impressed by Durand’s innovations and showmanship, which later also became his own hallmarks.


There is also a purely physical aspect to Paganini’s violin techniques, particularly his flexibility. He had exceptionally long fingers and was capable of playing three octaves across four strings in a hand span, which is an extraordinary feat even by today’s standards. This almost unnatural ability may have been a result of Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that results in abnormally long fingers.

In 1827, Pope Leo XII honored Paganini with the Order of the Golden Spur. His fame spread across Europe with a concert tour that started in Vienna in August 1828, stopping in every major European city in Germany, Poland, and Bohemia until February 1831 in Strasbourg. This was followed by tours in Paris and Britain. His technical ability and his willingness to display it received widespread critical acclaim. In addition to his own compositions, Paganini also performed modified versions of works (primarily concertos) written by his early contemporaries, such as Rodolphe Kreutzer and Giovanni Battista Viotti.


Throughout his life Paganini suffered chronic illnesses. His concert schedule, as well as his extravagant lifestyle, took their toll on his health. He was diagnosed with syphilis as early as 1822, and his remedy, which included mercury and opium, came with serious physical and psychological side effects. In 1834, while still in Paris, he was treated for tuberculosis. Though his recovery was reasonably quick, after the illness his career was marred by frequent cancellations due to various health problems, from the common cold to depression, which lasted from days to months.


In September 1834, Paganini put an end to his concert career and returned to Genoa. He devoted his time to the publication of his compositions and violin methods. He accepted students, of whom two enjoyed moderate success: violinist Camillo Sivori and cellist Gaetano Ciandelli. Neither, however, considered Paganini helpful or inspirational. In 1835, Paganini returned to Parma, this time under the employ of Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, Napoleon’s second wife, and was put in charge of reorganizing her court orchestra. However, he eventually came into conflict with the players and court, so his ideas were never realized. In Paris, he befriended the 11-year-old Polish virtuoso Apollinaire de Kontski, giving him some lessons and a signed testimonial. In 1836, Paganini returned to Paris to set up a casino. Its immediate failure left him in financial ruin, and he auctioned off his personal effects, including his musical instruments, to recoup his losses. At Christmas of 1838, he left Paris for Marseilles and, after a brief stay, travelled to Nice where his physical condition worsened. In May 1840, the Bishop of Nice sent Paganini a local parish priest to perform the last rites. Paganini assumed the sacrament was premature, and refused.


A week later, on 27 May 1840, Paganini died from internal hemorrhaging before a priest could be summoned. Because of this, and his widely rumored association with the devil, the Church denied his body a Catholic burial in Genoa. It took four years and an appeal to the Pope before the Church let his body be transported to Genoa, but it was still not buried. His remains were finally laid to rest in 1876, in a cemetery in Parma. In 1893, the Czech violinist František Ondříček persuaded Paganini’s grandson, Attila, to allow a viewing of the violinist’s body. After this bizarre episode, Paganini’s body was finally reinterred in a new cemetery in Parma in 1896.


This link will give you an idea of Paganini’s playing style via some of his most well known compositions:


I don’t much care for virtuosity for its own sake, and it’s difficult at this stage without being able to hear Paganini, or a recording, to be able to assess his playing. Nowadays the violinists who play Paganini’s caprices seem delighted to be able to play them at all. They can be very difficult technically. Did he breathe his soul into his playing along with his skill?  I hope so.


I’d like to highlight the cuisine of Cremona to celebrate Paganini because Cremona was, and still is, the center of expert violin making in Italy. This is where Giuseppe Guarneri, Antonio Stradivari, and several members of the Amati family made their instruments in the 17th and 18th century. The cuisine of Cremona is also justifiably famous. My problem is – as always – that you have to go to Cremona to taste it. The ingredients are local and the cooks who make the famous dishes use these local ingredients with generations of experience. Here’s a video showing a “pasta granny” making marubini – stuffed pasta in the style of Cremona. The stuffing is made with cotechino (an uncooked sausage of a style made only in Cremona), breadcrumbs, and cheese from Parma (down the road). This cheese is obviously Parmesan, but it’s nothing like the pallid stuff you buy grated in shakers in the supermarket.

Seriously – when you want great regional Italian cooking, buy a plane ticket.

Sep 072016


On this date in 1893 several English ex-pats living in Italy founded the Genoa Cricket & Athletic Club. Cricket was their primary sport but “athletics” included football. By the turn of the century football had overtaken cricket as the predominant sport and by then the club had become the Genoa Cricket and Football Club, and still retains that name (and playing cricket), even though the club is almost exclusively known for football nowadays.


Since the club was set up to represent England abroad, the original shirts worn by the organization for football were white, the same color as the England national team shirt. At first Italians were not permitted to join the club. Genoa’s sporting events took place in the north-west of the city in the Campasso area, at the Piazza d’Armi.

The names of the founders are listed in their founding document.


These include Sir Charles Alfred Payton MVO (1843 – 1926) who was an English diplomat and writer. He had been appointed as British consul in Genoa in February of that year. It also included Daniel G. Fawcus (1858 – 1925) who had been a professional football player in England, and an administrator active throughout Europe. His presence accounts for the swift rise of football in the club. It should be remembered that football was an “athletic” sport in England at the time, designed primarily to keep cricketers fit in the off season.

Football in Italy stepped up a notch with the creation of the Italian Football Federation and the Italian Football Championship in 1898. Genoa competed in the first Italian Championship in 1898 at Velodromo Umberto I in Turin. They defeated Ginnastica Torino 2–1 in their first official game on 8 May, before winning the first championship later that day by beating Internazionale Torino 3–1 in extra time.


Genoa returned for the following season, this time with a few changes. The name of the club was altered to Genoa Cricket & Football Club, dropping the Athletic from its name. A change in shirt color was also in order to reflect the fact that they were starting to loosen ties with England, and began to admit Italians. They changed to white and blue vertical stripes; known in Italy as biancoblu. Genoa won their second title on 16 April 1899, by beating Internazionale Torino 3–1 for the second time. On their way to winning their third consecutive title in 1900 and proving their championship dominance, Genoa beat local rivals Sampierdarenese 7–0; a winning margin which would not be bettered by any team in the league until 1910. The final was secured with a 3–1 win over FBC Torinese.


The club strip changed again in 1901. Genoa adopted its famous red-navy halves and therefore became known as the rossoblu — these are the colors used to this day. After a season of finishing runners-up to Milan Cricket and Football Club, things were back on track in 1902 with their fourth title. Juventus emerged as serious contenders to Genoa’s throne from 1903 onwards, when for two seasons in a row Genoa beat the Old Lady in the national final.


Don’t think that cricket has been entirely forgotten, though. Whilst football reigns at the club, they still turn out a cricket side annually. They use the football pitch for the wicket and I wouldn’t say it is the world’s finest – nor the players. Looking at the stands you can also see that locals are not avid fans either. To be fair, I’ve attended cricket matches in England with about the same or fewer in attendance.


Genoa’s (and surrounding Liguria’s) most famous culinary specialties are its classic pesto and focaccia, both plain – flavored only with olive oil – or topped with onions, olives, sage, cheese, or whatever. Other specialties include filled pasta, such as traditional ravioli and the local pansotti (with a Swiss chard, egg and ricotta filling); corzetti from the Polcevera Valley, a fresh pasta made in the shape of small figure eights (unlike the corzetti of the Aveto and Vara Valleys, fresh pasta discs embossed with symbols and decorations); savory herb pies, such as torta Pasqualina (a puff pastry pie filled with cooked Swiss chard or artichokes, zucchini, spring herbs, eggs and cheese); stuffed (or fried) zucchini flowers, and cima, served in slices and made up of a slim pocket of veal stuffed with minced offal, bread crumbs soaked in broth, spring vegetables, grated cheese, diced mortadella and eggs.

Pesto, more fully, pesto alla genovese, is a sauce originating in Genoa, the capital of Liguria. It traditionally consists of crushed garlic, European pine nuts, coarse salt, basil leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano  and pecorino sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk), all blended with olive oil.


The name is the contracted past participle of the Genoese verb pestâ (Italian: pestare), which means to pound or to crush, in reference to the original method of preparation: according to tradition, the ingredients are crushed or ground in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle. This same Latin root, through Old French, also gave rise to the English noun pestle. Strictly speaking, “pesto” is a generic term for anything that is made by pounding and so the word is used for several pestos in Italy. Nonetheless, pesto alla genovese  remains the most popular pesto in Italy and the rest of the world.

Pesto is thought to have two predecessors in ancient times, going back as far as the Roman age. The ancient Romans used to eat a similar paste called moretum, which was made by crushing garlic, salt, cheese, herbs, olive oil and vinegar together. The use of this paste and how to make it is mentioned in the Appendix Vergiliana, an ancient collection of poems traditionally ascribed to Virgil.

Then singly each o’ th’ garlic heads be strips
From knotty body, and of outer coats
Deprives them, these rejected doth he throw
Away and strews at random on the ground.
The bulb preserved from th’ plant in water doth
He rinse, and throw it into th’ hollow stone.
On these he sprinkles grains of salt, and cheese
Is added, hard from taking up the salt.
Th’ aforesaid herbs he now doth introduce
And with his left hand ‘neath his hairy groin
Supports his garment;’ with his right he first
The reeking garlic with the pestle breaks,
Then everything he equally doth rub
I’ th’ mingled juice. His hand in circles move:
Till by degrees they one by one do lose
Their proper powers, and out of many comes
A single colour, not entirely green

In Virgil’s paste parsley gave it its light green color. The introduction of basil, the main ingredient of modern pesto, occurred in more recent times and is first documented only in the mid-19th century, when gastronomist Giovanni Battista Ratto published his book La Cuciniera Genovese in 1863:

Take a clove of garlic, basil or, when that is lacking, marjoram and parsley, grated Dutch and Parmigiano cheese and mix them with pine nuts and crush it all together in a mortar with a little butter until reduced to a paste. Then dissolve it with good and abundant oil. Lasagne and troffie are dressed with this mash, made more liquid by adding a little hot water without salt.


Modern Italians buy pesto readymade for simplicity, or else use a blender or food processor at home. Proper cooks still use a mortar and pestle though, because no other method creates the right texture, consistency, and blend of flavors. Here’s the list of ingredients from the winner of the 2012 Genoa Pesto World Championship.

4 bunches of fresh D.O.P. basil from Genova
30 grams (about 2 tablespoons) pine nuts
445-60 grams (about a pound) of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
20-40 grams (about one ounce) of Pecorino cheese, grated
1-2 garlic cloves from Vassalico
10 grams (about 1.5 teaspoons) coarse salt
60-80 cc (1/4 to 1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, D.O.P., from the Italian Riviera

D.O.P. is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (“Protected Designation of Origin”) which means that if you want to try to replicate this recipe you’re going to need basil grown in Genoa. Well, you’re going to need a host of ingredients from northern Italy. The main thing is to work quickly because you don’t want the ingredients to oxidize excessively whilst you work.

Rinse the freshly cut basil leaves in cold water and leave them to dry, without rubbing them. Crush the garlic clove and pine nuts in the mortar until smooth; add some of the salt and basil, and pound it some more. (According to the recipe, you should use “a light circular movement of the pestle against the sides). Keep going until the basil drips with a bright-green liquid. Then add the cheese and the oil to blend. Done !! Serve over pasta.