Circo’s Chef Alfio Shares His Award-Winning Pesto Secrets
NEW YORK—There’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.
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.
Chef Alfio Longo’s Traditional Genovese Pesto Recipe
*Use authentic Italian ingredients for best flavors.
Basil, small leaves only, 4 bunches, or 80 grams (3 oz.)
Pine nuts, 30 grams (1 oz.)
Parmesan Reggiano cheese, 20 grams (0.7 oz.)
Fiore Sardo Pecorino cheese, 15 grams (0.5 oz.)
Garlic, half cloves, cut off the middle part (too strong)
Sea salt, 5 grams (1 tsp.)
40 ml, extra Virgin Italian Olive Oil (3 Tbsp.)
[Editor’s note: The conversions from grams are approximate only, please use grams as a measurement for most accurate results.]
Must use a proper mortar and pestle for a traditional Genovese Pesto.
Start pressing the pine nuts in the mortar till almost creamy. Remove and add the basil leaves.
Press the basil with the pestle with a gentle hand, not too strongly, until you have an almost creamy consistency.
When you have a bright green color from the basil, add the parmesan and the pecorino cheeses little by little, pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
Add salt to taste.
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