The Genovese basil is a unique variety of the Italian basil herb (Ocimum basilicum L.) and has earned a special place in the heart of all Italian cuisine lovers. Ask any Italian where the best basil is grown and they will tell you that it comes from the area of Pra, grown across a few acres on the hills to the west of Genoa.
It is on these Ligurian hills that the aromatic basil has found the ideal conditions to grow. The microclimate of the area combined with the sun and the salty air are giving its leaves the ultimate balance of aroma and flavour - characteristics difficult to obtain anywhere else.
The basil that grows here is quite small in size with tender, oval, light-green leaves that curve slightly downward. It has a delicate scent, which intensifies when the plants flower, carrying the unmistakable aroma of sea salt and essential oils but lacking the smell of mint that can be detected in other varieties. Generally, Ligurians do not like the basil herb when it is dark green and tough, the result of direct sun, which will also give it the mint-like flavour.
Nowadays the Genovese varieties of basil are grown almost exclusively in diffuse light under glass and are harvested by hand when the leaves are still young which contributes to their mildness and light colour. Another reason for this cultivation is the fact that the basil does not like temperatures below 60F rather a temperature between 70 and 78F is ideal for its germination.
The sheer quantity of basil plants cultivation in the area of Pra is rather impressive. The rough total in each greenhouse ranges from 150,000 to 200,000 at any one time, and the yearly production from each averages 3 to 5.5 million plants.
You can buy fresh Pra basil in markets in Genova and the surrounding towns, but you can also attempt to grow your own from Genovese basil seeds. Note, however that the use of different soils and climate conditions will invariably lead to different results. In fact, the basil from Genova has recently become a government-protected variety and can only be sold as authentic Basilico Genovese if it has been grown in Liguria.
As with many culinary icons in Italy, the Genovese Basil has also its own festival - Sagra del Pesto - a yearly affair held in Pra featuring a religious procession, pasta feast, and sauce-making contest.
Go to Make your own Focaccia di Recco
Go to Traditional Focaccia con la Cipolla Recipe
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