GENOA — You know pesto is popular in the United States when you can order a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s and it arrives spread with the basil paste. Well, it happens in Italy too, where I ate pesto on top of what was essentially a cut-up pancake — and it was one of the best meals of my life.
Genoa is a somewhat grimy medieval port city on the Italian Riviera, and the capital of Liguria. It is home to a specific strain of basil so beloved that it was granted DOP status (Protected Designation of Origin, a European Union guarantee to consumers) by the Italian government. Genovese basil really does taste different from any other basil you have eaten, and it’s difficult to say exactly how. It’s dark green, and the leaves appear more matte than the shinier basil we grow in the States. The taste, if this makes sense, also seems more matte, more of a concentrated basil flavor, and somehow less sweet.