What's The Difference Between Genovese Pesto and Genovese Sauce?

Naples from the air with Mount Vesuvius in the distance

Short answer
Genovese pesto is the classic, raw basil sauce that we all know and love, while Genovese sauce is a slow-cooked meat sauce that, despite its name, is most associated with Naples in the Campania region of Italy.

Long answer
Food historians believe visiting Genovese cooks introduced Genovese sauce to Naples, and Southern Italians took the recipe under their wings, really making it their own. The names are so similar that you may think they are interchangeable, but the truth is, they couldn't be any less alike.

Classic Genovese pesto is a herbaceous, super-fresh raw sauce made from basil, cheese, nuts, garlic, salt, and olive oil. It is characterised by its vibrant green colour, and in its homeland of Liguria, you will find it on every trattoria menu. It is mainly used to dress classic Ligurian pasta shapes like trofie, trenette, and corzetti, but you'll also find it served on Genoa's revered focaccia.

Genovese sauce, on the other hand, is a frugal, meaty sauce (typically made from cheap cuts of beef, pork, or veal) that is slow-cooked for hours along with plenty of onions and sometimes celery and carrots. Unlike pesto, Genovese sauce needs to be paired with shapes that can stand up to the hearty texture of the sauce. Quintessential Campanian shapes like zitoni, rigatoni, and paccheri are the most popular.