What Is Massimo Bottura's Pesto Recipe?

Massimo Bottura's fusilli with pesto dish.

The author of the acclaimed book Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef, Massimo Bottura, has been described as the Jimmy Hendrix of Italian chefs. Never afraid to ruffle a few feathers, his use of breadcrumbs (not to mention mint, parsley, and thyme) in what is otherwise a reasonably traditional pesto recipe didn't go down well with those who look upon Italian cuisine with a little more nostalgia.

In River Cottage Everyday, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall also showed his support for the use of breadcrumbs in pesto, suggesting it adds body and a pleasing crunch. With those heavyweights on the side of breadcrumbs, there's got to be something in it, right?

Regardless of the arguments for or against the presence of breadcrumbs, we rather like the frugality of it. After all, Italian cookery has a rather noteworthy precedent for cooking with what you can afford. You only need to look at the history of pasta to see that available finances are at its very heart. Those in the north of the country made their dough with eggs, while those in the south couldn't afford eggs and had to make do with water.

Massimo Bottura portrait

Bottura's use of stale bread to make pesto is rather trendy from a waste perspective, too. Italian cuisine has a proud history of using ingredients that are local, seasonal, and abundant. The whole reason basil is the star ingredient in pesto Genovese is because the Ligurians knew they had the world's best basil growing in the hills all around them. So to scorn the inclusion of breadcrumbs, particularly if that is all a cook has to hand, is to rather misunderstand the history of pesto itself.

Massimo Bottura's Pesto Recipe (10 servings)

Ingredient Quantity
Basil 200g
Mint 120g
Parsley 50g
Parmesan 50g
Olive oil 45g
Garlic x2 cloves
Breadcrumbs 25g
Thyme x1 sprig
Salt to taste
Ice optional

Method
Add the herbs to a blender along with the cheese, garlic, and breadcrumbs. Bottura recommends adding a couple of ice cubes too, which he says helps prevent the herbs from oxidising and turning bitter.

Pulse to your preferred consistency and transfer to a mixing bowl.

Stream in the olive oil, mix by hand, and season with salt.

In the meantime, bring a pan of salted water to a boil and add your favourite pasta shape. (We recommend around 75g of pasta per person.) Remove from the heat as soon as the pasta is al dente. Take a tablespoon of the starchy cooking water and add it to your pesto.

Drain the pasta, toss with the pesto, and garnish with a little more Parmesan and breadcrumbs.