Back in 1946, when authentic Italian food was still exotic in this country, Sunset ran its first recipe for pesto, the traditional Genoese sauce of basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil.
This was remarkable, given that the era was best known for the introduction of Betty Crocker Cake Mix (1947) and frozen french fries (1948). Spaghetti was beginning to lose its foreign accent, but pesto was unknown to most, having received its first American mention just two years earlier in the New York Times. According to Lynne Olver, food historian and editor of the Food Timeline website, that item was a brief recommendation for a brand of imported canned pesto paste. So Sunset's pesto recipe was likely the first in a major American publication.
For that bit of good fortune, we tip our hats to Angelo Pellegrini, the Tuscan-born English professor and Renaissance man whose writings on food, gardening, and living well (including his best-known book, The Unprejudiced Palate, first published in 1948 and still in print) made him one of the West's most beloved food authorities. Sunset had a long relationship with Pellegrini, who lived in Seattle until his death in 1991, and it's his pesto recipe that first graced our pages.
Pesto, he wrote, "is an extraordinarily pleasant experience both for the nostrils and the palate. Its only disadvantage is that it may unduly whet the appetite. I once knew a man in Florence who wagered he could eat 2 pounds of pasta al pesto ... after a normal dinner. The prize was a barrel of Chianti. He won the wager and lived to drink the wine!"
Pellegrini's pesto recipe gave no exact amounts, just a little bit of this, a little bit of that. In June 1959, we returned to pesto with a more standardized recipe, which we reproduce here.