January 17, 2011 will be a day of celebration for Italian food lovers around the world. Monday marks the 4th annual International Day of Italian Cuisine.

Professional chefs across the globe will be whipping up a traditional Italian meal to recognize the immense culinary influence of Italian food. The three past International Days of Italian Cuisine revolved around iconic Italian meals: Pasta alla Carbonara, Risotto alla Milanese, and Tagliatelle al Ragù Bolognese. This year, the special dish will be authentic Pesto Genovese.

There can be absolutely no substitutions when it comes to making truly authentic Pesto Genovese. The IDIC insists that participating professional chefs use Ligurian basil, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, Pecorino and sea salt. Ideally, the garlic should be from Vessalico and the pine nuts should be of Italian origin, but many of these local Ligurian ingredients are difficult to obtain outside of Italy.

The day of recognition is meant to celebrate pesto as one of the most well-known and beloved raw sauces in the world. The iconic green sauce does not require any stovetop preparation and you can leave the food processor in the cupboard because only a wooden pestle and marble mortar should be used to make a strictly authentic sauce. In fact, the origin of the word “pesto” probably comes from the verb “pestare,” which means to pound or crush.

Recipes for pesto as we know it today, started to appear in Genovese cookbooks in the 19th century. The guidelines instructed cooks to mash herbs, nuts, cheese, garlic, oil and salt into a paste for pasta. Since the earliest recipes expressly specify pesto as a sauce for lasagne or trofie, chefs participating in the International Day of Italian Cuisine must serve their Pesto Genovese as a pasta dish.

It is difficult to find two exact copies of pesto in Genoa today, but the aim of the IDIC is to protect the authenticity and quality of food labeled “Italian.” The strict adherence to traditional recipes and ingredients reflects the mission to preserve the integrity of Italian food and refuse to accept imitations.

Those who are up to the challenge of recreating a wholly authentic pesto can enter the qualification round of the World Pesto Genovese Championship. The competition takes place every two years in Genoa and is one of the best-kept secrets of traveling in Liguria. Chefs and foodies alike can register to participate in events in New York City, Genova, Moscow, Sapporo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

On January 17th, 2011, make sure to serve Pesto alla Genovese in celebration of the enormous international influence of traditional Italian recipes. You can find the original recipe by the Consorzio del Pesto Genovese here.