Fresh, local ingredients, simple flavours and green herbs make Italian dishes incredibly vibrant.
1. Pesto Genovese
Pesto genovese’s reputation is unparalleled. It should therefore come as no surprise that its concoction is not taken lightly. Careful preparation is required using seven basic ingredients: DOP Genovese basil (freshly picked), Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, pecorino, parmigiano, garlic, salt and pine nuts. The word “pesto” comes from the verb “pestare”, which means to crush into a pulp. Despite being a common ingredient in thousands of Ligurian dishes, pesto genovese is most classically served over pasta, usually trofie or trenette.
Either for lunch, dinner or a midnight snack… the moment is always right for biting into a piping hot focaccia (flat bread)! Its most basic form consists of flour, locally-sourced extra virgin olive oil, salt, brewer’s yeast and water. After that, the baker is free to mix in onion, sage, tomato, meat, olive, onions, potato, rosemary, etc. Among all its variants, the most outrageously delicious is focaccia di recco, which includes soft stracchino cheese, stuffed in between two layers of dough. In Genova, near Brignole Station, panificio focacceria Mario produces some of the tastiest and most interesting focaccie money can buy.
3. Farinata and Panissa
Farinata, an icon of popular Ligurian cuisine, is a pancake fried in a large flat copper pan and made of chickpea flour, water and oil. It is best served straight out of a wood oven, with its surface crisp and golden, and its insides hot and moist. A Liguran classic, eaten either plain or flavoured (onions, cheese, mushrooms…), farinata can readily be purchased at traditional street food stands (sciamadde), which line the medieval arcades of Genova’s port district. Panissa is another type of street food made from fried chickpea dough. Typcially sliced into long sticks, its texture bears some resemblance to firm polenta. Panissa are basically Ligurian fries, which many locals season with lemon and olive oil! Panissa can also be used to make great sandwiches.
4. Salty Pies
Ligurians love their salted pies (torta salata); some are made with spinach, others include artichokes, chard, squash and more. Torta Pasqualina, a local favourite, is traditionally served around Easter, but is nevertheless easy to find year-round in several focacceria and bakeries (especially in Genova’s Mercato orientale). Filled with chard (and/or spinach and/or artichokes), herbs, egg and a type of regional ricotta, Torta Pasqualina is topped off with several thin layers of puff pastry. Apparently, 33 layers are customary in honour of Christ’s life on earth. Served with eggs to represent the Messiah’s rebirth, Torta Pasqualina is as tasty as it is meaningful!
5. Fish Fries
With its long coastline, it seems fitting to find seafood so prominently featured in the region’s cuisine. One should make a point of eating a cone of deep fried fish, commonly found in port areas. Other popular dishes include Friscieu, a fritter made of small fish and herbs, and octopus salad. Anchovies, another favourite here, are prepared in several refreshing ways: besides salting them, Ligurians also prepare their anchovies with stuffing, fried or marinated in lemon and olive oil (a real treat!).
6. Pansotti with Walnut Sauce
While most are familiar with pesto genovese, few have tried salsa di noci. This Ligurian sauce is made from crushed nuts and served on large ravioli (often stuffed with herbs and cheese) called pansotti –a unique and tasty dish worth discovering!
In many ways similar to panettone, the Ligurian pandolce is a sweet bread made from butter, nuts, dried and candied fruits, a dash of anise and a splash of bergamot or orange blossom water. Though it is most popular around Christmastime, this hundred-year-old recipe can be enjoyed year-round.
Another typical Genovese treat is panera, a coffee-flavoured semifreddo whose texture is creamier than gelato, thanks to the copious amounts of whipped cream that goes into making it.
9. Cinque Terre’s DOP Wines and Sciacchetrà
The vines cultivated on the mountain terraces in the Cinque Terre yield delicious, rather dry white wines, which should absolutely be sought out during any visit to Liguria. This same soil also produces sciacchetrà, which is a famous, sweet wine made from grapes whose sugars have slowly concentrated after having been dried out in the Mediterranean sun. Although many consider it a dessert in and of itself, sciacchetrà is best thought of as a decadent way to cap off a great meal, especially when taken with aged cheeses or cantucci.