Today we are talking about typical Ligurian dishes, one of the countless variations on the theme that characterise Mediterranean cuisine.
Aromatic herbs, chestnuts, sheep cheeses, olive oil and fish are just some of the ingredients that distinguish this contrasting cuisine, which is divided between the Apennine hills and the rugged coasts. At first glance, a territory too narrow to make us all fit together: yet all the elements in the mouth work very well, for a collection of typical dishes that just can't make the palate tired or the stomach heavy.
Pesto - the king of green sauces
Marble mortar, wooden pestle, a lot of patience and seven essential ingredients: this is the secret to the wonderful and fragrant Genoese pesto, the condiment that makes the slalom between hopeless imitations and supermarket ugliness. Working on your wrist to shatter all the elements and free that bouquet of odorous molecules that make your head spin must be a liberating, almost Zen experience. First garlic, salt and pine nuts, then the basil (strictly from Prà with its small and tasteful leaves), Parmigiano Reggiano and Fiore Sardo, to finish with abundant doses of Riviera Ligure DOP extra virgin olive oil. All these elements, believe us, make the difference.
The locals, especially the grandmas, recommend an even more delicious version with also potatoes and green beans.
The question is: what kind of pasta should I choose for pesto? Fresh trofie is always the most reasonable choice, but which we could very well replace with trenette, linguine, bavette (from the spaghetti’s family).
Focaccia Genovese - the one and only
"A fugassa" in Ligurian dialect, is a regional substitute for the classic sour-leavened bread spread throughout the peninsula in its most varied forms, and co-star of all meals from breakfast to dinner. In Liguria we find several variations, starting with the Genoese focaccia, a crunchy delight on the outside and soft inside made with soft wheat flour, brewer's yeast, malt extract and lots and lots of extra virgin olive oil.
Among the added ingredients we frequently find onions, the latter recurring in the diet of longshoremen for reasons that we can only imagine.
It is easy to find Ligurians walking by the sea with a “slerfa” (slice) of focaccia while enjoying the sunset. A must-do that we strongly recommend.
The locals also say that to consider yourself a true Ligurian you must be able to have breakfast with focaccia with onions and cappuccino and, in the most extreme case, you have to dare to "pucciare" (dip) focaccia into the cappuccino. An extreme act indeed, but incredibly rewarding.
The variant - Focaccia di Recco
Do not be fooled by the name: focaccia di Recco is the IGP-branded baked product that has little to do with the classic fugassa of Genoa just a few kilometers away. The difference that stands out most is the presence of cheese, of course, however it is rather in the absence of another (invisible this time) ingredient that the uniqueness of the Recco focaccia resides compared to all the others. In fact, the dough does not contain brewer's yeast, an ingredient normally considered essential in bread making. Only flour, oil, water, salt and fresh cheese filling: stracchino, crescenza or robiola.
Farinata - a light and delicious pizza substitute
The hype for typical dishes based on chickpea flour in Liguria is palpable. Many suppositions can be made about the original uses of this ingredient, which in Liguria is mixed with water and salt in its most basic form, to be enriched with oil in the dough or in the cooking vehicle, up to incorporating other elements such as spring onion, aromatic herbs, fish, cheese, sausage and so on and so forth.
The chickpea flour is diluted with one part of oil and three parts of water, mixing very carefully to avoid the dreaded lumps (horror!). After resting, the mixture is poured into a large and very low copper pan which is baked until it acquires a beautiful golden crust. It seems like a lot and instead a pan in two ends up in a flash, guaranteed.
Seafood is taken very seriously in Liguria – after all, Genoa was one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. All the usual fare can be found in the markets, but the Ligurians particularly love their sea bass, mussels and seppie, tiny little cuttlefish that are cooked simply and eaten as a snack or main meal.
A special mention goes to “Cappon Magro”, a poor dish of fish and vegetables. A bread crouton soaked in water and vinegar, a few touches of fish, olives, oregano and oil, ingredients put together by the servants to collect leftovers of foods that were prized. From poor to refined dish, from recycling of leftovers to culinary triumph, from the humblest canteens to the choreographic tables of the nobles. Cappon magro has a long history of gastronomic and social redemption which probably culminates in the kitschy constructions of the 1980s buffets.
The hills and mountains of Liguria means large-scale meat farming isn’t as prevalent as in other areas of Italy, but the need for filling, warming stews to keep mountain villagers happy through the winter months means it’s still on the menu. Rabbit is particularly popular, as it’s abundant and doesn’t require acres of farmland to rear, but veal can also be found on most restaurant menus.
Fancing something sweet?
The Ligurian tradition includes different types of biscuits as for “Canestrelli”, biscuits in the shape of a daisy, the typical product to be taken with tea; “Baci di Alassio”, instead, are the lustful hazelnut biscuits that contain a delicious chocolate cream.
Castagnaccio is a cake free from gluten and dairy. A combination of chestnut flour, water, pine nuts, raisins and olive oil is baked and topped with honey, ricotta or orange zest.
Last but not least, the Pandolce Genovese is a sweet leavened dough, flavoured with orange blossom water and filled with candied fruit. It can be considered the alternative to Panettone for the Ligurians. Less soft than Panettone and crunchy at times, but incredibly tasty and aromatic.
There would still be many traditional recipes to mention, but a blog would not be enough, so we warmly invite you to spend your holidays here to be able to discover them for yourself! You won’t regret it.