La semplicità, ‘simplicity’, is the key to Italy’s famed eno-gastronomy. Simple, fresh ingredients characterize Italian cuisine, whether within a stone’s throw of Africa at the tip of Sicily, or at the top of the Alps along the French-Italian border. One could say that the cuisine varies as much as the history, culture and geography of each Italian region and province, and that there are subtle differences even from one village to the next.
Ligurian cuisine is no exception and, although based on the simplest of fresh ingredients, local fare is surprisingly rich.* The scrumptious Easter torta pasqualina, for example, with its base of bietola (chard), egg, curdled milk and carciofi (artichokes) was once quite difficult to make, requiring some 33 pastry folds to commemorate the number of Christ’s years on Earth. Today, most recipes call for only five or six folds. Other famous breads include focaccia, served plain and smothered with olive oil or topped with savory stracchino cheese; sgabei, a type of fried bread or chickpea farinata, a very popular regional specialty.
The Italian verb pestare means ‘to pound, to crush’, and whoever the strongman or strongwoman was to first mortar and pestle fresh basil, pine nuts, pecorino cheese and olive oil certainly deserves an enormous amount of credit. Pestois wonderful over trofie, al dente shreds of pasta often served with string beans and potatoes, and is also an important addition to the Ligurian minestrone. Another lesser-known but equally tasty variation on pesto is called pestun, and is made with fresh baby fava beans, mint, pecorino and olive oil pounded together and served on bruschetta. There are also a number of interesting types of Ligurian ravioli, such as borage ravioli; indeed, the pasta is claimed to have been invented nearby Gavi, Piedmont by the counts of Raviolo.*
Extending from the Mediterranean sea to the heights of the Alps and Apennines in a very short distance, Liguria's geographic and climatic diversity have given rise to a lush vegetation, with a great variety of herbs and vegetables. Herbs are liberally employed in various meat and game dishes, including rabbit alla ligure, with herbs and olives, and cima genovese, stuffed veal roll, which has marjoram as its most important herb. Like most Italians, Ligurians prepare their fish without intricate sauces, preferring to taste the wonderful freshness of their catch, though here too local herbs and olive oil are still utilized in dishes such as branzino alla ligure (sea bass with olives and potatoes). Ligurian anchovies are also some of the best anywhere, no relation whatsoever to the salty, canned variety found in Northern countries; in the Cinque Terre they are deliciously baked over slices of fresh tomato and potato.
Ligurian olives and olive oil rank among Italy’s most treasured, including for example the small taggiasca olive. Tasty in their own right, the taggiasca produce a truly wonderful extra virgin olive oil; no surprise that many areas of Western Liguria have been covered with them since the 12th century, when they were widely planted by Benedictine monks.
In terms of wine, Liguria is best known for dry whites like the Vermentino and Pigato,which are marvelous with regional specialties such as marinated alici (anchovies) and baked orata fish. Notable red wines include the Rossese from Dolceacqua near the French border, and the Sangiovese, made from grapes grown in the hills near the Roman ruins of Luni, in Tuscany. The Cinque Terre has been famous for centuries for Sciacchetrà, the white passito wine made from grapes that have been partially dried to increase sugar and alcohol content.
Desserts include the chestnut flour castagnaccio pie, the torta limone (lemon pie) and the traditional pan dôçe, a rich sugar-coated, butter-filled unleavened cake with pine nuts, raisins, candied citrus fruits and orange flower extract. Walkers in particular will appreciate the simple bontà (goodness) of a big, surprisingly sweet lemon, perfect for an invigorating trailside snack.
In both of our Ligurian tours, Smugglers’ Return and Liguria Paradiso, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the great variety of Ligurian cuisine, both from the land and sea, and upon request partake in cooking classes with local chefs. Feel free to peruse these itineraries and contact us for any other information regarding Ligurian cuisine, natural environment, history or upcoming festivals. We look forward to designing and leading your next trip through the region.