Italy Uncovered: A Foodie’s Guide to Liguria
Sun, sea and infinite glamour – Liguria is the kind of place Instagram takes kindly to. Italy’s answer to the Cote d’Azur, if you will. What you might not know is that Italy’s smallest region is also home to one of the most diverse regional cuisines in the country. Due to an advantageous location, nestled between mountains and sea, this small crescent shaped patch has access to a wide range of ingredients, and all the pine nuts, basil, olive oil and seafood a person could wish for.
Whether you’re visiting the bustling working port of Genoa, or picture perfect Cinque Terre, you won’t be stuck for delicious things to eat. And, because we know you’re probably planning your next holiday right now, we’ve prepared this short guide on what to eat when you get there.
Focaccia is a staple in the diet of all Ligurians. Whilst different regions have their own takes on this delightful carbohydrate snack, it was invented here, in Liguria. You’ll find it readily available at focaccerias and pizzerias across the region. You’ll find it prepared with a variety of toppings, from onions to anchovies, but in Liguria it’s most commonly eaten plain or ‘bianco’, without toppings. The bread is thin with a crusty surface, punctured with dimples filled with oil and salt. Ask for a piece and enjoy it with a cappuccino for breakfast, or as a mid-afternoon snack at the beach.
Unlike pesto outside of Italy, which has gotten itself a bad reputation and is now the remit of impoverished students and busy parents, pesto in Liguria is revered. It’s where the humble salsa fresco hails from. Traditionally served with Trofie Pasta (small pasta twists) and small cubes of potato and green beans, you can also find it served with gnocchi or in a Lasagna Verde (literally, green lasagna). The pesto here really is the besto.
Salsa di Noci
This is Pesto’s slightly less cool, vastly underrated sister. It’s another typical Ligurian salsa fresca, prepared with walnuts, instead of pine nuts, and olive oil, garlic and salt. You’ll usually find it served with Pansoti pasta, a stuffed pasta not dissimilar to Ravioli or Tortellini. The word ‘pansotti’ is thought to derive from word ‘panciuti’, which in Ligurian dialect means ‘belly’; a reference to what the pasta looks like rather that what you’ll look like after eating bowls of the stuff with lashings of walnut sauce.
Italy, land of the refined carbohydrate, has a gluten-free secret. La Farinata is a sort of unleavened crepe or pancake made with chickpea flour, olive oil, salt and water. Most commonly found in Liguria and the northern most part of Tuscany, this snack is traditionally cooked in a very high heat pizza oven, in a big round coper pan and cut into large triangular slices. Perfect for the gluten free and glutenous.
This is to the Ligurians, what the pasty is to the Cornishman. It’s part of their cultural DNA. Layers of paper-thin pastry are filled with regional greens (usually a swiss chard but spinach and rucola are commonly used), whole boiled eggs and a soft cheese like ricotta. Calorific, but nonetheless completely delicious. This pastry is traditionally prepared at Easter time; the thirty three layers of pastry were intended to represent every year of Christ’s life and the twelve boiled eggs represent the disciples. Today you’ll find it in pasticceria and schiamma across the region.
Fried Sea Food
Given that this small, cresent shaped region runs across almost 200 miles of coast, it’s no surprise that they’re good at fishing here. Friggitorie are small establishments which specialise in fried food to take away. Get yourself to a friggitoria on the seaside and pick up a parcel of fried calamari, gambari and seafood. Quick, fresh and perfect for lunch on the go. For some authentic fried fish, head to the Sottoripa in the Old Port of Genova. This narrow Carrugi is packed full of sciammadde and friggatorie.
Heavy as a brick and lovingly referred to as ‘Genoa Cake’ by non-Italians, this sweet treat is actually a Christmas cake in Liguria. Here it has a more bread-like consistency, made with additional sultanas, currents, candied fruits and, obviously, pine nuts. Dense, crumbly and completely delicious. Unfortunately (fortunately) most pasticceria don’t sell it by the slice, so you’ll have to buy the whole cake to taste it.