Liguria Food (15)
Delicious local Italian typical products from the region of Liguria. Where to go, what to look out for and when to find them in season. Start with the articles below.
During an improvised walking tour of Varese Ligure in the Val di Vara, province of La Spezia, it was a pleasure to stumble upon the workshop of Pietro Picetti. In this delightful setting by the ancient pilgrim bridge crossing the Vara River, it is here he makes by hand the wooden stamps used to produce the typical local pasta shapes known as croxetti. That's the local dialect for corzetti as they are known more familiarly elsewhere.
So what's in a pesto? Well, if you buy a supermarket version of the condiment in a small glass tub then probably potatoes, sugar and lots of preservatives. Although tasty, its not a patch on the real thing and will probably be called 'pesto alla genovese'.
The magic ingredients are basil 'basilico', garlic 'aglio', pine nuts 'pinoli', extra virgin olive oil and cheese, a pecorino and parmigiano, and that's it. Like much of the best Italian food, it is is not the so much the preparation that matters (although a mortar and pestle made from Carrara marble helps) but the choice of the raw ingredients.
Focaccia is not pizza and is about 2000 years older. The name comes from the Latin 'focacia' meaning hearth or fireside so its easy to see what role it had in everyday life throughout the centuries. It is essentially a cross between pizza bread and traditional bread it is great eaten warm and covered in olive paste. There are many variations in Liguria.
Panettone or Pandolce is the famous Italian Christmas cake which appears in all the shops from December 1st. It has a strange consistency on first taste, a mix between dry and moist and delicate and tough. However, one thing is for sure, its perfect with a glass of chilled prosecco.
Pandolce hails from Genoa and differs from the other versions as it is more compact and has an abundance of dried sugared fruit or 'frutta candita'. This suggests that the recipe may have been influenced by exotic products brought to the port from elswhere.
The Camogli fish festival is actually called the Fish Festival of Saint Fortunato, patron saint of fishermen and is held in the first half of May. This is the most famous event that happens in this drop-dead gorgeous Mediterranean port of Camogli. Free fried fish are dished out in front of the quaint miniature harbor (which is not far from, and is very similar to what Portofino was like before it was discovered by tourists).
Salt was a valuable commodity in medieval times and we have written more about the control of the trade at the time here. Below we outline a part of the old salt road from Valle delle Meraviglie to the Balzi Rossi along the coast not far from Ventimiglia. There are other such itineraries in the region running along the coasts of Savona and Imperia to the Padana Plain, in particular from Portofino to Pavia.
In fact, there are over 70km of footpaths to explore which wind through olive groves, vineyards and ancient country hamlets forming the Levanto Valley.
Add the pedestrian historical centre of Levanto town and the visitor can enjoy a more than relaxing car free break in south Liguria.
Sixteen excursions are highlighted in the brochure of the National Park of the Cinque Terre and with an additional 4 suggestions for the Cinque Terre themselves.
The local cuisine of Levanto near the Cinque Terre is a product of a harsh land which has always been difficult to cultivate. Perhaps because of this what is produced is of an intensity and flavour rarely matched.
The flagship product is of course pesto, but look further and you will discover delicious savory pies filled with anchovies, beautiful olive oils as well as fine red and white wines.
But the king of Levanto gastronomy is the little known 'gattafin' or 'finezza della gatta'. Translated from the local dialect that's 'fineness of the Gatta' which still gives absolutely nothing away.
The wooded slopes and peaks of the hilly hinterland of the region mean the cuisine of the Ligurian valleys is notable for honey, mushrooms (notably 'porcini'), horse chestnuts and even goat and potatoes.
Yet, it is worth keeping an eye out for a cheese by the name of brùsso, a soft cheese similar to the ricotta cheese which is quite used for filling pies. Most likely to be found in the area bordering Piemonte, the cheese is almost exclusively home made.
It is produced by mixing various types of seasoned cheeses such as robiole in a terracotta pot. The mixture itself is then flavored with such heart burners as grappa, olive oil, vinegar, salt and hot pepper. It is then left to ferment before being used as a soft paste, ideally on hot toast or added to steaming polenta. Quite something.