- Ariana Narins
Wednesday, April 21st - Tuesday, April 27th
Liguria is a crescent-moon shaped sliver of land embracing the sea. The Alps and Apennine mountains scale its curved, outer rim. Many regions in Italy find themselves between the mountains and the sea, but in Liguria the two terrains nearly hold hands, making it an intensely hybrid landscape. Although it is located in north-west Italy, it feels like a stranger to the north. The Alps cut off it’s conversation with Piedmont to the north and the Apennines with Tuscany and Emilia-Reggiano to the east. The Ligurian heart is, in fact, held by the Mediterranean kissed south. It’s cuisine resonates more deeply with the dishes of southern France, Spain, Greece and Arabic cooking than northern Italy.
The story of its cuisine begins with the fundamental fact that its men were sailors yearning for home and its women were yearning to please them upon their return. The women discovered that the way to a seafaring man’s heart is - basil. Green, fragrant, vitamin-rich basil. If you remember one thing about this region, let it be: Ligurians love basil. To this day, its sweet nourishing fragrance fills the air, as pots of it fit neatly into little corners of almost every home. Other aromatic, nutrient-rich herbs like marjoram, thyme and rosemary are also important staples in the Ligurian diet.
You may expect the culinary story of this coastal region to be dominated by fish, but we must note, sailors are not fishermen. The Ligurian sea lacks an abundance of fish, anyway. The sailors ventured forth into the deep sea and sometimes did not see land for many months or years. They brought aboard foods that would last their journeys, like preserved, salted meats and dried biscuits. Of course, they caught fish along the way. But when they reached home, they were sick of eating fish. They desired for the verdant herbs and vegetables that are born of the soil and the scent of pine trees and earthy mushrooms, evoking the mountainous woods - all the nourishing, homey things they were deprived of at sea.
With all their maritime trading, you might also expect that, like the Venetians, they dipped into their bounty and adorned their foods with the exotic, colorful spices of the east like pepper, cinnamon, saffron, and nutmeg. On the contrary, they were nauseated by spices. The Venetian sailors were able to stay close to the coast on their journeys east, and the scents of soil, trees, and land (scents we take for granted) accompanied them all along their way. But the Ligurians were far out in the depths of the sea, away from the moderating fragrances of the land, and overwhelmed with the heavy perfume of spices. The scent of spices travelled up from below deck where they were stored in sacks. Upon touching the shore, the sailors reached for the pure, verdant gifts of terra firma. They left the spices behind for the merchants.
After the basil and herbs, another gorgeous fragrance fills the salty, sea-kissed Ligurian air, the fragrance of flowers. Much of the land that once held olive groves are now filled with row after row of flowers planted for commercial production. Although the high-quality of Ligurian olive oil is still held in regard, it is the perfume of roses, geraniums, and wisteria that wafts through the air. Flowers seem to burst forth from every pocket of land along the Italian Riviera. For all its natural beauty and beaches, it is easy to see why 1/4 of all travellers to Italy visit Liguria.
Our short look at Liguria has revealed little about her great port city and capital, Genoa. Powerful and illustrious, Genoa once rivaled Venice at her height. The city is still adorned with luxurious palaces, gothic, renaissance, and baroque ornament festooning its walls, and beautiful art. Perhaps, we can tell her story in more detail another day. For now, we hope you get a taste for the Ligurian cuisine that her sailors once adored and longed for from afar. We’ve brought these fragrant, healthful dishes home to you.
Olive Focaccia & Pesto
Pizza is more than the Neapolitan invention that everyone knows and loves. Liguria also calls their beloved focaccia - pizza! Loaded with extra virgin olive oil, Ligurian focaccia is a beautiful sight with it’s golden brown, crispy exterior. Olives, another gift of the terra firma longed for by sailors, are a typical addition to Ligurian style pizza. To pile on the essence of Liguria, we’ve added their favorite topping. You guessed it - Pesto.
Trenette al Pesto & Fried Clams
Trenette pasta is a kind of linguini that expresses Liguria’s link with the Arab world touched upon above. It derives from the Arabic word, tria. If we said before that the Ligurians love basil, then we should say now, they looooove pesto. And who doesn’t? Crushed, fragrant basil, sweet pine nuts, zesty lemon, plus earthy garlic - it’s a refreshing, completely satisfying combo! You just feel like your better self after eating pesto. The French of Provence make a version of Ligurian pesto called, pistou. As part of the French Empire for some time, its culinary influence upon southern France is still felt. The dish we’ve prepared expresses another Ligurian speciality - fried foods. Its Olive Oil is so good, it makes sense that they would want to fry their fish and meats with it.
Ravioli alla Genovese
Few know that ravioli was born aboard Genoese ships. Originally, the Genoese called it rabiole, meaning things of little value. Ravioli is cucina povera par excellence and it kept many a Genoese sailor satiated at sea. They made the best of every scrap of food on board by stuffing it into little packets of pasta. Today, this delightful example of cucina povera has evolved into a complex delicacy. And it has traveled farther than any sailor could have imagined in the days of Columbus, Genova’s most infamous sailorman. For you, we’ve prepared a spinach, chard, parmigiano, and sausage stuffed ravioli with a traditional Ligurian tocco sauce - which is a slow stewed sausage and tomato sauce.
When I pick up my copy of Ludovico Ariosto’s wild, chivalric romance, Orlando Furioso, and dive into the crazy Renaissance adventures of his love struck heroines and knights, I always end up drifting away from it. It’s one of those books I may never finish. But I’m happy to have it on my shelf in case the right moment presents itself. In the meantime, I’ll just dive into this gorgeous dish, inspired as it is by one of Ariosto’s characters, Sacripante.
Giovanni Preti is said to have created this dish in 1851. Layers of pan di Spagna are soaked in decadent Marsala wine and are coated with two delicious creams, one zabaione flavored and the other cocoa flavored. It’s a dish to fall in love with - that mad, exuberant, chivalric kind of love!