The local cuisine
A natural amphitheatre surrounded on all sides by the sea and the mountains, Liguria is the only Italian region that is home to the Alps, the Apennines and the sea and the only northern area in Italy that enjoys a temperate climate mitigated by the Tyrrhenian sea. It has all the benefits of its closeness to the sea plus the protection afforded by the nearby very high mountain chains. These factors, together with Genoa’s trade and historical tradition, have made this the home of cuisine and gastronomy that blend the flavours and aromas of products from the hills, produce out of the vegetable garden and fruits of the sea. This is an example of Mediterranean cookery that makes the most of all that nature has to offer to create a combination of a healthy diet and tasty food.
The most wonderful local example of creativity in the kitchen is pesto. Basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, mature cheese and salt are the simple ingredients used to prepare Liguria’s most famous sauce, which is ideal for trofie, trenette and lasagne.
Pesto is as old as the Mediterranean itself, but may originally have come from Africa or even Asia. Classical authors such as Pliny, Alessandro Petronius and others wrote about pesto and their names are all diligently listed in the book “Dell’insalata e dell’uso di essa” (About salad leaves and how to use them) by Salvatore Massonio (1627).
In 1800, codification of Genoa cooking refers to pesto as “garlic flavoured sauce” made from:a clove of garlic, basil, grated Sardinian and Parmigiano cheese and extra virgin olive oil.
Basil is difficult to grow outside Liguria as nothing can replace its unique micro-climate of sun, salt and sea or the local soil where a kind of basil grows with unmistakable, particularly well-balanced aroma and flavour.
Families all used to grow at least one basil plant as did Genoan captains on their ships. Even today, plants can be seen on balconies or terraces overlooking the sea or in the hills.
In the ancient slow yet effective method of making pesto, an old wooden pestle rotates in a marble mortar and breakd the leaf fibres, releasing all the flavour of the basil, which must be no older than two months.
Liguria cuisine is delicately balanced and includes sweet olive oil, tasty vegetables and delicately fragrant wines. Extra virgin olive oil is another of the most characteristic ingredients il Ligurian cooking, its delicacy and fragrance making it ideal for the tastiest of dishes. It is low in saturate fats and valuable in a well-balanced diet. The Mediterranean diet and its anti-oxidant properties make it beneficial to the human organism.
Some top Italian products are Ligurian, such as Taggiasco olive oil, with its mild, refined, never aggressive flavour. Its light aftertaste of pine nuts and almonds is ideal on herbs, fresh vegetables and seafood. Fillings in Liguria are often meatless, used for fresh pasta, such a pansotti and ravioli, and pies, such as the famous Pasqualina or artichoke pie, and also for Cima alla Genovese (stuffed veal). It also includes fish and seafood, such as anchovies, bream and wonderful whitebait or others such as sunfish, sea bream and seabass. Over the centuries foreign foods have arrived in Liguria thanks to trade that brought ingredients such as stockfish and dried cod from distant countries, giving rise to lots of tasty dishes like Buridda soup. Specialities include farinata, hot salted thin chickpea or wheat bread eaten at any time of day, fast-food Italian style, made from just a few healthy ingredients: flour, olive oil, salt and water. Delicate west coast wines are popular throughout Europe and all are perfect with the various local dishes. Pigato is a dry white, straw yellow in colour and slightly bitter. It has a lively body and medium alcohol content (11%). Vermentino is another straw yellow white, but has a finer bouquet and fresh dry taste. Rossese has a light winey aroma, a brilliant ruby red and delicate but dry flavour with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Ormeasco is lively ruby red, with a dry pleasant flavour and pleasantly bitter aftertaste. The fruit of rare intelligence, Liguria’s simple cuisine proves to be one of the most modern in Italy.
THE FEAST OF THE “BISCETTE” IN SOLVA
Every year this delicious feat is organised in Solva at the end of March by the local first aid team, with patronage by the Alassio Local Council. Biscette are a tasty speciality made with flour and water, a little sugar and fennel seeds grown locally. Once proven, the dough is rolled into little snake shapes, fried in boiling oil and eaten immediately. The event attracts visitors not only from Solva, but also from Alassio and guests in the town of Baia del Sole and is held up at the “Belvedere” and the parish church of the Santissima Annunziata di Solva. Mules used to bring th e biscette down to the town on 25 March to give as gifts to family and friends.
This is a traditional dish in Liguria and it is also included on the list of traditional Italian agro-foods. It is the dried underbelly of the tuna fish, in past time given in lieu of part of the tuna fishermen’s wages. They then moved to Sardinia and included the by now legendary tuna workers from Moglio, experts at cutting and cooking the red tuna considered to be the finest of all the different kinds of this fish. In addition to the “belly” they also received other parts of the fish, such as the fillet (musciamme in dialect), intestines (biella), heart (coeu), liver (figatallo) and eggs (bottarga), The dish is still prepared in the same way today, with potatoes, tomato pulp, parsley, pine nuts, bay leaves, walnuts, garlic, white wine and oil. On the first Sunday in August a feast is held in Moglio, dedicated to lovers of thi speciality and organised by the Moglio First Aid Team
BASIL: KING OF ERBS
Basil comes from the Greek Basilikos and means, among other things, “worthy of a king”. Egyptians used it for sacrifices to the gods, the Greeks to symbolise mourning, the Romans love, the Christians for the Crucifixion and medieval alchemists used it for distilling potions to protect against the basilisk. It was definitely grown throughout India four thousand years ago and is used as an anti-stress remedy in Ayurvedic medicine. Since ancient times basil has been attributed with many therapeutic properties, in particular it was thought to be a very effective tonic, capable of strengthening the immune system and with a toning-sedative effect on the nervous system. The Flemish doctor Van Helmont said that basil could create scorpions, when left to macerate between two bricks. Moral: basil must be handled with care.
The famous focaccia from Liguria is made with olive oil, preferably extra virgin and coarse salt, real connoisseurs eat it upside down so that any remaining grains of salt immediately hit the taste buds-delicious!
THE LEGEND OF THE ANCHOVIES
Taken from “L’Alice delle Meraviglie” by Mitì Vigliero (Editore Marsilio, 1998)
Once upon a time there was a family of stars, very small and bright but very vain. Every night they admired themselves in the sea and boasted to the Pleiades, the Milky way and the planets about thei beauty. During the day the stars complained about the sun. One night, the envious stars started to insult the Moon about her size and made her cry. God lost his temper at this a majestic swipe of his hand ripped the stars out of the sky and threw them into the sea. “Now men will always admire your splendid silvery colour. From today you will be forced to swin, feel hunger, fatigue and fears as you are hunted for food. And no more boasting!”. And this was how anchovies came to populate seas around the world.