Sunday, 9 December 2012


With an area of 2124 miles, this small region has nevertheless as many mountains as Valle d'Aosta, Trentino or Abruzzo and 217 miles of coastline, therefore, it will come as no surprise to find that Ligurian cuisine throughout history has looked to fishing, seafood, mountain cattle and cheese to feed its people. Farming in this region is hard work, the coastal soil is very dry and sandy and the rocky outcrops of the mountain region makes farming very difficult. This difficulty in producing agricultural goods has led Liguria to turn to the natural things, such as eggs, herbs, seasonal vegetables, that are often little appreciated in other regional Italian cuisines.

Ligurian cuisine is heavily influenced by the regions nautical and seafaring history. Typical Ligurian dishes can be split into two categories - the "cuisine of seamen" and the "cuisine of coming home" - that is, a cuisine of the land, that sailors dream about and then relish with gusto when they return home to port. During their voyages, Liguria's seafarers would eat flat-bread and focaccia which they drizzled with olive oil which they often topped with pesto (mentioned in more detail later) or dried fish, such as mosciame - dried dolphin fillet, which today, following the national ban on dolphin fishing, is replaced by dried tuna fillet.Hot dishes on these voyages were scarce, often only eaten once a day, just before noon, when the watches changed. the Ligurians have a sceptical view of the sea, there is an old Ligurian saying " nothing good would ever be called Mar", but despite this healthy caution towards the sea, throughout the centuries Ligurians have always been ready and willing to sea. Christopher Columbus himself praised the seafarer's of Liguria and took many with him on his voyages. Once back on land, Ligurian sailors had no desire to gaze back towards the sea, instead they turned towards the mountains, which is why much of Liguria's cuisine is primarily made from foods of the land. Once back in port, sailors and fishermen couldn't stand anymore fish or shellfish, so they turned to savoury pies with vegetables, spinach, mushrooms, fresh cheeses and ricotta, which were prepared by the seafarers wives and mothers the night before they were due to return to port and baked fresh for their arrival the next day.

Probably the simplest of all these Ligurian pies is Focaccia, sometimes it's made with onion, sometimes with cheese, or garlic, or tomatoes or . . . . We could go on all day. But one ingredient is common throughout them all, local Ligurian olive oil. At the time when wives and mothers were preparing focaccia's for the seaman's voyages in the wood-burning ovens of Genoa, olives were pressed locally and olive oil was so abundant, it was cheaper to buy than flour . . if only today. There was so much oil produced it was Genoa's main export, particularly to the neighbouring regions of Italy such as Piedmont and Lombardy, both of which produced other varieties of oil. So there was no need to skimp on olive oil as they did on wheat flour, which was not grown locally. This extravagant use of olive oil can be seen in the dimples made in Focaccia bread which are specifically designed to be filled with olive oil.

The final ingredient to any good Genovese focaccia is the large crystals of salt that are sprinkled on top to season the bread. Salt was always readily available in Liguria, unlike many other regions of Italy and indeed the world. In the old Italian world there was a passion for salty, savoury foods rather than sweet. Salt was a sign of power. An intelligent man was said to have sale in Zuppa ( salt in his soup) meaning comman sense. Salt has always been an important ingredient in the Italian diet, in ancient Rome soldiers were given a Salario (salary) which contained salt instead of a monetary payment, Via Salaria was the name given to many Roman roads and how many Italian foods have Sal somewhere in there name . . Salsa, salami, Salsiccia, salumi . . . this was the importance of salt.


As you would imagine any region that had something that another region wanted would result in conflict. Genoa, Venice and Pisa fought frequently amongst themselves for salt supremacy and would often be at war over who could exploit the salt marshes of Sicily and Sardinia. In the early sixteenth century, Pope Julius II owned the salt marshes of Comacchio in Venice and was outraged when the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d'Este, owner of the salt marshes in neighbouring Cervia, began to sell his salt in Lombardy and Piedmont at a lower price than the pope, needless to say the duke came to a rather sudden demise and the pope established a monopoly on salt selling.

Genovese focaccia has been made in the same way since the middle ages. The dough is left to rise in the evening then left to rise over night until daybreak when that focaccia is baked and then given to the fishermen before they set sail. In medieval Italy there were actual documents produced setting out the laws of making authentic Genovese focaccia. According to the medieval texts the whole process must not take less than eight hours to make, it must be composed of a minimum of 6 per cent Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil and it must be soft on the inside but baked crispy on the outside crust which must have a golden colour with a whitish hue in each depression. Focaccias, along with chickpea flour flat breads, ciappe (flat breads made from fava bean flour) and testaieu (breads made from chestnut flour) are poor mans food, but they are eaten with the freshest of ingredients from the garden and vegetable plot. Various focaccia's are served with fresh, crisp, green vegetables, such as artichokes, pumpkin, leeks and cardoons and cheese.

Herbs and vegetables area everyday food in Liguria, renowned among the vegetable gardens of the region are artichokes. Green salads are one of the main sources of vitamins for the people of Liguria, in spring, summer and autumn these salads are unparalleled. Ligurian salads are special due to the variety of their ingredients; herbs such as dent de lion (dandelion) nettle, poppy, early savoy cabbage, borage, chard, wild radicchio, chervil, burnet, sowthistle, common brighteyes and goldenfleece which are all found growing wild in Liguria.


In addition to vegetable plots and fields of wild herbs there is another major agricultural endeavour all over Liguria and that is olives. In Liguria there are some 300 year olive trees planted in groves that are themselves around 3000 years old and it is clear that they will remain where they we for more centuries to come. Due to the difficulty in mechanised harvesting many Ligurian olives are picked by hand, and from these hand-picked olives comes one of the most prised olive oils in all of Italy. At harvest time the Ligurian hills are wrapped in orange and green nets that are suspended from one tree to another to form an uninterrupted, endless hammock, for the olives to fall onto when the trees are shaken. Everyone in the area helps during harvest time.

Ligurian olive oil is excellent for frying, so much so friggitorie, or fried food shops are widespread. These shops are no where near connected to what we think of as fast food restaurants. In the markets are stalls that fry all manner of foods - fish, shellfish, zucchini, artichokes, spinach, lettuce and so on which are all fried in a batter and eaten as a takeaway. Even octopus and baccala is sliced, battered and fried in these restaurants.


Ligurian olive oil is also an essential ingredient in a Genovese dish which is now known worldwide, Genovese Pesto. Pesto was invented in order to preserve basil, which grows all over Liguria during summer, into winter. A classic Genovese pesto has a few rules that should be followed when making it. Besides a great quantity of basil, pine nuts must also be crushed in a marble mortar, using a wooden pestle or pestello (from which the sauce gets its name). The other two ingredients are garlic and Sardinian pecorino cheese. Some people replace Pecorino with Parmesan, but it Liguria this really will not do.


There is not much room left for orchards in Liguria, yet fruit-growing is practised so intensively that fruit makes up around 30 per cent of all Ligurians dietary intake.

The Wines of Liguria
Long, long ago it was the Greeks and Etruscans brought grapes to this narrowest and, well some may say, the most attractive part of the Italian coast, tucked between the peaks of the Apennines and the shores of the Riviera. The white marble cliffs of this stretch of coastline stretch from the French border. Grapes have been grown here for thousands of years - the existence of the Dolcetto grape variety can be traced back to the 14th century, where it was known as Ormeasco to the ancient Ligurian's. Wine making however, plays a rather secondary roll in this land of seafarers, second to Ligurias tourism and heavy industrial based economy (click here to find out more about The Wines Of Liguri).

Typical Dishes of Liguria


Gianchetti - young anchovies, sardines and mackerel, similar to whitebait.

Boghe in scabecio  - fish marinated in vinegar and soffritto then floured and fried.

Cappon magro  - typical Genovese dish made with numerous vegetables, fish and shellfish.

Farinata - flat bread made with chickpea flour.

Savoury pies - various flavours including spinach, Swiss chard, boiled egg, tuna, pecorino and many more.


First Course

Corsetti - tiny pasta discs served in a sauce of marjoram and minced pine nuts or fresh salmon, onion and walnuts.

Cappallaci  - pasta made with borage served in a walnut sauce.

Trenette  - from the Genovese word Trene (meaning string or lace) thin pasta like spaghetti.

Minestra alla genovese  - vegetable soup rather like classic minestrone but served with a spoon of pesto.

Piccagge - fettucini served with a pesto and artichoke sauce.

Pesto - served on bread, as a pasta sauce, in a green bean and pea salad.


Second Course

Asado  - breast of veal cooked for no less than seven hours.

Cima Ripiena - stuffed breast of veal.

Lamb fricasse - served with artichokes.

Accomodato - stewed sockfish with mushrooms, pine nuts and tomatoes.

Cacciucco - a fish soup (stolen from neighbouring Tuscany).

Bel/ Belu/ Tripette  - stewed stockfish entrails.

Stuffed vegetables - any vegetable that can be stuffed is. 



Latte dolce - sweet milk cookies fried in Ligurian olive oil with grated lemon rind.

Olive oil cake - sponge cake flavoured with olive oil.

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