Liguria is almost as famous as Tuscany in the American traveler’s mind for the magnificent and almost over-heralded Cinque Terre, a stretch of five towns, unreachable by road, along a spectacular stretch of coast well traveled by the college degree-and-backpack-in-hand crowd, located about half an hour south of the famous Portofino and about an hour-and-a-half southeast of the border of France. The food in Liguria is famous for its delicate and floral fragrance. Ligurian oil is among the most delicate in Italy and is also known for its late harvest and release, usually in January or February.
The port town of Genova was one of the four most important historic ports in Italy (with Pisa, Venezia, and Amalfi), and the requisite thriftiness of its seafaring populace legendary throughout Italy and Europe. It is said that ravioli were invented here as the way to stretch a small amount of leftover meat or fish into a full meal the next day. Twenty-five miles west of Genoa and ninety-five miles east of Nice, Savona has long been the area’s industrial hub, a launch point for automobile exports. At one point, the city was also the home to Christopher Columbus, and many buildings in the area are associated with the famed Italian explorer.
If there is a single color to describe Liguria, it is green, the verdant hills and flowery perfumes in the breeze are as much a part of the local flavor as any single dish or ingredient. Pesto Genovese is the famous basil, garlic, pine-nut and cheese pesto we recognize here in the U. S. and is tossed with trenette (a thinner version of linguine), green beans, and bits of potato in the traditional dish, or with a squiggly pasta called trofie, often made of chestnut flour.
Focaccia is the bread of the table here, and it feels lighter and fluffier in Liguria than anywhere else I have eaten it. It is often served as the antipasto with the delicious salame di Sant’Olcese (the real Genova salami) or acciughe marinate, marinated fresh anchovies that rival those of the Amalfi coast. Farinata is a baked, chickpea flour crepe sold in friggitorie (fry shops) or bakeries all over. It is as delicious here as it is in Nice, where it is sold as panissa. Get it early, as it tends to sell-out before lunch. Corzetti are stamped flat disks of egg pasta, often tossed with butter and herbs or meat sauce. Pansoti are ravioli filled with cooked greens and ricotta and served with a walnut pesto and what looks like broken or curdled milk.
A kilometer or two from the beach the landscape shoots nearly straight up to five hundred meters. The walls of these cliffs are lined with flower gardens, vegetables, and grapes, leaving virtually no pasture whatsoever. “Local” cheese is therefore generally imported from neighboring Toscana or Piemonte, and non-fish dishes of true tradition are based on rabbit, chicken or guinea hen.