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The complete foodie guide to Liguria

The complete foodie guide to Liguria

by Great Italian Chefs 28 June 2017

This mountainous region in the heart of the Italian Riviera is jam-packed with incredible fresh produce, iconic dishes known the world over and stunning seafood from its abundant shoreline. Discover more about one of Italy’s most underrated provinces.


There aren’t that many parts of the world where striking, jagged mountains and turquoise, warm seas can be seen in the same place, but the little crescent-shaped Italian province of Liguria is one of them. Home to Genoa, one of Italy’s largest cities and historically one of Europe’s largest city-states thanks to its harbour (which saw ships come from all over the world), it features beautiful little fishing villages –including picturesque Portofino and Cinque Terre – all along its coastline. Further inland, terraced farms produce some of the best olive oil in the country, before the mountains take over and mark the Piedmontese border.

There’s Piedmont to the north, Emilia-Romagna to the east, Tuscany to the south and France and Monaco to the west, but Liguria still retains its own very distinct feel and culture. The region’s stunning scenery, warm climate and beautiful beachside resorts have led it to be known as the Italian Riviera – making it one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations.

As with anywhere you go in Italy, food is an integral part of the local culture. That's especially true in Liguria – as the birthplace of pesto, it’s earned its place in the Italian culinary hall of fame, and the wealth of incredible ingredients grown and reared in the region makes eating well incredibly easy. These are just some of the specialities you shouldn’t miss when visiting the area.

Ingredients and flavours

Genovese basil PDO

All other types of basil pale in comparison to the verdant, deep green variety grown in Genoa. It’s so good that it has its own PDO protection, which ensures only basil from the local area can be called Genovese. The very best supposedly comes from Prà, a district to the west of the city, but taste any fresh basil grown in the region and you’ll find it far more sweet and flavourful than the packaged bunches in the supermarket. It is the key ingredient of a proper pesto.

Trenette pasta

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You’d be forgiven for not noticing the differences between trenette and linguine, but they do exist. Both varieties of pasta come from Liguria and look like slightly flattened spaghetti, but trenette is actually a little wider and flatter which allows it to pick up more sauce – think of it as somewhere in between linguine and tagliatelle. It’s designed specifically to be served with pesto, the most famous speciality of the region. Keep an eye out for trofie, too – little hand-twisted spirals of pasta.

Prescinseua cheese

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A bit like ricotta but softer in texture – think thick yoghurt – Prescinseua is stirred through sauces, used to top toast or most famously sandwiched between two thin slices of focaccia to create the local delicacy Focaccia di Recco. It’s one of Liguria’s most famous cheeses and, because of its fresh nature, can be hard to find outside the region.

Meats

The hills and mountains of Liguria means large-scale meat farming isn’t as prevalent as in other areas of Italy, but the need for filling, warming stews to keep mountain villagers happy through the winter months means it’s still on the menu. Rabbit is particularly popular, as it’s abundant and doesn’t require acres of farmland to rear, but veal can also be found on most restaurant menus.

Seafood

Seafood is taken very seriously in Liguria – after all, Genoa was one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. All the usual fare can be found in the markets, but the Ligurians particularly love their sea bass, mussels and seppie, tiny little cuttlefish that are cooked simply and eaten as a snack or main meal.

Famous dishes

Pasta alla Genovese

Pesto is Liguria’s gastronomic gift to the world, and while we’ll happily slather it over chicken and stir it through pasta of all shapes and sizes, the Ligurians use it to make pasta alla Genovese, which combines slices of boiled potato, green beans, plenty of (handmade, fresh) pesto and trenette pasta. It’s a speedy, simple dish, as you can cook the potatoes and beans in the same water as the pasta, which makes it great for weekday dinners. Don’t get it mixed up with La Genovese sauce, which confusingly is a meat-based pasta sauce from Naples.

Cappon magro

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This has to be one of the most elaborate dishes in all of Italy, and was originally cooked at Christmas by the fishermen of Genoa. It’s thought they couldn’t afford an expensive capon chicken – which was what more wealthy Italians would serve at the table – so they would get seafood instead and present it in an elaborate way, hence the name cappon. Magro refers to days when Catholics would traditionally not eat meat – Christmas Eve being one of them.

The dish is essentially a salad containing the best fish and shellfish available, hard-boiled eggs and vegetables, laid on top of toasted bread or crackers rubbed with garlic and soaked in vinegar or water. The whole thing is dressed with a thick herby sauce and brought to the table to share.

Corzetti

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These little discs of pasta dough are the perfect example of artisan produce, as they’re still made fresh in specialist pasta shops all across Liguria. What makes them unique are the different designs embossed into the dough by specially made wooden corzetti stamps. These not only make the pasta circles nice to look at; they also create edges and grooves for sauce to cling to. Corzetti is typically served with pesto or sauces made from walnuts and mushrooms.

Farinata

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This unleavened chickpea pancake originated on the Ligurian coast but can be found across Italy in many other guises – it’s called cecina in Tuscany and panelle in Sicily (the dish has even made its way to nearby Nice, in France, where it is known as socca). It can be deep-fried until crisp (which is what they do in Sicily) but in Liguria the batter is poured in a pan and baked for just a few minutes, leaving the centre nice and soft. All that’s needed to make it is chickpea flour, water, salt and oil, with the Ligurian version featuring a few rosemary leaves scattered on top. It’s an incredibly simple dish that might sound a little bland, but when cooked properly the creamy texture and sweet flavour is a delight.

Castagnaccio

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A cake free from gluten and dairy sounds very modern and on-trend, but this chestnut cake has been baked and enjoyed in Liguria and Tuscany for centuries. A combination of chestnut flour, water, pine nuts, raisins and olive oil is baked into either a thick cake or thin torte and topped with honey, ricotta or orange zest.

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