The cuisine of Liguria and Genoa tastefully reveals the character of the land and the ingenuity of its people. With simple cooking methods and an abundance of vegetables, herbs and olive oil – plus a dash of unique creativity - the Genoese have skilfully invented dishes that are authentic, flavourful and extraordinarily enticing.
Liguria's most famous specialities are pesto and focaccia, which is served both plain - flavoured only with olive oil - and in an array of tasty variations (topped with onions, olives, sage, cheese, etc.).
Other specialities include filled pasta, such as traditional ravioli and the local pansotti (with a Swiss chard, egg and ricotta filling); corzetti from the Polcevera Valley, a fresh pasta made in the shape of small figure eights (unlike the corzetti of the Aveto and Vara Valleys, fresh pasta discs embossed with symbols and decorations); savoury herb pies, such as torta Pasqualina (a puff pastry pie filled with cooked Swiss chard or artichokes, courgettes, spring herbs, eggs and cheese); stuffed (or fried) courgette flowers, and cima, served in slices and made up of a slim pocket of veal stuffed with minced offal, bread crumbs soaked in broth, spring vegetables, grated cheese, diced mortadella and eggs. .
Other common features of the local cuisine include vegetable minestrone alla genovese; farinata, a thin, unleavened pancake made from chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil and cooked in a wood-burning oven; panissa, fried sticks of chickpea flour; tomaxelle, stuffed veal rolls, and stuffed vegetables.
Naturally, the region offers many seafood specialities, with fish soups, fried fish, and dishes such as the fish stews ciuppin and buridda, and capponada, a seafood salad.
Salt cod - dried and then reconstituted in water - is used to prepare stockfish alla genovese, many variants of which can be found. In the region's mixed fried platters, locally caught fish reign supreme: red mullet, bogue, picarel, pignoletti, squid, flying squid, anchovies and sardines, all deep-fried in olive oil. Baccalà (salt cod) triumphs in particular in the region's tasty, crisp fried dumplings.
A star among the many other specialties is, without a doubt, cappon magro, a wonderful, flavourful cold salad - shaped into an elaborate, multi-layered pyramid - which includes a base of crackers rubbed with garlic and dressed with vinegar and salt, firm white fish, boiled vegetables, hard boiled eggs, garnishes of artichokes, tuna, shrimp, capers and olives, all dressed with a parsley-based salsa verde and topped off, on the tip of the pyramid, with a lobster.
The most famous local sweets include the Genoese Christmas pandolce fruitcakes, made in two versions: the "basso", or 'low', version created as a dessert that was sure to keep during long sea voyages, and the "alto", or high, leavened version made with sourdough, which is a symbol of Christmas. Home-made versions of pandolce are dotted with raisins and candied lemon peel, while the more stately, traditional version includes raisins from the Genoese storehouse in Izmir, candied orange peel from the lands of Sicily and Tabarka, candied Diamante citron, and a sprinkling of fennel seeds.
Other traditional desserts include frisceu (apple fritters); castagnaccio, a chestnut flour cake; "quaresimali" (lenten biscuits); lagaccio biscuits; canestrelli (shortbread biscuits); pinolate (biscuits made with almonds and pine nuts); amaretti biscuits (originally from Piedmont); "gobeletti" (shortcrust pastry tartlets filled with jam and believed to be Genoa's oldest dessert); and the famous candied fruit and flowers (rose petals and violets).
Viticulture has deep-rooted, ancient traditions in Liguria and the region produces several fine wines: from Rossese di Dolceacqua to the Cinque Terre's Sciacchetrà (to name the most famous), Ligurian vintages are perfect for a convivial toast.
Among the many famous admirers of Genoa's cuisine was the poet Paul Valery, whose poem "Au hasard et au crayon" (1925) describes it as follows:
Fragrant kitchens. Here are gigantic pies, chickpea flour, mixtures, sardines in oil, hard-boiled eggs encased in pastry crusts, spinach pies and fried foods."
In "Villes et gens d'Italie" (1923), the author Henry Aubert recalls the atmosphere of Christmas festivities:
"The gift shops and food shops shine."
Colourful cakes, pastries of all shapes, scarlet lobster, pink shrimp, huge turkeys, enormous hams, mountains of oranges and lemons all draw your gaze." Even the great French scholar Fernand Braudel, in "The Italy that Captivated Me," stated decidedly:
"Genoa enchants me ... is it possible to eat better anywhere than in Genoa?".