If you’ve seen Salt, Fat Acid, Heat on Netflix (and if you haven’t, you’re missing out!), you already know that the Liguria region of Italy has amazing food. This north Italian region produces some of the best olive oil and is home to popular Italian dishes like pesto and focaccia.
As if the food wasn’t reason enough to visit Liguria, the ever cool city of Genoa and the gorgeous Chinque Terre definitely are. Millions of tourists come to Liguria every year to see the beautiful colorful villages and taste the delicious local cuisine.
If it isn’t yet, Liguria should definitely be on your travel bucket list. These are some of the traditional local specialities you should try when you get there. Here are my favorite things to eat in Liguria:
There is nothing like the aromatic flavors of fresh, homemade pesto. It’s one of the first dishes I ever learned to cook and my favorite food as a child. Yes, I was a full-on boogie foodie as a child.
Although a pesto is any type of crushed sauce (the name comes from the verb pestare, to crush), Pesto Genovese is the most famous version. The traditional recipe from Genoa calls for pine nuts, fresh basil, garlic, salt, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. All ingredients are mashed in a pestle and mortar until combined to a smooth sauce. Although it’s perfectly okay to use a blender these days 😉
The resulting sauce is a flavor bomb that’s not only delicious on pasta, but also as a spread on bread, in salad dressings or soups. Everything tastes better with pesto.
Pesto is thought to date back to Roman times, when it was made with any kind of fresh herb. Basil didn’t become part of the recipe until the 19th century, as it was a seasonal plant in Liguria. These days, you can buy premade pesto Genovese in supermarkets all over the world, but it tastes nothing like fresh pesto.
Focaccia & farinata
In Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat chef and host Samin learns how to make focaccia. The whole episode is mouthwatering (seriously, you should be watching it by now). The soft, pillowy dough turns into golden, crispy flatbread sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt. If you’ve never had real Italian focaccia, you’re missing out on a fantastic bread.
Focaccia is one of the most famous dishes to come out of Liguria. It’s a street food, meant to be eaten hot from the oven and dipped in sauce of with cheese and salumi. You can buy fresh focaccia from bakeries all over Genoa. The one above is topped with mozzarella and pesto.
A lesser known, but older Ligurian flatbread is farinata. Instead of wheat flour, this one is made from chickpeas. This perhaps sounds a bit strange to some, but the chickpea flour gives the bread a delicious nutty, somewhat sweet flavor. It’s also gluten free and high in protein! The recipe dates back to 1284 and like all the best inventions, was born by accident from a mix of chickpea flour, olive oil and seawater.
If you ask me, the only thing better than pasta is stuffed pasta. Did you know one of the best types of stuffed pasta, ravioli, comes from Liguria? Another fantastic culinary invention from this beautiful north Italian region.
Apparently, ravioli comes from the small Ligurian town of Novi Llugre. But it is now eaten all around the world. The dish was created as a way to use leftovers. Anything left over at the end of a meal would be chopped up and stuffed into pasta, to be served at the next meal. Delicious and sustainable!
Nowadays, the filling for ravioli is purpose made rather than leftovers. It can be anything from meat or cheese to vegetables. The typical ravioli Genovese is filled with a mixture of veal, egg, bread, cheese, chard and nutmeg. As well as offal meat like sweetbreads, udder and brain! Italians don’t like to waste anything. Or try the “sweet” ravioli dolce filled with citrus peel, candied squash, lemon and bone marrow.
Pandolce means sweet bread, but it’s more like a cake. This dense crumby cake is filled with spices and dried and candied fruits. I personally hate it, as I’m not a fan of candied fruits. The dish is a Christmas staple all over Italy and only eaten during the holidays, although tourists can buy it in stores in Genoa year round.
The story is that pandolce was invented in the 6th century by a Genovese chef. At this time, Genova was an independent Republic and one of the biggest naval forces in Europe. The seafaring Genovese were renowned sailors and traders and accumulated substantial profits. The Doge of Genoa asked for a dish that represented that wealth and could withstand long sea voyages: pandolce was born.
Another festive dish from Liguria is torta pasqualina. Except this one if eaten at Easter, as the name suggests, instead of Christmas. Torta pasqualina is a fresh and flavorful savory pie. Between thin layers of flaky crust, the pie is filled with green chard, ricotta and boiled eggs. These springtime ingredients are flavored with Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.
Although it’s officially an Easter dish, torta pasqualina is now eaten year round. Thankfully so, because it is absolutely delicious. You can get it by the slice at trattorias and salumerias all around Genoa. Perfect for a quick and hearty lunch on the go.
Of course, Liguria has far more traditional dishes and local specialities than what I’ve listed here. But these are a great start to exploring the delicious local cuisine of Genoa and Liguria.
Do you have any favorite dishes from Liguria? Or did you see the episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat of Netflix? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
I hope this post left your mouth watering and stomach rumbling. If it did, why not give it a “like” and share it on social media with your fellow traveling foodies!