Liguria is where pesto is originally from, one of the most popular sauces in Italian cuisine. Seafood is a major staple of Liguria, as the sea has been part of the region’s culture since its beginning. Another important aspect of the culture is the beach. Tourists have been flocking to the Italian Riviera for decades to experience its calm, deep blue water.
Liguria is the coastal region of north-western Italy, where Genoa is the capital. Liguria is bordered by France to the west, Piedmont to the north and Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany to the east. It lies on the Ligurian Sea. This narrow strip of land is bordered by the sea, the Alps and the Apennines mountains. Mountains and steep cliffs that rise loftily out of the Ligurian Sea in the most northerly part of the Western Mediterranean.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the region’s economic growth was remarkable: steel mills and shipyards flourished along the coast from Imperia to La Spezia, while the port of Genoa became the main commercial hub of industrializing Northern Italy. During the tragic period of World War II, Liguria experienced heavy bombings, hunger and two years of occupation by the German troops, against whom a liberation struggle was led. When Allied troops eventually entered Genoa, they were welcomed by Italian partisans who, in a successful insurrection, had freed the city and accepted the surrender of the local German command.
Steel, once a major industry during the booming 1950s and 1960s, phased out after the late 1980s, as Italy moved away from heavy industry to pursue more technologically advanced and less polluting productions. Ligurian businesses turned towards a widely diversified range of high-quality and high-tech products (food, electrical engineering, electronics, petrochemicals, aerospace etc.). Despite this new direction, the region still maintains a flourishing shipbuilding industry (yacht construction and maintenance, cruise liners and military shipyards).
A good motorways network (376 km, 234 mi) makes communications with the border regions relatively easy. The main motorway is located along the coastline, connecting the main ports of Nice (in France), Savona, Genoa and La Spezia.
The capital, Genoa, one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean and home to Christopher Columbus, was a powerful maritime state in the Middle Ages. Today, one can find impressive buildings, elegant mansions and churches — all of which bear witness to Liguria’s glorious past and which blend in perfectly with the modern city. Numerous historical treasures and be found throughout Liguria. Sanremo is one of Italy’s most famous bathing resorts and the place where the annual Italian pop music festival takes place. Other important cities in Liguria are: Imperia, Savona and La Spezia.
Visit Liguria in the video below:
The forests are covered with pine trees, providing the fresh pine nuts (pignoli) for Ligurian dishes. Mushrooms and chestnuts abound in the hills, as do rabbits and other wild game, making the region ideal for producing hearty and rustic country dishes. The warm Mediterranean air helps create good conditions for growing olives, wine grapes, corn, herbs (particularly basil), garlic, chickpeas, zucchini, potatoes, onions and artichokes. Because of its wide coastline, fish and shellfish are the predominant proteins used in Ligurian cooking, though the region shares its love of pork and pork products with both its Italian and French neighbors.
Pasta is important to the region’s cuisine. A small lasagna noodle originated here, made from chestnut flour, is still popular today. The innovative Ligurians were skilled in making do with locally grown ingredients, like chestnuts and chickpeas, to produce flours to use in pasta, polenta and bread. Today, wheat is fairly easy to import to the region, so it is now the primary ingredient in pastas and breads.
Pesto sauce is popular as a topping for pastas and is widely consumed, since basil and pine nuts are so readily available. Fidelini, a local favorite pasta, cut long and thin, is the perfect base for light sauces. Other favorites include, trenette a form of flat, thin pasta similar to linguine and hearty gnocchi, both of which can be found on almost every menu.
High on the list of Ligurian specialties is the bread known as focaccia. This flatbread is not meant to be stored for any length of time, but rather is best eaten straight from the oven. Though usually baked plain, the region’s abundance of herbs are often combined and sprinkled on top. Cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables are other regional additions to focaccia. Ligurian focaccias have a dense texture, perfect for sopping up rich sauces or simply a great tasting olive oil.
Regional Favorites To Make At Home
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing and brushing
- 1 cup warm water
- One ¼-ounce packet active dry yeast
- 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons rosemary or thyme leaves
Oil a large bowl and set it aside. Pour the water into a medium-sized bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil.
Mix together the flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture into the well, then stir the yeast mixture into the flour with a wooden spoon until a slightly sticky dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Coat your hands with flour, then knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, 2-3 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, put it into the oiled bowl and roll it in the bowl to coat it lightly with oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set it in a warm spot until the dough roughly doubles in size, about 2 hours.
Lightly oil a 7-by-11-inch baking pan. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and shape it into a rectangle to fit the baking pan. Put it in the oiled pan and pat the top down gently so it is even. Using the handle end of a wooden spoon, make regular rows of slight indentations across the entire surface, spacing the indentations about 2 inches apart. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise for another hour at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Brush the top of the dough lightly with oil, then sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. (If desired, sprinkle 2 tablespoons rosemary or thyme leaves over the top of the focaccia after it has been in the oven for about 10 minutes.)
Serve warm or at room temperature and cut into wedges or squares.
Cozze alla Maggiorana ed Aglio alla Ligure (Steamed Mussels with Marjoram and Garlic Ligurian-Style)
Mussels are plentiful along the rugged Ligurian coastline. Marjoram, a favorite herb in Liguria, is usually added to seafood dishes. Toss the mussels with 1 pound of cooked linguine for a first course.
- 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed, beards removed
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced marjoram
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
Soak the mussels in cool water to cover with 1 tablespoon of the salt for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly a few times. This step is essential for ridding the mussels of any dirt or sediment.
Place the garlic, marjoram, parsley and olive oil in a 4-quart pot. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine, mussels and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Cover and cook until the mussels open, about 8 minutes. Discard any mussels that remain closed and serve hot, with the cooking juices.
Ligurian Style Pesto Lasagna
- Pesto, recipe follows
- Besciamella, recipe follows
- Butter, for baking dish, plus 2 tablespoons cut into small pieces for the topping
- 1 1/2 (9-ounce) boxes no boil lasagna noodles
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup of butter
- 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
- 4 cups of milk
- Salt and pepper
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 cups of fresh basil leaves (about 4 oz)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup of pignoli
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Sardo or Romano Cheese
- Salt and pepper
Melt the 1/2 cup butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour.
Pour in the milk, whisking constantly, while bringing the mixture to a boil; simmer for about 15 minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Rinse the basil and separate the leaves from the stems.
Grate the cheeses and peel the garlic.
Combine the basil, the garlic, the pignoli and the olive oil in a blender and process until a paste forms. Add the cheeses, salt and pepper and blend until smooth.
MAKING THE LASAGNA
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a 13″ × 9″ x 4″ pan layer the ingredients as follows:
– a thin layer of besciamella
– cover with a layer of pasta
– a thin layer of besciamella
– 4 tablespoons of pesto, gently spread across the surface
– sprinkle the layer with 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan
– cover with a layer of pasta
– repeat the layering until you use all the pasta
– top with a very thin layer of besciamella and remaining pesto, parmesan cheese and dot with the 2 tablespoons of butter
Bake the lasagna for 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes and serve with extra parmesan cheese.
Italian Plum Cake
- 1 cup unblanched almonds
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for topping
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 pounds Italian plums, pitted and sliced thickly
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 10-inch tart pan or springform pan.
Put the almonds and the 1/2 cup sugar in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the flour and salt and pulse once more. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Beat the eggs with the milk in another bowl and stir in the melted butter. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk for a minute or two until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the pan and smooth with a spatula. Arrange the plum slices on top on a circular pattern. Sprinkle the 1/ 3 cup sugar over the plums.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a paring knife inserted into the center comes out clean.