Cristoforo Colombo (Columbus) was born in 1451 in the territory of the Republic of Genoa, now part of modern Italy (in Liguria). Once a fishing village, Genoa grew without plan or forethought across a series of hillsides. Its roads meander down steep slopes some over 100 feet above your head, many accessible only by walking or by helicopter. Because of its topography, Genoa has evolved as a diverse collection of neighborhoods. Navigating from one part of the city to another can be challenging. Genoa’s old port still offers the atmosphere of a working waterfront. At the height of its economic powers, Genoa bought, sold and shipped goods all over Europe and established trade colonies on the Black Sea, in the Crimea and Turkey.
The first recipe identified in print as Genoese was a formula for torta alla genovese (a type of pie filled with apples, dates, raisins, almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts) that appeared in 1520 in, Libre del coch, the cookbook by Mestre Robert, probably the chef to the king of Naples. In the centuries that followed, Genoa’s culinary sophistication grew.
With simple cooking methods and an abundance of vegetables, herbs and olive oil, the Genoese have skilfully invented dishes that have become world known, such as pesto and focaccia. Other specialities include filled pasta, such as ravioli and the local pansotti (with a Swiss chard, egg and ricotta filling); corzetti, a fresh pasta made in the shape of small figure eights, savory herb pies filled with cooked Swiss chard or artichokes, squash, spring herbs, eggs and cheese and stuffed squash flowers. Other typical dishes 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, fried sticks of chickpea flour, stuffed veal rolls and stuffed vegetables. Being on the sea, the region offers many seafood specialties, including fish soups, stews and salads.
Columbus Day Menu
Minestrone, Genoa Style
- 1/4 pound Italian dried beans, soaked overnight
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 leeks, washed and chopped, white and light green part only
- 1 medium eggplant (1 pound), peeled and diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
- 2 ribs celery, sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- 2 cups hot vegetable broth
- 4 cups hot water, plus extra if needed
- 1 cup chopped raw spinach
- 1 cup diced zucchini
- 1 cup shredded green cabbage
- 1/4 pound thin spaghetti
- 3 tablespoons Basil Pesto
- Salt and pepper to taste
Drain the beans from the soaking water, place them in a pot, cover with water and cook about 30 minutes, or until still quite al dente, and set aside.
In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onion, leeks, eggplant, carrots, celery and potatoes and sauté for about 8 minutes, or until the vegetables just begin to exude their juices.
Add the tomatoes, hot broth, hot water, beans and additional hot water, if needed to just cover the mixture. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook covered for about 30 minutes.
Add the spinach, zucchini, cabbage and pasta and cook another 20 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Stir in the Pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Farinata (Chickpea Flatbread)
- 1 1/4 cup of chickpea flour
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 sage leaves, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary
Sift chickpea flour into a bowl and add the salt, pepper, sage and rosemary. Stir.
Slowly add the water, whisking the whole time. Allow the batter to rest for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
If any foam has formed on the chickpea batter, remove with a spoon.
Pour olive oil into a 12-inch round baking pan Add the batter into the pan.For a crisp farinata, bake for about 25 minutes. Check on it, though, as ovens differ and you do not want the batter to burn! For a soft bread, bake for about 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting!
Riccola al Forno (Fish, Roasted with Potatoes and Olives)
In Genoa this dish is made with riccola, a fish similar to U.S. pompano.
- 2 lbs. red new potatoes scrubbed and quartered
- 4 cloves garlic halved lengthwise
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 4 fish fillets (8 ounces each)
- 1/2 pint grape tomatoes halved
- 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- Lemon wedges for serving
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with garlic, rosemary and 1 tablespoon oil; season generously with salt and pepper. Arrange potatoes in a single layer, cut side down. Bake, tossing potatoes once, until beginning to brown, about 20 minutes.
Rub fish with the remaining teaspoon of oil; season all sides with salt and pepper.
Remove baking sheet from the oven. Add tomatoes and olives to the potatoes; stir to combine. Push vegetable mixture to one side; place fillets flat on the baking sheet, next to the vegetables.
Return the pan to the oven and roast until the fish is cooked through and the potatoes are brown and tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer fish and vegetables to a serving platter. Serve immediately, garnished with lemon wedges.
- 1 large zucchini, sliced into paper-thin slices using a mandoline
- 2 ripe Roma tomatoes, cut into small dice
- 2 tablespoons pignoli nuts (pine nuts)
- 1 scallion (green onions), finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
- 1 salted anchovy filet
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Pinch of salt and black pepper
Arrange the zucchini on a serving platter and sprinkle with tomato, scallions and pine nuts.
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the anchovy and the mustard together and squeeze in the lemon juice and then mix well. Whisk in the olive oil to make the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle all over the sliced zucchini.
Sweet Genoa Fritters
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup lard or butter
- 1 1/4 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons white wine
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
- Powdered sugar for dusting
Mix the sugar, salt and flour.
Cut the butter or lard into small pieces and mix it with the flour.
Beat the egg. Mix the white wine and egg together.
Combine the liquid and flour mixtures and work into a dough, kneading for about 5 minutes (Add more flour if it’s too soft, add more wine if it’s too dry).
Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in clear plastic and let it rest for about an hour at room temperature.
Using a pasta machine (or a rolling-pin), roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch.
Using a pastry wheel cut the dough into rectangles — 4 inches long and 1 1/2 wide.
Heat the oil and fry the fritters, a few at a time, until they are barely golden.
Remove each fritter and place on kitchen paper towels to drain.
Before serving dust with powdered sugar.