It’s summer and everyone is on the coast.
In Milan, that coast is undoubtedly Liguria.
Approximately a 2-hour drive from the city, it’s the Milanese weekend destination of choice to escape the sticky heat of the city.
The Italian Riviera has a lot to offer a visitor: geriatric towns to discoteca filled cliffside retreats; the submerged Christ statue to the romance of Portovenere. Everyone has their favorite town. One thing they all have in common? Delicious, salty Ligurian food.
This long strip of coastline rises immediately into mountains – beautiful for a vacation but less so for farming. Liguria has never had a lot of arable land available, so it’s had to make do with limited resources. That is, the sea.
With characteristic sea towns and one or two big industrial ports, Liguria has always turned to the sea for sustenance. To conserve their wares during rougher times and longer voyages, much of the traditional fish dishes is dried. Dried codfish, dried ravioli, dried anchovies…
Today the region is able to mix the traditions of the past with the relative wealth of the present. With fresh herbs, local olive oil, small amounts of meat or sea food and an abundance of vegetables, Liguria is the philosophical home of the “Mediterranean Diet.” The food is pungent and delicate at the same time, with vegetables at its center and homegrown herbs dominating each dish.
Here’s some of the best of Ligurian Food:
There’s no food that embodies Liguria more than its rich green, heavily aromatic pesto. Made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt and olive oil, it’s a combination of the best ingredients the region has to offer. You can find pesto on anything in Liguria – pesto lasagna, pesto and mozzarella sandwiches, pesto pizza – but the ubiquitous pesto dish is trofie con pesto. Little curly-qs of fresh egg pasta, these will be served covered in pesto with small pieces of potato and maybe a green bean or tomato or two.
Farinata di ceci
Without much flat land to grow wheat, small round chickpeas took its place in Liguria. They often use chickpea flour in lieu of all-purpose flour. The farinata is a chickpea-flour crepe, sold in small, hot triangles.
Focaccia di Recco
The second most famous food from Liguria is focaccia. This fluffy, oily bread is light, delicious and salty. You can find focaccia throughout all of Italy, but it hails specifically from Liguria. Order it plain or top it with vegetables, cheese or green olives. The Focaccia di Recco is a specific focaccia ‘invented’ in the town of Recco. A thinner version, it’s filled with a crescenza or stracchino, both light, spreadable cheeses.
Though Italians tend to eat sweets for breakfast, Liguria is one place where you’ll regularly find wedges of focaccia served with your cappuccino!
Give a Ligurian a fish or vegetable and they will inevitably stuff it with something even more delicious – usually a mix of herbs, breadcrumbs and cheese. Try Muscoli Ripieni, filled with exactly the list above. Otherwise look for zucchini, eggplant, artichokes or peppers all filled with a classic ripieno (filling).
The Capon Magro is a sort-of salad of vegetables and seafood layered atop gallette biscuits (also known as sea biscuits) rubbed with garlic and soaked in seawater and vinegar. I have to admit, I’ve never tried this Ligurian dish – it’s super old – but it’s a great glimpse into the region’s history. The name itself indicates that it was created to eat during Catholic days of fast (magro means thin and is used for the fasting days). Because of that, it’s the perfect dish to serve on Christmas Eve, when many Italian Catholic families abstain from eating meat. If you really want to deep dive into Ligurian cuisine, this is the dish for you! Look for cappon magro or capponada, a similar version by a different name.
Nearly every region in Italy has its own version of baccalà, or salt cod. Heck, this region has more than one version. The best, however, is probably the crispy fried baccalà dumplings. Or, try the stoccafisso alla genovese, a stockfish dish prepared with salt cod. True to Italian simplicity, this dish is made with local, fresh ingredients: tomatoes, olives, onion, potatoes, parsley and garlic.
Liguria has a plethora of delicious seafood specialities, from fish soups and stews like ciuppin and burrida (also made with stockfish), to fried fish and seafood salads.
The pasqualina is a savory pie filled with greens, cheese and eggs (usually spinach, herbs and ricotta). This traditional Easter recipe is so ancient and so widespread, that it’s eaten on Easter Sunday throughout Italy, not just in Liguria. Though you’d be hard-pressed to find it during the year, keep an eye out for the torta pasqualina and it’s ultra-thin, flaky crust.
Most traditional Italian sweets are centered around a holiday, and Liguria’s native sweets are too. Above all , there’s pandolce, Liguria’s typical Christmas sweet. Meaning sweet bread, pandolce is actually a crumbly, spiced cake hailing from Genoa (like so many of these dishes).
Eat your way across Italy with these blogs:
My Favorite Foods in Tuscany and Umbria
The Mixed-Culture Food of Friuli Venezia Giulia
The Food of Valtellina
There’s No Such Thing as “Italian Food”
On Italy and Food