Genoa is often overlooked by Americans traveling to Rome or Venice or Florence, but the home of pesto and Christopher Columbus has been attracting an increasing number of tourists since the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas in 1992. The city being named a European Capital of Culture in 2004 and having its spectacular row of Palazzi dei Rolli (dignitaries’ palaces) declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006 also helped galvanize interest in this ancient Italian seaport — which dates as far back as 6 B.C.!
Genoa is home to several foods you’ll surely recognize and quite a few that you won’t. Should you ever find yourself there, here are five of the best things to put in your mouth.
There is no official certification that makes pesto specifically Genovese, but the locals maintain that unless you’re eating the crushed basil paste in their town, you aren’t having the real thing. It’s all about the herb, which is protected by official federal certification in Italy, the way Prosciutto di Parma or Parmigiano-Reggiano is. True Genovese pesto is made of seven ingredients — Genovese Basil, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese, and sea salt.
Head to your closest panetteria (bakery) for a slice of this savory crepe. It’s golden and lightly glistening, suggesting how much olive oil was used in the making of it. Prepared from a batter of chickpea flour, water, and generous amounts of the aforementioned olive oil, it’s baked in a forno (wood-burning oven) in a large copper baking tin. Farinata — not just in the city of Genoa, but throughout the coastal region of Liguria — usually gets served in irregular-shaped slices; you can have it normale (plain) or seasoned with fresh rosemary, pepper and sea salt.
- Lattughe Ripiene
This typical Ligurian dish consists of lettuce leaves stuffed with any number of fillings and baked or served in broth. A favorite version comes stuffed with sausage meat and served in a broth of cima — another traditional dish, itself composed of veal breast stuffed with vegetables, eggs, offal and ground meat and pistachios. Lattughe ripiene (and cima, for that matter) were for centuries dishes served only Easter. Over time, they’ve become showcase menu items in restaurants specializing in traditional fare.
- Foccacia di Recco
You might find this focaccia outside the region, but it hails from a small town called Recco that you pass on the hour-long train ride from Genoa to the scenic Cinque Terra. For Americans, focaccia refers to a thick, fluffy bread slicked through with olive oil. This foccacia is more like a thin pizza crust embedded with stracchino, a soft yet somewhat sharp cow’s milk cheese. The original stuffed crust.
If you haven’t had enough pasta with pesto, here’s more. Corzetti is a toothsome, flat, disk-shaped pasta usually served with walnut sauce, but often enough with — what else? — pesto. What’s special about it is that each disk is stamped with an emblem or word. The practice dates back to noble families stamping their pasta with the family crest for lavish dinner parties. But the embossing isn’t just decorative. It also acts as an anchor for the sauce. Because you don’t want that stuff getting away from you.
Have you been to Genoa? Any other favorite foods from the city? Let us know in the comments.