Liguria should be on everybody's bucket list. It’s where Richard Burton first proposed to Elizabeth Taylor and where pesto hails from. Enough said.
Aside from being practically built for Instagram, it’s also home to one of the greatest and richest regional cuisines in the country. Stretching across almost 200 miles of coastline, with mountains on one side and sea on the other, Liguria has access to a diverse range of ingredients, from pine nuts and basil to fresh seafood.
Here’s a guide to some of the top treats you need to try in the region:
Unlike pesto in the UK, which has gotten itself a bad reputation and is now the remit of impoverished students and busy parents, pesto in Liguria is revered; it’s where the humble salsa fresco hails from. Traditionally served with Trofie Pasta (small pasta twists) and small cubes of potato and green beans, it is also commonly found with gnocchi or a Lasagna al forno con pesto (no tomatoes, to clarify).
Where: The key to this salsa fresca lies in how fresh it is. There isn't really any bad pesto in Liguria, unless you buy it from the supermarket. La Cucina di Nonna Nina, a family run trattoria in San Rocco, whips up a version that not even an Italian grandmother could beat.
2. Salsa di Noce
This is Pesto’s slightly less cool, vastly underrated little sister. This salsa fresca is commonly found throughout Liguria, though it’s prepared with walnuts, instead of pine nuts, and olive oil, garlic, salt and soaked bread. You’ll usually find it served with Pansoti pasta, a stuffed pasta not dissimilar to Ravioli or Tortellini.
Where: This is a pretty standard primo piatto, but since it hails from Genoa, it’s only right to taste it here. Try Toe Drûe, an Antico Osteria dating back to the early 20th Century.
This typical Italian flatbread is readily found in Pizzeria and Focacceria across the country. Different regions have their own takes on this delightful carby snack, but it is most commonly associated with Ligurian cuisine. Here, the bread is thin with a crusty surface, punctuated with dimples filled with oil and salt. It is most commonly eaten plain, but you can choose to eat yours with any number of toppings, from anchovies to pesto.
Where: Rumour has it that the grubbier looking the place, the better the focaccia. For those more concerned with hygiene ratings try Revello in Camogli, a delightful pasticeria & focacceria which sits on the harbour front.
4. Focaccia di Recco
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just a cheesier variety of focaccia. Unlike it’s fluffier Genovese counterpart, Focaccia di Recco is paper thin, consisting of two layers of unleavened dough, filled with heaps of soft, fresh Stracchino cheese. A messy, melted paper tray of heaven.
Where: Foccaccia di Recco col Formagio is actually IGP protected, so you can only buy it in four Ligurian towns: Recco, Sori, Camogli and Avegno. Everywhere else it’s just plain old focaccia col formaggio. For the real deal get yourself to Recco - Focaccia in Piazetta and Tossini are infamous.
5. La Farinata
Italy, land of the refined carbohydrate, has a dirty gluten free secret. La Farinata is a sort of unleavened crepe or pancake made with chickpea flour, olive oil, salt and water. Most commonly found in Liguria and the northern most part of Tuscany, this snack is traditionally cooked in a very high heat pizza oven, in a big round coper pan and cut into large triangular slices. Perfect for the gluten free and glutenous.
Where: Farinata is readily found in focaccerias and pizzerias across the region but the best place to try it is La Pia, in La Spezia
6. La Torta Pasqualina
... a sort of pastry filled with spinach, artichokes and cheese. Utterly delicious.
Where: If you’re feeling adventurous, get yourselfto a ‘Sciamadda’. In Genoese this means ‘blaze’. These fry-shops are an authentic symbol of gastronomic tradition and serve any number of regional specialties.
7. ALL THE FISH YOU CAN
Since Liguria is largely comprised of fishing villages, it goes without saying that you should really be eating all the fish. Anchovies, mussels and braised salt cod are all staples, but swordfish, cuttlefish and calamari are equally popular here. Don’t miss the fish carpaccio.
Where: For some extra special treatment, try Da Puny in Portofino. Perched at their end of the harbour, the antipasti della case is sublime.
8. FRIED FISH FROM A FRIGGATORIE
Friggatorie are small establishments which specialise in fried food to take-away. You'll find more than fried fish here but you'd be made to miss it. Quick, fresh and perfect for lunch on the go.
Where: Head to the Sottoripa in the Old Port of Genova. This narrow carrugi is packed full of Sciammadde and Friggatorie.
9. The Gelato
Obviously, you’ll find good gelato anywhere you go in Italy - it’s a way of life. It’s not uncommon to go for a passeaggata to the Gelateria at the end of an evening or for an afternoon snack. In fact, its practically the purpose of going for a passeagata.
Where: Gelateria Chicco in Nervi. Or Gelateria da Vitto in Recco. The praline scoop is heaven in a cone.
10. Pandolce Genovese
Heavy as a brick and known to us Brits as ‘Genoa Cake’, this sweet treat is actually a Christmas cake in Liguria. In Genoa it has a more breadlike consistency, made with sultanas, currents, candied fruit, almonds and, obviously, pine nits. Dense, crumbly and completely delicious.
Where: Pasticceria Copello, in Chiavari, is an old school pasticceria which serves this sweet treat all year round.