Another travel post! I was in Genoa in Northern Italy for work a few weeks ago (my first trip there) and despite it being a very short visit, I managed to pack in quite a lot of eating. I really wasn’t very prepared for the trip, having to spend more time on the work part of things, but the city surprised me – it turns out that Genoa has the largest medieval city centre in Europe, an entirely rejuvenated old port area, and plenty of affordable and excellent eating. I also had a short list of the food highlights of Genoa and Liguria (thanks for the list, A!) and I did manage to eat all the main things on it!
It all started on my first lunch break when I wandered into Zena Zuena on Via XX Settembre. This “fast food” eatery had a number of foccacias and pizzas on display and locals were crowding the counter to get a couple slices for their midday meal. I joined the scrum and ordered a bowl of minestrone alla genovese and slice of Focaccia di Recco.
The minestrone in Genoa is tinged green, being laced with the fabulous pesto of the region, and was served with a slice of the typical bread of the region – focaccia, topped with lots of olive oil and a bit of rosemary (tucked in the napkin in the corner). The foccacia di Recco is also known as focaccia al formaggio; it’s not like the usual thicker focaccia but is made of dough as is used with pizza, rolled very thinly and is used to sandwich a layer of cheese (usually a fresh stracchino). The entirely thing is cooked in a pizza oven until the bread is cooked and the cheese is oozing out.
After work, while wandering around the medieval centre, making the most of the fading light, I encountered many enticing food shops and bakeries and not having a moment for aperitivo, I stepped into one bakery with trays of farinata in their window.
A snack sized portion of farinata was sliced off for me – only 60 cents! I think many people do this when alone as they didn’t blink when I asked for it.
As for the farinata – it was a thin baked pancake made of chickpea flour, not unlike the socca of Nice. I loved it.
Anyway, that little snack was a precursor to a proper meal – I had identified Trattoria Ugo as a place serving traditional Genovese cuisine at very reasonable prices and I went early to ensure I’d get a seat. I needn’t have worried; the trattoria was quiet on a Tuesday night but not worryingly quiet – many locals trickled in through the evening.
For my primo, pansotti con salsa di noci, a very typical pasta dish from Genoa. Pansotti are a type of ravioli that’s normally shaped as triangles but here were made into semicircles; they’re filled with wild greens and the intensely creamy and cheesy walnut sauce paired incredibly with them.
For my main course, I ordered the house special – acciughe ripiene (stuffed anchovies), served with breaded and fried mushrooms, a slice of aubergine prepared the same way, and grilled vegetables. I tried asking what the anchovies were stuffed with but there didn’t seem to be an actual answer – I believe they’re always stuffed with the same thing: cheese, garlic and breadcrumbs. Here they were fried but I saw many delicatessens also selling them roasted. Delicious.
For dessert, I chose a budino alla vaniglia con cioccolato fondente – a homemade vanilla pudding with dark chocolate. This smooth pudding was a little firmer than a pannacotta but was no less delicious for it.
Three courses (without drinks) totaled €27.
The next day, I used my long lunch break to trek to Antica Sa’Pesta, an old restaurant in the medieval part of the city. The place looks like time stood still from the beginning of the century, with its old wooden tables with shared seating.
I ordered only a single dish, their gnocchi with pesto (there’s usually something with pesto each day) – I had heard great things about their pesto and I wasn’t to be let down. The gnocchi were excellent but it was the pesto that stuck with me – it was an extraordinarily vibrant green and with a great basil and cheese flavour. If it was one thing that surprised me, it was the amount of cheese that went into the pesto here.
Various baked pies and dishes were also on offer for takeaway. I wanted to try one of the vegetable pies that are so common in the region and went with a slice of torta di bietole, made with Swiss chard, to takeaway.
I ate it later after work and though it was a bit on the soggy side, it was fantastically delicious. There was a thick layer of a fresh cheese on top of the cooked chard and the flavour of it all had me wolfing it down with my fingers.
After the pesto lunch, on the way back to work, I grabbed a gelato from Cremeria della Erbe, meant to be one of the best gelato purveyors in the city. I was surprised by how soft the gelato was but was reassured by a local that this was how it’s meant to be. My strawberry sorbet and coffee-ciok (coffee gelato studded with milk chocolate bits) were fabulous.
That evening, I sought a shop that has been selling candied fruit for centuries – Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano.
Inside, I found the saleswoman wrapping Christmas pandolce … for Carluccio’s! So yeah, Carluccio’s pandolce is from this most famous of Genovese shops. I’ll be trying one this Christmas for sure! Anyway, I returned home this time with some of their candied chestnuts (scented with a bit of orange blossom) and chocolate covered candied orange peel, some of our favourite things.
On my last morning, I returned to a cafe just a few doors down from Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano – this cafe was Fratelli Klainguti and it and the candied fruit shop were both greatly favoured by Italy’s most famous composer, Giuseppi Verdi, who spent over 30 winters in the city.
I decided to try their Falstaff, Verdi’s most loved hazelnut paste filled brioche.
With a cappuccino, that was my breakfast that morning. The Falstaff was very good (the hazelnut paste was incredible) but to me, didn’t need that extra sugar fondant on top. Verdi clearly liked his pastries very very sweet!
There’s even a signed picture from Verdi himself, proclaiming that the cafe’s Falstaff is better than his own!
Right before I headed to the airport, I visited the Mercato Orientale in search of some fresh pasta and pesto to bring home. I did find some but I also discovered a busy, vibrant market with beautiful fish, meat and produce of the region. Oh, how I wished I could have brought it all home!
If you’re looking for more Ligurian specialities, the ones I didn’t have time to seek out were: stoccafisso accomodato (a stew of dried unsalted cod), coniglio alla ligure (Ligurian-style rabbit), trippe (tripe). And you know what? The city is extremely pretty too – make sure you find time to visit the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (avoiding lunchtime when it’s closed!) and the numerous palazzi.
All my photos from my short trip can be found in this Flickr album.