Genova is a city of contrasts, of grand palaces and of narrow maze-like streets called caruggi, of Baroque cathedrals and of hole-in-the-wall fish fry joints. Like Naples, the city spills down towards the water and sprawls up into the hills. You can ride the funicular or a lift to take in the view from above, and you can walk along the caruggi and view life close up.
Time constraints meant that we had to compress our visit into a single day. But it was a great day, a packed day, thanks to friends Emanuela and Anna of Beautiful Liguria, who organized a food-focused tour of the city’s historic centro. Here are a few highlights from our taste of Genova. Enjoy!
Pietro Romanengo Fu Stefano is a 235-year-old confectionary. The family-run operation still uses its original recipes to make glacéed fruits, marzipan, chocolates, preserves, and syrups. By the way, Italian cities and towns are filled with such gems ~ small, elegant shops offering all sorts of edible treasures. Wherever you are in Italy, you should seek out these places, not only for what they sell, but also to get a glimpse of their interiors: gilded mirrors, polished wood and cornices, Venetian chandeliers, soft, worn marble, and trompe l’oeil flourishes on the walls.
Fish ~ fresh, salt-packed, and air-dried ~ is a staple in Genovese cooking. The hanging fish in the second photo below is stockfish, unsalted, air-dried cod. Like baccala (salt cod), it must be soaked in cold water over several days before cooking, and is typically served stewed, with tomatoes, potatoes, anchovies, olives, and pine nuts. Other common fish are octopus, cuttlefish, and, of course, anchovies.
The mercato orientale, the city’s covered market on Via XX Settembre, has been in action since the early days of unification. Wandering among the stalls, you’ll find a wide array of pantry staples, from legumes to meats and cheeses, and a huge selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. The green Seuss-like grassy stuff in the photo below is agretti, also known as “barba di frate,” or “monk’s beard.” The grassy plant is a mild-flavored succulent that is served either boiled or sautéed and dressed with lemon and olive oil. (Here’s a recipe from my friend Linda of Ciao Chow Linda.)
For lunch we stopped in at Il Genovese, owned by Roberto Panizza. Panizza, who organizes a bi-annual pesto-making competition, has made it his mission to put the “Genovese” back in pesto. (You can buy his traditional-style sauce online at Gustiamo. La Cuisine, in Alexandria, VA, carries a beautiful selection of mortars and pestles made from Carrara marble.) Among the classic dishes we enjoyed were gnocchi with pesto and ravioli filled with greens and dressed with a creamy walnut sauce.
Meanwhile, down in the caruggi, along Via Sottoripa just back from the port, is where you’ll find the friggitorie, tiny casual joints selling fried seafood, slices of savory tortes filled with greens and artichokes, and farinata, a thin crepe-like bread made with chickpea flour. How I wish we had left room to sample.
Did I say we had no room left? I lied. There was no way I was not going to try Genova’s signature frozen treat, panera (pronounced PAH-neh-rah). It may look like an innocent coppa di gelato, but it is much more. Panera is a semifreddo of sorts, made with coffee, egg yolks, and lots of cream.
Panera is rich beyond belief, with a dense and at the same time mousse-like texture. According to my Facebook friend (and Genova native) Alessandro Megna, the dessert’s origins date back to the 19th Century. The name comes from the shortening of the words “panna” (cream) and “nera” (black). If I am able to master the recipe in my kitchen, you can bet I will post it here for you.