The Flavors of Genova

Genova view 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.

bottles jars romanengo genova DSC_1049 DSC_1057 glaceed fruits

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.

fish genova DSC_1069 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.)

artichokes agretti mercato orientale 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.


Roberto Panizza’s mortar and pestle on display at his restaurant.

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.

DSC_1126 DSC_1129 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 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.

Arrivederci Genova

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18 Responses to The Flavors of Genova

  1. Rosa Jeanne Mayland April 17, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    Aaahhh, I’d love to eat farinata and panera in Genova… Wonderful!



  2. katia4italia April 17, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

    Loved the farinata in Genova………but somehow missed panera!!! Must return!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 18, 2015 at 8:36 am #

      We were lucky to be with Anna and Emanuela, who pointed out the panera to us. Otherwise we would have missed it!

      • katia4italia April 19, 2015 at 7:30 am #

        I will have to complain to our friend and guide, Stefano! Alla prossima!

  3. amelia from z tasty life April 17, 2015 at 2:52 pm #

    tutto fantastico! Vorrei tanto la “barba di frate”: qui non si trova!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 18, 2015 at 8:37 am #

      Io non l’ho mai visto qui. Ho visto solo che uno può comprare i semi (

  4. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way April 17, 2015 at 3:28 pm #

    I wish I were there. When we went to visit my family in Italy we missed Genova. Perhaps next time. In the meantime I can pretend I’m there with you.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 18, 2015 at 8:39 am #

      Genova does seem to get overlooked. I think that a lot of people head straight for the riviera without bothering to stop in the city. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to give it a little “love” here on the blog. We really enjoyed our visit, short though it was.

  5. Emanuela April 17, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    Grazie Domenica! For us it’s always a great pleasure to make people discover the best kept secrets of Genoa.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 18, 2015 at 8:39 am #

      We had a wonderful time. Thank you, Emanuela. Genova is an amazing city.

  6. ciaochowlinda April 17, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

    Great overview of a wonderful city’s treats. Thanks for the shout-out. Now I need to go back and have panera, something I didn’t know about. I love all those caruggi in the old part of the city and the sumptuous palaces too. Genoa is an overlooked gem! By the way, I owned an old mortar and pestle like the one in your photo, gifted to me by my brother-in-law years ago. I was horrified when it broke – one too many poundings for pesto. I bought a new one at Williams Sonoma but it has no where the patina or memories of my old one.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 18, 2015 at 8:48 am #

      What a bummer about that mortar and pestle. Your comment reminded me that one of my favorite local kitchenware shops, La Cuisine in Old Town Alexandria, carries a wonderful selection of mortars and pestles from Carrara. They sell online as well. I’ve added a link to the post. Thanks for bringing it up.

  7. Gina Whiteman April 18, 2015 at 6:41 am #

    Domenica! I really enjoyed reading this post!! We had not planned to make Genova a stop this coming August when my sister and I go to Italia, but we may have to adjust our plans!!! Thanks for sharing!!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 18, 2015 at 8:49 am #

      Thanks for reading, Gina. In the short time I was there, I found Genova to be a fascinating place. There are no cars allowed in the historic center, so just make sure you plan around that if you do go.

  8. Chiara April 21, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

    che bel reportage Domenica, conosco Genova e l’hai descritta molto bene !

  9. Lily Lau April 21, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

    Aww, I wish I was actually in Genova reading this, Domenica… 🙂


  1. 10 Favorite Reads on Italy: Week of April 13, 2015 - BrowsingItaly - April 19, 2015

    […] The flavors of Genova by Domenica Cooks – A delicious day in Genova and read to find out about their signature frozen treat. […]

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