Recipes from Liguria, Italy


Hey guess what, I achieved a Travel by Stove first this week! That's right, I nearly burned down my kitchen. Not only was it a Travel by Stove first, it was also the first time I've ever done anything like that at all, ever.

I know you're wondering what happened, but first I have to talk about Liguria, Italy.

Liguria is a narrow strip of land that borders the Ligurian Sea. On the other side of that narrow strip of land are the Alps and the Apennines, so there's a lot of mountainous land in the region. Much of the coastline is rocky, and in some places the cliffs and mountains rise right out of the sea.

The capitol of this part of Italy is Genoa, which has a long and sordid history, starting with its role as an important port city in the first crusade (for a fee, Genoese ships would carry European knights and troops the the Middle East). After that it became heavily involved in the the spice trade, which explains why hometown hero Christopher Columbus was so interested in finding a faster route to the East Indies.  

You probably already guessed that a lot of the food in Liguria is seafood-based, which is what you would expect from a land that's pretty much all coastline. Seafood isn't the only thing going there, though, in fact Ligurian tastes cover the gamut from fish to poultry to beef to cheese to vegetables. So if food is your thing and you were thinking of visiting Italiy, Liguria should definitely be one of your stops.

Portofino, Liguria, Italy. Photo by Callum Moy.

And here's another fun fact: pesto was invented in Liguria. Which was perfect for me, really, because I have a basil garden growing out of control in my office and I really needed a reason to use some of it up. So with that in mind, here's my menu:

Trenette with Pesto
(from Academia Barilla)
  • 1 lb trenette pasta*
  • 1 oz basil
  • 1/2 oz pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 1/2 oz grated Pecorino cheese**
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
*Trenette is similar to linguine. I couldn't find trenette because it's a little bit obscure in California, so I just used linguine for mine.

** Pecorino is widely available in California supermarkets, unless I'm looking for it. I had to sub some of last week's montasio cheese and some romano for the pecorino, and I honestly don't know how good a sub that was. Tasted delicious, though. Anyway the next time I was a the grocery store I found pecorino cheese, which was annoying.

Some focaccia:

La Focaccia alla Genovese di Roberto
(from Rustico Cooking)
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup water
And a dessert:

Almond and Chocolate Torta
(from Channeling Nonna)
  • 5 oz butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp light extra virgin olive oil or an additional 5 oz butter
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Let's make the dessert first, since I'm sure you are still dying to know how I nearly burned down my kitchen:

First put the oil, butter and sugar (or just the butter and sugar, which is what I did) into your mixer and beat until fluffy. Then add the eggs and mix for another minute, but take care not to let the eggs curdle.

Now add the zest, vanilla flavoring and the almond flour.

Mix until just combined. Finally, add the all-purpose flower, salt and baking powder. Turn your mixer down to low and mix just enough to get a smooth batter, but not too much more than that. Finally, add the chocolate chips.

When the chips are distributed throughout the batter, get out your fire extinguisher because you might need it. Now transfer the batter to a springform pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden (put a toothpick in the center if you're not sure, if it comes out clean it's done). Cool, then serve.

Now here's what happened when I made this--there was so much butter in this thing, that it actually started leaking out of the seams of the springform pan, and then it landed on the bottom of the oven and burst into flames. Fortunately I didn't have to extinguish the thing because after hearing my screams of panic my husband came running and reassured me that it would burn itself out and I was not in fact about to burn the house down, though I still don't believe him. Anyway it did burn itself out and my cake came out slightly smoked, though that was not the only problem with it. More on that later.

Next make the bread. First combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of salt and the sugar in an electric mixer. Now add the water and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Stir until the dough starts to come together, then either use a dough hook or knead it by hand (I used my bread machine, because I'm a cheater that way).

You may need to add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky, or a little more water if the dough is too dry. Now add the yeast and keep kneading. The final product should be smooth and easy to work.

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise at room temperature for about an hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Now move the dough to a pizza pan and press it into the pan. Cover and let rest for another 30 minutes. Dimple the dough with your fingers, taking care not to tear it. Cover again and let rise for another 30 minutes. 

Mix the rest of the olive oil with the rest of the salt and the 1/4 cup of water.  Pour over the dough. Bake at 475 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden and slightly crisp. Serve.

And finally, the pesto pasta:

Put the basil, garlic and pine nuts into a food processor. Pulse, adding the oil slowly.  

When the mixture is creamy, add the cheese. Keep pulsing until you get a lovely green paste. Add the salt to taste.

Now, my pesto was a little bitter, probably because my basil leaves were on the large side and you're really supposed to use younger leaves for pesto. So I added more cheese, pine nuts and salt to help counter the bitterness, and in the end I had delicious pesto. Make sure that you taste yours and adjust, because all basil is not created equal. 

Now cook the trenette (or linguine) in salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss with the pesto. You can dilute the pesto with a little bit of that pasta water, if you need to. Top with a little bit of grated parmesan and serve. 


The pesto pasta was by far the most delicious part of this meal. I suppose all that really fresh basil had something to do with it but yes, it was really good. Even my kids loved it, which is saying something since they won't normally go near anything that's green, even if it's frosting on a St. Patrick's Day cake. The focaccia was also very good--it was salty, crispy and soft all at the same time. The cake, unfortunately, hmm. It was really oily, which shouldn't surprise you considering that it set the oven on fire. It was so oily that when you bit into it the grease kind of pooled up in your mouth, which really wasn't very nice at all. I'm giving the recipe the benefit of the doubt, though. Maybe that extra five ounces of butter wasn't a very good substitution for the oil. Or maybe some other measurement was totally off. At any rate, I wouldn't recommend this recipe as printed above. Normally I love butter, but when there's that much of it you might as well be eating it by the stick.

So we're on a trifecta of Italian provinces, culminating next week with Lombardy, Italy. See you then!





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