April 14, 2017  -  Vol. IX No. 8
Tales from Liguria and Menton

Liguria, the northwestern strip of Italy that hugs the Mediterranean Sea, and Menton, the small border city next door in France, both benefit from the beautiful climate that the surrounding sea and mountains create. Flowers and herbs perfume the streets, and the fresh mountain air feeds delicate vegetables and fruits growing on terraced farms that dot the mountainside. As acclaimed food writer Fred Plotkin claims, it “may be as close to paradise as one can find on earth.”

Last month, Oldways organized the latest of our popular Culinaria trips – along with Chef Barbara Lynch and European Art Curator Ronni Baer – to explore this region’s well-known foods like pesto and focaccia, plus lesser-known but equally extraordinary foods like taggiasca olives and raw milk cheeses. The weeklong program highlighted many facets of life in Liguria: the cultural and historical attractions; the agriculture and viticulture that produce incredibly delicious, quality products like wine, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes and more; and the traditional preparation techniques that take these ingredients from the farm to the kitchen.

We learned that Ligurians are resourceful people, and they are known for making the most of the land and sea to grow and harvest whatever foods they can. They choose local foods over all others. Our Ligurian guide even brought lemons from her uncle’s garden for us to use in our cooking class.

Here are a few more things we learned in Liguria and Menton:

  • Seafood never gets boring. With access to so many different species of fish and shellfish along the Mediterranean coast, Ligurians know how to keep seafood dishes interesting. We had the chance to sample octopus, shrimp, sea bream, squid, mussels, clams, anchovies, sardines, and many other types of fish, mostly prepared very simply with olive oil and lemon juice and served as a main dish. As we saw at the market in Menton, they can also be preserved in vinegar or salt, mixed with pasta, or tossed in salads. Frutti di Mare - fruit of the sea - is a phrase we saw a lot in Liguria. Different types of seafood are delicious mixed together, like a colorful fruit salad.
  • Fragrance is key. Ligurian and Menton cooks lead with their nose in the kitchen, choosing the most fragrant herbs and fruits and vegetables to make their meals. Probably the most famous result of this technique is pesto, the Ligurian sauce made from sweet-smelling basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and cheese. The best pesto is made from the most fragrant ingredients, crushed together by hand in a mortar and pestle. 
  • Extra virgin olive oil fits everywhere. Almost every food we ate on the trip was seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, and not just any EVOO, but the local Ligurian variety. Compared to other EVOOs, Ligurian oils are subtle, floral, and do not overwhelm the delicate ingredients of the region. We even indulged in a molten chocolate cake filled with extra virgin olive oil chocolate sauce.
  • Meals are meant to be savored. The pace of meals in the Mediterranean tends to be slower than in the U.S., and meals in Liguria are no exception. Three to four hour meals on the weekends are not uncommon, usually because they involve a lot of people, but also because the culture supports them. Our time there emphasized this very positive lifestyle component of the Mediterranean diet: cooking and enjoying the pleasures of the table with family and friends contribute hugely to good health.

We hope you'll be able to join us on our next culinary trip in November to Andalusia, Spain

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipes. Main photo above (of Vernazza in Liguria's Cinque Terre) from istockphoto.com.

Recipes

Whole Wheat Fusilli with Kale Pesto 

All you need is a food processor or blender to make your own pesto. Instead of basil, this recipe uses kale, resulting in a heartier sauce that complements whole wheat fusilli perfectly.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Mediterra.

Ligurian Pesto

We learned how to make pesto the traditional Ligurian way at La Brinca restaurant in Ne. This recipe includes their  ingredients and preparation method - with a mortar and pestle!

Recipe courtesy of La Brinca restaurant in Ne, Italy. Photo: istockphoto.com.

Spaghetti with Mussels

We enjoyed this pasta dish at the Ristorante Belforte overlooking the ocean in Vernazza (main photo). It's a delicious and light option for lunch.  

Recipe adapted from EatingWell.com. Oldways photo. 

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.