This will be my 10th year hanging out in Cinque Terre–the five fishing villages-turned tourist-towns in the region of Liguria in Italy during my Italy Retreat for Women Tours. Hiking, swimming, and eating four of the traditional local foods is always part of living my la dolce vita. I have found that Italian cooks bring out the best qualities of each ingredient used. The secret to Italy’s cuisine is that they use the highest quality and freshest ingredients, often going to market daily. With that in mind, I’m sharing 4 favorite foods in the Cinque Terre, even though there are more than four!
The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest on earth because it is rich in fish, fresh vegetables, olive oil, and grains. It’s more than food. It’s a way of life. Part of the joy of experiencing Italy is enjoying your food and the company you share it with. Liguria is one of the 20 regions of Italy and it consists of 220 miles of coastline. The air smells sweet like salty sea air mixed with flowers that are part of their industry.
Here are Four Favorite Foods in Cinque Terre
2.) Branzino (Sea Bass)
4.) Trofie and pesto
1.) Farinata or Cecina: As you can see in the photo above it is not like pizza or foccacia, but made with garbanzo bean (ceci) flour, it’s gluten-free, and it often looks like hash brown potatoes.
Legend has it that farinata used to be eaten 2000 years ago instead of bread. Roman soldiers were said to bake it on their shields in the sun. Farinata is usually eaten plain, as it has a wonderful taste, but you can also put pesto or stracchino cheese on top. It is best when it is fresh and hot.
When made traditionally, it is poured into a copper pan, and cooked in a wood-burning oven at 500-700 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to try it at home, you can use a gas barbecue grill that will usually heat up to 500 degrees and use a cast iron skillet with a small lip because the mixture is very thin. If you use a regular oven, it won’t be possible to get a crisp bottom, but it can still be done heating only at 400 degree F.
- 250 g chickpea flour
- 1 liter water
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
Soak the chickpea flour in water, season with salt and pepper, then leave it for 4 hours stirring occasionally. Rub olive oil in a baking dish or the cast iron skillet or copper pan, pour the mixture into it and bake in a preheated oven at 200℃ (400 F) for 30 minutes until the farinata becomes golden brown.
2.) Branzino Sea Bass:
Often sea bass and other fish are served whole with the head and tail intact, but this photo shows it in pieces. The local fisherman take their boats out each morning to bring in the fruits of the Ligurian Sea. The seafood at restaurants is more on the expensive side but so flavorful that the memory will long live in your taste buds and heart.
Ingredients for Ligurian Style Sea Bass (branzino) with olives, toasted pine nuts, potatoes, tomatoes.
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 pound fresh tomatoes, cut into large chunks
3/4 cup pitted green olives or your choice of olives
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Two 3-pound sea bass, cleaned or individual portions of sea bass
1/2 cup pine nuts
Recipe for Sea Bass, (branzino):
Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large roasting pan, toss the potatoes, tomatoes, olives and basil with 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Make 3 shallow slashes in both sides of each fish. Rub each fish with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set the fish in the roasting pan, tucking them into the vegetables. Roast for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the fish are cooked through.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the pine nuts in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Spoon the pine nuts over the fish and vegetables in the roasting pan and serve right away. Serves 12.
Eating anchovies freshly prepared in Cinque Terre, having been caught fresh that day, are much tastier than the anchovies purchased in cans in the USA. Anchovies add a flavor bomb known as umami–which is a salty, earthy taste that adds another layer of deliciousness–a fifth taste. If you can find fresh anchovies, lucky you or buy the anchovies in jars, packed in oil preferably from Italy, not in cans. I must admit, anchovy is one food I do not usually like, but since traveling to Cinque Terre, I have changed my opinion.
The fisherman in Cinque Terre fish for the anchovies during the night, so each morning a fresh haul is taken home or sold to the restaurants in the area.
Anchovies can be stuffed (ripieni) with bread crumbs, served raw with lemon ceviche-like, fried, filled with garlic, lemon or tomato, on pasta or pizza. If you’d like to enhance the flavor of your pasta dish, try this recipe.
4.) Trofie and Basil Pesto was created in Liguria.
Cinque Terre’s Ligurian Trofie al Pesto is a scrumptious pasta and you can find the recipe on my previous blog post. It is served al dente, little bites of pasta slathered in traditional pesto topped with freshly grated Parmesan. They often add sliced boiled potatoes and green beans to this pasta dish.
You can make this type of pasta at home without any special tools just a little Double ‘OO’ flour, water, salt and a little love. Of course, it takes some practice to master making the twisty shape. Check out this video from Pasta Grannies.
You are welcome to reprint, copy, or distribute Lenora Boyle’s article, provided the above author credit is included.