By Sharon Sanders
Walter recounted our Day in Genoa from a cultural perspective. Now for the essential part — the food.
As we strolled and soaked up information with our superb guide Filippo Zamparelli [firstname.lastname@example.org], we also stopped here and there for sustenance. Walking through the caruggi, narrow medieval streets and alleys, temptations assaulted us.
We stopped for a torta stuffed with artichokes, warm from the oven. Heaven. Tortas are flat two-crusted pies stuffed with varied vegetables and cheeses.
At another shop, we gawked at the array of baccalá (salted cod) and stoccafisso. It may seem curious that preserved cod from north Atlantic waters are still so popular in Liguria and other parts of Italy but that is the legacy of a seafaring country.
We pass the baroque storefront Pietro Romanengo Fu Stefano pastry shop (since 1780) with marzipani quaresemali displayed in the window. Made during Lent from almond paste and flavorings, then decorated with pearl sugar, these gems hardly seem like deprivation.
Filippo says the locals refer to it as a jewelry shop because the confections resemble gems and cost almost as much. I buy some to take home because I have to keep an appetite for lunch.
Passion for Pesto
As the name explains pesto alla genovese is the signature dish of the city. The condiment is made by grinding Ligurian basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and extra-virgin olive oil in a marble mortar and pestle. Chef Samin Nosrat visited Nonna Lidia to learn how to make true pesto in Episode 1 or her Netflix series “Salt Fat Acid Heat.”
While non-Italian cooks skip the arm work by using a food processor, purists say the result is not pesto alla genovese. At the Pesto Bene shop, however, someone has devised the best of both worlds: pesto ground in a mortar and pestle by a robot. Robo Pesto!
Filippo guided us to the Porto Antico where we wrapped up our morning tour. He bid us arrivederci and pointed us toward Vegia Zena, una trattoria tipica Genovese specialita di pesce (a typical Genoese trattoria specializing in fish). It was literally steps from the piazza on Vico del Serriglio.
Vegia Zena (Genoese dialect for Old Genoa) was everything we love: cozy, unpretentious, filled with happy locals, and serving mouth-watering food.
With a mezzo litro of the house white, we savored fried mussels, grilled octopus, fried rosetti, taglierini in squid ink, and spaghetti with clams.
Satisfied? Oh my, yes!
Not Just Gelato
Throughout the morning I noticed store signs touting vera panera (true panera). It’s pronounced PAH-nayra. Filippo explained that it’s a creamy coffee gelato that’s the signature flavor of the city.
Since I’m a palate purist, I could not sample it before lunch so we walked to the train station after Vegia Zena. I felt justified in indulging at the inviting Gelateria Balbi. It was sumptuous. It coated the roof of my mouth. This is not gelato, I thought. Gelato is made with milk. My tongue was correct.
After some research, I learned that panera is a semifreddo (half frozen), an egg-based mixture flavored with coffee then folded into whipped cream. Panera is a truncation of panna (cream) and nera for black coffee.
~~I would be remiss if I did not mention my go-to source “Italy for the Gourmet Traveler” by Fred Plotkin. Fred also recommends Vegia Zena in his Genoa listing, so I knew that along with Filippo’s word, we were in for a good meal. [Fred’s publisher Kyle Books, if you’re reading this, PLEASE digitalize this volume! It’s densely packed with information but it’s too heavy when one is packing light. I have seen travel chat pages about this topic!]
~~Cooking teacher and author Domenica Marchetti offers an Italian Riviera Tour that includes half a week in Genoa, cooking classes, walking tours, visits to local food producers and more.
~~Some tastes for next time or, if you get to Genoa before I do, please also sample. Torta Zena is a sponge cake filled with rum-flavored zabaglione and trimmed with almond paste. The fry shops are said to be the best! Try fried fish or panissa (chickpea fritters).
Have you eaten in Genoa? What is your favorite Genoese food memory?