Hello, I am Marina from Genoa and in this post I am going to tell you the top 10 food in Genoa you definitively need to eat when passing by.
When I think about my city I see a 60 year old lady, elegant yet modest, very educated who speaks old wise truths, little bit grumpy yet the most honest person.
A lady with whom you like to share a view on Spianata Castelletto with a slice of focaccia in your hands (“slerfa de fügassa” in Genoese dialect) talking about everything and nothing, cause being a port city, let you know about a lot of secrets of the world… And if you listen, she will tell them to you.
Her vigourous embrace is made of tiny, dark alleys full of old friends and old fashioned decadent atmosphere that always makes you feel home.
Before being a fascinating old lady though, Genova was a young, wild, beautiful young woman. During the Middle Ages she had a lot of green and space around her and they were part of her daily life, as much as the sea and fishing.
People were collecting wild herbs to cure themselves but most of all, to eat them. Even now knowledge of the Preboggion is still intact after centuries.
It’s a collection of multiple wild herbs, used inside a lot of recipes, helping the flavours of our city rising up from pans to curios noses, just passing around.
I used to see my grandma, who was a chef, preparing most of the recipes I am going to describe, so… Let’s start with the top 10 food in Genoa that you absolutely can’t miss when visiting!
Pansöti with wall-nuts sauce
Pansöti comes from the pre-Easter period of the year, so it was a frugal (but tasty) dish, vegetarian, absolutely without meat. In their fulfilment you will find the lot of herbs I just described, eggs, a little bit of prescinsêua (name of typical genovese cheese) but nowadays with ricotta, less aggressive. Instead the pasta’s dough is made with flour, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, salt.
The fulfilment’s herbs have to be boiled before being put onto the pasta’s dough. The result will be these tiny bags with a big belly full of tenderness. When they are finished you just have to boil them for few minutes and then, when you collect them from the boiling water, you just have to add the walnuts sauce. This sauce is made with crumbs of bread, walnuts, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and lot of milk. This is definitely a one of the best dish you can’t miss while visiting Genova.
As example of fresh handmade pasta I have to quote also ravioli, or “raiö” in our dialect. They can be with meat and fish, so if you want to get a little bit heavier but tastier food, you HAVE TO try these other top food in Genoa.
As a kid it was a punishment: having boiled vegetables was the worse dinner ever. And now as an adult in winter you dream for it and it can really enter in this ranking of the top 10 food in Genoa.
Hot vegetable tasty soup in a cold day is the best. Beans, peas, potatoes, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, chard, some wild erbs from the Preboggion, salt, carrots, onions, garlic and final touch, pesto sauce and Parmesan on top if you like.
One of the top 10 food in Genova can be vegan friendly and it is not the only one.
First of all: pesto is from Genoa. And it is the king of Ligurian cuisine.
Is made with the freshest Basil’s leafs, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, lot of salt.
It derives from the Roman “moretum ”, we changed it slightly into “aggiadda” but still, there was too much vinegar for our taste. Through our people’s travels in the Middle East we discover the taste of basil, arriving from India, and we fell in love. Ligurian’s basil from Genova Prá, is one of the best you can find and Pesto di Prà is now a sacred thing for genovese people.
It is mandatory to combine it with two things: smeared on focaccia for a transgressive moment or together with trofie pasta. Curiosity: this pasta is peculiar because contains no eggs in the dough. So, housewives had to work the dough for a very long time.
“Mená-a pasta” in dialect means literally beating up the dough which sounds funny, but it was real. You really have to punch it and slam it down on the table and then massage it again roughly for long time.
Focaccia genovese (fügassa in dialect)
I named already this deliciousness of ours. In the ancient Roman Empire it was a gift for the gods and the name derives from “focus”, fire. There are a lot of varieties but the fact that it was a very tasty form of bread that could last long times on the sea, made it popular into cities connected to it.
Some say in Genova was a recipe never forgotten even in the Middle Ages. Made with water, flour, lievito madre (the original yeast), extra virgin olive oil, lard (nowadays also without it, so it is vegan), salt. In the end after the cooking you smear it with oil again.
Legend has it that it was so popular that the Church in the 500th century forbid it during churches celebrations, because it was kind of sinful.
There are three versions in Liguria, the genoese classical just described and other two, one typical of Recco’s village and the other from Genova Voltri, a fraction of the city. If you come visiting Genova and you fall in love with the classical one, I suggest you travel on the coast and taste also the other two varieties: you will be delighted. Prá and Voltri are very close. Just saying…
Italians were very religious, so, before Easter, there was fasting. And if you couldn’t fast, you were eating light.
That was no news for poor people, but for middle class and rich people it was. So everyone was vegetarian before it was cool… But only for a month. In Genova Torta Pasqualina was and still is a vegetable cake made with chards, maggiorana salad and prescinsêua, a cheese purely genovese. This cake it was a symbol for housewives because it was like a challenge.
How to make torta pasqualina?
Prepare the dough, lay it down. Take out from the boiling water both chards and maggiorana. When they are cold squeeze them so water spills out entirely, lay them down on the dough, smear the Prescinseua on top and then the difficult part.
The top layer of dough is not a normal one, it is a series of layers so thin, you can see through them and they should be 33, like the years of Jesus Christ when he died. Final step bake it, without burning those fragile layers. This was the challenge. Nobody could do it, but you could still do better than your neighbors and that was enough.
When you come visiting Genova you will find out that we were so Christian Catholic but most of all interested in money and adventures, that we went very often in the Middle East because of the crusades.
We had so many intrigate business, food included. Farinata that is typically genovese, for example, is made of chickpeas flour, water, salt and olive oil.
You can find chickpeas food in Iraq but also in Marseille, in Palermo, again port cities like us, with lot of exchange from different parts of the world. Farinata in Genova though is purely baked instead of fried (like in Palermo). It is so-called Gold, for its colour when finally comes out of the oven. It can be in other versions: with onion, still vegan, with blue cheese, with sausages (not vegan anymore). It is a very nutrient and complete plate and absolutely one of the best food in Genova.
In our city we have few space so lot of things are tiny and small, included some vegetables. For example zucchini are lighter green, smaller, with a huge orange flower (fried is the best) and also eggplants, a special variety white, sweet and of course small.
These vegetables together with onions, tomatoes and peperoni are part of the typical “stuffed vegetables”, literally translated. All these have to be cooked on vapours or boiled in hot water for few minutes, depend how hard they are.
Then have to be cut in half; the inside part of the vegetable has to be put out with a spoon and put in a bowl, mix it with eggs, salt, cotto ham (or not, if you want stay veggie), Parmesan, maggiorana salad, lot of wild herbs and garlic.
Everything has to be cut very small and treated with care. Then this dough has to be put in the vegetable’s shell, laying with its belly up.
Every season has its vegetable, but onions can be found very often, so it is mostly common to find them together with or zucchini or tomato or eggplant or artichokes. Sometimes if you’re lucky you can get multiple combinations.
Cuculli e frisceu
Everybody knows that what you fry is always good, but when it is first choice ingredients combined with best technique you can close your eyes and, while eating, you can actually taste happiness.
Frisceu e cuculli have always been food for celebrations, especially outside. Could have been religious, a village party or a city celebration.
For San Giovanni religious celebration for example the salty frisceu became sweet deliciousness, with a fulfilment made partially with raisin and sometimes lemon leafs. Frisceu can also be salty, hosting in their inside, codfish or lot of vegetables and the dough is made with flour and eggs.
Cuculli are made instead out of chickpeas flour, they are perfectly round and they have maggiorana salad inside.
Served to our enemies imprisoned inside our walls, they were used to demonstrate that even with seiges outside our city, we could last forever.
It is very hard to find someone still making these while visiting Genova but it is a delicious challenge I suggest you to try.
They are slices of veal meat, rolled and inside the rolling, pine nuts, veal itself, eggs, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, soft parts of bread and spices. You close them with tiny wooden sticks. Then dipped in flour then cooked a moment in white wine for the flavour and then inside “tuccu” the meat and tomato sauce with pine nuts, rosemary and laurel for the flavour.
Were we too gentle with our prisoners? For sure today is one of the top 10 food in Genoa!
It has been written about it and it has even been sung about it by our Fabrizio de André. It is a very difficult recipe but still our favourite and it couldn’t be in the top 10 food of Genoa. My childhood memories are filled with my two grandmas losing their mind on it.
You have to prepare it two days before the day you want to eat it, because if the meat is too hard or worse it explodes in the pan, at t least you have another day to try again.
I still hear hysterical cries for the wasted food in my mind.
It is a veal meat, sew as a sack with a culinary cotton thread (it was thin tendons once). A little hole has to be left open on top. On a side you prepare the dough that has to be put in the meat bag: eggs, parmesan, salt, extra virgin olive oil, cotto ham, pieces of entrails, peas, carrots, garlic, onions, herbs, spices.
Again everything has to be cut in very small pieces. Put them in the meat sack, close it. Prepare a pent full of water with herbs from the “Preboggion”, onions, carrots, salt, celery and garlic. Let it boil the put slowly the bag inside. Let it boil for hours. The only problem is that during the boiling, the risk of explosion is very high. Tick is to watch over it like a ticking bomb and sting it sometimes when it looks it’s swelling to much.
Then if you are lucky and it is intact, when the boiling is over, you extract delicately from the broth. When it is cold, cut in slices and serve it.
Definitely the queen of our top 10 food of Genoa.
There is so much more to talk about…
You know, the city of Genova, like the ancient god Giano, has two faces.
We just talked about the top 10 food that you can’t deny yourself visiting Genova in Italy, but they were one face of our city. Then there is the seaside face of our town, with the sea and its deliciousness to talk a little bit about… Next time, more secrets await for you to read them…
If you want to taste all of those specialities, join our Original Food Tours in Genoa!