A Fork in the Road is Cara's
regular feature on traveling and dining. She will
also list any culinary points of interest in the featured region.
All the towns listed below are in the province of Imperia.
Ristorante-Bar San Giorgio, Via A. Volta 19, Cervo Alto, tel 0183/400.175
Il Museo Etnografico del Ponente Ligure, Cervo, tel 0183/408.197. This
small but wonderful ethnographic museum, located near the castle, has
exhibits about local traditions, including gastronomic ones.
Da Franca, Pizza Eroi Sanremesi 51, San Remo, tel 0184/ 502.082.
Frantoio Roi, Via Argentina 1, 18010, Badalucco, tel 0184/ 40.80..04
Il Giardino, Badalucco, tel 0184/408.015
Molini di Triora
La Bottega de Angelamaria, 18010 Molini di Triora, tel 0184/94.021
Ristorante Santo Spirito, Molini di Triora, tel 0184/940.92 or 940.19
Strega di Triora, Courso Italia, 50--Triora, Imperia, tel 0184/94.278
Cara De Silva's A Fork in the Road:
Letters on Traveling and Dining
Twilight. The Mediterranean shining silver far beneath me. A
lavender-washed breeze stroking my face. And set out in the piazza in which
I am scribbling these notes, a platter of delicate, purple-black fritters.
Made with a paste of Taggiasca olives, the only variety native to this
area, and shaped like plump little bolsters, they dissolve in my mouth as
if air is the only other ingredient they contain. Nearby, a platter of soft
squares of farinata, earthy chick-pea flour pancakes, competes for my
I have been to the Italian Riviera--also called Liguria--before, but only
to the best-known parts of it like Portofino. Beautiful, yes. But too
trendy for me. This is something else. Standing here in the medieval
hilltown of Cervo I feel lost in pure pleasure.
And I find myself wondering yet again, why we Americans are so caught up in
Tuscan fever. Tuscany is magnificent, of course. But much of the rest of
Italy is, too, including this graceful piazza and the foods so kindly set
out here for us.
"Us" is a group of journalists and cookbook authors--among them several
estimable experts on the region, Fred Plotkin, the author of Recipes from
Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera (Little, Brown: $32.50) and
David Downie and Alison Harris, authors of Enchanted Liguria (Rizzoli:
We are here with Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, a food think tank
based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that devotes itself to maintaining
traditional foodways and propagating healthful models of eating--the
Mediterranean Diet, for example. Because the cuisine of Liguria is not only
distinctive and delicious, but also so salutary that the region boasts the
longest-lived people in Italy, it is a particularly appropriate
Nonetheless, when we sit down to dinner at San Giorgio, a restaurant in
Cervo that is among the very best in Liguria, the indisputable
healthfulness of the meal is the last thing on our minds.
Cooked by the charming owner, Caterina, the fare is simple, but matchless.
Among the dishes she serves up is an insalata di frutti di mare, a mix of
briny seafoods poached gently, tossed with slivers of tomato and herbs,
dressed with a mixture of garlic and Ligurian olive oil (some say the
lightest and most fragrant in Italy), and ladled over gallette del
marinaio (sea biscuits) spread with a puree of fava beans. Equally notable
is a homemade pasta crowned with crayfish, turbot, local potatoes, and
artichokes. All in all, the meal is a perfect demonstration of why eating
local and seasonal food is not only better for the planet, but better for
the mouth. Dinner here is bliss.
It is also a harbinger of what is to come as we explore this region of good
eating. From the Mediterranean coast to the entroterra, Liguria's less well
known--and ravishingly beautiful--inland areas, and from the Ponente, the
West side of the Italian Riviera to the Levante, its East side, we find a
profusion of appealing, and often distinctive, dishes.
We also discover that this narrow rainbow-shaped region is the source of a
number of food specialties that are already familiar to Americans (as well
as of a fabric called blu di Genova, which became our blue jeans).
Liguria is the home of ravioli; minestrone; focaccia; sun-dried tomatoes;
cioppino (San Francisco's famous fish stew originated here as ciuppin); the
sponge cake known as genoise (the name comes from Genoa, the region's
capital city); amaretti; and perhaps most famously pesto, which appears
here not just in the basic form in which we are most familiar with it in
the United States, but in an infinity of variations. (More information
about this beguiling basil sauce next time).
But pesto is just one of many herb preparations that characterize the
cooking of Liguria, which uses more herbs than any other region in Italy.
In fact, the fare here is so redolent of them that locals often refer to
their cuisine as "the perfumed kitchen." Some suggest that the
centuries-old reason for this culinary preference is the role Genoa played
in the spice trade, to which she was once as important as Venice. By the
time Ligurian ships arrived home, sailors had grown so sick of the smell of
their cargo that they came to favor herbs in their food instead.
Liguria's history as a great maritime nation also had numerous other
effects on its gastronomy. As Fred Plotkin explains in his book, this is
Italy's chief region of sauces, condiments, and spreads, created out of the
bounty of the land to complement the bounty of the sea, and intended also
to provide the fresh flavors of herbs, vegetables, and fruits for mariners
on long voyages.
It is these vegetables and fruits (along with nuts and grains) that
dominate the table of the Italian Riviera, which highlights them even more
than protein. Whether you are in Imperia, Savona, La Spezia, or Genoa,
Liguria's four provinces, they can be seen in huge and beautiful profusion
in markets and restaurants. And they are memorable.
Certainly, Lynne Rossetto Kasper and I will never
forget the broccoletti da
cavolo that we discovered in San Remo, a lovely city on the Riviera dei
Fiori famous for growing flowers sold all over the world. While wandering,
hungry and curious, in La Pigna, the old town, intuition drew us to the
modest Da Franco, where we sat at a tiny outdoor table and ate a totally
Of all the dishes, however, the choicest was a luscious vegetable neither
of us had ever seen before. A tangle of thin, verdant-green heads, leaves,
and stems tossed in olive oil and garlic, it looked like a skinny version
of broccoli rape and we expected it to be bitter. Instead, natural
sweetness abounded in every mouthful. It was uncommonly good.
And so were the verdura ripiene, stuffed vegetables, and torte di verdura,
savory vegetable "tarts" that we had everywhere. The main ingredients are
combined with cheese, and sometimes herbs, rice, or potatoes and, according
to David Downie, these tarts have been eaten here for hundreds of years.
There are many kinds. In the shops of Badalucco, an engaging market town in
the entroterra famous for the modern murals painted on its stone walls,
there were torte di verdura made with zucca (a pumpkin-like squash),
artichoke, onion, and zucchini.
If you go there, however, be sure to look, too, for the crusty,
anise-flavored polenta bread found in some shops. Very special. And visit
the little Roi olive oil manufactory where you can watch Ligurian olive
oil being made and purchase bottles of it to lug home with you.
Then walk up the street to Il Giardino. If you are lucky, the restaurant
will be serving the meaty, beige beans of Badalucco, heavenly topped with
some of that local olive oil. Or rabbit in the style of the Argentina Valley
(named for the silvery look of the leaves on its myriad olive trees). The
dish, a fricassee made with garlic, ground almonds and pine nuts, rosemary,
juniper berries, and olive oil, is delectable.
Not far away from Badalucco is Molini di Triora, where 23 mills once ground
wheat for its famous bread. While there, stop at the Bottega di
Angelamaria, a tightly jammed little store that offers a variety of local
food products, among them cheese, sausage, bread, and honey. You will also
find books on the history of witches in Triora, the town just above. There
was a purge there in the 16th century and the style the beautiful owner of
this bottega has adopted suggests that she wants to look like she is
carrying on despite it.
Right next door, the Ristorante Santo Spirito, now celebrating its 100th
year, offers typical dishes like dried cinghiale (wild boar) with greens.
And paniccia fritta, here a mash of chickpeas formed into a layer, chilled,
cut into pieces, fried and then mouth-wateringly topped with sauteed
scallion bulbs dressed with oil and lemon. Or ravioli filled with borage
(an herb that is very popular in Liguria) and completed with a sauce of
butter and sage.
Finally, make the trip up to Triora, a few kilometers away. Although there
are modern houses here now, the older town can still be seen on the steep
and winding main street where a number of buildings appear to have been
abandoned for decades. Fortify yourself with a snack from Strega di Triora
(Witch of Triora), the local gourmet store, and climb to the top, where you
will have a heart-stirring view of the rocky hinterland of the Italian
In my next letter, I will complete the tale of my journey through Liguria.
In the meantime, see you down the road.
Liguria, part II
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