The word pesto is practically synonymous with Liguria, the Italian region of its origin, however the Cinque Terre and the rest of the region offer plenty of other delicious specialties for food and wine lovers. The cuisine of the Cinque Terre is a direct result of the area’s distinctive and secluded landscape. With minimal roads leading the way, these "five lands" are most easily accessed by train, providing locals and tourists alike with an ambiance of solitude and long-held tradition. From the magnificent coastline to the steep, rocky cliffs above, it is believed that no fertile soil should go unused. As a result, the area is able to produce some of the finest food in Italy thanks to the miles and miles of cliffside terraces.
Located in the region of Liguria along the beautiful Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre consists of five quaint villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Connected by historic mule paths that are now heavily traveled by foot, each village contributes ingredients to the region's famed cuisine. What they all share is an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients as well as seafood due to their proximity to the Ligurian Sea. The fishermen of yesteryear continue to inspire many local menu items even today.
While seafood such as the highly desired anchovies of Monterosso play a prominent role in the cuisine of Cinque Terre, there are other food items common to this specific Italian region. From the grapes and olives nurtured on the terraced hillsides to the lemons and prized basil, items grown in the area provide visitors with the opportunity to enjoy a delectable variety of dishes.
Special mention goes to Liguria’s delicious sauce that originated in Genoa, but is now emblematic of the entire coastal region. Authentic pesto alla genovese is always made with a mortar and pestle using only the freshest local basil. There is an official recipe with set ingredient ratios, though in Liguria each family seems to have their own variation. Regardless, the authentic ingredients are always basil, extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano (Grana Padano is an accepted alternative), Pecorino Sardo, garlic, pine nuts, and salt. Frequently served with pasta, pesto alla genovese is designated as a Traditional Agricultural Product (PAT) due to its strong ties to Liguria. The Monterosso anchovies have this exceptional honor as well.
Another iconic product of the area is focaccia. Like pesto, the traditional recipe originated in Genoa. Focaccia alla genovese is a delicious golden-brown flatbread topped only with extra virgin olive oil and salt. This divine treat can be paired with a cappuccino for the preferred breakfast among locals. Focaccia can also be served as an appetizer, side dish, or afternoon snack (merenda). In addition to the traditional focaccia alla genovese with only extra virgin olive oil and salt, it is possible to find it with other simple toppings such as onions, olives, cheese, or herbs. Another noteworthy variant is the focaccia di Recco, made in a town about an hour and a half north of the Cinque Terre. Traditional focaccia di Recco can be enjoyed only in Recco and it is made by stuffing two very thin layers of dough with crescenza cheese. When in Liguria, be sure to try as many varieties of focaccia as you can—you won’t regret it!
A meal in the Cinque Terre is commonly introduced with a light appetizer. These dishes may feature focaccia accompanied by an assortment of cured meats, cheeses, and local products such as olives.
Seafood is often present as well, particularly the prized Monterosso anchovies. The waters near Monterosso and the other Cinque Terre villages are credited with having a particular salinity. This paired with mild annual temperatures and a certain humidity levels, results in anchovies that have an intense flavor with a slight sweetness. It should also be noted that the anchovy is the inspiration behind not one, but two festivals in the village of Monterosso. In June, the fried anchovy is the star of the event, while in September it is the salted variety that is celebrated.
As an appetizer, anchovies are usually served salted in the Cinque Terre, but they can also be fried or grilled. The anchovies can be served on their own, or as part of an antipasto misto di mare, with other fresh, local seafood.
Another popular appetizer that originated in Genoa, but is found in this chain of villages is latte brusco. This mixture of onion, butter, flour, parsley, eggs and milk is cooked then cooled so that it hardens. Afterwards, it is cut into pieces, then breaded using eggs and breadcrumbs before being fried to perfection.
Fried food is quite popular in the area, with frisceu being another traditional regional appetizer. These fritters are made using flour, sparkling water, yeast, and olive oil. As they fry, they puff up and achieve their characteristic rounded shape. Frisceu may be plain or enriched by adding other ingredients such as herbs, vegetables, or even fish to the dough.
Not to be missed is panissa. Though it shares a name with the regional dish from Piedmont that consists of risotto with beans, panissa in Liguria features strips of fried dough made from chickpea flour.
Finally, we have the fried appetizer that is considered to be one of the pillars of Ligurian cuisine: fiori di zucca fritti (fried zucchini flowers). To make this delectable appetizer, zucchini flowers are coated in a batter of flour and sparkling water then carefully fried. The result is a light appetizer that perfectly embodies the fresh flavors of the Ligurian coast.
Authentic Cinque Terre cuisine doesn't stop with the appetizer. The first course is always a good representation of the region with its aromatic dishes loaded with local herbs, vegetables, garlic and lemon. The coastal air lends a hand in creating such rich ingredients. It is common for this stage in the meal to consist of a fresh pasta or a warm soup.
Pasta is frequently seen in a first course entree in various forms. Liguria’s most characteristic first course dish is locally made pasta served with pesto. In particular, we must mention trofie, which is local to Liguria and is the region’s most iconic pasta shape. Traditionally, trofie are made by twisting thin strips of dough by hand. The other famous regional pasta shape is trenette, which is similar to linguine but with a more rounded shape. Both of these pastas are traditionally served with pesto. It should also be noted that in Liguria, pasta al pesto can be supplemented with potatoes and green beans that are cooked together with the pasta then coated with fresh pesto.
Pesto is the region’s foremost sauce, but pasta may also be served with other typical sauces including walnut sauce, mushroom sauce, fish based sauces, rabbit ragù, or ragù made with wild game such as boar or hare.
Ravioli alla genovese is a stuffed pasta that reflects the locals' belief of cucina povera, that is a cuisine featuring simple ingredients where nothing is wasted. Originating in Genoa, but found throughout Liguria, these ravioli are filled with a mixture of meat, typically veal plus leftover organ meat, as well as herbs and vegetables (usually borage and endive). Ravioli alla genovese are served with tocco, a traditional meat-based sauce.
Another local stuffed pasta is called pansoti, which differs from ravioli in size and shape and for the fact that meat is never present in the filling. Rather, pansoti are typically filled with local wild herbs. When this dish is made outside of Liguria and the local wild herbs cannot be used, they are usually substituted with chard, spinach, or borage. Traditionally, pansoti are served with a fragrant walnut sauce.
Also popular are corzetti or croxetti, which is a flat, circular pasta shape imprinted with a wooden embossing tool to provide an added embellishment.
Lasagne al pesto is a regional variation of Emilia-Romagna’s iconic lasagne featuring pesto, bechamel, plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and sometimes potatoes and green beans.
As an alternative to pasta, many restaurants in the Cinque Terre may serve risotto as well. The local risotto dishes usually feature simple and fresh ingredients such as borage, artichokes, mushrooms, or mixed seafood.
In the winter months, soups take center stage. One example is minestrone alla genovese, which features beans, potatoes, zucchini, borage, pasta or rice, and pesto (which is the secret ingredient that gives the soup its distinct taste). Ciuppin is another soup option made of mixed fish, shellfish, white wine, and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, and celery. Commonly served with toasted bread, this is one of the best ways to savor the area’s coastal seafood. There is also a variation of this soup called bagnun, which features only fresh anchovies as the seafood.
Finally, throughout the region of Liguria, savory tarts and pies are quite common. One excellent example is torta verde, with a recipe and preparation that can vary from family to family. However, torta verde tends to feature a thin dough filled with green vegetables, usually zucchini and/or chard. The filling always features cheese and, in some cases, rice may be added as well.
Speaking of rice, the other savory tart popular in the Cinque Terre area as well as the rest of Liguria is torta di riso. This is a particular delicacy of Monterosso where it can be served white (with a rice and cheese filling) or red (with a rice, tomato sauce, mushroom, and vegetable filling). In Monterosso, the torta di riso is usually prepared for the Feast of Madonna di Soviore in August.
The second course, or il secondo, of Cinque Terre’s cuisine, contains larger portions of meat or fish, as is traditional throughout Italy. For this area of Italy this means anchovies, a type of bluefish, which frequently make an appearance. Stuffed anchovies, especially, are a Ligurian specialty made in the cibo povero (“poor food”) tradition, meaning a dish created from various leftovers. In the case of stuffed anchovies, the fish is filled with a minced combination of leftover bread and vegetables for a tasty, nutritious dressing.
Other seafood that is commonly utilized in the area's cuisine includes squid, cuttlefish, bass and bream. They may be accompanied with vegetables, topped with a complimentary sauce, or simply sprinkled with a mix of local herbs and fresh lemon.
For a traditional dish while in Vernazza, Tegame alla vernazzana is similar to a baked casserole. Anchovies, potatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, and rosemary can be found amongst its layers.
Though fresh seafood is understandably popular in the coastal villages of the Cinque Terre, there are a few meat-based second courses to enjoy as well. A few of these dishes that can be found through Liguria include angello arrosto (roast lamb), rostelle (meat skewers), and coniglio alla ligure (braised rabbit with olives and pine nuts).
More daring foodies can try cima alla genovese which is a piece of veal stuffed with a mixture of ingredients including garlic, peas, parsley, carrots, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pine nuts, bread, and to minimize waste – animal bone marrow, udder, and testicles.
SIDES & CONDIMENTS
Meals throughout the Cinque Terre area are frequently accompanied with fitting sides and condiments. Vegetables play a big role in most traditional meals. Plenty of porcini mushrooms and artichokes can be found in the region. They may be an accent in a main course or served as a side – usually cooked and marinated with a simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and herbs.
As with many areas throughout Italy, extra virgin olive oil can be found on many foods and as a condiment available on the dinner table. The abundance of olive trees has allowed the oil originating in the villages of Cinque Terre to be ranked among the best. Three variations of olive oil from this area are identified as having the Ligurian Riviera Protected Designation of Origin.
No meal in the Cinque Terre should go without one of the area's popular sweet treats. Lemons are a key component in Ligurian desserts as they can be found throughout the countryside, especially in the village of Monterosso. This fruit can be used in tarts, custards, marmalades and fruity liqueurs. Liguria even has its own lemon liqueur, similar to the Amalfi Coast’s limoncello, that is called limoncino.
Two cakes stand out in the local cuisine – torta di riso dolce and pandolce genovese which translates to "sweet bread." Torta di riso is a sweet version of the rice tart mentioned above that has a rice filling and is topped with powdered sugar. The latter is actually a dense cake, not a bread, typically filled with candied fruit and spices and originating from Genoa. While it can be found in bakeries year-round, the locals commonly reserve pandolce for Christmas. Of course, when it comes to dessert, let’s not forget about canestrelli cookies, a traditional butter cookie in the shape of a flower with a hole in the center, and at times enhanced with local flavors like lemon zest, ground almonds, or orange blossom water. These simple yet delectable cookies are so popular, they’re considered an agricultural product of Liguria.
Whether exploring the spectacular trails overlooking the Ligurian Sea or perusing the narrow streets of the towns below, street food is available to energize and fill a craving. From village to village there are small stores, delicatessens, bakeries, and small restaurants offering food to take on the go.
The most popular street food encompasses flattened breads such as the aforementioned focaccia as well as farinata. The latter is a crispy, wood-burned bread made with chickpea flour. Traditionally served with just a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, other seasonings may be added such as onions or rosemary. Farinata and focaccia can both be enjoyed on the go, as an appetizer, or a snack.
Those looking for more seafood during their stay can try fritto misto. A delicious dish that has been enjoyed as an appetizer for decades throughout Italy, recently a portable version has become popular. Consisting of a variety of fried mixed seafood, the street food version of fritto misto is served in an easy to carry, disposable cone.
The terraced mountainsides are highly populated with vineyard after vineyard of grapes, enabling the production of the fine wines born in Cinque Terre. While the deep vine roots are said to protect the steep slopes from landslides, the various grapes themselves are nurtured for over twenty vino specialties in the area.
Two wines are locally created - the Cinque Terre and Sciacchetrà wines. Both white wines are produced utilizing high quality Bosco, Vermentino, and Albarola grapes. Cinque Terre wine is perfect with fish and other seafoods, while the Sciacchetrà is a sweet, dessert wine. The latter is a must while visiting Cinque Terre. It undergoes a specialized production process that requires the grapes be dried in the sun for months in order for the sugar to become concentrated. Both wines have the DOC label to ensure their origin and are produced throughout the Cinque Terre villages.
Buongiorno Guilia,We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Italia. The tour guide was great and the local tour guides were excellent. Our companion
Hi Tommaso, As we come to the end of our time in Monterosso, I would like to thank you and the rest of your team for looking after us so wel