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Fifth week – Liguria

November 5, 2011

Pansotti al Sugo di Noci

 
We learned that although, Liguria is not well-known like Tuscany(a neighbour just south of Liguria), the region had the most number of traditional dishes in all of Italy. In fact, many familiar dishes originated from Liguria, including Ravioli.
 
Pansotti is a type of ravioli, and the filling is made with ricotta and spinach. Sounds familiar now, right? Ricotta and spinach is probably one of the most popular filling for ravioli. Here, it is served with a Walnut Sauce.
 

Seppie a Zemin

We also made Cuttlefish(Seppie) stew using a very traditional method known as Zemino, adding thinly sliced vegetable like swiss chard, and cooking till you get a dense sauce. The cuttlefish was so tender, and it was cooked for 40 minutes!
 
Usually, we are afraid to cook it for too long for fear that it would become tough, but the trick here is to simmer till it is soft. Now I know what to do with all that cuttlefish we catch when we go fishing.
 

Coniglio alla Liguria

 Liguria is a very narrow region flanked by mountains to the east and by the Mediterranean Sea to the west. In the south, is Tuscany, and in the north is France. They don’t have much flatlands and therefore not many animals or cattle, which means they don’t have much milk and butter. The diet there is very healthy, consisting of mainly vegetables and legumes and fish, and using a lot of olive oil, olives and pine nuts which grow in abundance there. Sounds like the Mediterranean diet to me. This rabbit dish is the only meat dish we cooked, and the sauce is made with sofrito(onions, carrot and celery), and olives and pine nuts. Very healthy. 
 

Stocafisso Accomodato

Also made with olives and pine nuts, is another dish called Stocafisso. Basically, stockfish(stocafisso) is codfish that is dried and preserved. It is rehydrated and then added to the sauce to cook till tender. Stockfish is  different from Baccala, which is also preserved cod, but is salted. Baccala needs to be soaked in water for more than a week to hydrate and to wash off the salt.
 
For those who are new to preserved cod, all I can say is that it’s an acquired taste, and certainly not for the faint-hearted or the uninitialized.
 

Torta Pasqualina

Pasqua in italian, means Easter, and during the week leading to Easter, this Pie is eaten. We used swiss chard, spinach, and another bitter herb to make the filling. 4 or 5 whole eggs are cracked into the holes which we make in the filling. This vegetable pie is like nothing I have ever eaten. The only thing that is remotely similar is a quiche, but even that doesn’t quite cut it.  Apparently, there is a debate as to whether there should be 20 or 33(for each year of the life of Christ on earth) layers of pastry dough, for this Easter Pie. I’m sure glad the chef only did one layer.
 

Gattafin

 One of my favourite traditional dishes or snack, in this case, is the Gattafin. The name was derived from a place called Gatta, and there’s quite a story behind it. It was recognized in 1999 as an indigenous dish, and in 2003, it received a trademark. I had no idea a dish could be trademarked. Anyway, I thought the name sounded cute.
 
To me, it looked like a vegetable puff or samosa, with the deep fried crust. Well, the crust was perfect, and the filling was made with herbs, swiss chard(again), and artichoke.
 

Acciughe Ripiene

On the second day, we made three different stuffings with similar base of bread, eggs, cheese and herbs. The first was for fresh anchovies. By now, I am pretty adept at cleaning and deboning anchovies, something I got so excited about during the first week, because I had never seen or touched fresh anchovies.
 
Well, these anchovies were filled, sandwiched with another anchovy, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried till golden and crispy. Delicious!
 

Muscoli Ripieni

The second stuffing we made was for mussels. I learned how to open fresh mussels and break the nerves, so they don’t close back. These mussels were filled, baked, and then stewed in the tomato and onion sauce. The mussels were tender and not overcooked in any way. The sauce was a great accompaniment to the mussels.
 

Verdure Ripiene

The third stuffing, with the addition of minced meat(usually leftover roast is used in this recipe), is used to stuff vegtables like bell peppers(peperoni in italian), zucchini, onion, and tomatoes. This dish is created to use up leftover ingredients like roasted meats and stale bread, but it tastes too good to be a recipe for leftovers. Italians are really good at coming up with recipes to use up leftover ingredients. These have evolved to become traditional dishes, because in the earlier days, the people were poor and could not afford to waste any food, so they always create new recipes to give a new lease of life to leftover food. Kudos to that!
 

Minestrone alla Genovese

The dish that really shows off the vegetables in Liguria, is probably the Minestrone soup Genova style(Genova is the main city in Liguria). The unique character in this soup, as you might have noticed, is that it is a green minestrone. No red vegetable is used in this soup except for Pumpkin or Butternut Squash. The Minestrones I had perviously known had tomatoes in them. So, this is new for me. We used more than 7 types of vegetables and beans for this soup. The reason why this Minestrone looks so green is because pesto is added to eat before serving.
 

Corzetti

Talking about Pesto, I had no idea that the all famous Pesto actually orignated from Liguria, and it was traditionally made with a pestle and mortar(how familiar!). In fact, that was how it got its name, ‘to pound’ is ‘pestare’ in italian, hence the name Pesto. We were thoroughly educated about how Pesto should be made, as there are many adulterations out there. Pesto is made with only Basil, Pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and grated Parmiggiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. If any other ingredients like parsley or walnuts were added, it will not be a Pesto, it will just be a Salsa Verde(Green Sauce). I’ll be sure not to make such a mistake.

Corzetti stamp and mould

 
Pesto is usually served with pasta, and the pasta that is served here, is Corzetti, which is pasta that is cut by a mould like a disc, and stamped with a design and the initials of the family that owns the stamp. These wooden stamps are custom made and very expensive, and usually, only the rich families own them. It is like a family seal, but for pasta. Perhaps it was a sign of prestige.
 

Mes-ciua

Another very healthy dish is the Mesciua, which is a kind of bean stew made with beans, chick pea and spelt, and garnished with freshly sliced scallions, parsley and good extra virgin olive oil. I had a hard time learning how to pronounce the name of this dish, as it had a french pronunciation.
 
Anyway, a note about Olive oils: there are many adulterated versions of olive oil in the market, many of which use chemical processing. Always use only extra virgin olive oil, that’s your safest bet.
 

Vongole

Chef Lorenzo also made Vongole with a pasta similar to linguini, but flat, somthing unique to his region. Another chef had previously made Vongole pasta, but a different method. Chef Lorenzo, pre-cooked the clams first, and then added it back later to make a sauce which gets absorbed by the pasta.
 
Again, the same rule applies. any pasta sauce is meant to coat the pasta, not the plate. If your plate is coated with sauce, either your pasta is not good and not absorbing the sauce, or there’s something wrong with your sauce. Whatever it is, this has changed my perception, and the way I cook my pasta.
 

Offelle

For dessert, we made wine biscotti. It seems wine biscotti are quite popular in various regions. This is the perfect crunchy biscuit, if you want something that is healthy, butter-free, and yet taste good.

 
Wine biscotti uses olive oil as a substitute for fat, so we can eat as many as we want with no guilt. So, we eat during breakfast, coffee break, after lunch as desssert, and as a snack.
 

Latte Dolci Fritto

Another dessert we made was fried custard creme. The lemon flavored custard creme was made the day before and refrigerated till firm. it was then cut into shapes, and coated with flour , egg, and breadcrumbs, and then deep fried like a fritter. Crisp outside, soft and melting inside, with a hint of citrus flavours. Nice.
 

Group Picture

It was a pleasure having Chef Lorenzo with us. He was inspiring and generous in sharing. It was a great learning experience for me.
 
The region where he came from La Spezia, was a port where the spices from the east came through, hence the name Spezia(which means spices). It is also the region where Cinque Terre, one of the most scenic areas in Italy, is located. Unfortunately, the floods and land slides the week before, destroyed 2 of the villages that were part of the 5 that made up Cinque Terre. You can access the link below to watch a short video when Chef Lorenzo was interviewed regarding the efforts they were making to support the rescue mission.
 

Cool Chef Lorenzo

 Of course, the journalists created a hype because Chef Lorenzo had previously been working in a Michelin star restaurant, and went to the camp to help out with the rescue mission. Whatever it may be, he is someone with passion and heart, and yet humble. He inspires people around him, and promotes community spirit. He is one cool chef!
 
 
 
 
 
 
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From → Food travels

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