The best culinary experience you can have is trying out the typical regional cuisine. Here are 6 typical dishes to try when visiting the Cinque Terre area.
Italian cuisine never ceases to amaze me. Italians have mastered the alchemy of turning few, simple ingredients into complex flavor mosaics. They have turned the most ordinary of ingredients, such as salt, water, and flour, into a vast array of unique regional dishes. They take the best fruits of the land and sea and create a perfect marriage that endures for generations.
I keep returning to Italy because I always, always discover a new dish, even in Liguria, my favorite region that I have visited many times before. It seems that I am not alone; Italians themselves don’t always know the dishes of other regions because traditional regional dishes are not generally available throughout the peninsula. Like any fulfilling relationship, there is always a sense of novelty, surprise & discovery of new treasures.
Believe it or not, pesto and focaccia are not the only traditional foods you’ll find near the Cinque Terre. Here are five new dishes from the Cinque Terre area that I discovered thanks to my friends, photographer Melissa Schollaert and Chris & Eva of Shabby Sheep Design, who are well acquainted with the region.
I love seafood, but not living near the sea, I tend not to be too adventurous with frutti di mare other than fish just for the fact that obscure types of seafood are not usually readily available for me. Thanks to my friend Melissa Schollaert, I met my new favorite dish, muscoli ripieni.
Muscoli ripieni means stuffed mussels (note: muscoli is Ligurian dialect; cozze are mussels in standard Italian). If you google “muscoli ripieni alla…” you’ll come up with a handful of variations up and down the coast, such as alla spezzina, alla livornese, alla carrarina, alla viareggina, and even cozze ripiene pugliesi in the south.
What all recipes have in common is some variation of stuffing that includes bread crumbs and parmesan held together with an egg mixture in a tomato based sauce. I’m fairly certain the version I had included mortadella too.
Muscoli ripieni alla spezzina recipe (in Italian)
Stuffed mussels recipe (in English)
Muscoli ripieni alla spezzina video (in Italian)
Acciughe al Limone
I don’t know about you, but as a kid, somehow I got the idea that anchovies are “yucky” without even trying them. If you’re skeptical about anchovies too, try them in the Cinque Terre. These fresh anchovies in lemon juice and olive oil are no relation to anything salty you’d find in a can Stateside.
Linguistic note: Anchovies may be referred to synonymously as acciughe or alici in Italian. From my observation, anchovies are most commonly referred to as acciughe in Liguria.
It was difficult to find a definitive answer as to the difference between acciughe or alici. Some articles imply that they refer to a different preparation of the same fish, whereas other articles refute that claim and say acciughe & alici are interchangeable despite the preparation. Other sources imply that they derive from different Latin dialects, acciughe possibly from Liguria and alici from Naples or Sicily. They are delicious no matter what you call them!
If you are Italian, or have any other insight into the linguistic differences between acciughe and alici, please leave a comment for us below!
About Monterosso Anchovies (in Italian)
Acciughe al Limone Recipe (in Italian)
Polpo alla Diavola
Alla diavola signifies anything spicy in Italian. Polpo alla diavola is octopus cooked in a lovely spicy tomato sauce with potatoes. This is another dish that might have different variations along the Italian coastline.
Octopus is another seafood that always made me squeamish. However, I spent my entire time in Liguria making up for my previous lack of octopus consumption. It’s divine! Give it a try.
Polpo alla diavola recipe (in Italian)
Salt, Flour & Water Based Dishes
Many variations of salt, flour & water have come out of cucina povera. Here are three of my favorites from around the Cinque Terre.
Focaccia di Recco
Focaccia di Recco is another Ligurian specialty introduced to me by Melissa. From the Ligurian town of Recco (just south of Genova and north of Camogli), focaccia di Recco is melted fresh cheese (such as Stracchino) encased in two paper thin sheets of bread. There’s even a consorzio that dictates the official recipe (God, how I love that this exists!).
How to make Focaccia di Recco (video in Italian)
On my recent trip to visit Chris & Eva at Shabby Sheep Towers (aka their lovely Tuscan villa), I learned the next two dishes are actually from the historic region of Lunigiana, which includes the southern tip of Liguria and Northern Tuscany.
Testaroli originated in the town of Pontremoli, in Northern Tuscany in the Lunigiana region, but can also be found in stores and restaurants near the Cinque Terre. It looks like a large, flat crepe that is then cut into smaller diamonds or squares and then boiled like pasta. To me, it has a spongy texture and taste similar to a crumpet, except much thinner.
Testaroli can be served with pesto or simply cheese. It’s remarkably simple, yet extremely satisfying dish.
Testaroli recipe (in Italian)
Testaroli recipe (in English)
Panigacci originally come from the little town of Podenzana, also in the Lunigiana region of Northern Tuscany near the Cinque Terre. They are traditionally made by pressing the batter between clay plates that have been heated in a wood-burning oven.
Panigacci are similar to gnocco fritto and tigelle from Emilia-Romagna in the sense that they are a dough-based vessel for salumi/affetatti e formaggi (sliced meat & cheese). You then fold it up and eat it like a little taco.
Melissa and I had planned to eat panigacci in La Spezia, but we forgot how important it is to make reservations on a Saturday night in Italy. I happened to find an industrial package of panagacci at a little grocery store because I was so curious to try it. I will try again next time to try it freshly made!
Panigacci history & recipe (in Italian)
How to make Panigacci (video in Italian)
What is a new Italian dish that you have tried recently? Let me know in the comments below!
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