Guests aboard Riviera recently learned why Liguria is considered one of the stars of Italian cuisine. Nestled between the Mediterranean coastline and the majestic Alps, Liguria is known for cuisine that equally celebrates the mountains and the sea. Known as “the land of pesto,” Liguria is home to the fragrant Genovese basil, sumptuous pine nut and aromatic garlic – which when mixed together with their fragrant olive oil – yields the “green gold” of Liguria: pesto.
We began our Culinary Discovery Tour in the picturesque seaside town of Rapallo. Arriving here, we were greeted by Guido, a local culinary expert holding a basketful of fresh local basil – perfect for his pesto demonstration. Guests were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at a local pasta maker preparing the day’s fresh pasta and the added treat of the shop owner explaining each of the various pastas being made that morning. Then we strolled on to a gourmet shop, Parla Come Mangi, for tastings of balsamic vinegar and local olive oils. We enjoyed taking in the sights and smells of this authentic Ligurian shop, which was overflowing with cured meats, artisanal cheeses and freshly made pastas. Many of our guests took the occasion to select Ligurian extra virgin olive oils to reproduce the perfect Ligurian pesto (and memories) at home.
On our way back to the bus, we had a lovely stroll through Rapallo and the local market there, which was brimming with seasonal favorites such as fragoline, tiny Italian strawberries, and perfect little eggplants. I purchased several vegetables such as fava beans, artichokes and fresh peas for the guests to admire.
We were then off to the delightful town of Recco, and Da Ö Vittoriö, a fourth-generation family restaurant where we actually met the owner and his grandson (fifth generation) at the front entrance. After their warm greeting, a master pasta chef did impressive demonstrations on preparing fresh pasta, along with one on the regional specialty for which Da Ö Vittoriö is famous: focaccia. This is not the typical focaccia bread – they cover a large pizza-like pan with a thin layer of dough, dot it with stracchino cheese and then cover it with another layer of thin dough. Then, it’s baked in a wood-fired oven, and is served as a delicious appetizer, a true specialty of Liguria.
As we watched the demonstration, we all enjoyed fritters with a local sparkling wine. Many guests tried their hand at making trofie – a local corkscrew-like pasta served with pesto. After the demonstration, we were treated to a lunch of focaccia, fresh pasta with pesto and noci (walnut) sauce, along with sea bass, Branzino, which was cooked Ligurian-style with olive oil and served with cherry tomatoes, olives, pine nuts and potatoes. We finished our meal with a light dessert and coffee, and said a fond farewell to our friends at Da Ö Vittoriö.