La LiguriaThe Italian culture of the table
The Italian culture of the table
A calendar of special initiatives to discover and rediscover the Italian food and wine culture: every month a stimulating “journey” to explore local excellence and traditional recipes, as always under the banner of creative reinterpretation and pleasantness.
September 2022 / Sicily and Sardinia</ p>
November and December 2022 / Umbria
Ingredients and regional products protagonists of the month:
The cellar and the wines of Liguria
Black Vermentino, Albarola, Ciliegiolo – Cantina Lunae – www.cantinalunae.com
Special recipes of the month
To know more…
Acciughe sotto sale del Mar Ligure IGP
Sea, blue fish, salt. The secret of the success of the Acciughe Sotto Sale del Mar Ligure PGI lies precisely in its simplicity, delimited by a rigorous disciplinary, which since 2008 has certified the quality of the product and regulates every step of the production, from fishing to conservation, from seasoning to marketing . But what makes an “ancient” ingredient so special, which today has entered the kitchens of chefs, with a strong and unmistakable flavour? Let’s hoist the sail and find out together.
ANCHOVIES IN SALT, AN ANCIENT TRADITION REGULATED BY MARITIME CITIES
Liguria and fishing, an indissoluble pairing that was bonded thousands of years ago and refined in the following centuries, without however losing its essence: the bond with the sea. The history of salted anchovies coincides with that of the fishermen, used to making a virtue of necessity in the exercise of a fascinating and dangerous profession. In fact, the custom of preserving the catch in salt dates back to antiquity, to allow its consumption some time after the capture or in distant places, without frustrating the enormous efforts of the fishermen. If some archaeological evidence demonstrates the existence of primitive salting techniques since the 4th millennium BC, the first written sources on the modern salting process can be found in the statutes of the seaside cities. We are in the Middle Ages, and the anchovy is a basic product of society, a means of sustenance for families and at the same time a trade good with the neighboring provinces (perhaps the Piedmontese bagna caoda was born in this period).
In the 16th century the municipal regulations were perfected: the first rules on the permitted fishing techniques, conservation and trade of both fresh and preserved products appeared. The Maritime Republic of Genoa controls the supply chain and determines the prices, introduces a tax (gabella piscium) and establishes strict regulations for members of the Chiapparoli art, i.e. the fishermen who sold fish in Chiappa, the place of the fish market in the city. At that time, anchovy was still an artisanal work, handed down from generation to generation, but a license was already required for salting and selling. From this stage to the development of an industrial chain, the step is short. However, the artisanal essence of the workmanship has not been lost in the collective memory. Today there are few houses in Liguria where anchovies in salt are not prepared, repeating the family instructions: an activity therefore rooted in the culture of the inhabitants of the coastal strip and transmitted as a note of folklore to the multitude of tourists who flock to the beaches of the Ligurian Sea.
ANCHOVIES IN SALT FROM THE LIGURIAN SEA, THE ONLY FISH PRODUCT WITH PGI
Characteristic salted anchovies
Anchovy, or alice, is a marine fish belonging to the Engraulidae family. A valuable migratory species (Engraulis encrasicolus L.) for the economy of the countries bordering the Mediterranean and the temperate Atlantic. The only fish product that can boast the PGI, the salted anchovies of the Ligurian Sea are regulated by a detailed specification, which first of all defines their characteristics:
appearance: the anchovy must be whole; the skin, very fine, still partially visible;
consistency: the fish fillets are soft, compact and adherent to the bone, with lean and slightly oily meat;
colour: depending on the part of the body observed, the shade must range from pink to intense brown;
taste: dry and savoury, in a marked way.
FROM FISHING TO PACKAGING ANCHOVIES: AN ARTICULATED PRODUCTION METHOD
All production stages are monitored and recorded to ensure product traceability. Fishing is allowed between 1 April and 15 October, when the animal has reached sexual maturity and a size between 12 and 20 cm. The authorized method is that of the “lampara”: a large lamp that attracts the shoals of sardines to the surface, which are then trapped in the nets. After capture, the anchovies are placed in traditional wooden boxes and sent for production within 12 hours. The first pre-seasoning phase serves to free the fish from excess blood, after which you can proceed with cleaning, by hand, starting from the head. Once cleaned, the anchovies must be arranged radially in the appropriate wooden barrels, and each layer of fish must be covered with common sea salt. On the last layer, a special disc made of material for food use should be placed, on which constant pressure is exerted throughout the maturation period. A curiosity: in the past, it was customary to place a sea rock on top of the disc, while today metal weights are not allowed.
The seasoning must be carried out in rooms where it is possible to maintain a constant temperature for 40/60 days: in fact, the salt must allow for slow maturation of the meat and control of fermentation. After the first 4/5 days, the leaked liquid must be replaced with a brine, which is in turn controlled and supplemented for the entire period, in order to keep both the level and the concentration of salt constant. The room temperature can vary depending on the type of brine used and is between 20° and 28° in the case of strong brines (25-33% concentration) and between 6° and 20° when medium brines are used ( 18-25% concentration).
Once matured, the salted anchovies are transferred from the barrels into special cylindrical glass containers, called “arbanelle”. They are then arranged in successive layers by interposing a veil of common sea salt, and the last one is covered with brine to prevent oxidation and “pressed” by a disk of slate, glass or plastic for food use. Finally, the package must be sealed, to avoid external contamination or spills of liquids.
THE INDISSOLUBLE BOND WITH LIGURIA
The PGI is a concrete recognition of the Ligurian territory and its environmental and morphological characteristics: the mild climate of the region, whose coast is sheltered by the high mountain ranges behind it, the strong salinity of the sea and the ancient techniques of fishing and fish, handed down over the centuries. In particular, the fishing and processing area of the PGI “Acciughe sotto sale del Mar Ligure” – establishes the Regulations – involves the waters facing the Ligurian coast and the territory of the Municipalities of the Liguria Region that overlook the Tyrrhenian side delimited by the line of the watershed . The fishing area cannot move beyond 20 km from the coast. This limit derives from the need to process the anchovies within 12 hours of catching, in order not to lose their freshness.
The name of this sauce, for which Liguria is famous throughout the world, derives from the original method of preparation: the pounding of the leaves and other ingredients in the traditional marble murta’ (mortar) with wooden pestelludi.
The pesto recipe does not have very ancient origins, it dates back to the mid-nineteenth century but it is an ancient tradition that has led to the birth of one of the most famous condiments in the world.
Historically, in fact, Liguria has always been the homeland and cradle of aromatic herbs (not surprisingly, La Spezia owes its name to the ancient spice trade that was based in the area). The use of herbs has medieval origins and they were mainly used to flavor poor dishes or to enrich and decorate large courses in the case of the wealthier classes. The recipe apparently dates back to the evolution of a much older recipe, aggiadda (agliata), a garlic-based mortar sauce from the 13th century and which was used to preserve cooked foods.
The first to mention the modern version of pesto was Giovanni Battista Ratto in his Cucina Genovese around 1870.
The legends about it, however, are many. Often cited is that of a convent in the heights of Genoa, in the Prà area, dedicated to San Basilio. One of the friars of the convent gathered the aromatic herb that grew on those hills, the basil, and by pounding it with a mortar with other simple ingredients he obtained the first pesto – which was then perfected over the centuries. Or there are those who think that the first written testimony of an ancient recipe, ancestor of our Pesto, can be found in Virgil’s Bucoliche: the farmer Similo dines with a focaccia spread with moretum, a sauce based on coriander, rue, parsley and cheese crushed in a mortar and bound by olive oil.
Pansoti, or pansotti, are a stuffed pasta typical of Ligurian cuisine, in particular of the Genoese tradition. Their typical shape resembles a bundle, but in other parts of Liguria it is also possible to find them with a triangle or crescent shape. But what is the real recipe for pansoti and how are they cooked according to the Genoese tradition?
Pansoti or pansotti?
Pansotti, or pansòti, are a type of fresh pasta with filling. This is why their name derives from “pancia”, which in the Genoese dialect becomes pansa. Hence the name “pansòti” was born in Genoa, however in other provinces of Liguria the last syllable of the words is emphasized. For this reason we sometimes hear “pansotti”, in any case the name derives from the shape of the pasta, which, being filled, has a “belly”.
The name “pansoti” appeared for the first time in the Gastronomic Guide of Italy of the Italian Touring Club, published in 1931. More precisely, on page 189 we talk about Rapallo, a municipality in the province of Genoa, and the pansoti are mentioned. -a sarsa de noxe. Pansoti with walnut sauce, translated from the Genoese dialect, are filled with preboggion, which indicates “herbs to be cooked”. In fact, for the filling a mix of herbs is blanched which vary according to tradition and are then mixed with the cheese.
The history of pansoti
There are several versions of the pansoti story. Although the tradition of pansoti dates back to about ninety years ago, this type of stuffed pasta has become better known since 1961. In that year the traditional recipe was presented at the Nervi (Genoa) gastronomic festival and spread on the newspapers .
It is also thought that pansoti with walnut sauce were born in San Martino Noceto (Rapallo) due to the presence of walnut trees. Here the walnut sauce that still accompanies pansoti was prepared for the first time, as tradition dictates.
Pansoti are a symbolic dish of traditional cuisine and for this reason the Ligurians love them and even celebrate them. In fact, there are real festivals dedicated to this recipe, such as the one that takes place every year on April 25 in Santa Croce, above Sori (Genoa). On this date, a real event is organized in honor of the traditional recipe for pansoti with walnut sauce. The pansoti are made by hand that same morning and then taken to the church. During this unique event everyone has the opportunity to see how pansoti are made according to tradition.
The Croxetti or Corzetti
History of the ancient Bûtega da fidiâ Sivori or da-o Bolàn
First we need to start from the etymology of his name.
Krosu was a pre-Latin word, meaning hollow, probably Gallic then passed into Latin where we have the term corrosus, i.e. hollowed out (e.g. by erosion), passed into Italian with a similar meaning.
Krosu, perhaps through Latin, but more easily directly, passed into Occitan and from this into modern French and the Ligurian language, with a wide diffusion throughout central-southern France and north-western Italy.
This word which, as we will see, is very frequent as an adjective in various expressions, is present in Ligurian, Piedmontese and Lombard toponyms: the easternmost form is a Coli (Pc) with the meaning of “valley”.
Today’s toponyms in which the term is combined with rio/valley, such as Vallecrosia and Fosso Recroso (Borzonasca), are tautologies, i.e. repetitions, since the term is synonymous with ditch/valley in indicating localities: I mention the simple Recroso in Moneglia and the Crosi, three distinct places in Borzonasca. We find the use as a toponymic adjective e.g. in Cian creuso (lit. “hollowed floor”), in Calcinara di Uscio, a very popular place for country festivals due to its “welcoming” characteristics.
Widespread throughout our riviera and stradde creuse, in short and creuse, the country roads set in or between two walls, usually sloping (in Chiavari the level ones between the gardens were instead called cantetti), sometimes main. On the Chiavarese hills, in the hamlets of Campodonico and Ri, we have two identical toponyms “strada vicinale della crosa”. In a medieval document we read via qui dicitur crosa.
To avoid misunderstandings, we add that krosu should not be confused with the less ancient toponym cioso (e.g. the locality or cioso of San Bartolomeo di Leivi), deriving from the Latin clausus, which identifies a small enclosed farm in the context of settlements and crops.
And again: o creuso in the Ligurian language (“cavity” in Italian), with the diminutive creusetto, corresponds to the French le creux (creuser means to dig) and to the Occitan croset (see the expressions: o camin creuso and a strada creusa e le chemin creux, while la creuse noire is the black pit, the moat), i euggi creusi (the sunken eyes) and le creux des yeux (the hollow of the eyes), or creuso da man (the hollow of the hand, the opposite side on the back), do zenoggio, de l’ascella and le creux de la main, du genou etc. We then have e masche creuse, the sunken cheeks, o creuso da veja, the belly of the sail when it is inflated by the wind, ûn decorso creuso, empty words.
Let’s come to the pasta: for the denomination of this homemade short pasta, an inverse metathesis took place in the Ligurian language with respect to the usual one: if cròu corresponds to corvo and crava to goat, the creusetto was transformed first into crosetto and then into corzetto, where the z replaces the s (sweet) no longer intervocalic: however the pronunciation remains the same, something that often escapes the distracted, that of “rosa, casa, marquis”.
What has been said so far highlights how the lexical form croxetti, of rather recent use, is only a deformation in a spurious Frenchism. It would be better to avoid its use, also because it is at the origin of the pseudo-etymologies that involve the “crosazzo”, a seventeenth-century coin of the ancient republic of Genoa, or the “crocetto” imprinted on the hosts of the Catholic liturgy: because a croxe, the cross has absolutely nothing to do with corzetti.
In the medieval Latin of the thirteenth century of the text of Frederick’s Liber de coquina we still find croseti written.
In Genoa it is possible that, at least in the 19th century, when the preparation of corzetti was declined, only one side was impressed with a simplified tool of which only the upper part was engraved and the lower part served only as a pastry cutter: this emerges from the description of 1841 of Olivieri. That of the Cuciniera of 1893 by Ratto “father and son” is now incomprehensible due to the big mistakes: perhaps at that time they had never seen a real print to describe?
The Rattos wrote: Roll out the sheets in the same way as for lasagne, then instead of cutting them into a square shape with a knife, use a round wooden shape, in the hollow of which there is an arabesque (which is instead on the opposite flat side of the element and the hollow is smooth) and around a rim suitable for cutting them (and they do not make any mention of the upper and complementary carved element). Cook them and season them layer by layer like lasagne.
Each family had its own moulds, but it is tourist nonsense to claim that they were personalized with initials, coats of arms or various symbols. The coastal tradition, moreover alien to exhibitionism, was instead attentive to the practical aspects.
Nor is it true that the decorations of the molds were inspired by ancient brands for daily bread of which, unlike for example the old Matera, there is no tradition in Liguria. The only exception is that of the Brotherhoods with which there is only the common use of a wooden mold: we will talk about it in a note in the appendix.
Another invention is that in weddings molds were used with the initials of the spouses and that auspicious symbols such as “ears” or “trees of life” were carved, absent in our tradition. The presence of “crosses” is also non-existent, recently asserted to validate a pseudo-etymology of the modern form croxetti which, be it a deformation or spurious French language, does not have, as already clarified, any Eucharistic or numismatic connection.
Given the precise gastronomic purpose of the carvings, it does not appear that any Genoese patrician found it convenient to have his cooks “season” his coat of arms: pasta was also considered grossus food, absent in the splendid banquets of the rich. There is no trace of molds of this type except in the imagination of “popularizers” perhaps misled by analogies with sealing wax seals, made of various materials including wood.
When, at the end of the 19th century, the maternal grandmother from Monegasque emigrated to Chile on a long sailing trip, she had in her suitcase, with the aforementioned Cûxinëa ed. 1893, old prints from family corzetti. They too, which decades later returned to Liguria by steamer, present, like all the ancient ones available, only the type of carvings described. Only the molds carved starting from the last decades of the twentieth century, after a parenthesis of oblivion, with the rediscovery of this and other old traditions that have become “ethnic curiosities”, offer a varied range of subjects, linked to the imagination of the craftsman, more cultured than a time and available to please the customer’s requests.
These are very different from those of the housewife de ‘na votta, who did not exhibit the prints for the corzetti, but she used them. However, rightly, we continue to pay attention to the wood used for the mold, which, being for food use, must be free of tannin: the most used is beech, the most common in all wooden kitchen utensils, suitable however, the apple tree and others too.
A curious note: the diameter of the molds for the corzetti has been decreasing in the last 150 years, hand in hand with the decline in their use: from the 7 cm of the molds of 1860 it went down to 5.5 in 1960 and to 5 net of those manufactured, after a few years of production vacuum, in our days.
It is also curious that the opposite occurred for lasagna: from the 4×4 cm size in use in the nineteenth century it has moved on to the 10-12 cm side measurement of today’s lasagna.
Analogous to the Ligurian stampæ corzetti are those of Novi Ligure, traditionally close to the cuisine of the Genoese area, where, since relatively recent times, it is used to combine them with basil pesto. Also round and stamped, they are usually green due to the addition of borage to the dough.
Similar are the crozetti spread in the Upper Piacentino area (and from there passed through the Val d’Aveto) made with a particular wooden mold and finally the Emilian version, made in the Parma Apennines with a special iron consisting of two saucers (decorated in the internal) that are closed by shears.
There they are usually seasoned with meat sauce or with melted butter scented with fresh marjoram, even if beyond the mountains someone now replaces the latter with sage.
Finally, it should be noted that all the condiments of the ancient tradition, gradually mentioned, of the corzetti, are all “white”, that is, without the presence of tomatoes, introduced only in the nineteenth century in Sicily and arriving in the kitchens of northern Italy in the second half of the century. Until the end of the eighteenth century it was considered an insignificant or even harmful fruit.
E figassette stampeæ, the stamped buns of the Saints of the Brotherhoods
It was an ancient tradition of the Ligurian Confraternities to distribute to their oratories, on the occasion of the feast of the Saint Titular, tonde figassette, small cakes blessed with his image. They were made with the use of special wooden molds from which the image of the patron saint was transferred, carved into the wood of the lower flat face, by pressing the latter on the dough of the focaccias before putting them in the oven. These molds were a sort of large “dry stamps” similar to the half with the handle of the pair used for the corzetti stampeæ, but at least double in diameter, about 12/15 cm.
Several specimens are preserved, sometimes still used, in various Ligurian oratories, Sant’Antonio abate di Mele, Santo Stefano di Borzoli, San Giacomo di Pino, San Nicolò di Sant’Ilario. The oldest known, in a fairly good state of conservation despite the wormholes, is the one bearing the effigy of Saint Anthony the Abbot (depicted with the typical “fire”) of the oratory of the same name in Casella: the documents in its archive prove that the mold is from the eighteenth century.
In the Riviera di Levante the custom survives in San Rocco di Zerli in Val Graveglia, where in August fûgasse/figasse are distributed bearing the image of that saint, whose cult became established at the time of the ancient plagues, and of his doggie.
Perhaps not everyone knows that for many centuries Genoa and Liguria have excelled in Italy in the art of dry pasta.
The first evidence of the appearance of pasta in Genoese kitchens dates back to the 1200s. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because the Genoese, powerful merchants, had been trading grain with the whole Mediterranean since ancient times. Powerful but also cunning and ruthless: they hoarded grain in good years, stored it in huge quantities in port warehouses and resold it throughout Europe at a high price in times of famine.
In Genoa, therefore, even without the surrounding countryside to cultivate, wheat was never lacking. Added to this are the frequent commercial contacts with the Arab world – to which the birth of the art of pasta is historically attributed – and the climatic conditions favorable to the drying process (sun and wind). In short, everything makes it possible for one of the most ancient Italian pasta-making traditions to develop in Genoa, and then throughout Liguria.
Among the oldest pasta shapes, which by their shape truly recall the medieval period, there are the Corzetti, or Croxetti, small discs of pasta engraved with a floral arabesque. Historical documents show that this elaborate pasta was served at a lunch in honor of the king of Morocco as far back as 1362.
According to some, the name derives from the French “crosets”, typical pasta of Provence, known by the Genoese already towards the end of the 1200s thanks to the acquaintances with the Court of Charles of Anjou (to which Provence belonged). According to others, the name derives from the image of a small stylized cross with which one side of the medallions was originally decorated.
Corzetti are made by rolling out the dough like lasagne, cutting it into discs of about 3-4 cm in diameter and imprinting a decoration on each disc.
Originally it seems that the embroidery was obtained by imprinting a coin on a disc of pasta cut with the edge of a glass. The art of pasta makers (also called vemicellai or fidelari in Genoa) would then be refined through the introduction of precious wooden molds created specifically to decorate the pasta with designs of all kinds and coats of arms of each noble family.
Today the Corzetti can be found ready-made in shops specializing in typical products in the form of dry pasta. Traditional wooden molds to prepare them at home are very difficult to find.
Fortunately, however, there are still some craftsmen, especially in the eastern Ligurian hinterland, who continue to embroider the wood by hand to keep the ancient tradition alive.
Liguria is certainly not a famous region for breeding. Apart from a few animals raised in Val Bormida, in the Ligurian Alps, in Val d’Aveto and in some other valleys between Genoa and La Spezia, cattle and pigs are historically almost irrelevant in the agricultural economy.
Different, however, the breeding of farm animals, chickens and, above all, rabbits. And the rabbit has become one of the symbolic dishes of the Ligurian gastronomic tradition. A true excellence that has also become a “status symbol” recipe in the Oscar-winning film “The Great Beauty” by Paolo Sorrentino. It is during a dinner of the “generone romano”, in fact, that Cardinal Bellucci reveals in detail to Jep Gambardella, an unreachable Toni Servillo, the recipe of the Ligurian rabbit, managing to unleash hunger in the spectators.
The origins of the recipe are closely linked to the hill country culture of the western Ligurian hinterland, especially between the provinces of Imperia and Savona.