Abundant vegetables and herbs + simple cooking methods + traditions & creativity = delicious Christmas dishes that reveal the character of Liguria and the ingenuity of its people. “Discover Portovenere Blog” has asked some food bloggers from Liguria to share a Christmas recipe to celebrate the Holiday Season and to give you some ideas for a unique #onthetable that will surprise your family and friends!
But before talking about food, let’s start with a couple of words about traditional Christmas decorations in Liguria. Enrica Monzani explains that:
“Bay, and not fir, has been the Christmas tree in Genoa since the Middle Ages. Traditionally, in fact, bay – usually adorned with dried fruits, nuts, ribbons and pasta – was used to decorate streets, shops, houses and the table at Christmas, as it was considered an auspicious tree.”
To know more about this local tradition and for a video tutorial on how to adorn your house and table with bay Genovese style have a look at Enrica’s blog “A Small Kitchen in Genoa“.
Christmas Recipes from Liguria
Pandolce (version 1)
Vegetable & Fruit Salad
Russian Salad in a Liguria style
Natalini in brodo
Pandolce (version 2)
by Francesca Vassallo at La Maggiorana Persa
The tocco (called u’ tuccu in Ligurian dialect) is a meat sauce from Genoa. It has few but absolute rules: the right saucepan made with crock or glazed cast iron, very long cooking times, the right meat, the difficult art of simmering. Francesca proposes a modernized version of the Tocco Genovese that her grandfather Filippo used to prepare.
- Perfilo (known as sottocollo, meat under the neck), gr. 800 (or in alternative matama, known as sottospalla or chuck roll)
- Tomato sauce, gr. 100 – or in alternative 5 spoons of tomato paste
- Pine nuts, gr. 25
- Dry porcini mushrooms, 3 slices
- Onion, 1
- Carrots, 2
- Rosemary, 1 stalk
- Celery, 1 small/medium stalk
- Parsley, a few sprigs
- Garlic, 1 medium clove (remove the gem)
- Half a glass of red wine
- Cloves, 2 or 3
- Pepper, as needed
- Nutmeg, as needed
- Cinnamon (optional)
- Olio EVO (superior Extra Virgin Olive Oil), as needed
Sauté the meat with oil in very low heat for at least 30 minutes, turning it occasionally and using a flame spreader that will remain throughout the cooking.
Soak dried mushrooms.
Add the chooped onion, carrots, celery and garlic, going into zen mode: Cook them for at least half an hour, just mix them from time to time, keeping the lid closed.
At this point, take the vegetables and chop them with the crescent or, if you want, crush them in the mortar.
Meanwhile, brown the pine nuts and toast them lightly.
Add the minced vegetables, mix for 10 minutes and sprinkle with red wine. Once it has evaporated, add the sauce and salt.
Chop the parsley with rosemary and then the mushrooms, adding them to the sauce.
Grind the spices and mix them with the sauce.
Cook over low heat while covered and leave it for several hours, turning it occasionally.
The only water I added was to clean the sauce container: the lid allows the steam to fall back without the need for additions. If you want, you can dilute with a “little” of water or broth, meat or vegetable… just a bit of water, it doesn’t need more flavour.
The ideal pasta to use is the ravioli, Genoese ones, of meat and borage; other pasta does not enhance the taste, in my opinion, even with fresh pasta. Of course, dry pasta is banned!
by Raffaella Bosso at la mamma dei mirtilli rossi
- hard wheat cakes called “il marinaio”
- baked beets
- green beans
- hard-boiled eggs
- salted anchovies
- taggiasche olives
- porcini mushrooms in oil
- sea bass
- capon fish
I didn’t put any amounts because these are to be put to taste, but you have to make a layer of each ingredient overlapping them and dividing them with the sauce I will talk about soon.
Rub the crackers with garlic, sprinkle them with water and a bit of vinegar, a pinch of salt and let them soften.
Wash and boil separately all the vegetables bleaching them (put them in boiling salted water, drain them soon after and pass them in iced water, then put them back in the boiling water and continue cooking, in this way you can maintain the original color. Does not apply to potatoes or beets) leaving them slightly crunchy. Cut the potatoes and the beets into slices, and all the others into small pieces. Season with oil, salt, and very little vinegar.
Clean and boil separately all the fish as well and when they are ready do as for vegetables.
The shrimp should be peeled keeping the tail as it’s more elegant, sliced lobster, thoroughly washed anchovies and cut into small pieces, sliced mosciame, hard-boiled eggs cut in quarters or as you like best.
- salted anchovies
- canned tuna
- stale breadcrumbs wet in vinegar and then squeezed
- hard-boiled egg yolk
- salted capers
- Pine nuts
- extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
Rinse the capers, prepare everything and blend together. must become a very soft and amalgamated sauce, not liquid.
As I told you before you have to make layers of the ingredients, there are just a few rules:
• start with the crackers you will spray with a little bit of oil then the mosciame and anchovies together and then the green sauce, continue with the potatoes and the beets that would stain the other ingredients if put higher up
• continue with the vegetables always alternating layers with the green sauce in the right amount: enough for it to season without being overwhelming
• after the vegetables start adding the white fish then cover with the remaining green sauce
• now decorated with olives, mushrooms, shrimp, eggs and the lobster.
by Ilaria Bonori at Ricette Pausa Pranzo
These canestrelli are typical of the Genoese tradition and are part of the tradition of my family. There are many variations, many villages in the province have their canestrelli, their original recipe. The important thing is that they are buttery, with very high quality butter that melts in your mouth. I’m here to offer you my recipe, a very crumbly and delicate shortcrust pastry (the secret lies in the hard-boiled egg yolk).
Amounts for: 10 cookies
- 55 gr flour
- 45 gr starch
- 60 gr butter
- 2 hard-boiled egg yolks
- 40 gr powdered sugar
- 1 bag of vanillina
1. Cook 2 hard-boiled eggs and let them cool completely
2. Take the two egg yolks from the hard-boiled eggs that you will need for the canestrelli
3. Place all the powders (flour, starch, powdered sugar and vanillin) on the working surface.
4. Add the two crushed egg yolks in the center
5. Add the room temperature butter
6. Work gently without exaggerating to avoid overheating the butter
7. Mix all the ingredients well
8. Roll out a dough that is not too thin with a rolling pin
9. Create the canestrelli with the mold (see advice if you do not have it)
10. Bake in the oven at 180°C for about 10/15 minutes
11. Sprinkle with plenty of powdered sugar
by Francesca Bonafortuna at Soul Kitchen
For me, Christmas is linked to the sea, precisely in San Terenzo, where my 96-year-old grandmother lives and where my little sisters and I spent our lunch party. At the end of the meal there was always the Poncrè on the table, the typical dessert of the village, bought strictly in the Oriani pastry shop, down at the marina. Created in the early twentieth century, it looks like a plumcake for its soft consistency, then flavored with raisins, candied fruit and pine nuts. It is an exclusively local preparation, secret and still prepared today by small artisan laboratories. The secrecy of the recipe, does not reveal the doses and the procedure in detail, the thing to keep in mind is, let rest, a fundamental step that takes several hours.
So even if I will not reveal the secret ingredient, this is what I used for my poncré:
- 500 gr of flour 00
- 100 gr of butter
- 150 gr zucchero
- 1/2 bag of dry yeast
- 150 gr raisins
- 50 gr pine nuts
- 100 gr candied fruit
- Liquor to taste
Put the candied fruit in the liquor half an hour before preparing it and soak the raisins in warm water. Whisk the egg whites, slowly incorporate them into the beaten egg yolks with the sugar and add the butter and then slowly the flour, baking powder, raisins and candied fruit that you have removed from the liquid and dried. After the rising time (two hours) transfer the dough into a plumcake mold and bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 40 minutes..and while you enjoy it, perhaps accompanied by a good glass of schiacchetrà, let yourself be lulled by Pat Boone’s voice singing “White Christmas”…
by Daniela Stratta at chiediloalladani
- 300 g of flour
- 150 g of butter
- 100 g of sugar
- 150 g of raisins
- 100 g of orange peel and candied citron
- 50 g of pine nut
- 50 g of candied cherries, hazelnuts, walnuts, dried figs in pieces to taste
- 1 sachet of vanilla yeast
- 1 egg
- milk (1/4 cup)
- 1 pinch of salt
Mix the flour with the softened butter, sugar and egg.
Add the previously softened raisins in warm water and the floured candied fruit (so they will not sink into the dough), pine nuts, dried fruit and finally the yeast.
Add the milk and make a substantial mixture.
Create a loaf, place it in a pan with 18-20 cm in diameter and bake at 200°C for about 40/45 minutes, until the surface is golden.
As always, do the toothpick test.
by Daniela Vettori at Le Cinque Erbe
If you love dried fruit, spices, candied fruit, you must absolutely make this dessert. It resembles the Panpepato di Siena, that my grandfather loved so much. It’s very easy, but you must not be in a hurry, just three days… First, bring the ingredients together and let them rest, then go to cooking and the next day you can taste them.
I recommend using organic ingredients.
Vegetarian recipe; Ingredients for roughly 10 people.
For the spices mix
In a combined bowl:
- 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds in powder
- 30 g of cinnamon powder
- 1 grated nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon of powdered cloves
- 15 grains of ground black pepper
- 50 g of bitter cocoa powder
Mix well and put in a glass jar with an airtight seal, it can be stored for over a year and you can also use it in other preparations, such as Christmas pastry cookies.
For the spiced bred
- 500 g of honey (I prefer the chestnut one)
- 350 g of wheat flour 0
- 100 g of almond flour
- 70 g of candied citron cut into cubes
- 70 g of candied orange cut into cubes
- 70 g of raisins
- 3 tablespoons of shelled almonds but not peeled
- 20 g of spice mixture
- 10 g of cremortartaro (found in grocery store)
- 10 g of baking soda
- Powdered sugar
Soak the raisins in warm water.
Heat the honey with 100 g of water in a saucepan (without boiling), stir and let it cool.
In a bowl combine the flours, candied fruit, two tablespoons of whole almonds, the softened and drained raisins, 20 g of spice mixture, pour the diluted honey and mix well. Dissolve baking soda and cremortartaro with a tablespoon of water and add the effervescent liquid to the mixture. Stir well with a wooden spoon to mix everything.
Transfer the mixture into a round pan with a hinged opening, lined with parchment paper. Decorate the surface with the remaining almonds. Let sit for 24 hours at room temperature, during which the dough will swell a little.
Heat the static oven to 170°C and cook the spicy bread for about 50 minutes.
Allow to cool, extract the cake from the cake mold and transfer it to a plate.
The day after, sprinkle the surface abundantly with the powder sugar and serve in slices.
by Erica R. at diciboealtrestorie
The dessert, based on dried fruit and pressed chocolate, hence the name, has received the prestigious international pastry award “O’Genova Millennium Dessert” as well as being presented at Expo 2015 as the representative dessert of Genoa and Liguria.
Its origins are recent, but linked to traditional ingredients. The idea, in fact, came about 12 years ago, thinking of something to add as a gift to the classic Genoese sweetbread. At the beginning the ingredients were only the same of pandolce, so raisins, candied orange and pine nuts. Later, a recipe of the early nineteenth century was found in which there was mention of other ingredients such as figs, prunes and dried apricots. It took almost three years to complete the definitive recipe and to stabilise the doses: in the end we obtained the product we can now find on the market today.
How to proceed? The dried fruit, of ten different types, is hand cut into small pieces. Then add the smaller components: raisins, pine nuts and puffed rice and these are then mixed with the rest of the ingredients and the hazelnut paste. To obtain 200 g of dough, it takes two days to hand process . The mixture is pressed (initially with a hand rolling pin, then with a mechanical press) to obtain a tile which is then divided into bars. The available formats are bars of 130 g and 300 g; 300 g cup and 1.4 kg bread. The cake is produced only during the period in which there is available dried fruit, so you should find it in time.
by Alice Lombardi at Salvia & Rosmarino
Here is a fresh and original salad that can be served as the opening dish of your Christmas lunch or to accompany a main course. The ingredients are simple, local and seasonal. Alice recommends you to have fun with the presentation, for example she used a glass jar wrapped in cabbage leaves held together by a string. This will certainly impress your guests!
- Pomegranate seeds
For the vinaigrette
- 4 tablespoons of orange juice
- 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
- A pinch of ground pepper
- A pinch of salt
Clean, wash and slice the fennel thinly, rinse the valerian leaves, cut the orange into slices and prepare your salad.
For the vinaigrette, mix well the remaining ingredients and pour a couple of spoons on your salad, add the pomegranate seeds and serve to your guests.
by Daniela Vettori at Le Cinque Erbe
“Insalata alla genovese” (Genoa-style salad) – this is how the dish was known in Italy during the 1700s, when it was considered one of the main delicacies in the gala lunches of Liguria’s aristocracy. Daniela recommends preparing the Liguria-style Russian Salad with fresh (ideally organic) ingredients, with veggies “al dente” (cooked to be firm to the bite). This is a great dish to accompany your dining between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
- 150 g carrots
- 150 g peas or green beans
- 200 g potatoes
- 150 g oven-baked beet
- 2 spoons of salt-packed capers
- 1 spoon of taggiasche olives in brine
- 10 pickled gherkins
- Peppers in oil cut into small strips
- Anchovies in salt for decoration (if you are not vegetarian)
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- Olive oil, fine salt and white wine vinegar
For the mayonnaise
- 2 egg yolks at room temperature
- 200 g of mature Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil at room temperature
- ½ lemon from Monterosso (Cinque Terre)
- 1 pinch of salt
Clean all the vegetables and cut them in small cubes. Cook them separately in boiling water or steam them, so that they remain crunchy (cooking times vary depending on the type of veggie). As you drain the vegetables, bring them together in a large bowl and let them cool. Then season with salt, oil, a little bit of vinegar, stirring gently. Add a spoonful of well-rinsed capers, the peeled and diced beet, and some small pickled gherkins.
Prepare the mayonnaise by pouring the egg yolks into the immersion blender, without any trace of egg white. Add some olive oil, a tablespoon of filtered lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Start to blend at low speed. After a few seconds the mayonnaise will start to thicken, continue to blend until you obtain your desired consistency. If the sauce thickens too much, soften it with a few drops of lemon and continue alternating oil and lemon. Taste it to control flavor and consistency.
Mix the vegetable salad with a bit of mayonnaise, check the flavor, then put it on a serving dish and shape it like a dome, cover it with some more mayonnaise and decorate it as you like with anchovies, capers, peppers, hard-boiled eggs, gherkins and olives. Play with your creativity!
Keep the Russian salad in the fridge (possibly for at least an hour) until ready to serve.
by Erica R. at diciboealtrestorie
This is a typical Christmas dish, especially in Liguria’s capital – Genoa. The natalini are long macaroni-style pasta that can be found only during the Holiday Season. The original recipe features capon broth, but you can also find variations with meatballs or sausage stew. According to tradition, the meat represents prosperity.
- One capon of about 2 kg
- 500 g beef
- 300 g sausage
- 300 g natalini pasta
Put the celery, carrot, onion and cloves in a pot and bring them to a boil. Meanwhile, wash and flame the capon. When the water boils, put the capon in the pot and add the beef.
Cover the pot and cook over low heat for 2 hours. Make sure to adjust the salt about 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
Drain the meat, remove the vegetables and filter the broth. Put the broth back on the burner and make it boil. Meanwhile, remove the skin of the sausage and form some meatballs. When the broth boils, add the sausage and the pasta, and cook for 6-7 minutes.
by Francesca Bonafortuna at Soul Kitchen
We could not miss Genoa’s most famous Christmas dessert. Francesca, who blends cuisine and music in her blog, shares her recipe along with a song that matches perfectly the occasion. She proposes that you prepare or taste the delicious Genoa Cake to the sound of “Happy Christmas (War is over)” by John Lennon & The Yoko Ono Plastic Band.
- 260 g of 00 flour
- 100 g of soft butter
- 80 g of sugar
- 1 egg
- 150 g of raisins
- 70 g of diced candied orange
- 70 g of diced candied citron
- 40 g of pine nuts
- 30 ml of orange flower water
- 50ml of rum
- One bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds
- Half a sachet of baking powder
Put the raisins in lukewarm water.
Sift the flour with the baking powder. Add the fennel seeds and the sugar, then mix with the slightly beaten egg, water, rum and butter, just enough to mix everything.
Squeeze and add the raisins, the candied orange and citron, the pine nuts and the bay leaf. Knead again briefly, then shape a round bread, flatten it and place it on a baking tray with parchment paper.
Bake in a static oven at 180 degrees for 45 minutes.