While in the Cinque Terre, I got to taste a good number of the “traditional Ligurian dishes”, which were advertised, made and sold everywhere!! At one ristorante, Ristorante e Locanda La Loggio, we got to taste a few. First the Pansoti in salsa di noce – a type of big ravioli with a walnut sauce. Apparently this pasta is made with flour, water, white wine and a crushed garlic clove.
And the stuffing is usually lean traditionally with ricotta, parm, herbs, swiss chard and an egg. Technically the only sauce that is “allowed” with the pasta is a walnut sauce, and that was the first part of the dish to catch my attention: it smelled incredible! The sweet walnut smell and taste will always bring me back to this amazing maple walnut ice cream I used to order form the Sunshine Dairy in Sherborn Massachusetts: sweet and delicate, but nice and nutty. The walnuts were in very small pieces so that you couldn’t get the crunch of the nut, but you could still tell that the whole nut was there in use because you could see pieces of the nut skin; it gave a moist essence of walnut. The pasta was so wonderfully soft and delicate. And the filling had so much green in it, it might have been stuffed with spinach instead of chard, but either way it was chalk-full of green leafy vegetable. The whole dish was wonderfully creamy and salty. Italians utilize nuts much more often than Americans do, and there are so many things you can do with nuts. It really is a shame.
We also got a chance to try the trofie al pesto. Trofie is a typical Ligurian pasta shape that looks kind of like you took a bit of dough, rolled it between your palms and then twisted the rope that you formed. It’s a special type of gnocchi made with flour and water. This pasta was truly delicate: it was so soft, but not mushy and overcooked. It just melts in your mouth. Again the pesto was so nice and delicate, with pieces of basil you could see and taste, but this one had a bit of a hammy flavor to it, which I thought was nice.
The coast of Liguria, including where I was in the Cinque Terre, is also known for its seafood. After a terrible venture our second night out to L’Oasi in Levanto (see “Bad Service”) we tried again. This time we went to the larger and slightly more touristy town of Monterosso al Mare to try Ristorante Miky. I had low expectations going into this one after the night before, but they really astonished me. Antipasto was muscoli ripiene- muscles stuffed with grains and vegetables. It came beautifully presented with bits of dried flower petals around the edges: blue, yellow, purple, red. It was a very luscious dish. The stuffing was so moist and soft, the perfect texture so that it came out of the shell perfectly in tact so it was very easy to eat. You couldn’t really taste the muscle, but it was such a savory bit anyways that it didn’t really matter and the tomato sauce that it was in made the whole dish very harmonious: you couldn’t easily taste the ingredients individually, they didn’t stand out on their own, but they blended very smoothly to create a great flavor. It reminded me of the stuffed clams I used to eat at my Auntie Edie’s house (my Italian great aunt), but more delicate and refined. In the end it was a very light dish despite the tomato sauce, garlic, and seafood.
For primi, my mother and I shared the Trenette alla pescatrice con olive nostraline- “trenette” pasta with monkfish sauce, fresh tomatoes and olives. This pasta, like many at this ristorante is for two people minimum because they finish off the pasta in pizza oven. They put a thin layer of bread dough stretched over the top of a casserole dish with the pasta inside and they bake it in the pasta oven for a few minutes. So not only do you get delicious past, but you also get a nice warm fresh piece of crunchy thin bread to go along with it. The olives in the Cinque terre are superb, I’ve never tasted better olives and in this dish, they were the same. The bread was so nice to have with the big proportion of sauce so that I could use the bread to push more sauce onto my fork. (My partner Andres would be proud of me for that.) The texture of the sauce was great with the tiny pieces of monkfish in it. It was a very homey pasta.
For secondi my mother had the Pesce fresco del golfo al sale – your choice of fresh fish prepared in a salt crust. My mother chose branzino – sea bass. It came out completely encrusted in 5 or 6 cm of salt, which the waiter then tactfully cracked and moved aside, boned and filleted the whole sea bass and arranged it gracefully on the plate. It was bellissima! And the flavor was fantastic; you can really tell the difference when a fish is fresh out of the ocean. And after being baked in that salt crust, all the moisture of the fish has stayed inside and cooked it perfectly. It was so moist and juicy! What a wonderful concept!
I had the grigliata mista di pesce for secondi- mixed grilled fish. There were scampi, calamari, scallops, razor clams, shrimp, local occhiata, and baby squid. The occhiata was salty and delicious, but a touch overcooked; the razor clams were so flavorful (these are seriously my most favorite shellfish hands down), succulent shellfish all over the plate; the calamari was so soft and not gummy like all the calamari we get on the east coast of the states, it is a totally different flavor and texture here: gorgeous! The scallop was whole and in the shell, I much prefer it this way because it has so much more flavor, with a few halved cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes were so warm and sweet and just exploded with juice and flavor in your mouth, they were perfect with the scallop. The whole plate was sweet, tasty, salty, briny, and scrumptious! You cannot beat fresh seafood! I ate it all!
For dessert I ordered the Gianduia Soufflé con crème inglese. Gianduia is a sweet chocolate with 50% hazelnut and almond paste. It was developed in Piedmonte in Italy after taxes on cocoa beans hindered the production of pure chocolate. Gianduia is named after a marionette character from Piedmonte, Gianduja, and Nutella is it’s commercial form.
At the very end they brought us two small glasses of Sciacchetra, a typical sweet dessert wine of the Cinque Terre. It had a bit of an apply flavor to it and was a bit like port, but lighter and chilled. It also didn’t have the nasty bite that some ports have. It was a very nice digestivo for the end of the meal.
These restaurants are great for Ligurian seafood, and the service is very kind and helpful; I recommend them highly. Gustatelo!
Lungomare Fegina, 104
19016 Monterosso al Mare (SP)
Tel. +39 0187.81.76.08
Ristorante & Locanda La Loggia
Piazza del Popolo 7
19015 Levanto (SP)