Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stubborn as the sea, strong as the mountains, and the food of both

Una torta - Rice "pie" filled with rice, farro and egg

Some of the lunch spread today: Clockwise from left, polpettone, foccacia with tomatoes and rucola, foccacia with onions, gattafin, Center: homemade wine, Far right corner, homemade salami
Gattafin, stuffed with spinach and herbs
Ligurian food, as I've mentioned before, is a bit two-faced.  Yes, it certainly is the cuisine of the unavoidable sea, which looms in the distance of every view, but one needs to remember that when looking out over that long stretch of blue, you are standing, in fact, on a rocky mountain.  The cuisine of Liguria certainly is anchovies, fresh fish, oil and lemons, but it has an important connection to the hard mountainside covered in woods.  The food is just as hearty and filling for a hunter as it is a fisherman.  Someone once told me the torte in Liguria, which are incredibly popular and eaten frequently both out and in homes here, are so popular because a fisherman returning home from a long trip at sea wanted to eat something of the land.  "Not another fish, I beg you", I can see him pleading to his wife. 
I don't know if that's true, but these torte - which are, in essence, pies - with a light, flaky and savory crust, filled with everything from a rice and egg mixture, to chopped potatoes and herbs, to spinach and other vegetables, blanched and chopped fine, are a huge part of Ligurian cuisine. 
A long Sunday lunch that started as a picnic and ended up, due to a big, scary rain cloud, as an indoor picnic of sorts, at a relative of Manuel's hunting house up in the mountains outside of town.  It reminded me again that the mountains play as much of a role as the sea here.  It was not a light meal, full of these torte, foccacia, farinata, polpettone (a pureed vegetable mixture spread thin and baked), gattafin (my love from Levanto), homemade salami and, of course, homemade wine, red and white, uva fragola wine, and grappa di sciacchetrà, another very special alcohol made with the skins of the grapes used to make sciacchetrà, the prized dessert wine of the region.  Ironically, though I saw much evidence of boar hunting in the house, but there is a whole separate room for making these homemade wines and grappa. Calling it a wine house would be more accurate. 
Assorted torte - spinach, potato, rice, farro
I'm always amazed at the differences in lifestyle between growing up here and my upbringing.  Everyone nonchalantly sweeps in, unloads the food, starts filling up bottles of wine and gets to Sunday lunch, where I'm snapping pictures of wine making equipment, which you certainly don't see as a fixture in many houses in the United States.  It's something very special, to live off the land that you are given, and it's that same stubbornness I see in the Ligurian people with their "Let's fix this" resolve after the flood.  These are practical people with a deep connection and respect for the nature around them, and they certainly have their pick.  Many people have the mountains.  Others have the sea.  It's an unusual thing to see a fishing village that so easily absorbs a mountain gastronomy and land based food culture so easily, and one that can embrace the two equally and simultaneously. 
vino with uva fragola
In my hand is a large orange.  On the tree is the world's largest orange.

Every house should have this going on.
There was a beautifully written article today in Primocanale, an Italian news agency, that highlighted what this area and community has been through the past 5 months, and the same strength I see in the people every day.  Coming from a history of fishermen and mountain men isn't something to play around with, after all.  The author noted that what happened to Monterosso and Vernazza would have wiped out other towns, but the "heart of the people, their predisposition to hard work...gave a strength to this area that was bigger then it's fragility".  He writes, "Like a beautiful girl abandoned by her boyfriend, so was the Cinque Terre betrayed on October 25, 2011, by their great love, nature", but the people here, "knowing the beauty of these lands and their capacity [the people], know that they will return like they were before.  Yes, there is something indestructible in the Cinque Terre.  And something magical".

I couldn't have said it better myself.


  1. Love reading your Blog Christine, oh how hard everyone has worked, I am looking forward to meeting the people of the Cinque Terre and you when we are there on the 4th June, may you enjoy your spring and summer 2012. Denise

  2. You wouldn't happen to have a recipe for the torta with farro, would you ?

  3. Thank you so much! It's been so incredible to look back on the pictures and see how much has been done here - and everyone is so excited to show our progress to visitors this year :)

  4. Torta with farro email on the way! :)