Northern Italy is one of Europe’s most gastronomically rich and interesting places, and it is the perfect destination for a foodie tour of Italy. Bordered as it is by France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and the Mediterranean Sea, you will find a wealth of gastronomic influences in a small geographical area.
And that is not to mention the varied terrain. From the high peaks of the Alps to the fertile plains of the Po River, from the vertiginous cliffs of the Ligurian Sea, to the Venetian Lagoon, northern Italy has an incredibly diverse topography that translates into amazing and distinctive local culinary products.
Our newest Northern Italy culinary tour combines two of these diverse regions in one amazing week: Piedmont and Liguria. And here are our top five foodie finds in these amazing regions.
Five Foodie Finds in Piedmont and Liguria
These small ravioli from the Langhe and Monferrato part of Piedmont are called “plin” because of the pinch that is used to seal them. The filling is usually a meat-heavy mixture that also include spinach and aromatics, and they can be served in a meat broth, with a meat sauce, or with butter and sage.
Also harkening from Piedmont, bagna cauda literally means “hot bath,” and it is a warm dish made of anchovy, garlic, and olive oil. It is served fondue-style, over a heat source (usually a candle), and accompanied by raw or cooked vegetables that are dipped into it. Think of it as a delicious way of eating crudité!
Farinata is a thin chickpea pancake from Liguria, but found also in nearby coastal Tuscany. It is made from a chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt, and rosemary. Traditionally it is made in a large, shallow round pan, then sliced and served unadorned.
Pansoti (or Pansotti)
If “plin” are the typical Piedmontese ravioli, then “pansoti” (also spelled “pansotti”) are the traditional Ligurian ravioli. And the difference between the two are telling. Whereas the Piedmontese plin are meat-forward, the Ligurian pansotti are stuffed with a wild herb filling called “prebuggiùn.” Traditionally these wild greens are foraged from the fields and might include nettle, wild chard, borage, dandelion, wild fennel, and many more wild herbs and greens. Often today, though, pansotti are made with a mix of greens you can get at the market. The other main ingredient in the stuffing is a local cheese known as prescinsêua, which is a bit similar to ricotta.
Pansotti are tradtiionally in a triangular shape and served with a walnut sauce.
We can’t have a list of top foodie finds in Piedmont and Liguria and not include pesto! If you have never experienced real pesto alla genovese, you are in for a treat. There are those (mostly Ligurians!) who insist that only Genovese basil grown in the sunny soil of Liguria, brushed with the salty sea air, can make true pesto.
It is true that the local basil with its dark green leaves is extremely aromatic and flavorful. Pair it with local Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and cheese (parmesan and sometimes also pecorino), and you have the perfect pesto!
Bonus Wine Discoveries
Piedmont is one of the wine capitals of Europe. In fact, there are parts of Piedmont that are so suited to wine production that every square foot seems to be covered in vines. This is the land of Barolo, king of wines, and of Barbaresco, also made with the Nebbiolo grape. But it is also the land of Barbera, Dolcetto, and many more.
If red is not your preference, Piedmont also produces some excellent whites such as Gavi and Arnesi, as well as the famed sparkler, Asti Spumante.
And in Liguria? It is known more for its white wines, especially those grown along the hillsides of the Cinque Terre and made from the Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino grapes. But you can also find reds made in Liguria, particularly as you head west toward France.
Of course, there are many, many more foodie finds in Piemdont and Liguria, dishes so succulent you’ll want to go back again and again. Cheeses so creamy and pungent they will make your mouth water. Truffles, nuts, wild herbs, hearty meats, salumi, focaccia, fresh fish from the Ligurian sea – we could go on and on!
One thing is certain: you will have plenty to discover and enjoy on our Northern Italy culinary tour in Piedmont and Liguria.
By Peg Kern
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