Last updated on November 17th, 2023
You probably best know the Italian region of Liguria for its postcard famous images of Cinque Terre (pronounced chink-weh tehr-reh in Italian), but the region has so much more to offer than these five coastal towns. But what exactly is Liguria known for? The answer is pesto and focaccia – but not only!
Ligurian food is some of the best on Italy’s western coast, embracing wild herbs and locally caught seafood. There really is so much to offer so I am going to break it down and lay out what exactly you should be looking for from my first-hand experience from both a tourist perspective and as a local in Italy.
We will go over what makes Ligurian food special, what are the most famous pastas and their sauces and then dive into the region’s traditional dishes. I will include short descriptions, pronunciation, and our top picks on where to find many of these regional Ligurian specialties.
If nothing else, quickly write down, take notes or snap screenshots of our recommendations for restaurants, bakeries and bars because at the end of the day, you will always find something incredible in Liguria (even if you are not sure exactly what to order) as long as you are in the right place.
Let’s take a look at the traditional food of Liguria:
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Food from Liguria vs Italian Food
Liguria is one of the only regions in Italy where high mountains tower directly over turquoise waters, making for a unique and idyllic geography that also boasts some of the best seafood, wild herbs, vineyards and vegetables in northern Italy. Stretching from the French border in the north down to Tuscany in central Italy, Liguria is a rich territory defined by some of its most famous dishes and ingredients such as pesto, basil genovese, olive oil, and focaccia.
And like all of Italy’s regions, Liguria’s food directly reflects its culture and local economy. The most beloved dishes are full of fresh seafood, white meat, freshly pressed olive oil from the Taggiasca olives and bountiful produce. Most of this regional produce, wine and olive groves are worked and kept up by hand as they are often on steep mountain cliffs where machinery cannot be used.
Although much of the local cuisine is based on seafood, the region is still loyal to Italian classics such as pasta, focaccia, fresh vegetables and herbs. Liguria’s soil is rich in minerals, making it ideal for foraging mushrooms and growing produce, especially herbs like basil, rosemary, and marjoram.
Generally speaking, Liguria’s flavors, ingredients and dishes are light, delicate, and easy to digest.
Meat Lovers Beware: You will see much less pork and red meat than in other areas of Italy.
While many Italian regions have their specialty sauces used in pasta dishes, Liguria has some of the most world-famous and loved ones out there.
- Agliata: this is a pesto-like sauce made from breadcrumbs, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Today it’s most commonly used with pasta but historically it was more frequently eaten with meats.
- Salsa di noci: another pesto-like sauce made with a mortar and pestle from walnuts, garlic, butter, cream, olive oil, and cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano. Traditionally, the sauce is served with pansotti, a stuffed pasta, but you will also see it with fresh pasta such as fettuccine.
- Sugo di funghi: in the local dialect this sauce is called tocco di funzi, made with olive oil, garlic, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, porcini mushrooms, oregano, basil and parsley. Most often it is served with tagliolini and corzetti.
- Pesto bianco: meaning “white pesto,” made from walnuts, olive oil, and fresh ricotta cheese.
- Crema ai pinoli: yet another sauce similar to pesto made from pine nuts, garlic, butter, and fresh marjoram most commonly served with corzetti.
- Pesto Genovese: the original recipe insists this sauce is made with a mortar and pestle from basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino. Its name comes from the Italian word pestare, meaning “to pound” referring to the process of making the pesto by hand. It’s most commonly served with trofie or trenette.
Handmade Pasta in Liguria
Liguria has some great pasta that you will only find in this region.
- Trenette (also called bavette): this Genoese pasta is similar to linguine, but somewhat thinner and narrower that can be either fresh or dried. It is traditionally served with pesto or with seafood.
- Mandilli de saea: meaning “silk handkerchief” in Ligurian dialect, this egg pasta is rolled thin, almost like a sheet of tissue paper and cut into very wide ribbons. This pasta is not easy to find but it’s very good and there is nothing quite like it so if you see it on a menu order it without hesitation because you may not see it again.
- Trofie: dating back to the times of the Crusades, this pasta is made from durum wheat, flour and water. It’s then rolled into thin, short ropes and twisted into a kind of corkscrew shape. Trofie is usually served with pesto.
- Corzetti: these flat, round disks of pasta are very often embossed with a wooden tool, making them not only a good vehicle for sauce but also very beautiful to look at.
- Pansotti: its name comes from the word pancia, meaning belly, referring to the pot-belly shape of this pasta stuffed with wild herbs and greens like borage and swiss chard.
Salame Genovese di Sant’Olcese
(Pronounced sah-lah-meh gehn-oh-veh-seh dee sahnt-ohl-cheh-seh in Italian)
This is a dry, hard sausage made from pork (although sometimes also beef or veal is added) seasoned with red wine, garlic, salt, and peppercorns.
Learn More: Read all about the Different Types of Italian Sausage.
(Pronounced laht-teh broo-skoh in Italian)
Sometimes called frittura di crema or fried custard, this treat is made from deep frying a savory custard that has been cooled and cut into pieces. Crisp and golden, it’s perfect for a blustery fall day.
Farinata di Ceci
(Pronounced fah-ree-nah-tah dee cheh-chee in Italian)
This oven-baked flatbread is made with chickpea flour, water, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. Legend has it that Genoese sailors were hit by a storm and their barrels of olive oil and chickpea flour were broken and the contents mixed to form a creamy paste. Realizing they had nothing to eat they let the batter dry in the sun and farinata was born.
We Recommend: Sa’ Pesta (Genova) has some of the best farinata. It’s also just a good restaurant in general.
Fact: In Tuscany, farinata is called cecina, which you can easily make at home using our recipe: Tuscany’s Best Street Food is Vegan: Cecina (Chickpea Flatbread) Recipe from Italy
(Pronounced free-shey-oh in Italian)
Also known as cuculli, these small fried fritters are made with flour, carbonated water, salt, yeast, and olive oil and sometimes flavored with whitebait, dried cod, shallots, or oregano.
(Pronunced sgah-beh-ee in Italian)
This popular snack is made with strips of dough that are fried until golden and finished with salt. Sometimes you can find it filled with cured meats and cheese or even sweet varieties filled with custard or Nutella!
(Pronounced pah-nees-sah in Italian)
This is a fried appetizer made from a dough of chickpea flour, water and salt that is left to cool, cut into pieces and fried until crispy and golden.
Trofie al Pesto
(Pronounced troh-fee-eh ahl peh-stoh in Italian)
Perhaps the most famous dish from Liguria made from trofie, the locally hand-rolled pasta tossed in pesto (made from basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, salt, and parmesan and pecorino)
We Recommend: It is said that Il Genovese (Genoa) serves the best pesto in Liguria!
Ravioli alla Genovese
(Pronounced rah-vee-oh-lee ahl-lah gehn-oh-veh-seh in Italian)
These ravioli are a labor of love in Liguria and a local Christmas favorite. They are filled with a mixture of meat, endive, and borage and served with tocco, or tuccu, a sauce made from slowly cooked meat (the same meat is also used to fill the ravioli). Right before serving, they are finished with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano.
Lasagne al Pesto e Patate
(Pronounced lah-sahn-yeh ahl peh-stoh eh pah-tah-teh in Italian)
This local lasagne is made by layering lasagna sheets, thinly sliced potatoes, béchamel sauce, pesto and parmesan cheese until your casserole dish is full to the brim and baked until bubbling.
We Recommend: Trattoria della Raibetta (Genova) is a family-owned hidden gem. Great local food using recipes that have been passed down through generations.
(Pronounced gaht-tah-feen in Italian)
Originating in Levanto, these fried ravioli are stuffed with a mixture of wild herbs, swiss chard. onions, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Sardo cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
(Pronounced ree-soh ahr-roh-stoh in Italian)
This baked rice dish is made with Arborio rice cooked in ragu and stock. Browned onions, veal and parsley are added and the whole thing is baked with a layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Riso alla Genovese
(Pronounced ree-soh ahl-lah gehn-oh-veh-seh in Italian)
This creamy, baked rice is flavored with sausage, artichokes, peas, mushrooms, and broth. Before being baked, it’s generously sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano until crisp.
We Recommend: Any restaurant with a title indicating da will be good, most likely casual and easygoing. We love Trattoria Da Maria (Genova) for good Italian home cooking.
(Pronounced mehs-choo-ah in Italian
From Spezia, mesciua means “mixed/mixture” in the local dialect, referring to all the different ingredients that are used to make this soup. This is a poor man’s stew made from chickpeas, pearl barley, cannellini beans, buckwheat, olive oil, bay leaves, sage, and broth.
(Pronounced bahg-nun in Italian)
This simple anchovy soup is made by sauteing onions, garlic, and parsley together with tomatoes, basil and white wine. Local anchovies are then added to the tomato broth but never stirred to avoid breaking them up.
(Pronounced min-eh-stroh-neh in Italian)
The story is told that this soup was first invented by Genoese soldiers who, after serving in the First Crusade, made it in their army helmets from all the local vegetables and herbs they could find. Now I cannot say whether this is true or not, but I can certainly sustain that his hearty vegetable soup will warm any soul on a blustery evening on the seaside!
(Pronounced chee-oop-peen in Italian)
Americans are fond of a version based on this original Ligurian special, “cioppino.” The original version has lots of tomatoes and was created as a way to use up all the small or unsellable seafood that fishermen couldn’t sell at the end of the day. These days it’s made with all sorts of tasty seafood, whatever is fresh and available that day.
(Pronounced cahp-pohn mah-grow in Italian)
If you love seafood, this dish is for you. Various seafood, including lobster, white fish, prawns and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, celery, olives, capers, and hard-boiled eggs are piled high and drizzle with green sauce atop a hardtack cracker ( a large, hard cracker meant to last several months). This is a celebratory dish amongst the locals.
(Pronounced cohn-dee-yee-ohn-eh in Italian)
This is Italy’s version of a salad Niçoise made with onions, tomatoes, peppers, anchovies, olives, garlic, hard-boiled eggs, tuna and lots of local olive oil. The ingredients do change though, depending on the season and availability.
Tonno alla Genovese
(Pronounced tohn-noh ahl-lah gehn-oh-veh-seh in Italian)
Marinated tuna steaks are seared in a pan with white wine and served with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and sauteed mushrooms.
Stoccafisso alla Genovese
(Pronounced stohk-kah-fees-soh ahl-lah gehn-oh-veh-seh in Italian)
This dish is made with dried salt cod that is cooked with olives, pine nuts, and seasonal vegetables in a tomato-based broth.
(Pronounced boor-ree-dah in Italian)
This seafood stew was originally made with leftover fish that wouldn’t be sold at the end of the day such as rascasse, sea-hen, star-gazer, angler, frog-fish, eel, scorfano rosso, inkfish, octopus, suherello (a type of mackerel) and dogfish. The fish is cut into large chunks and added to a broth made from olive oil, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, parsley, anchovies, and tomatoes. Today you will find it made with more appreciated seafood like crab and squid and seasonal vegetables such as artichokes and peas.
We Recommend: Belvedere (Monterosse Al Mare) serves up some great seafood. Very casual and easygoing.
Frittelle di Baccalà
(Pronounced freet-tehl-leh dee bahk-kah-lah in Italian)
These are salt cod fritters made either by mixing the fish directly into the batter or by dipping the fish into the same batter and then frying them. You can either order them as an appetizer or as a secondo, or main dish. Traditionally they are eaten on Christmas Eve but don’t let that stop you from eating them whenever!
We Recommend: Antica Osteria di Vico Palla (Genoa) is the perfect joint for trying local Ligurian specialties such as frittelle di baccalà.
Cima alla Genovese
(Pronounced chee-mah ahl-lah geh-noh-veh-seh in Italian)
Although this dish isn’t as popular today as it has been throughout history, it’s still a great example of how Italian recipes can be adapted to seasonal produce or what leftovers can be recycled to make another meal. Veal is stuffed with almost anything that needs to be used up including onions, ground veal, nuts, offal, peas, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, garlic, and leftover bread.
Coniglio alla Ligure
(Pronounced coh-nee-yee-oh ahl-lah lee-goo-reh in Italian)
This is a braised rabbit dish, made of course, with local rabbit, flavored with olives and pine nuts. It is typically served with potatoes.
(Pronounced toh-mah-sehl-leh in Italian)
Also known as tomaxelle, these meat rolls are made with veal slices that are rolled up with a mixture of cooked veal, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, chopped mushrooms, eggs, grated cheese, nutmeg, herbs, salt, and pepper. They are then slowly simmered in a savory tomato-based sauce.
Polpettone di Fagiolini
(Pronounced pohl-peht-toh-neh dee fah-joh-lee-nee in Italian)
This savory pie is made with green beans, potatoes, porcini mushrooms, eggs, parmesan, breadcrumbs, olive oil, marjoram, salt, and pepper. The ingredients are cooked and folded into the beaten eggs, which are then cooked in a large casserole dish (no pie shell), covered in breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil and baked until golden.
(Pronounced pah-sqwah-lee-nah in Italian)
Enjoyed every year during the Easter holiday, this savory pie is made from several layers of thin pastry, up to 33, representing the 33 years of Christ’s life and filled with spinach, swiss chard, arugula, fresh cheese, and eggs.
Make it: Get our step-by-step recipe for Italian Easter Pie Recipe – Our Family’s Torta Pasqualina and make it at home!
Focaccia alla Genovese
(Pronounced foh-cahch-chah ahl-lah gehn-oh-veh-seh in Italian)
This large, flat rectangular focaccia is said to have originated in Genoa. It is drizzled with local olive oil and sea salt. You may also see it sold as fugassa which is what the locals call it.
Try It: Check out my recipe for Authentic Ligurian Focaccia.
Read More: about focaccia and about all of Italy’s bread in Bread in Italy – Types of Italian Breads & Where to Eat Them
Focaccia di Recco con Formaggio
(Pronounced foh-cahch-chah dee rehch-choh cohn fohr-mahj-joh in Italian)
Focaccia di Recco con formaggio amazing cheese-filled focaccia bread is from Recco with records dating back to the Middle Ages. This focaccia is made without yeast and, thus, is very thin, filled with a mild cow’s milk cheese called stracchino or crescenza.
We Recommend: Manuelina (Recco) is where you want to go for the best focaccia di Recco con formaggio.
(Pronounced sahr-dehn-ahr-ah in Italian)
This is more of an elaborate focaccia than a pizza topped with tomato sauce, salted anchovies, whole garlic cloves, black olives, and oregano.
We Recommend: La Tavernetta (Sanremo) serves up amazing sardenara.
Latte Dolce Fritto
(Pronounced lah-teh dohl-cheh freet-toh in Italian)
Sweet custard is left to set, cut into pieces, coated in breadcrumbs and fried until golden and crisp. You can eat it hot or cold (I prefer hot all the way!) and sometimes it will be dusted with powdered sugar.
Pan di Spagna
(Pronounced pahn dee spahn-yah in Italian)
This light sponge cake made from eggs, sugar, flour, and flavorings such as vanilla or lemon zest is used as a base for many other Italian desserts. It is said that an Italian baker had traveled to Spain in service to his country and prepared this cake for the King of Spain, hence its name.
(Pronounced pah-choo-goh in Italian)
This is an ice cream dessert from Portofino made from crema-flavored ice cream (custard flavor) layered in a tall glass with strawberry ice cream, sweetened strawberries or cherries, fruit syrup and topped with whipped cream!
(Pronounced sah-kree-pahn-tee-nah in Italian)
This cake is said to have been named after Sacripante, one of the characters of a famous poem written by the Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto. Soft sponge-like cake is soaked in Marsala wine and covered with two different cream layers: zabaione and chocolate cream.
We Recommend: Pasticceria Mangini (Genoa) for the best sacripantina and other sweets.
Biscotti del Lagaccio
(Pronounced bee-scoht-tee dehl lahg-ahch-choh in Italian)
Baci di Alassio
(Pronounced bah-chee dee ah-lahs-see-oh in Italian)
Baci means “kisses” referring to how these cookies are made to look similar to lips that are blowing a kiss. Two small, round, hazelnut cookies are sandwiched between a rich chocolate ganache. The texture is soft, similar to a french macaroon.
(Pronounced ahm-ahr-eht-tee in Italian)
Sassello is well known for their version of the world-famous amaretti cookies. Theirs are round, very soft and chewy with an almost marzipan-like interior.
(Pronounced stroh-shah in Italian)
This simple cake is made from flour, extra virgin olive oil, brown sugar, and Martini Bianco.
(Pronounced pahn-dohl-cheh in Italian)
Pandolce is a sweet Italian Christmas bread made from flour, sugar, butter, milk, raisins, eggs, lemon juice, and pine nuts. Originally, the pandolce “formula” said that women should make the cake, the youngest child should carry it to the table, and the oldest family member should slice it after everyone has kissed it. I cannot promise this happens in modern-day Genoa, but it might still be a tradition in some homes with very old grandparents.
We Recommend: Pasticceria Tagliafico (Genoa) makes the best panforte around!
(Pronounced bah-kseen in Italian)
Also known as bacini, these simple cookies are from Albenga. They are made from flour and sugar and are flavored with anise seeds, cloves, cinnamon, and lemon zest.
- Rossese di Dolceacqua: this red wine is perfect for red meat or wild game. While they are great when they are young, these wines also tend to multiply in flavor and depth as they age.
- DOC Cinque Terre: These light and fresh wines are primarily made with Bosco grapes and are best paired with seafood dishes.
- Corochinato: known as Asinello by the locals, this wine is actually vermouth flavored with a secret combination of local herbs and spices, including wormwood, gentian, cinnamon, thyme, oregano, and juniper. This yellow wine should be had as an aperitif or a digestif, and it is best served well-chilled with a slice of lemon.
- Vermentino: with fruity, herbal notes, this white wine is perfect for an aperitif or with seafood.