Back in Genoa for the shortest 24 hour pit-stop, I fitted in so much stuff. I was there mostly to talk tuna – posh, top end tuna c/o of my local interpreter and fixer, friend and architect, Sheila Opezzi. This is tuna which we’ll have to make known in England. I’m a purist – for me enjoying good tuna is either sashimi or canned – the cooked version in the middle passes me by as does swordfish, mackerel, snapper and carp.
Raw and fresh is for another post. Canned tuna, drained and broken into an elegant and correct Salade Niçoise, or Ensalada Valençiana -or Harry’s Bar’s very special, Salsa Tonnarda for pasta. Smart Italians say good canned tuna should be fine enough to eat directly from the can with no more than a squeeze of Sicilian, or better still, the lemon of all lemons, the Sorrento lemon. I agree.
My late mother wouldn’t have either mackerel nor sea bass in her kitchen – she said they were scavenger fish. Her father was a sea captain who owned his own ship – he ran food conveys in WW2 and was torpedoed for the third time. He was cool – it was the third time being torpedoed, so he had time he thought. He went below to save his companion parrot – in those few moments the ship went down.
To her dying day, living in a fishing port in Spain to the south of Valencia, she’d wouldn’t touch a mackerel or sea bass – not for nothing the French have the sense to call sea bass ’loup de mer’. When I see HF-W rave on about his ‘Mack-Baps’ I’m near physically sick – the poor boy knows little of the sea-farers’ ways.
Canned tuna – we advanced on 20 or more cans – like tasting wine, tea, coffee or anything you have to appreciate and taker a view, you take three tastes to develop the palate’s full appreciation. If I can go off piste – the following day, my ‘wee’ smelt of tuna like it does after an asparagus-fest.
Success though – we have some fine tuna to sell. Not cheap, in fact downright expensive at €15-20+ a can. We have ‘ventresca’ – the prized belly of the fish – for close on €25. To a classic sushi chef, the belly is the finest cut.
If I can bring anything to my new friends from Carloforte, it is to cut the fish like a mammal – see it like a pig. The Germans saw this as amusing enough to livery a Porsche (known trackside as a ‘Porker’) by cuts. Perhaps we’ll have a Ferrari (too late for a fish tail Porsche) in the 24H du Mans in 2013/2014 similarly livered, but this time as a blue fin tuna and sponsored by Carloforte. Probably won’t happen – they’re all mad keen ocean racers.
Funny thing is, I was asked only yesterday to help assemble a racing crew out of Genoa for this summer and I don’t know my fo’ard from my stern. I’m after the galley chef gig for the race. If I can find a fit crew, surely I’ll get chef.
In Genoa – one of my favourite Italian cities right now – you only hear Italian on the street and as a non-Italian speaker (give me just 12 months please at the Italian Cultural Institute), everyone speaks great French – better still, with the beautiful ‘Accent du Midi’ which comes naturally to me.
So Day 2, up at 06h15 and onto the market by 07h00. Caffe first – then breakfast a couple of hours later with a posh cop at my side. I opted for warm foccacia with cipoline – and a glass of Prosecco. Caffe is a lose term – only a few market traders opt for caffe.
Spin around the market – it’s round, so not difficult to make a mistake. Haricots – Italians called them ‘snap beans’ in local slang – are just in – the bean to eat with trofie (or trenette), waxy potatoes and classic Pesto alla Gevonese. So are Borlotti beans. I was mindful of Ryanair’s rigid baggage quota’s, so was careful with my choices - so out were the tiny red mullet filets, squids, alice (anchovies), baby bright red shrimp and a monster of a lobster - and then onto the butchery counters, with the freshest of pork and well marbled beef, not too much lamb, but plentiful young veal in whole muscles for slicing or roasting, livers and kidneys, brains and tongues - and of course bone-in cutlets (all latte meaning pure mothers’ milk fed calves).
Close by were elegant corn fed faronia (Guinea fowl) and pigeonneau ‘nazionale’ (Italian reared) at at eye watering €23 p/kg (expensive. None possible for the suitcase.
So onto another stall to buy Slow Food® quality Proscuitto Crudo from San Daniele, as recommended by the excellent gastronomic web site, Gambero Rosso - three sheets and another two of fresh Porchetta (OK, it’s Tuscan, but Genoa is liberal to a point ). Something slim but exquisite to slip betweeen my shirts in my bag.
Finally pasta – and, without realising, I’d fallen onto Genoa’s finest maker outside the market - Danielli on the Via Galata 41r (+010 5623830). Fresh pasta, made in front of you. Mine were shaped like king size cigarettes and I stupidly didn’t note the name – I called David Pezzo there today and he confirmed a) they remember me (I ask too many questions) and b) they name the shape is ‘fusilli’.
Then to complete the morning’s mission and, as the steel shutter were being raised, into Ristorante ’Il Genovese’ again on the Via Galata 35r (tel: 010-8692937) to meet the Panizza brothers, Sergio and Roberto, to talk business and the English market for genuine Pesto alla Genovese – not the 20/25+ ingredients pasteurised muck ’passed off’ in Brit shops as Pesto.
Little wonder people say they don’t like pesto when this acidified confection is their sole experience. There’s no place for vegetable oil, cashew nuts, walnuts (invariably rancid), anti-oxidants, E-numbers, or other stuff in a genuine pesto. I looked at some today in two supermarkets and honestly, these guys are taking the mickey.
Move over pickle factory pesto and make way for the genuine Pesto alla Genovese made fresh daily with DOP Basilico di Genovese, just a few steps from the Mercato Orientale – and kept chilled, it keeps for up to 60 days. In New York, the Panizza’s Pesto Rossi is the talk of town courtesy of Bronx-based Italian food importers, Gustiamo. We’ll soon have it this way in England.
There are known to be over 360 basil varieties worldwide – many used for medicinal purposes,but only around 60 deemed edible. From bitter experience, only the DOP Basilico di Genovese can be used to made a genuine Pesto. I’ve experimented with English grown varieties and the results were fit only for the bin which is where they went – along with 40 minutes work and some expensive ingredients all trashed by sub-class basil from a supermarket.
Roberto Panizza is adamant – only Pesto made with Ligurian basil can be called ‘Pesto alla Genovese’. The rest – made with anything from sun-dried or ‘sun-blushed’ tomatoes, roasted peppers, aubergine, roquette, parsley, etc – some good, some less so and some inedible, are all correctly ‘Salsa’s’ – or sauces, be they made in the mortar or mixer.
The food world needs more of such purity of descriptors – ‘cous-cous’ made from finely chopped cauliflower, ‘confit’ this and that because it’s salted first, ‘rillettes’ because it’s forked through and shredded, ‘carpaccio’ because it’s sliced thin, ‘risotto’ made with anything other than rice - and so the list goes on. Blue Collar Gastronomy campaigns for food and dishes to be accurately described otherwise we’ll all end up confused – and our children will lose all touch with reality.
Contemporise of course, but still stay cogniscent of the root. Recipes and techniques evolve, but please let us agree to make note and memorise where they came from – my greatest bête-noir must be ‘Coq au Vin’ – a Burgundian classic way of tenderising and making tasty a cockerel past his time. An Egg-on-Legs in cheap red wine with a few button mushrooms bobbing around is not the dish of the Burgundian farmhouse – the clue is in the name – ‘coq’ means cockerel; being Burgundy ther red wine will be Pinot Noir. Nothing else will do; the same for its sister dish from the Alsace, the ’Coq au Reisling’ which has thankfully been less bastardised, although one British supermarket did had a good try at devaluing it, with a spate of complaints from this writer.
Pesto Rossi, owned by the Panizza’s, have some new Salsa’s planned for the 2013 season. They also have a cunning plan to put pesto on the table as a condiment – and have had cute bambino mortaio’s made for this. Roberto put this one – a prototype - into my bag.
Genoa is inspiring. It ruled the Mediterranean for centuries with its trading fleets. It’s creativity is none the less blunt in the 21st century – and somehow it’s not like other major Italian ports I know.
Genoa amore. I can’t wait to be back, eat warm farinata fresh from the wood burning ovens, tiny Ligurian olives and a variety of ciccheti – always free and gratis - sipping a Prosecco, or an Aperol Spritz around the cosy and not so small bars around the central market quartier, or on the city’s grand via, XX Septembre.
As the ‘plane looped around Portofino to drop down onto the Genoa runway, I thought, if only Lord Byron was also a passenger – he could have enjoyed his favourite haunts looking down into the villa bed chambers he was known in from this altitude.