Liguria: Plotkin’s Paradise, Panizza’s Pesto

IMG_6968 - Copy (263x350)Paradise is a word never to be employed lightly, it being too special to be devalued by mis-use. I’ve been in touch with a man who uses the ‘paradise’ word with every last gram of passion and meaning that it is due – and I am touched. I’ve found a book that will sit beside me for time to come – one which I will open pages at random to be delighted. I don’t normally gush, but with this work I am.

When we read Nancy Harmon Jenkins saying: ‘Recipes from Paradise is a delight, full of the seductive charms of Liguria…………’. Then Lorenza De’ Medici explains: ‘Recipes from Paradise is the first book to unearth the treasures of this gastromic paradise (Liguria)’. New York’s Union Square Café chef/owner, Michael Romano, then throws in: ‘I strongly encourage everyone to embark on this…….delicious tour of little known Liguria’.

plotkin fishing boats (250x188)Nancy Harmon Jenkins and another Italian friend with Abruzzo roots but living in LA, Adri Barr Crochetti, both quite independently of one another put me onto ‘Recipes from Paradise – Life and Food on the Italian Riviera’ by Fred Plotkin – a writer and opera afficianado who has the good fortune to split his time between New York and his Ligurian ‘paradise’, the little fishing port of Camogli which he’s called home since 1988 – “I found Camogli by accident, in 1973 when I was 17. I had intended to visit Portofino.  By mistake I got off at the wrong railway station – Camogli – and chose to stay there.  It was love at first sight”.

We too have a great affection for Camogli and can share a fond memory from the tiny community of San Rocco that sits above. Maundy Thursday,  around eight years ago, we were there and decided to hold onto the time spent in paradise by taking food home for the Easter Feast.

We bought ribs of Piedmontese vitellone which I asked to be left on the bone, chined and trimmed. Others in the shop seemed interested, if inquisitive, as I mangled my way through my little ‘kitchen ‘ Italian to help the butcher do as I wished. He asked how I would cook the joint  and whether I’d be using rosemary? I nodded and smiled – explaining it was to take centre stage at our Easter Day feast with friends in London.

Without as much as a goodbye, the butcher left the shop with around 7-8 waiting customers now collected behind us. He was away a good 5 minutes, but there was none of the huffing and puffing we’d be having in London. He reappeared smiling with a large bunch of young rosemary from his garden. With fresh trofie and a tub of the  brightest of green Pesto from the shop next door, we left happy for Genoa airport.

plotkin camogli view (300x225)Camogli and Liguria are special  by any reckoning and Fred Plotkin’s passion for this paradise is infectious. Asked why it differs from other Italian regions, he says: “I tend to read literature more than guidebooks for my cues about the nature of places.  Byron, Shelley, DH Lawrence all loved Liguria. Dickens did not find it so hospitable and loathed Camogli which he called ‘piratical’.

“It struck me that a region that evinces such divergent emotions must be more interesting than places that everyone swoons over………….(and) I think that Ligurian food is among the best regional cuisines in Italy.”

plotkin shrine (186x250) (2)On Camogli, versus the more popular Cinqueterre down the coast which he feels have today become “badly over-run and de-natured by mass tourism they cannot support”, he told me: “If you visit (Camogli), spend two or three nights in a hotel, walk gently through the town, exploring its byways, patronise its restaurants and eschew fast food.

plotkin alleyway camogli (188x250)“Above all, stop, breathe in deeply and listen to the addictive and perpetual rolling of the waves that so unnerved Charles Dickens.”

Dickens, writes Plotkin, spent a year living in Genoa and later published a small volume called Pictures from Italy.

Plotkin has recorded his affection for the sharp, if subtle culinary nuances from town to town throughout Liguria. He respects the great recipes, as with ‘Classic Pesto’ (Pesto alla Genovese), ‘Ancient Pesto’ and then Pesto’s from Recco, Sori, Valpolcevara, Dolceacqua, the Levante and Ponente and more – each has its twist and each he has tasted many times over.

plotkin trofie (300x214)Pesto is a Plotkin passion: “I am a very devoted cook. I prefer to to prepare my own dishes rather than dining out……………….the dish I constantly make in season is pesto. The Ligurians have the best basil anywhere. I make it in a mortar and pestle so the flavours combine gently…………….this (for me) is pesto at its unrivalled best.”

fred plotkin 2 (300x260) (250x217)Just about every recipe is introduced with personal anecdotes – note-taking would come second nature to Plotkin whose day job is to write about Opera and keeping his book ‘Italy for the Gourmet Traveller’ up to date.

On the one for the complex Cima Ripiena (Stuffed Veal Breast), he reveals ‘….from a recipe given to me by Laura Rossana, a smiling fruit and vegetable seller at stand no 54 of the San Remo market. He closes the lengthy recipe with ‘According to Laura, cold wine toughens meat while hot wine makes it more tender’.  With most he says something of the origins and need for attention to every detail if one is to get near to replicating each dish.

The sections on culture, other writers, painters and composers who’ve visited Liguria from Monet and Mark Twain, Flaubert and Wagner, to a delightful historical two pages on  ‘Cats and Dogs in Liguria’. It’s all here in the 480 pages which close with notes on the Liguria Larder – from Basilico and Bietole, to Porcini and Olives (taggiasca, of course – Liguria’s exclusive variety for which we must credit Benedictine monks from Sardinia who settled in the tiny village of Taggia, near Imperia).

plotkin camogli 2 (300x225)When Fred Plotkin gets home to Camogli from New York City, I asked him what he does: “I would do my daily routine. Be awakened by the waves. Go for a long morning walk, buy a newspaper……… stop for a coffee…………..sit for an hour reading, dozing, thinking, writing notes…….then walk  to the Via della Republica to see what fruit and vegetables look best and buy IMG_0868 (225x300)them……………then stop at the Camogli Fisherman’s Cooperative and buy a fish that was swimming an hour before.

“Home to cook………..some writing and a late afternoon walk with fresh baked focaccia to nibble on. Another hour at another café, a walk on the rocky beach and home to make pasta with opera on the radio. Then a late night stroll, write all night or until the waves have lulled me to sleep. Rise next morning and repeat the process, joyously.”

Wouldn’t we all like to live our lives like Fred Plotkin.

When asked what he specially looks forward to as the season’s unfold, Plotkin says: “Above all, the fragrances. The original title of my book was ‘La Cucina Profumata’ (The Perfumed Kitchen).

plotkin antipasti (250x188)“This is a region with more flowers that any other in Italy, especially roses. The sea air is both fresh and briny.  Lots of fruit grows……………..including the gorgeous strawberries in Arenzano, peaches, apricots and more. They add a sweetness to the air.

“The herbs that grow wild offer a tang that mixes with the salt and the floral………………all these smells are natural and real and make evident how wonderful Nature is at creating fragrances that laboratories and perfumiers cannot achieve.”

IMG_7284 (225x300)Pesto is never far from my mind and a ‘phone call with Roberto Panizza – Genoa’s crowned ‘King of Pesto’ – had us sharing words about Plotkin’s book. Panizza was clear: “Fred Plotkin is a good man who knows our ways and our kitchen”. I swear his voice rose in pitch with excitement.

This is praise indeed from someone who is acknowledged across Italy as the expert on the traditions of genuine Ligurian cucina and its gastronomy.

Timely too, because his Pesto Rossi goes on sale in Marks & Spencer (London) this week. First to stock it will be the M&S Deli’s at Marble Arch, Kensington High Street, Hampstead and a few others more.

photo (2) (202x250)As I’ve reported before, this is the near DNA identical recipe for the Pesto alla Genovese that’s made in 5 kilo batches, in the giant 16th century mortar with its pear wood pestle, every morning at his restaurant – ‘Il Genovese’ on the Via Galata. For sure Fred Plotkin will have supped there and know the taste that is so different to other so-called Pesto’s on sale in the UK which we call ‘industrial’.

Last word here to Fred Plotkin talking about Liguria’s great port: “The region is full of treasures and pleasure……………its capital, Genoa, is a city of great mystery, culture, commerce and valour. It (too) is not easy to understand right away, but it grows on you.

IMG_1055 (225x300)“The Mercato Orientale is one of Italy’s best and offers a panoply of the best Ligurian food products.”

Bravo Fred Plotkin.  Thank you for sharing and recording in your literary rich and culinary fulsome book your affection for ‘Paradise’. Has he another book planned on Liguria?

gareth with pesto (239x250)“No. One never knows though.  I think I got it right the first time and is probably my favourite of the six books I have written about Italian food.”

I urge you to find a copy* of ‘Recipes from Paradise’. I urge you too to visit M&S for a jar of Pesto Rossi’s Pesto alla Genovese (£3.29 for 85g) and imagine you’re lunching at ‘il Genovese’ just a few steps from the Mercato Orientale so loved by Plotkin.

PHOTO CREDITS: Shots of Camogli and Trofie with Pesto by Fred Plotkin. All others by Joy Davies©

IMG_6964 - Copy (300x218)**Recipes from Paradise – Life and Food on the Italian Riviera’ by Fred Plotkin – published by Little, Brown and Company – ISBN: 0-316-71071-7

plotkin cover Italy gourmet traveller (167x250)Also by Fred Plotkin: The Authentic Pasta Book, Italy for the Gourmet Traveller, Italy Today: The Beautiful Cookbook and Opera 101: The complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera.

FOOT NOTE: ‘Food Wine: The Italian Riviera & Genoa’ by David Downie comes well recommended – ISBN: 978-1-892145-64-2






This entry was posted in Basil, Best Pasta, Coffee, DOP, DOP Basilico Genovese, Food travel, Genoa, Il Genovese Restaurant, Ligurian, Memories, Mercato Orientale, Pesto alla Genovese, Pesto alla Genovese, Real Italy, Terroir, Veal, Vitellone and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Liguria: Plotkin’s Paradise, Panizza’s Pesto

  1. Adri says:

    Thanks for another wonderful post ! I love “Recipes from Paradise”. I recall that I mentioned his books to you late last year – probably in December, when we had a bit of conversation about your post on the condimento I know (and learned from Mr. Plotkin’s “Recipes from Paradise”) as “Tocco”, what you know as “Tuccu.” I am glad you have found a copy. The book is a treasure trove, so lovingly written, well researched and inspiring. Dare I say it is the next best thing to being there?

    For more from the opera loving Mr. Plotkin, I suggest you look at his book “La Terra Fortunata” – another joy.


    • Gareth Jones says:

      Dear Adri – will you forgive me please? I forgot you too had recommended Recipes from Shame, shame and more shame on me! GX

      • Adri says:

        Oh heavens! There is nothing to forgive here! Au contraire, mon ami, I am just pleased that you too are now enjoying this wonderful book. It is an absolute treasure. Also take a look at his “La Terra Fortunata,” another jewel.


  2. Kay Gale says:

    Thoroughly entertaining and informative post as ever, Gareth. I have a couple of Fred Plotkin’s books – ITALY FOR THE GOURMET TRAVELLER and THE AUTHENTIC PASTA BOOK – and have corresponded with him over a couple of my own posts. Maybe I should look out for the PARADISE book too; his recipes and writing are great. I shall also look out for the Rossi pesto when near one of the M&S you mention … hopefully they’ll bring it to one of my locals!

  3. I’ve ordered the book because it’s NOT a cookery book. Don’t need any more COOKERY books.

    I’ll get the PESTO. Sounds good. It’s amazing how UK Basil doesn’t taste of very much at all even if you put tons in at the end.

    Strangely I’ve just made a fab chicken dish, and I’m wearing a blue shirt, so I guess it’s blue collar cuisine … but it’s an experiment.

    I watched Rick Stein the other night making Petit Salé Pork. Just rubbed the salt in and washed it off. Brining has becoming quite a thing. So I rubbed salt into sliced chicken breast, left it 15 mins and washed it off. It completely transformed the meat. Made it all soft and succulent and not-sure(ish). A bit like Pangassius.

    As for the sauce, it was a load of soffrito, liquified with loads of red wine andfresh oregano, and it’s good. But the chicken is … well … different. And I need this whole salting thing needs to be better exposed … please 🙂

  4. Lucia says:

    Stocked up on a few jars of Pesto Rossi from the Ken High Street branch – delicious and one of the best store-bought pestos outside Genova. Has a much stronger flavour, perhaps due to the pecorino as well as the Ligurian basil. Making it with trofie tonight! Hope that more stores start selling it…

    • Gareth Jones says:

      Thanks Lucia
      The flavour balance is the true Genovese way – this is a Pesto made by a man known in Italy as ‘The King of Pesto’. He is Roberto Panizza who I am lucky to also have as a friend.
      The Pesto is made fresh three times weekly in a small atelier near the Mercado Orientale in central Genoa – and but a few steps from his family restaurant ‘Il Genovese’.
      He makes a n entirely ambient (long life) recipe too – this sells in places like Dean & Deluca in the US and Japan, Grand Epicerie and Au Printemps (Paris).
      Bravo M&S for spotting it.

      • Lucia says:

        Hi Gareth,
        Thanks for the restaurant recommendation, my Genoese mum and I went there last night and had the best meal of our trip. We got to meet the King of Pesto himself (who sends you his regards!) and ate some truly delicious food, including of course his incredible pesto. I’m missing Genoa already 🙁 and don’t know what I’ll do when I run out of my focaccia supplies!!

        • Gareth Jones says:

          So pleased you enjoyed Il Genovese – it is a remarkable place – both neighbourhood and gastronomic together. Roberto sent me a text when you were there – we thought you maybe from M&S. No focaccia to be found in London for sure – nor farinata. Keep reading me please. Best, Gareth

          • Lucia says:

            Will do, with pleasure. No, not from an M&S just a foodie. Closest focaccia substitutes I’ve found in London are Exeter Street Bakery and Princi but not the same!
            Best, Lucia

            Another time in Genoa we ‘ll get you along to the best of all focaccia bakeries on the western outskirts of the city – about 10 kms out. Truly amazing.


  5. Louis Casa/Myers says:

    PLEASE. Can you tell/recommend an Italian restaurant in Central London, that cooks ( more or less) in a Ligurian fashion. We live in Covent Garden, travel many times each year to God’s country. Me, I hit the Jackpot, I married a wonderful Italian lady.
    Respectfully. Lou Myers.

    • Gareth says:

      I can’t ‘recommend’ because I am yet to visit, but ‘Acciuga’ at 343 Kensington High St comes highly recommended by those who have eaten there. ‘Aciuga’ imports fresh Pesto alla Genovese made with the DOP basilico from my friend, Roberto Panizza in Genoa. I plan to eat there just as soon as I can.

      Best wishes e buono gusto

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  7. Thank you Gareth for another informative and very interesting post! I know it won’t taste the same, but I am going to try and track down some Italian basil seeds…I have read the the basil in Liguria is the smaller leaf type. Is this the case?
    Fred’s knowledge about the food of Italy is enormous…we purchased a copy of “Italy for the Gourmet Traveller” a couple of years ago and it has been indispensable. Really want to check out Recipes from Paradise…I know I will love it!

  8. I just came across your post when I was researching where to eat in Genoa. I know I am two years late, but thanks for a great post – it is so interesting and I can’t wait for my trip! I just bought Recipes form Paradise on Amazon, looking forward to reading it!

    • Gareth says:

      ‘Il Genovese’ on Via Galata – next to the Mercato Orientale off Via Septembre will not disappoint even the most critical of diners. Ask for Sergio or Roberto and say Gareth sent you. They are a delight and passionate about Genovese traditions. A presto!

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