Ciao from Genoa, Italy! I’m spending my spring break tagging along on my dad’s business trip to be my mom’s travel buddy — super lucky that it happens to be in Italy and then Barcelona for a few days! We’ve spent time in Genoa before, so we were looking for a new way to experience the historic port city this trip. Enter A Small Kitchen in Genoa.
You can’t come to Italy and not eat amazing food — but what about learning to cook authentic Italian food? I love to cook and bake, so when I found Enrica’s Market-to-Table cooking class, I knew my mom and I had to book it. We met up with Enrica and another mom and daughter from the U.S. by the Mercato Orientale to start our immersion into Genovese cooking.
But first: coffee and pastries at Pasticceria Tagliafico. We enjoyed an espresso the proper Italian way (standing at the counter) and some delicious brioche treats.
Fueled by caffeine and sugar, we walked across the street to the the Mercato Orientale to start our shopping.
Contrary to it’s name, the Mercato Orientale is not an Asian market. The old city in Genoa is what is now the current Western part of the city and when the market was built, it was in on the eastern reaches of the city boundaries, abutting some farmland. Thus, Mercato Orientale. The market is set up in two concentric circles of the freshest produce, seafood, meats, cheese, and dried goods you’ll find.
After one walk to check out all the options, we stopped to purchase the most fragrant basil I’ve ever seen. Each of us actually took part in making the purchases — with some serious coaching from Enrica. Not many people in Genoa speak English, so we subjected them to our horrible Italian. Not to worry, we still managed to purchase everything on the list.
Another few stops for more produce, focaccia, cheese, and meat and we were ready to head out and start cooking. We walked about ten minutes to Enrica’s parents apartment overlooking the city and got to work in the kitchen. Fun fact: Enrica is a career changer like me! She spent many years as a maritime lawyer (Genoa is home to one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean, so specializing in maritime law is lucrative here!) before taking sabbatical to spend time with her children. She fell in love with cooking and the rest is history!
We cleaned artichokes, chopped herbs, cleaned and dried six (!) bunches of basil, sliced bread, cheese, and salami for aperitivo, riced potatoes for gnocchi, and rolled up thin slices of beef filled with a veal and herb mixture. The cooking process did take quite a while, but it was an intense labor of love. We enjoyed wonderful conversation like old friends and a little local white wine in the sunny kitchen while we worked.
ITALIAN COOKING TIP: Grated cheese does not belong on meat or seafood dishes. Ever.
Before we knew it, it was time to make the final dish — the gnocchi and pesto in a mortar. Genoa is known for pesto (which literally means “to pound” or “to crush” in Italian) so it felt like the must-make item on this trip. After making a paste of a garlic clove and some pine nuts, we beat the aromatic basil leaves into a “cream” with some more pine nuts. We added the garlic paste back in little by little (you can’t come back from adding too much garlic — wise lesson from Enrica!) and then it was time for the cheese. We stirred in some freshly grated Parmesan and pecorino and then added the glistening extra virgin olive oil. Enrica added a little of the starchy gnocchi water to each of our pestos and then mixed the gnocchi with the pesto in the mortar.
ITALIAN COOKING TIP: Never pour sauce on top of pasta. You add the pasta to the sauce and then gently mix it together.
With our gnocchi and pesto plated, we headed out to the terrace to enjoy our incredible meal and the gorgeous, crisp spring weather.
After eating far too much focaccia with onions (going to attempt this when I get home!), gnocchi, tomaxelle (the beef rolls with the veal filling), artichoke salad (oh gosh this was insanely delicious), and the salami, cheese, and fresh favs beans, it was time for dessert.
We enjoyed an espresso and an olive oil cake that we made earlier — it’s similar to shortbread but with olive oil instead of butter. It was crumbly and delicious! I forgot to take a picture of it but I have the recipe, so I’ll be sure to share it once I’ve made it back in the states!
There were also sweets from a famous, family-owned candy shop called Romanengo. It has been open since 1780 and is considered the oldest confectionary stop in Italy. It was a favorite of Italian nobility who especially loved the sugar coated cinnamon as a means to freshen their breath in the morning. My mom and I popped in to the shop today to pick up some treats to bring home! (Although we’ll see if they actually make it back or if we eat them all…).
Over the summer, we did a food tour in Florence with Curious Appetite and I truly think that exploring a city through food with a knowledge guide is one of the most underrated ways to learn about a place.
Food is so tied to cultural and geographic identity — in Italy, many products are tightly regulated by the government to ensure authenticity. Food can teach us so much about people, history, and traditions. Next time you head out on a trip, don’t forget to add a food experience to your itinerary!