When I was young I sought out the cuisine of the celebrated chefs. I dressed up to eat. I bowed to their “genius.”
Thankfully, I got over it. I now delight in partaking of the traditional cuisine of the truly inspired, the destitute mothers who long ago magically transformed the cheapest of calories into fine eats so their families could thrive. To the folks who continue this tradition because the food is ripe with character and flavor, I tip my fedora. Not all new tastes come from foam, 3D printers, and rare tree bark.
Varese Ligure, Inland Liguria
So here we are in Varese Ligure on a Sunday, a special eating day in Italy. Four of us head for a table in a back corner of the Albergo Ristorante Amici. We are indeed with amici; Mike and Martha of A Path to Lunch invited us to this traditional restaurant. We are hungry. They have food.
After a couple of traditional appetizers which included local cheese made “drunken” with marc and Sciacchetrà and what I’m going to call a “peasant” version of the normally intricate, layered seafood salad called Cappon Magro, our eyes lit upon the traditional pasta everyone who knows the joys of Ligurian cuisine speaks rapturously of: Corxetti. It’s a stamped pasta, and the stamps are made locally by one Mr. Pietro Picetti, who is semi-retired but still opens his shop in Varese Ligure for the occasional visitor these days. The Amici has a collection of quite a few of his stamps and we were extremely grateful for them to show us the ones they used in the restaurant.
So three of us ordered corxetti (or corzetti, crozetti, corzeti, croseti, crosetti, or cruxettu) with the traditional pine nut sauce enhanced by some fresh thyme. It was a mighty fine dish, but alas the stamping is a bit hard to see:
The history of this pasta form is quite interesting and Martha has written it better than I ever could on A Path to Lunch: Living Ligurian History: The Croxetti Stamp
Mike had the ravioli. It looked like any ravioli with ragu, a meat sauce, but the Ligurian traditions call for the ragu to be “u tuccu”, which in dialect refers to a whole piece (of meat). So, the ragu has many variations, but all of the versions start with a 2 kilo or so hunk of meat. It was definitely a cut above the standard ragu.
The Fried and the Stewed
When it came time for the secondo piatto we went for the ultimate, the food that makes fear in the hearts of men. Meat that defied our traditional bias toward muscle.
We had the stecchi e crocchini alla genovese, both with a base of “carne” or meat, which was—are you ready?—brains and pancreas.
The stecchi had the “meat” filling and were covered in a bechamel-like “cream” before being dusted with bread crumbs and fried. They were garnished with threads of smoky pepper:
While the crocchini had the offal wrapped in milk-soaked ostie, which are thin “waffles” and a word also used to describe the communion host in church. Then they’re breaded and deep fried.
Martha had the Coniglio alla ligure, with olives and pine nuts.
And then we were full. Really full. The three course meal for four with a bottle of fine red wine from the area came in at a reasonable 122 euro for four people.