Cinque Terre literally means ‘Five Lands’. The five villages —Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore— are a part of Liguria province that is home to the Italian Riviera. “The villages are not very far from each other. You can walk through them or take a small train,” says Chef Daniele Capabianco, who recently presented a Cinque Terre pasta festival at the Trident, Bandra Kurla Complex.
“The cuisine of each region of Italy varies according to the produce you find, and Cinque Terre is very lucky. They have seafood from the coast, wild vegetables and mushrooms from the forest and grapes and olives from the hills,” says Capabianco. While the methods of cooking, like braising, grilling and frying, remain similar across regions, the essence of this relatively lesser-known Italian cuisine lies in bringing out the natural flavours of meat, fish and vegetables. “We use wild berries and fresh herbs that complement the food so that the taste is very natural,” Capabianco explains.
The gift of green pesto
The commonly used green pesto made with basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil is a gift of Ligurian cuisine to the world. With its mild climate, Cinque Terre produces basil that is famous the world over for its flavour and the terraced hills produce olives that make a subtle extra virgin olive oil. The marriage of these two fine ingredients brings us the ‘real’ green pesto. “If you come to any home in Cinque Terre on Sunday and they know you’re from outside, they will serve pesto and sardines, I am sure,” adds Capabianco.
Sardines and anchovies are commonly used in recipes. Anchovies are so plentiful in the region that they’re known as the poor man’s fish. They fry them, they dry and cure them, or they pickle them. While the everyday fare is a simple pasta or salad, a typical Sunday lunch table would see home-made pasta, fried fish, braised meat, cured meat and fish and cold-cuts.
The hills of Cinque Terre also produce Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino grapes which are used for making the local wines. While the Cinque Terre is a dry white wine that complements seafood and white meats, the Sciachetràis a dessert wine unique to the region. This region also produces Limoncello, an Italian aperitif made out of Sorrento lemon peel.
While Pesto, Focaccia (a flat oven-baked Italian bread) and Limoncello are popular all over the world, the Cinque Terre cuisine isn’t as well known globally as its Tuscan, Venetian or Sicilian counterparts. While olive oil and garlic are common ingredients across these regions, the hills and the sea give Cinque Terre some unique elements and combinations. The fact that the essence of the cuisine is to retain these natural flavours also makes it harder to replicate elsewhere.
Capabianco has tried to recapture the magic of the Cinque Terre with local ingredients, even if the results are not the same as the original dishes. “Most of my recipes use locally sourced seafood, mushrooms and vegetables. I am also trying to make cheeses with locally sourced milk, but this will take time.”
What about the seafood unique to the Ligurian sea? “There is always a local substitute that will fit into the dish well. For example, we have replaced the Cherna with Garoupa. As long as the texture and taste are a close match, it is OK to modify recipes,” he says.
Drooling already? Don’t worry, the flavours of Cinque Terre could be recreated in your kitchen too. Try out the accompanying recipe from Chef Capabianco, and just use your imagination to find a substitute if you’re stuck for some ingredient.