Christmas is celebrated by respecting tradition, and in Genoa, for Christmas Eve dinner or December 25 lunch, this unwritten rule applies to certain dishes that cannot be missed on the table.
Pandolce Genovese: our Christmas dessert since the 1500s.
No harm done to our Milanese friends, but Pandolce Genovese, a typical dessert of Genoa and Liguria at Christmas time, has a much older origin.
Originating probably in Egypt or ancient Persia, where it was traditional for the ruler to be offered on the first day of the year a large sweet bread made with candied fruit, honey and apples to be shared among his fellow diners, thanks to trade relations with the nascent Genoese republic it gave inspiration to its pastry chefs.
According to one legend, it was a doge, or Andrea Doria admiral of the Republic of Genoa, in the 1500s who announced a competition among Genoa’s master pastry chefs. The competition was to create a nutritious cake that could be stored for a long time and therefore suitable for sea voyages but also representative of Genoa’s wealth.
One might smile at this statement, but one has to think that, with the exception of Venice or Byzantium (today’s Istanbul), there were not many cities in Europe on whose tables candied fruit, raisins and dried fruit could be enjoyed.
From that contest onward, Pandolce Genovese made its appearance on the tables of Genoese families to celebrate Christmas.
Traditionally, Pandolce Genovese was served at the table, stripped of the overhanging and auspicious laurel twig, by the youngest member of the family. The latter offered it for cutting to the head of the household who offered a slice for tasting to the person who had cooked it (which in most cases was the mother).
Before the Pandolce was then cut for the other diners, two slices were kept: one for the first poor person who would ring the doorbell and another for St. Blaise’s Day (Feb. 3), the protector of the throat.
A holiday dish: Genoese-style Cima
For a Christmas lunch in Genoa, as tradition dictates, you cannot miss Cima alla Genovese. Although it is unclear when this custom began, by the early 1900s it is certain that Genoese women, as the Christmas holidays approached, made it a must-have dish on tables set for the holiday season.
Dish for which ancient nursery rhymes were created, to be recited so that the cima does not ‘burst’ during boiling and its meat remains soft, but also poems, Aldo Aquarone called it “A çimma pinn-a, o re di piatti frèidi” (the king of cold dishes), and songs.
Among Cima alla Genovese’s most famous artistic quotations is that of Fabrizio De Andrè in his song “‘A çimma,” a song contained in the album” Le nuvole,” written in collaboration with Ivano Fossati and sung in Genovese. The famous singer-songwriter describes its recipe and preparation as if it were a ritual.
He suggests the ingredients but also points out cautions in cooking “cun dui aguggiuìn dritu ‘n pùnta de pè da sùrvia ‘n zù fitu ti ‘a punziggè” (transl. “with two large straight needles on tiptoes from above to below svelto ti ‘a punziggè”) to prevent it from bursting and tells us how to avoid evil influences when preparing the dish.
When preparing the Cima in fact one would have to put a sorghum broom in a corner so that if a witch wanted to curse the food, or have the preparation not come out well, she would first have to count the threads that make up the broom and then the Cima would already be ready. Another shrewdness would be to have it cut, before bringing it to the table, by a young bachelor.
Cappon magro: an explosion of flavors
Another dish found on the typical Christmas menu is cappon magro. It is a traditional dish of Ligurian cuisine, which has ancient origins and is one of the culinary symbols of the region. This dish is an elegant fish salad, enhanced by a variety of ingredients that combine to create an explosion of flavors and an attractive presentation.
The history of cappon magro dates back to medieval times, when it was a typical recipe for noble tables. The name “lean capon” comes from the term “capon maigre,” which means “slimming capon” in French, since it was prepared without meat. Originally, the dish was a vegetarian version of the traditional meat stew, prepared during Lent and other religious occasions.
Cappon magro is now usually served as a main dish during holidays and special celebrations, such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
Preparation takes time and patience as it requires care in the arrangement of ingredients and final presentation.
The main ingredients of cappon magro include fish and shellfish, such as cod, anchovies, anchovies, shrimp, lobster, and cuttlefish. In addition to fish, vegetables such as artichokes, fennel, tomatoes, olives, onions and capers are also used. The vegetables are usually thinly sliced or chopped and carefully arranged on a base of stale bread lightly soaked in fish broth.
In addition to fish and vegetables, cappon magro is enriched with tasty sauces and condiments. Green sauce, made from parsley, garlic, bread and extra virgin olive oil, is often used to flavor the dish. Other typical sauces include red sauce, made with tomatoes, capers, anchovies and olive oil, and white sauce, made with mayonnaise or hollandaise.
Preparing cappon magro requires a series of steps. Initially, the fish is boiled in an aromatic broth and then filleted or shredded. The vegetables are prepared and arranged in layers on a plate or soup bowl, alternating with the fish. Sauces are prepared and poured over the vegetables and fish, giving the dish a unique and inviting flavor.
The presentation of cappon magro is just as important as its flavor. The vegetables and fish are arranged artistically, creating a pleasant contrast of colors and shapes. The dish is often decorated with olives, hard-boiled eggs, whole shrimp and lemon slices to add additional touches of color and beauty.
Where to stay
Just under a kilometer from the city center and a hundred meters from Brignole train station, Urban Flora is the perfect place for you to fully enjoy the aromas of typical Genoese cuisine during the Christmas season.
With us you will experience a Scandinavian-modern look, where fresh and pleasant plants will make you enjoy as much relaxation as possible and for an unforgettable vacation. All rooms provide a private bathroom, smart TV and free Wi-Fi that will make you feel right at home. Book your room now or contact us to ask for more information.