TRADITION AND RAW INGREDIENTS
THE ROLE OF TRADITION IN THE CULINARY CHOICES OF OSTERIA DEL CARUGIO
Our cuisine mirrors our region’s layout and comprises its sea and land. Just look at a map of Liguria: it’s a bow-shaped strip of land that encloses mountainside and seaside, all in a few kilometers. Our local culinary tradition is rooted in the vegetable gardens and farmyards, with their white meat, chickens, rabbits, and vegetables. The latter are expertly stuffed, yesterday and today, with tasty savory fillings, even mortadella. Why mortadella? Because, once upon a time, there was a trade route called the “salt route”: Ligurians used to take salt to Emilia-Romagna, and bring mortadella back. Mortadella was so precious that we learned to make the most of it, including it in our stuffings too. And why seafood? Because the sea’s right under our feet, and anyone – even a child – can catch octopus, cuttlefish, or any fish, for that matter. Our Osteria’s cuisine is strongly linked to the shape of our region, a thin, narrow ribbon of land that stretches between the sea and the mountains.
The products we use
Whenever we talk about locally-sourced products and raw ingredients, we focus our gaze both on the sea and on the hills of Portovenere.
If you look up the hillside, the Doria Castle is the first thing that catches your sight. It’s an amazing building, and those who visit it are charmed by its majestic loveliness and exceptional panoramic view. The Doria Castle has been forever surrounded by vegetable gardens, and ever since the time of the Doria rule, these gardens provided both the noble lords themselves and the townspeople (who owned the smaller gardens) with fresh seasonal produce. It could be capers, which grow naturally inside the nooks of the dry stone walls, or vegetables, fragrant lemons, and herbs.
Turning our gaze to the sea, we can’t but think about Portovenere’s mussels, the delicious ones that live and thrive in the Gulf of La Spezia, where mussel farming is a centuries-old, widespread, industry. The Italian name for mussels is “cozze”, or “mitili”. But here we call them “muscoli”: it’s a melodic and evocative word, reminiscent of history, flavor, and heritage, that we’ve used forever and that we love. Try our muscoli ripieni alla spezzina (stuffed mussels La Spezia-style), and other mussel-based dishes, such as the tagliolini.
Octopus is another sea product we appreciate: in some seasons they’re easy to catch because they push their way to the reef. Then there are cuttlefish, oily fish, such as “lacerto” a type of mackerel which we call “cavallo” (Italian for horse), and anchovies, the undisputed queens of our sea. Simple products that are rooted in tradition, and that we source from small local suppliers to offer authentic, genuine cuisine.
And then we have our aromatic herbs: thyme, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and myrtle. Myrtle, for instance, grows plentiful along the footpaths, and we pick by hand, just like we were taught to do by our ancestors.
Our cuisine has a vegetarian soul: our Vegetable Garden daily provides us with fresh, seasonal produce, and we use it to create traditional recipes like gattafin, small ravioli stuffed with our homegrown native herbs. Or superlative homemade pansoti, made with the freshest eggs and seasonal herbs. Ligurian cuisine features several vegetarian recipes because our region is crammed with tiny gardens. So vegetables and vegetarian dishes reign.
Our vegetable garden
THE ROLE THE GARDEN PLAYS IN OUR KITCHEN
The beautiful fresh produce our vegetable garden yields allows us to offer a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes. All are deeply rooted in Ligurian tradition: our Mescciüa, for instance, made with chickpeas, spelt, and cannellini beans, our vegetable soup, rich in garden-fresh homegrown vegetables, and our ever-present Ligurian-style stuffed vegetables. Our vegetable garden is nearby, in Portovenere, so providing our customers with fresh. high-quality, local traditional products is very easy. Our bountiful olive grove offers yet more added value: we make our own extra-virgin olive oil and are extremely proud of it. We started our garden some six years ago because we wanted to use homegrown products to make our traditional Ligurian dishes. Ligurian caponata, for instance, a simple tomato caponata made with capers and dried tuna fish. Our garden-fresh capers and tomatoes enhance the flavor, allowing those who taste it to discover the true flavor of Portovenere, La Spezia, and their surroundings.
Our extra-virgin olive oil
Walk to Piazza Bastreri, in Portovenere, and stop a moment: all you need to do is look up, and you’ll see our olive grove! We recovered this ancient olive grove back in 2018: it comprises some 8,000 square meters, and is in a wonderful position, sun-kissed from dawn to dusk! We always harvest our olives quite early in the season, generally around mid-September, before they turn black, and cold-press them. This allows us to produce a longer-lasting and fragrant oil, with perfect acidity. Our olive grove comprises 420 olive trees of four different cultivars: the Razzola, Leccino, Taggiasca, and Preveza. The latter, typical of Porto Venere and cherry-shaped, adds an elegant note to our oil, and our recipes.
LOCAL AND TRADITIONAL PRODUCTS
Local products and culinary tradition are what Osteria del Carugio is all about, but we also adapt, to meet current needs. What we do not want to do is neglect our typical traditional dishes or the beautiful fresh produce our soils provide us with.
Being, working at Antica Osteria del Carugio is like having a relationship with another person: I have guests whom I take care of, and I am always happy to be there for them, to work, to do the very best I can. I go home fulfilled, satisfied, and gloriously glad. And this joy keeps me going, giving me the strength I need to keep doing this rather demanding job.