A Taste of Liguria
The views from almost every corner of this stylish part of the Italian Riviera will take your breath away, and so too will the food. Portofino’s status as a former fishing village, plus its claim to the region of Liguria, means serious culinary pedigree. Its food caters to the sophisticated, but is grounded in the classic flavors and techniques of the area. Our menu focuses on exceptional dishes we have sampled while dining in Portofino, so you can create and enjoy the distinctive tastes of this chic seaside destination.
Liguria prides itself on the high quality of its olive oil, and this bread is the ideal vehicle for flaunting one of the region’s best assets. Oil is not only a key component to making the bread but it’s also meant to be the star accompaniment: pour a few tablespoons of the best oil you can find in a shallot bowl with a pinch of coarse salt, bathe the focaccia in it, and you’ll immediately relax into a glorious oil-induced daze.
Yield: 1 loaf
Mix yeast, sugar, and water in a bowl and allow to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, add flour, salt, marjoram, ½ cup of oil, and yeast mixture and turn on low. After about 30 seconds, when dough has formed, turn mixer to medium and knead for 4 minutes. Dust work surface with flour, remove dough from bowl, and knead an addition minute until it is smooth and not too sticky.
Oil a medium bowl and place dough in it. Flip dough around so all sides are coated with oil and cover with saran wrap. Let dough stand for 90 minutes, until dough has doubled in size.
Use remaining ¼ cup of oil to coat a jelly roll pan. Dump dough into pan; knead and form it so it expands to shape of pan. (The dough should have finger marks and several rips throughout.) Allow the dough to sit at room temperature an additional 60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425˚ F. Add onion evenly on top of dough and season with a pinch of salt. Brush with 1 tablespoon oil. Bake 25 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Since it is situated directly on the coast, seafood and shellfish are featured prominently on menus throughout Portofino. This dish celebrates the flavor of calamari in a way the breaded and fried version cannot, and the use of chicory and roasted peppers makes this appetizer a light but satisfying beginning to any meal.
Yield: 4 servings
Place each red pepper directly on top of gas burner turned to high. When skin is completely charred on one side, rotate. Repeat process until entire pepper is charred. Place peppers in a small bowl and cover bowl tightly with saran wrap. Allow to stand 10 minutes. Using a dry paper towel, remove most of charred skin from pepper. Remove and discard seeds and slice pepper into ¼-inch strips lengthwise. Place peppers in a small bowl and mix with a dash of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
In a medium bowl, add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, shallot, mustards, and a pinch of salt and whisk. Gradually add ½ cup oil, whisking vigorously, until mixture has emulsified. Adjust seasoning and reserve.
Soak skewers in cold water for 10 minutes.
Rinse squid in cold water and pat dry. Cut squid so body lies in a flat piece. Score squid in a crosshatch pattern, then cut into 3 to 4 pieces lengthwise.
Whisk 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, thyme, and ½ cup oil in a medium bowl. Add squid and allow to marinate for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, lightly dress chicory with vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat grill to 400˚ F. Shake off excess marinade and skewer calamari. Season with salt and pepper and place skewers on grill. After 30 seconds, flip calamari. After an additional 30 seconds, remove from grill., and serve immediately.
Pesto is the culinary crown jewel of Liguria and Portofino has some of the best. Yes, there are countless dishes throughout Italy that are definite must-haves, but Ligurian pesto is at the top of the list. Our version honors tradition—we have found that in the case of pesto, using just a few top-quality ingredients is crucial to achieving a delicate balance of flavor and texture. Trofie is a pasta unique to the region and showcases the pesto flawlessly.
Yield: 4 servings
*To make the pesto: If using a mortar and pestle, add basil, pine nuts, and garlic to mortar. Crush ingredients with pestle until it resembles a coarse paste. Gradually add oil and mix. Add cheese and cover with saran wrap.
If using a food processor or blender, add basil, pine nuts, and garlic to bowl. Pulse ingredients and gradually add oil until combined. Scrape mixture into bowl, add cheese, and wrap with saran.
Place all-purpose flour and salt into a mound on your workstation. Make a well in the middle with your hands, and pour water into well. Gradually combine the wet and dry ingredients until a rough dough has formed. Knead dough until it is soft, smooth, and not too sticky. If you’re the dough is sticking to your hands, rinse them off and dust them with flour before kneading again. Add a little bit of additional flour, if necessary, and knead dough for an additional 6 to 7 minutes.
Form the dough into a thick disk, dust with flour, wrap with saran, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Unwrap dough, and remove a small piece about the size of a pea. Using your pointer finger and starting at the heal of your opposite hand, roll the dough forcefully across your palm. Drop trofie onto cookie sheet dusted with semolina flour. Repeat process with rest of dough and as trofie accumulate, sprinkle additional semolina flour on top.
Bring a large pot with 6 quarts of water to a boil. Salt the water and add trofie when water comes back to a full boil. When trofie float to surface, drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid, and add trofie to a large bowl. Add several spoonfuls of pesto, a bit of cooking water, and mix well. Taste and adjust as needed, adding additional pesto or liquid to bowl. Season with salt and serve warm or at room temperature.
*There are two techniques for making pesto: the traditional method used in Liguria, which is to grind the ingredients by hand using a mortar and pestle, or the easier approach, which is to zap the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Grinding the ingredients by hand takes a good deal more time and effort, but pesto purists swear the taste is much better.
Eating a steaming bowl of mussels outside, while enjoying a picture-perfect view of the coast is an essential part of the Portofino experience. The briny flavor of mussels is highlighted by the addition of olives, tomatoes, and lemon juice, and this dish can serve as either a great first course or light lunch. Serve it with a glass of Vermentino and a few sticks of focaccia.
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
In large stockpot on medium heat, add oil. Add shallots and sauté for 3 minutes, until they are a light golden brown. Add garlic, chili flakes, rosemary, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt, and sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Using your hands, crush tomatoes into small pieces and add to pot. Add white wine, olives, ½ cup water and bring to a simmer. Add clams, cover with lid, and allow clams to steam until they have just opened, about 4 to 5 minutes. (Discard any that remain closed.) Remove and discard bay leaves. Add lemon juice and parsley. Serve mussels and broth in a four large bowls with focaccia.
Limoncello, as a liquor, has a wonderfully pleasant sweet-tart tang that acts as a soothing palate cleanser in between courses, which is one of the reasons we love to use it in desserts. The refreshing taste and moist texture of this cake will delight even those without a sweet tooth. Don’t try to save time and skip out on soaking the cake with the lemon-sugar juice and glaze—these two steps provide enormous flavor and will surely be missed.
Makes: 10 servings
Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper. Grease pan again and dust lightly with flour.
In bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium until light and airy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, scrapping down batter so it is evenly mixed. Add almond extract and lemon zest and mix for an additional 30 seconds.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together milk and 3 tablespoons Limoncello. Add 1/3 of dry ingredients to butter and sugar mixture, and mix until just combined. Add half of liquid mixture and mix. Repeat alternating ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Mix until just combined.
Place batter in cake pan and bake in oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until tops are light brown and cake tester comes out clean.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cook lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat and add remaining tablespoon of Limoncello.
In a small bowl, mix together confectioners’ sugar and remaining 3 tablespoons lemon juice until lumps have dissolved and glaze has formed.
Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes after removing from oven. Slowly and evenly pour lemon and sugar mixture from saucepan over cake. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. Add glaze evenly over cake. Cut into slices and serve with sorbet or gelato.