by Kate Heyhoe
Did you know that the most ubiquitous cloth today, denim, originated in the Italian Riviera? How then did Levi Strauss come to transform it into our present blue jeans, clothing as American and proletariat as apple pie?
In his fascinating book Recipes from Paradise, Fred Plotkin reveals this and other wonderful tidbits of information about this region he loves so dearly. It seems that the heavy, rugged cloth was typically worn by the fisherman of Liguria, the northwest region of Italy that curves along the Mediterranean. In the gold rush of 1849, some of these fishermen sailed to San Francisco to seek their fortune and Levi Strauss adapted their native material to create blue jeans, so termed from their Italian description of "blu di genova."
Genoa, or Genova as it's called in Italy, is probably this region's the most familiar to us. We know it for it's Genoa Salami, found in every decent deli, and for its basil-rich sauce, pesto. It is also the port from where Christopher Columbus set sail to eventually land in the Americas.
Besides dressing in blue, the Ligurian fishermen specialize in blue fish as well—anchovies and sardines whose blue scales earn them the name "pesce azzurro" or blue fish. We know these delicate small fish mostly in their preserved, salty state, but fresh varieties as found in Liguria taste completely different.
Occasionally, we see fresh sardines and anchovies here in fish markets. If you can get them fresh, cook them in the style of Pra, on the outskirts of Genova. Recipes from Paradise contains the complete recipe for this, but essentially the fish are cleaned, then cooked in a small amount of hot olive oil on one side, then white wine and lemon juice are added. Finally, fresh basil leaves are stirred into the pan and swirled for 1 minute to infuse the juices. The fish are served hot with the basil sauce.
I recommend this excellent book for any lover of Italy and its food. It's entertaining, scholarly and a valuable collection of true Ligurian recipes. Once again: Recipes from Paradise, by Fred Plotkin (Little Brown).
This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2007
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