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Pizza di Genova-an Italian Quest

Updated on June 12, 2010

Genova, Italy

This photo was taken at the Marina In Genova, Italy.  It is northern, Italy on the Med. Sea.
This photo was taken at the Marina In Genova, Italy. It is northern, Italy on the Med. Sea.
Genova, Italy- photo from the Eastern side of the city, high in the mountains.
Genova, Italy- photo from the Eastern side of the city, high in the mountains.

Food as Art and other Thoughts

“G od and other artists are always a little obscure.”

~Oscar Wilde

Some make pilgrimages to Mecca, Tibet, India or Jerusalem, for me it was an accidental spiritual moment when I walked into Febbraio 23. The Focaccia del Formaggio a native pizza- like food from Genova, Italy transformed my view of food and gave me a better understanding of art. Let me first say that my trips to Genova, Italy are always a family affair. I have never been a true tourist of Italy. This has good parts and not-so-good parts. I married a man who was raised in Genova, Italy, but really half Calabrese and Sicilian. Genova, Italy is not one of the main tourist destinations yet it has a long complicated history as all Italian cities. Genova is on the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the ancient ports of the Mediterranean that seemed to have its own agenda that led to a long history of success. It is Christopher Columbus’ hometown. It is a city built on the steep mountains that create a beautiful terrain for the orange and yellow color of the apartments. It reminds me of a larger, older, more sophisticated version of San Francisco. It seems to have an older-generation that leads to a more conservative mentality. This is the feeling I get from my step-daughter who lives there full time.

My hometown is in the far-west which is California, USA. When you are raised in a middle class northern California town, it means you are completely opposite of the Italian who is raised in European classical world of Northern Italy.

A far west native means that I was raised completely without knowledge of food as art. Actually art in any shape or form was absent, minus our brief trips to San Francisco. Gourmet for an American is a norm for Italians.  The quality both taste, texture and ingredient is far above our standard here.  Staccino is a very mild soft cheese similar to goat cheese.  Until you eat in Europe you may not understand this.  The taste is sometimes sublte and mild and then sometimes overwhelming.  Why? I don’t know but I know cheese, bread and meat in Italy are just in a different world compared to the USA equivalent. My phrase to my Italian family members is “no exista.” This means that cheeses, straccino and Brasaola –a type of prosciutto does not exist in America.

When I married my husband my education of food and culture began. I traveled to Italy as an insider/outsider which was awesome but sometimes frustrating. The food was great as Genova was always my destination, thus focaccia is the bread that originated in Genova area, along with Straccino cheese and Pesto Sauce. All regions of Italy have their famous item. Mozzarella cheese originated in Napoli and they are so proud of their accomplishment they will not release or sell their recipe to the rest of Italy or the rest of the world. So if you have not stepped foot in Napoli then you really haven’t had true mozzarella cheese.

I always know my husband has a love affair with straccino cheese and I consider him my guru in the food department. Yet I was not ready for Straccino until I reached a particular level of understanding and experience of good quality food. I did not even get to the cheese until my last visit which was 10 years later. I have only been to Italy four times in 10 ten years because of work and life. The last time was my pilgrimage to a pizzeria, but it was good that I did not go until this very moment. For pre-marriage I was food-challenged and now I think I have some change of chemistry in my mouth. I have this quasi- snobby attitude when I eat now and having owned a ristorante or two within the last ten years of my life I now know what it is to be in one. Now I am worthy to go to a Genovese Ristorante Pizzeria and experience the divine.

The One as in the Matrix hero, who has arrived to save the world, is Febbraio 23. This is a small Pizzeria Ristorante not far from the “mare” Mediterranean Sea. They took our reservations, and we got our seat on time. My step- daughter’s husband is a devotee of Febbraio 23. Maybe he was like my priest. He had his favorite which is called Focaccia del Formaggio described as a cheese festival with incredibly thin crust to accompany it. We ordered a variety of pizzas. Everyone in Italy always orders your own personal pizza which is at least a 12 inch pizza. But remember that the pizza dough is incredibly thin and light. So here I am a starving pilgrim waiting for her divine moment like Mary Magdalene knelt before Christ right before he absolved her of her sins. The uninterested- and preoccupied- I have five-million things to do waitress-  dropped off our pizzas and disappeared for the rest of the night. (Since the food is superb they don’t need to return and bug you to death) The Focaccia del Formaggio is an array of torn pieces of this Focaccia light and airy bread that holds the cheese perfectly. The cheese is Straccino which means soft- mild cheese yet just enough sour to be rich and unbelievable. My taste buds were in shock for at least five minutes. Time seems to slow down and you want it all to go into slow motion because it is too beautiful to end. When food is done with such care it infuses into your body in a different way. The background music is local Italians enjoying themselves with a good energy of delight and familiarity. Children still stay in their seats and entertain themselves as the parents and friends converse with each other. The bites of cheese and light feathery bread transform your feelings and you become relaxed. You become relaxed because you know someone back in the kitchen is devoted to his art and makes a commitment that each thing he or she creates will be his or her best, and somewhere in this commitment is a love of what they are doing. Art is a medium that provides a way for one to communicate to another something of beauty, which some would reflect something higher than ourselves. You might think it is exaggerated to include food into the category of great art, but when you live in Europe or New York the call for quality is infused into the culture, thus art is experienced everyday. Art some would say is the reflection of the heavens.

“Art, as far as it is able, follows nature, as a pupil imitates his master; thus your art must be, as it were, God's grandchild.” ~Dante Alighieri, Inferno

My visit ended with a lemon sorbet that was light and something that does not exista in America. As we walked up the hill to where our tiny car was parked I could not help but be a little infatuated with the life style of the Italians. On so many levels they have kept things simple, efficient and full of quality. The attitude that we must change things to progress doesn’t really work for me anymore. America wants to fast-forward itself into the future, but we must hold on to our principals and fall for them if we must. Now some things need changing and Italians are too slow in some departments, but as a whole they seem to cling to the past that breathes quality and shift to the future in small increments. Their ability to hold on to the quality of their food seems to be a deep embedded standard that will remain eternal. And traveling to a different country should always be considered a pilgrimage, go with an open heart to experience art, adventure and bizarre food for different cultures have different values and we must find them, seek them out, and be transformed.



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