Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Ruth Rogers of London's River Cafe recalls a seaside town in the Cinque Terre, where basil grows on the hill, and pesto is made, and home to some of her favourite travel memories.
By Ruth Rogers
In Italy, there are so many great pasta experiences, but the one I had the first time I went there, with my husband, when I was in my 20s is one of my favourites. We went to a place called Vernazza, which is a town in Cinque Terra on the Italian Riviera, and it’s very, very small. It’s a town you can only get to by train. The basil grows on the hill, and it’s the most incredible peppery basil you’ve ever tasted, and here they make pesto, the Ligurian way. In Vernazza there is a restaurant called Trattoria Gianni Franzi, and Gianni has become a great friend of ours. It’s a very close relationship we have with him now. My husband has been going to his trattoria since the 60s, before I did.
Trattoria Gianni Franzi (top) and the streets of Vernazza, Italy.
Then, Vernazza was just one of these towns that had one trattoria in the square, right on the sea. Of course it has grown with popularity in the last 50 years - and with that there are more restaurants, cafés and bars - but this restaurant is the focus of the town. You can sit outside in the square and have your coffee in the morning with a piece of cake. You can go for lunch, and for dinner, and it’s not a question of whether he’s open or closed, you just find a table to sit on, and it transforms into different ways a restaurant can be, and I love that.
Gianni Franzi in the kitchen (top) and the restaurant lit up at night.
The pesto here is something very special. They serve it with many things, but mostly with the local pasta of Liguria, trofie, a short pasta with the little twist. They make the pesto in a blender, and that’s how we do it at the River Cafe. The beauty of cooking pasta is taking the most simple recipe that you can make over and over again, and show how simple and delicious it can be. To perfect something that is simple is the challenge, not to necessarily do something complicated. I like pesto that is very thick and holds together, also very pale and creamy, just like they make it at Trattoria Gianni Franzi.
Trattoria Gianni Franzi, Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, 1, 19018 Vernazza, Cinque Terre (SP), Italy.
Words by Ruth Rogers. Photography by Benjamin Jopen, Unsplash. Additional photography, Instagram.