The sun sets early this time of year. And by the time that Chef Luciano Villani of La Locanda del Borgo sent out this main course, it was already after 4 pm, the second hour-ish of a lunch which began a couple of hours earlier. No problem, no rush. And this was worth the wait.
A cube of tender, really tender, boneless veal shoulder- reale di vitello in Italian, One of the most prized cuts on the block. The chef served it with a topinambur sauce.
A what? Topinambur..also known as Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke, sunroot, or earth apple. Grande. To the side was an nearly roasted artichoke with a surprising spectacular licorice sauce...
I went back to the La Locanda del Borgo Restaurant in Telese (Bn) nearly 14 months after my first visit. That afternoon at lunch I was treated to an exciting array of dishes by Chef Luciano Villani that embrace not only quality products the Benevento area, but from the entire Campania region as well. Like this amazing appetizer.
Check it out:
A compact pallina, ball, of minced Marchigiana beef from the Sannio area. The chef carefully placed on top seasonal field salad and - wait - a specialty. Peschiole from Variano Paternora, a cross between peaches and nectarines. The chef sprinkled extra virgin olive oil powder on top.
And so here we are. The end of a long and lovely meal atPalazzo Petrucci in Naples. The end of the meal that means the arrival of the dolce...the dessert.
Dessert which most of us have a tendency to want to pass over. No...I don't have any space, we say. Ok, just a bite. To make the chef happy, we say to ourselves.
As the server made his way down the long staircase that connected Palazzo Petrucci's kitchen to the dining room below, I was just a little curious as to what pastry chef Lucio Paciello decided to send down, Something chocolate? I wondered.
Far from it.
A pistachio dacquoise . Dacquoise? A soft cookie made with egg yolks, dried fruits and sugar Paciello wrote me afterwards. But there was much much more! Mango sauce, lime ganache and a pistachio parfait. Was there space? Yes there was. I made sure there was.
Light and fresh was my humble opinion. As I took my second bite, Sommelier Sergio Martinelli had a surprise or two himself. During lunch he had a wine for me to try with each serving....but this time he had two glasses of dessert wines. Two glasses which led to an interesting conversation and play on wine pairing. Our AIS training taught us that sweets need to be paired with sweet wines, so Martinelli poured me a glass of Ben Rye Passito di Pantellera from Donnafugata.
This popular dessert wine brought out the nuttiness of Paciello's dolce. Ok. But I noticed that Martinelli had another wine for me to try. A taste test. A gioco, a game, to see what else we could highlight in this to die for dessert. I watched as he opened a bottle of 2009 Chateau Suduiraut Castelnau de Suduiraut.
Why? I would soon find out. This wine was not as sweet as the first. It, however, highlighted the dessert's acidity. It focused on the fresh flavor of the limes - not only in the ganache, but in the fresh slices Paciello placed on top.
Nuttiness, acidity, freshness, morbidezza, crunchy pistacchios, tangy mango... Well. No...I don't have any space, we say. Ok, just a bite. To make the chef happy, we say to ourselves.
It's time to give desserts a second thought.
My first visit to Palazzo Petrucci in the heart of Naples was full of fabulous flavors and surprises. A pasta dish like this one by by Michelin star chef Lino Scarallo is just one of the reasons why. Scarallo chose fidelini pasta- a long pasta whose diamater is smaller than spaghetti. A wise choice for the sauce which embraced it. Caffe' - Neapolitan caffe' - whose strong personality melded with fresh ginger and scampi making it subtle...elegant.
A fusion which is imaginative, creative, friendly, impressive and fantastic.
Like the city of Napoli itself.
A visit to the seaside town of Castellammare Di Stabia was the perfect choice that unusually warm November afternoon. My destination was Piazzetta Milu' to check out the new menu by Chef Luigi Salomone. One of the dishes that caught my eye - and taste buds! - was his guinea fowl alla diavola. The chef served this game bird in three ways spicy alla diavola versions. The breast with its skin crunchy and croccante.
A boneless thigh spicy and piccante.
And what's this? Ravioli shaped like a crest stuffed with flavorful fowl.
So there I was, one Saturday morning in St Egidio Del Monte Albino having a coffee while googling the pastries at Pepe Pasticceria. Several months have passed since I met Maestro Pastry Chef Alfonso Pepe for the first time during a charity dinner at pizzeria,. That evening I had the chance to speak with the chef as he awaited his turn to present his delicious highly sought after desserts. It was back then, over a slice of pizza, that I asked Pepe if I could swing by his place if I was ever in his neck of the words. Certo! Of course, was his reply.
So to assume I was patiently awaiting to be escorted to Pepe who was in his laboratory preparing panettone wouldn't be exactly true. Goosebumps and butterflies in my stomach would pretty much describe the scene. Plus, the Maestro was preparing panettone!! The traditional Christmas cake that has put his on the podium as being the best in Italy back in 2014.
Quite a bit going on as I reached the downstairs laboratory. A quick smile from Pepe and a joke or two as he asked me if I wanted a bite to eat. the maestro never stopped moving. He and his assistants had a lot to do to prepare the countless orders that flow into the pastry shops on a daily basis. I had the privilege of watching Pepe prepare a couple of versions of panettone - one with limoncello cream, and a traditional one with candied fruits. I had the privilege of tasting one of his newest creations - one prepared with whole wheat flower and wild berries.
Preparing a panettone is tough work which requires experience, concentration, quality products, and time. Something that many do not try to attempt at home. (Details can be found here.)
I'm not a baker by any means, but that didn't keep me from getting caught up in the rhythm in the pastry shop that morning. Panettone dough from the mixer to the stainless steel table. From the table to the scale. From the scale to the experienced and caring hands of Maestro Pepe as he formed them into perfectly shaped circles, then carefully placed them into paper molds where they would rest and rise.
A few more bites of that panettone that was offered earlier, a wave and a smile, I left Maestro Pepe just as I had found him. Hard at work, whipping out those panettone, with the occasional joke or two.
Come back in a couple of weeks. I'll be working on my chocolate panettone, he said as I headed up the stairs.
November has arrived. And though the calendar says we are well into the Autumn season, the weather in Campania has been unusually warm. One way to tell the change in seasons is by checking out the new menus in some of the regions favorite restaurants.
Like some of the items that I had a chance to try recently by Chef Lorenzo Montoro of Osteria Al Paese in Nocera Inferiore (Sa), This chef is known for taking simple seasonal ingredients from the territory and focusing on their fantastic flavors. In fact, he spends his days between his family's farm Masseria Piglioucco/ Montoroerbe and the restaurant.
Chef Lorenzo Montoro
To get things started, an egg yolk cuddled in broccoli leaves on top of cauliflower and caciocavallo cheese. Truffle shavings on top added a boost of down to earthiness .
Next, a couple of appetizers, once again, highlighting the simplicity of country cooking, with a slight gourmet flair. Chick peas; creamy soup and crunchy chips. A touch of sausage to round out the dish.
Mellone. Made with basic ingredients such as potatoes and broccoli leaves, stale bread, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. The chef added a slice of pancetta bacon for an extra punch. A typical dish of the season.
And of course, a fantastic first. Pasta mista with a creamy sauce made with chiodini mushrooms, garlic and milk. Underneath all that dolcezza? Well, a surprise that you'll have to taste and see for yourself.