Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Saturday in Pizzeria-Gino Sorbillo (Na)

Gino Sorbillo
Sunset on the beach.  Early June. I'm watching as Gino Sorbillo  is preparing the ingredients for a pizza with pesto.  Gino…we keep bumping into each other, I said.

A smile…Quando vieni da me? He asked.  When will I come?  When you’re there was my answer. 

But I wanted a Saturday. A Saturday in Pizzeria with Gino Sorbillo at his pilace on Via Tribuniali.    Not far from where we Americans call Christmas Alley.  In the heat of the city.  The heart of the city.  Da Gino.  I wanted a table where I could try a pizza or two or 5 or 6 to with the rhythm of Napoli in the background.  Neapolitans, tourists, regulars, first timers.  All curious, if not a little enthusiastic about having a seat at Sorbillo’s...pizza makers for three generations.

Gino greeted me at the door that afternoon. I was able to grab a table just before a line started to form outside.  Phew

I was handed a menu, but knew that it really didn’t matter…Gino already had in mind what he wanted me to try.  Gino.  Constantly trying new combinations.  And on this particular Saturday, I would be his guinea pig.  There are worse things in life.  Let the experiments begin….

Experiment er…Pizza number 1….a pizza with sardines and wild herbs.  Ok…let’s continue, I thought. 
I was then brought out a series of pizzas that which made customers at the nearby tables come over and take a look.  Pizzas such as Pizza torzelle a papacelle with mozzarella di bufala, torzelle from Vesuvius, and Naples’s famous papaccelle.   Then a pizza made with tigrato nero tomatoes and cacciotina al burro.  Sorbillo insisted that I try his Superpomordoro Sorbillo made with a particular passito di pomodoro,  lardo di nero and lemon peel. 
Pizzas continued to arrive at my table like his pizza with fior di latte, casoperuto with thyme, and pancetta arrotolata in pepper from Carrabs

It was time to stop.  Time to stop, and chat with Gino about his past.  His family who has been making pizza since 1935.  20 Aunts and uncles.  Another time.  Another way of life. 

We talked about the present.  How he is always in giro…travelling around.  How he loves to promote pizza…promote Naples…promote Campania.  His love of products from the region.  His respect for the territory.

We talked about the future.  His desire to continue as an ambassador for Neapolitan pizza.  His plans to expand his pizzeria.  His desire to hold events at home, so to speak.

And we talked about my coming back for another visit.  There are still some pizzas that you didn’t try, he reminds me.

I’ll save some space…

Via Tribunali 32
80138 Naples
081 446643

Monday, August 29, 2011

La Corte Dei Filangieri - Candida (Av)

It may have been the interior design.  Or the serious wine collection that rests quietly in the back of the dining room. Or the wine list packed with Campania…packed with Irpinia’s finest.  Maybe the books on the shelf…cookbooks by chefs with familiar names and faces.    Or the menu, based on baccala…or in English-cod. Or maybe a combination of all of these things that had me return to Antonio Petrillo’s La Corte dei Filangieri less than a week after I shook hands with Petrillo in the garden of his wine restaurant.

La Corte dei Filangieri is located in Candida in the Avellino province.  Petrillo’s hometown.  And where he believed would be the perfect to set up a place where he could share a common passion...his love of wine and food.   A love that led him to become a sommelier.  Open up a wine bar with a small menu.  And slowly, over a few short years, La Corte expanded into a wine restaurant.  Petrillo added to the wine list…added to the menu.  Evolving, evolving, evolving like the Taurasis that he has on the shelves behind the counter.
So back for the second time for lunch on the terrace in the garden alongside fragoline grapes.  A lunch that would reintroduce me to baccala.

An introduction that began with a polpettina di baccala.  Petrillo sits down and we share a brief conversation about Irpinia wines, about Irpinia whites.  He steps away for a moment and then returns with a bottle of Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2008-Guido Marsella. He opens it up table side and pours me a glass of Irpinia as more appetizers arrive. 

An insalatina di baccala, thin slices which shared a plate with olives, with peppers, with fresh lettuce.  Then parmagiana di melanzane and frigitelli con patate.  A small break from baccala, but we stayed in the region as I was served homemade fusilli.  Fusilli made in Irpinia complete with a fresh tomato sauce and crema di bufala grated on top. 

Antonio wants you to try another first, Karmen who along Lidia were on hand with Antonio that afternoon, tells me.  So much for a ‘lite lunch’, I smile to myself.

Cechiatelli  all’ortolana…once again fresh pasta, but this time served with  sautéed summer vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes.  Vegetables that after sautéed in a pan had been tossed with the warm pasta creating creaminess that only required a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top. And it was ‘lite’. Summertime on a plate.

Back to baccala.  I could have chosen fried.  Or alla petercanegna with sweet cruschi pepppers.  I could have tried baccala arrechenato with tomatoes.  Instead...baccala that had been wrapped in a lemon leaf and grilled.  Then once again, that light touch of olive oil that did not cover the flavor, but complemented.  Complemented, completed, and made whole my day at La Corte just like the interior design.  Just like the wine list and cookbooks with familiar faces on the cover.

Just like this menu rich in baccala. 

As rich as my chocolate mousse dessert topped with fresh berries picked not too far from my table in the garden. 

La Corte dei Filangieri 
Via Fontanelle, 4
Candida (Av)
0825 98 64 14

Italian Version

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Vineyard Hopping - Paternopoli (Av) - Luigi Tecce

I used to be one of those people who assumed that it doesn’t get hot in Alta Irpinia in the summer. Used to be. So it was a refreshing relief to take a break in a cool cantina in Paternopoli. A fresh comfortable cantina where I talked with Luigi Tecce about his Poliphemo, his Taurasi DOCG made with grapes from his Aglianico vineyards speckled around the area. In Montemarano, in Castelfranci, and here in Paternopoli. Vineyards that do their best to give Tecce what he desires in an Aglianico…in a Taurasi.   He is constantly looking for his idea of the right balance between a grape’s tannicity and acidity. Harvest?, I wondered. November, but varies. He thinks for a moment. 2007, around the 6th of November…2006, around the 26th…more or less.

 As comfortable as it was in the wine cellar, talking with Tecce, it was time to hit the vineyards. A quick glass of water, then out into the heat.

Tecce’s small winery is located in a very interesting position. All you have to do is cross the narrow road in front of the cantina and you leave Paternopoli and end up in Montemarano. Down the road a bit…Castelfranci. Walking through the vineyards ranging in ages from 20 to 30 years old, Tecce points out how   the geologic history of this territory plays a big part in the soil composition. Parts are clayey, other parts rich in calcium, potassium, and traces of volcanic rock.

Man was it hot. Tecce smiles…giornate calde…notte fresche. Hot days, cool nights. Another key ingredient to why this particular territory is ideal for Aglianico. Ideal for Taurasi. And as hot as it was, it was impossible for me to imagine that less than a week earlier a hail stone hit part of Paternopoli destroying one of Tecce’s vineyards. We went to take a look. I saw up close how a 10 minute midsummer storm destroyed an entire year of hard work.

 It was a quiet drive back to the cantina for our wine tasting.

Wine is meant to be drunk, not sit the shelf, Tecce believes. So he pulls some glasses off the shelf, grabs a few bottles and we begin our wine tasting. A tasting that included two of Tecce’s experiments with white grapes that he had purchased. At times his cantina becomes a little ‘science lab’ as he experiments with Trebbiano, Malvasia, Greco di tufo, and Coda di Volpe.

A wine tasting that continued with his Poliphemo Taurasi DOCG. His 2007…2006…2005. I set each glass next to the white wall in the corner of a small kitchen where we held our tasting. The light pouring through the window was ideal. Perfect to note the dark ruby red color. The slices of Carmasciano cheese, soppressato salami, zucchini and red and yellow peppers was an ideal match for each aroma, each taste, each vintage, each story that I had in front of me in my glass. Stories that Tecce shared in that small kitchen. Stories of the past harvests, past struggles, past failures and past successes. Stories of the future. Of more experiments like wine making in terracotta amphoras. Of enlarging the winery.

It was hard not to get caught up in Tecce’s subtle excitement. Of his love for what he does. His territory. His wine. And as I finished my glass of 2005. As I finished my serving of fresh ricotta cheese with Tecce’s homemade grape jelly. As I took pictures of the wine bottles, including his new 2007 label which will come out next month, As I made plans to return for the harvest, to visit Tecce's older vineyards, I almost forgot how hot it gets in Alta Irpinia in the summer.


Luigi Tecce
Via Trinità #6
83052 Paternopoli (Av)
0827 71375

Italian Version

Friday, August 26, 2011

Amazing Appetizers – Caponata with Tomatoes, Nodino di Montella, and Cetara Anchovies by Chef Francesco Spagnuolo

It was hard to take my eyes off of this amazing appetizer served to me by Chef Spagnuolo of Morabianco RistoranteAnd the flavors? Perfect for that hot Saturday afternoon.  

Ingredients for 4-6 : 200 grams of toasted bread (mascuotto), 7-8 tomatoes (datteri), salt,   3 nodini di  Montella (a cheese made with cow’s milk ),  a few basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, and 8 Cetara anchovies (preferably those that have been preserved in salt and boned)

Directions: : First wash the tomatoes and basil. Wet the bread under running water for a minute   being careful not to add too much water otherwise it will become soggy. . Cut the tomatoes into very small cubes . Do the same with the nodino and the anchovies,: Place  all of the ingredients in a wok and season  with extra virgin olive oil and basil. 

This appetizer was served to me on a silver spoon, but Chef Spagnuolo told me that it would look great in a cocktail glass or on a plate as well. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Midsummer Night's Cena - Cooking Lesson with Chef Paolo Barrale at Marennà

A midsummer night’s dinner.  A cooking class with Chef Paolo Barrale and his right hand man Chef Roberto Allocca in the kitchen of Marennà, Feudi di San Gregorio’s Michelin star restaurant.  A midsummer night’s dinner… a midsummernight’s dream. 
This was my second visit to Marennà for a lesson with Barrale and I must admit I was a little skeptical.  Could he live up to last month’s menu? 
Let’s take a look…

Appetizer:  Zucchini flowers with tomato seeds and anchovy oil served with DUBL Aglianico, Spumante Metedo Classico.
First Course: Ravioli stuffed with eggplant parmagiana served with Campanaro 2010, Campania Bianoco DOC .
Second Course:  Bass ‘all aqua pazza’…with oysters served with Cutizzi 2009, Greco di Tufo DOCG.
Dessert:  Apricots, honey, lemon, and lavender served with Privilegio 2008, Campania Bianco IGT.

I was in the front row…so to speak.  Asking questions,… jotting down tips …enjoying my midsummer night’s dream.

Did he live up to last month’s lesson?  You decide.

See you in September...

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Pizza in the Garden with Franco Pepe - Don Alfonso 1890 (Na)

Pizza can be a serious business. And in my adopted Campania, we take it very seriously. The right ingredients, the right pizza dough, the right temperature in a wood burning oven. So when I received an invite from my friend Maurizio Cortese of Gazzetta Gastronomica to have a pizza, it was an easy decision. After all, Maurizio invited me out for a pizza back in June …an event that would be very hard to forget. This was to be a little more casual, I was told. A few friends, pizza, wine. With maestro pizza maker Franco Pepe. In the garden of Don Alfonso 1890 in St Agata sui Due Golfi.
When I arrived, Pepe was checking out the ingredients. Scrutinizing every little detail. Testing the temperature of the oven. It’s like driving a car that doesn’t belong to you, he smiled. So he decided to take it for a test drive. I watched in admiration as he took some of his hand made pasta dough, tossed it around and shaped it into the perfect shape. He drizzled extra virgin olive oil made by Iaccarino and sprinkled a little oregano on top. Then into the oven. Then out of the oven. A little grated conciato romano cheese that Manuel Lombardi  had brought along, and we were set. I remember that first bite of his ‘test drive’. A bite that reminded me how flavorful a simple pizza can be. A chance to taste how light, airy, and morbido the crust was.

Pepe was ready to go. Friends were arriving. Chef Ernesto Iaccarino stopped by to make sure everything was going well. After all, his staff had prepared an amazing tomato sauce using tomatoes picked from his family’s garden, Le Perracciole. Their freshly picked basil was ready to be placed on top of whatever pizza Pepe had in mind.

Pepe was ready to go. Pizzas were soaring out of the oven at a tasty and appetizing speed. Margherita, marinara, pizza with sliced pears courtesy of Lombardi. His famous pizza stuffed with escarole and black olives. A pizza that puffs up in the oven like a party balloon. And then when sliced…you can almost hear a swoosh, as the air is released. I took a quick peek inside and noticed the light crust, the bright green colors of the salad inside. Amazing aromas of olives, capers, and extra virgin olive oil was hard to resist. Karen…nero casertano?, Pepe asked. He remembered my favorite. A pizza made with provola cheese and prosciutto crudo prepared using the ham from a black pig that is only found in Alta Casertana.

Pepe was ready to go. And as a small group of us sat around a table enjoying it all, many of us reached for the fresh figs that Chef Alfonso Iaccarino had picked that morning. Elisia Menduni, friend and fellow photographer imagined that it would look great on a pizza. A simple pizza, without tomatoes, just a few slices of fresh figs sprinkled on top. Maybe a grating of that spicy conciato romano cheese that was driving everyone crazy. A star was born.

Man does not live on pizza alone. Fernando De Angelis from Agriturismo La Selvetella  brought along a few items from the buffet table… salame made with maiale casertano dried ricotta, and fresh sheep cheese. Caseficio Il Casolare in Avigliano (Ce) shared provola, bocconcini di mozzarella, very fresh ricotta, and a braided mozzarella that weighed nearly 3 ½ kilos.

Cortese mentioned wine in his invitation. How could we go wrong in the hands of Don Alfonso’s head sommelier Maurizio Cerio who had a historical wine cellar at his disposition? Gragnano, Pallagrello Bianco, Coda di Volpe and Taurasi were there to pair with our pizzas…to try, discuss, degustare together.

It was a casual afternoon. A few friends. Friends enjoying a pizza, wine, light conversation, each other’s company.

Just like Cortese had said.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

La Ripa Ristorante Museo, Rocca San Felice (Av)

Excuse me…which way to La Ripa? 

I had just parked my car outside the centro storico of medieval Rocca San Felice in the province of Avellino.  Alta Irpinia.  New territory for me.  All I had was a few mental snapshots from earlier internet research and  my  Mesali guide book. La Ripa Ristorante Museo was one of the 12 restaurants featured at an event that I  attended a few weeks back.  And so here I was.  In the main piazza in front of an enormous 200 year old linden tree asking directions.  Again.  Apparently I wasn’t that far off.  I just needed to continue past the tree and down a quite little stone cobbled alley.

I found La Ripa in a calm little corner of this quiet little village.  I arrived just in time as to see the sunset from the terrace.  The purple/blue/red colors in harmony with the subdued lighting from the pergola was spectacular.  But as stunning and soothing a spot on the terrace overlooking the  valley was, my curiosity led me indoors.  Inside, checking out each nook and cranny of La Ripa.  Its stone walls, cantina, selection of cheeses, pastas etc.  And eventually upstairs where I found a seat in the corner next to a glass of Fiano di Avellino 2009 from Rocca del Principe.

My guidebook mentioned that La Ripa is a place to learn, taste and dream. Rocco Rafaniello, one of the owners, brought me a plate that would begin my lesson.  Tortine di zucchine with a creamy tomato sauce.  Prosciutto powder was sprinkled on top and   a warm  cheese filling inside.  Which cheese?  Primo sale, I was told.  A cheese made using cow milk and doesn’t require much aging.  Lesson number one

Next. Carpaccio di vitellina, rucola with grated carmasciano cheese. Carmasciano...I had heard about it, but was not very familiar.  So time for my next lesson.  This cheese is produced in the nearby town of Carmasciano.  It is a pecorino cheese, made with sheep milk.  And on this plate, next to my thinly sliced veal and rucola salad, I had a version that had been aged for about 2 months.  As fresh as the lemon and extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top.  My carmasciano lesson continued when I had my next appetizer.  Tempura di fiori di zucchini stuffed with basil and carmasciano.  Carmasciano melted inside my zucchini flower. Soft, warm melted carmasciano intermingling with the fresh basil handpicked from La Ripa’s garden.  

Now it was time for pasta, and at this point I mentioned to chef Rino Cuoco, that I just wanted an assaggino.  A little taste of something particular.  Rino went to the kitchen, and a few minutes later was back with a plate of pasta.  Paccheri with garlic, oil, red pepper flakes, and anchovies.  Careful, it is a little spicy, I was told.  I like spicy, I thought.  And I was also ready for my next lesson.  Anchovies.  A popular choice in many inland areas as far back as the Roman Empire.  Not only for its flavor but for its ability to be stored without refrigeration for long periods sotto sale (by using salt).  It has always been the perfect ‘poor man’s dish’ .   A dish which found its way to my table to teach me a lesson in how flavorful and powerful a ‘poor man’ could be.  I was warned about the hot pepper on the side of my plate.  The very hot pepper.  I should have listened to that lesson.

Rafaniello brought me my secondo piattoConiglio disossato a cottura lenta in olio extra vergine e pepperoni cruschiBoneless rabbit with red cruschi peppers.  As I was taking a few photographs of the dish, Cuoco asked me if I knew what cottura lenta meant.  Lesson number four.  Cottura lenta in olio meant that this rabbit was placed in pan of extra virgin olive oil.  Oil that was at a low temperature of about 75/80 ° C.  And then  cooked slowly…lentaThat way it stays tender, doesn’t lose its flavor, its juices. 

I decided to take a break before dessert.  So with a couple of cats who volunteered to be my guides, I roamed through the narrow alleys and past the low houses with their stone walls.  Towards the  main piazza with its fountain. Its church.  Its silence.  And then, as if on cue, my guides brought me back to La Ripa for dessert.  Arrotolata di mele annurche al profumo di rosmarino e canella sul crema di limone.  An apple pastry that had amazing aromas of cinnamon, light rosemary and served on a lemon cream sauce.  This time I did not need a lesson. The aromas here brought back memories instead.  Of home.  And of my home away from home. 

Maybe that was the lesson.

Borgo Medievale, Rocca San Felice (Av)
0827 215023

Italian Version

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vineyard Hopping - Castelfranci (Av) - Az. Agricola Boccella

Raffaele Boccella
Castelfranci...A small community in Alta Irpinia, in the province of Avellino. A paese where you can sit outside at a bar in the main piazza, enjoy a cappuccino and warm cornetto filled with homemade jam for only € 1.70. Where they still make maccaronara pasta by hand with a serrated rolling pin. Topped with fresh tomatoes from the garden and freshly grated cheese.

Castelfranci-600 meters above sea level. And from the balcony of a villa in the small village of S. Eustachio, there is a breath taking view of Paternopoil…of Montemarano…and if you look hard enough…the Calore River. I was on the balcony of Raffaele Boccella’s house. I admired the view as he pointed out his breathtaking vineyards. Vineyards that I wanted to see up close on my visit that late morning, right before the August sun became too hot.

I was in Irpinia to visit Azienda Agricola Bocella. The cantina is small, Raffaele Boccella mentioned as he opened the cantina door. Small in size, I thought, but it definitely gets the job done. In this small cantina attached to the family’s home is where three wines are produced using their own Aglianico and Fiano grapes. A quick look around at the barrels, the stainless steel vats, and then it was down to the vineyards.

It was already starting to get warm as we started our tour of vines that date back 50 years. Aglianico and Fiano grapes enjoying their position here in Castelfranci. Living comfortably amongst century old olive trees. In soil that is clayey, in some spots looser than others. Vines tied to wooden poles with salice, a wooden twig that embraces the vine. Grapes about to change color, still time to fully mature for an early November harvest. During our stroll through the vineyards, Raffaele shared with me the Boccella story. A story that began in his family almost 50 years ago. In this vineyard, this terrific territory. When his father harvested grapes and sold to other wineries. Harvested grapes and made wines for themselves as well. And like many grape growers in Irpinia, when the cost of grapes started to plummet, Raffaele, and his brother Giovanni made the decision to bottle their own wines. And with their enologist and friend, Sebastiano Fortunato, their first vintage that they bottled, labeled, and put on the market was back in 2005. He spoke of life in the vineyard, the challenges of meeting standards for an organic winery, which he informed me will be official next year. Challenges, but great satisfaction as I was about to find out as we headed back to the house for our wine tasting.

Noon was approaching, and my curiosity for Boccella’s Fiano was growing as he and his wife Angela prepared the glasses for our wine tasting. And on their kitchen table, vintages of Casefatte Campania Fiano IGT 2010 and 2009. Both giving a different view of  Castlefranci in my glass. 2010, for the first time, Boccella macerated and fermented with the skins in wooden barrels for five days. And though it had been bottled for only a month, an aroma of grapefruit was present along with a sapidity that spoke well of the territory. 2009 had the advantage of more time in the bottle. Excellent evidence of this wine’s ability to age. The white fruit aromas were sweeter, more mature.

But I was in Aglianico country, so to speak, and my eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the numerous bottles that Raffaele was placing on his kitchen table. Where should we begin? Rasott?

Ok…if you’d like… was my response, trying to suppress a smile, and a little excitement. Rasott is Bocella’s Aglianico, Campi Taurasini DOC. I began a mini vacation through the 2008, 2007, and 2005 – where it all began. Warm and wonderful red fruits floating up from the glass. Light touch of pepper from the small percentage of this wine that spends time in oak. And even as far back as the 2005, I tasted a wine that still had inviting tannins convincing me that this Rasott would have more to share in the future.

Taurasi? Why not. Boccella’s 2007, 2006, and 2005 were on the table and eventually ended up in our glasses. Glasses that showed off this wine’s intense ruby red color, dolce red fruits, its warmth, its tannins. At one point, I found myself meditating on the 2006. Trying to compare it to the 2007. Setting it beside the 2005. But then, I thought, why? Each vintage was its own. Each wine had its own personality, it’s own short history behind it. Its own long road ahead of it.

A road that on this particular day led me to Castlefranci. A small community in Alta Irpinia in the province of Avellino. A paese where you can sit outside at a bar in the main piazza, enjoy a cappuccino and warm cornetto filled with homemade jam for only € 1.70. Where they still make maccaronara pasta by hand with a serrated rolling pin. Topped with fresh tomatoes from the garden and freshly grated cheese.

Pasta that pairs nicely with good conversation around the kitchen table with new friends and a glass of Taurasi 2006.

Azienda Agricola Boccella
Via S. Eustachio
83040 Castelfranci (Av)
0827 72574

Italian Version

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Amazing Appetizers - Cantaloupe, White Celery , and Smoked Cod Salad by Chef Francesco Spagnuolo

My benvenuto from Chef Francesco Spagnuolo of Morabianca Ristorante was a little dolce a little salato, and perfect for the summer.

Ingredients for 6-8 
 2 stalks of celery,  ½ cantaloupe, 100 grams of smoked cod.

Clean the melon by removing the rind and seeds. Wash  the celery and peel with a vegetable peeler to remove the stringy parts. Cut the melon and celery into small cubes. Add the thinly cut smoked cod.  (You can substitute the smoked cod with smoked salmon) Serve in a cocktail glass or  in a shallow dish and with the help of a round flan mold. Garnish  with extra virgin olive oil, and a sprig of valerian.