Saturday, July 28, 2012

Portici and...with Ciro Salvo

Ciro Salvo
We could meet one afternoon at Piazza San Ciro, he suggested.  I was making plans with Ciro Salvo, one of Napoli’s top pizza makers/instructors , who makes a mean margherita and marinara.  I tried them both last month in Melizzano.  His pizza with a soft airy crust cooked to perfection with the finest quality toppings is still imprinted in my mind.  I had over a dozen questions that I wanted to ask Ciro.  But it’s not easy to get to exchange more than a ciao, how are you, etc etc while one is busy.  And it seems like Ciro is always busy.  But luckily for me, we were able to pick a time, a date…and eventually a place.
Sure, I agreed. Piazza San Ciro in Salvo’s hometown of Portici (Na) it is then.  It would definitely be easy to remember!
But who’d imagine that it would be so hot even though Portici is right on the port. 

So, first stop on the agenda? Ciro suggested we go for an ice cream and Antica Gelateria Gallo was just down the street.  Portici’s oldest ice cream shop, around since 1926.

 This small shop was a cool refuge from the heat. I chose a small cup of limone and fragola, Ciro a cone of nocciala and pistachio. Just a few of the 20 to 25 flavors that the shop produces daily.  Sticking with the basics as they have been doing for three generations, in the same location. 

Ice cream over, Salvo suggested we take a quick drive to Portici’s historical port, Granatello.  There were a few boats, a few fishermen docked at the port as we walked by.  Salvo spoke of how he used to come down to the port when he was a kid, early in the morning where this port was a practical open air fish market.  Fresh fish still flopping around on the fishermen’s boats.  Crowds full of housewives and restaurateurs looking for the catch of the day.

And although Ciro is from this historical port city, his roots are planted in pizza…and pizza dough.   His family has been making pizza for three generations.  And Ciro is constantly working on the perfect dough.  The right flour, combination of yeast, rising time, etc.  Almost an obsession, he mentioned jokingly…and his wife would agree.  So as we were walking around the port and the nearby beach, Salvo continued to talk about pizza, his home, Masse' in Torre Annuziata (Na), and his work with Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana where he instructs aspiring pizza makers from all over the world. One of the best places that he has had pizza outside of Napoli?  Paris, he shared…made by a Neapolitan, he added with a smile.
I steered our conversation back to Ciro and his pizza. Specifically his marinara that I had tried back in Melizzano.  The simplest of pizzas on the surface; tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil and oregano. Ciro strongly believes that if he is going to work hard to prepare the finest pizza dough he can and cook it to perfection, then it is only obvious that he would want, no, insist on the finest products to go on top.  And some of the products he gets from an old time family friend. Salvo suggested that we go take a look.

Ciro and Pasquale

Fifteen minutes later, I met Ciro’s friend Pasquale in his organic garden behind his house in nearby Monte Somma.  After a long day of work, I met a man passionate about his little piece of paradise where he cultivates just about everything for his family and friends.  We walked around rows and rows of several varieties of tomatoes including large ones from Sorrento, longer oblong San Marzano and small Piennolo tomatoes from Vesuvius.  

Basil, parsley, wild rucola, eggplant.  Zucchini, pumpkin, peppers.  Grapevines with catalanesca, potatoes, and lemon trees, all growing in this dark grey volcanic soil.  And as we walked through the garden, Pasquale shared suggestions, advice, a recipe or two.

And one more thing…his dried oregano. Aromas arose from the tightly bound bouquets on a wooden crate sitting on the table.  Destination? Casa di Ciro to be grounded up and lightly sprinkled on top of his marvelous marinara. 

Hmmm… I could almost imagine how it would taste! 
Then you’ve got to swing by and try, Ciro suggested with a smile...

And that is another of Ciro's suggestions that I will definitely not pass up…

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vineyard Hopping - Monticchio Bagni (Pz) - Tenuta I Gelsi

We drove through Irpinia to reach the destination of my first Vineyard Hopping outside of Campania.   I sat shotgun, looking out the window as a familiar CAMPANIA became BASILICATA…I was on my way to Tenuta I Gelsi  for a taste of the aglianico next door. A taste of Aglianico del Vulture in the province of Potenza a couple of hours from home.
Gelsi means  mulberry, and we were greeted by two rows of mulberry trees as we made a left onto the gravel driveway. Hard not to notice the soil.  Volcanic, yes, but not what I was used to in Campania.  Here extinct volcano Mount Vulture was the king along with nearby volcanic craters, now known as the Monticchio Lakes. 

 Over 800,000 years of geological history was evident in the layers formed in the soil of a renovation project next to the winery. Calcareous clayey soil, packed with potassium. It was there where we pulled up, parked, and were greeted by Ruggiero Potito, ready to take us on a stroll through the nearby Aglianico vineyards.

Beautiful bunches of plump grapes ripening in the sun…basking in the sunlight .  And it was here, in the midst of this vineyard that I learned quite a bit about this young winery. Previously the family sold their grapes to other wineries. But back in  2003 they decided to bottle and sell their own wine as Azienda Agricola Ofanto, named after the river that runs in a nearby valley.  A winery continously evolving, finding their niche, and making changes.  Back in 2010, for example, a major one...they decided to change their name.  Other changes over the past couple of years include changes in labeling and the edition of enologist Carmine Valentino from Irpinia to the team.  I was curious to hear more...but in the cool comfort of the winery.  

After a quick tour around the stainless steel vats, French barriques, and Valentino’s new Slovenian oak barrels, it was time to sit down and wine taste.
The first glass poured, however, was not an Aglianico.  It was an intense aromatic glass of Malvasia. Gelso Bianco Basilicato Bianco IGT 2011.  A white wine that spent 3 months on the lees after being harvested in the early part of last September.  It had only been in the bottle a couple of months, and expressed intense aromas of apples and citrus as well as an interesting acidity.

We continued the degustazione with something fresh and light...a rose' made with aglianico del vulture from the highest part of the vineyard.  Gelso Rosa Basilicata Rosato IGT 2011. A light introduction to Baslicata's aglianico with a deep pink color, light fruit flavor.
Time to pass over to Aglianico del Vulture in purezza...beginning with Tenuta I Gelsi's base red  Gelso Rosso Basilicata IGT 2009 vintage.  This wine, produced from grapes from their youngest vineyards shared intense aromas as it left the bottle and was poured into the glass.   Stainless steel only, no time in wood.

One more wine on our list to taste...Aglianico del Vulture Basilicata DOC 2008. This glass of dark ruby red spent 12 months in French oak barriques. That was the wineries direction back in 08...back before this wine became a DOCG (vintage year 2011) and before Valentino switched to Slovenian oak barrels. But not before this wine developed its intense aromas that continued to evolve in our glasses.  Full of  flavor. A perfect place to end my introduction to Basilicacta. end of this visit, but I knew I'd need to revisit.  It was exciting to see a winery evolving.  I'd need to come back and see how the winery's renovation project was coming along.  Ruggiero had shown me the blueprints of an enlarged vinification area, new offices, wine tasting rooms, and even the addition of several rooms for eno-tourists who wanted to spend the night and explore Basilicata.
I'd like to come back, maybe when Valentino was around, and taste a few samples from the stainless steel vats, or maybe from the Slovenian oak barrels.
And I'd like to come back and try their passito made with 100 % Moscato grapes. A glass would be perfect at the end of a casual picnic lunch at the nearby Monticchio Lakes. A slice or two of gorgonzola hmmm...

And it wouldn't be too hard to return.  After all,  Basilicata is just next door...

Tenuta I Gelsi
Contrada Paduli, Monticchio Bagni
85020 Rioner in Vulture (Pz)
39 0972 080289

Italian Version

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Summer's halfway over.  And for some of us, that  can only mean one thing...
Time for AIS Napoli's annual summer get together starring spumante and champagne.   This year the organizers wanted to do something big...something huge. So last Monday evening we all headed to Nabilah, a beautiful lido in Bacoli (Na) just in time for a spectacular sunset.  A cool breeze from the sea greeted me as I greeted friends, many who I haven't seen in ages. We talked about the past year, plans for the summer and beyond.  

Spumante?  Plenty of it and we were not disappointed.  And what better way to celebrate summer than by sipping your favorite bubbly  on the beach?

And what better what to celebrate summer than by tasting dishes prepared right in front of you by some of Southern Italy's top chefs?

pasta and beans with mussels - chef marianna vitale - SUD ristorante, quarto (na)

lamb tartar sandwich with mayonnaise - chef mirko balzano - villa assunta, mirabella eclano (av) 

raw shrimp and calamari with toasted almonds on a bed of kataifi pasta - chef antonio molfetta - nabilah, bacoli(na)

cod and potato tartar with tomatoes and a wheat wafer - chef frank rizzuti -frankrizzuti cucina del sud, potenza (pz)

fried red mullet - chef nicola fossaceca - ristorante il metro, san salvo (ch) 

white chocolate mousse, blue goat cheese,  centrifuged green beans and fried capers - chef marianna vitale

macaron with anchovy butter - chef frank rizzuti
And if that wasn't enough, sandwiches prepared by Michele Grande of La Bifora in Bacoli, fried pizza from  Salvatore Salvo of Pizzeria -Salvo da Tre Generazioni in San Giorgio a Cremano (Na), pizza by Stefano Pagliuca of Enopanetteria I Sapori della Tradizione in Melito (Na), and mozzarella from the Consorzio Mozzarella di Bufala.

Live music...on the beach.  DJs...on the beach...

And after all that, way better way to celebrate   that extra something special that I had been working hard for the past two years...I received my sommelier diploma...

Grazie amici, 

Grazie AIS,

Buon Estate!

Italian version

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fast Food Friday - Cozza Mia - Varcaturo (Na)

Friday night.  After a long week of work, it’s the perfect night to go out and grab something to eat.  And on this particular Friday, I wanted something quick, I wanted something fast, and  I really wanted to try  Cozza Mia.

Flashback...A little over a year ago, Francesco D'Alena, owner of Nautilus Ristorante in Varcaturo shared with me some ideas and plans that he had for the future.  One of them was to open up a fast food place right next door to his popular bar/pastry shop and restaurant.   A fast food place with a difference, though.  Something different on Via Ripuaria, a street  where  during the summer is jam packed  with sun worshipers on their way to Varcaturo's crowded beach resorts.  This place would be Cozza Mia.   D'Alena wanted to focus on typical Neapolitan fast food specialties with a focus on seafood.  ( Cozza means mussels in Italian) Pizza was also part of the plan. And in April 2012, Cozza Mia finally opened its doors.  
Francesco D'Alena (left)

Casual and stylish with tables outdoors.  Perfect for summer.  Seated at my table, I glanced at the menu wondering where to begin…I could accuminciàmm (begin in Neapolitan) with lupin e auliv,lupins with white olives or o bror e purpo, an octopus broth with chunks of octopus and pepper.

Or o’sfizio… a long list of appetizers including allicella, marinated sardines, a pasta cresciuta, zeppoline with seaweed, and o’ fassul, a bean soup with mussels.

At my table we decided to begin with a montanara, fried pizza with a dollop of tomato sauce on top.

Then we moved on to a plate of è cozze e grate, steamed mussels that are sprinkled with bread crumbs and them a brief moment in their wood burning oven…

Alici fritte, a basket of fried sardines…

O’calamaro, fried rings of squid…

And for dessert, o’ dolce, we chose a slice of a’caprese, chocolate cake with a side of whipped cream…

That was all I could handle…but next time maybe I’ll try a’fresella, bread made with durum wheat which has been softened in water and topped with goodies such as Sorrento tomatoes, white olives, anchovies, celery, white onions and basil.

Or maybe e’ primm, a first course like fresh potato gnocchetti with mussels, tomatoes from Corbara, pecorino cheese and basil…
 Or fish and chips...

Or maybe a pizza…from the classics to the more elaborate…

As long as it’s quick…and as long as it’s fast

Cozza Mia
Via Ripuaria, 263
Varcaturo (Na) 80014
39 081 839 2006

Friday, July 13, 2012

Serendipity - ReAle Extra - Birra Del Borgo

Wikipedia: Serendipity means  a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it.  

Summer evening at the buffet table at a party in Pompeii. I was holding  a plate of o cuppetiello, fried foods; potato crocchette, and arancini all wrapped in brown paper.  Tasty fried salty goodness just begging for something to wash it down with.    At the time, I was talking with a friend, catching up on what he'd been up to as we both headed towards the drink table.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the usual spumante wasn't being least not on this side of the terrace.

Though listening intently to Francesco, out of the corner of my eye, I couldn't help noticing a glass being poured.  Ah beer...ok, I thought...qualcosa diversa...something different.

The conversation continued...Si, Si, blah, blah, blah as I reach for a glass on the table.  A glass filled with a spectacular light amber colored liquid.  The foam was settling as I held the glass to my mouth to take a sip.  Really?  blah, blah, blah...

But then I stopped...Francesco sort of faded into the background as intense aromas of lemons and other citrus fruits came to the foreground.  A sip...a long satisfying sip.  Then another as I glanced at the bottles in the ice bucket, my bottle on the table.   ReAle Extra by Birra Del Borgo.

Buona?  Francesco asked smiling.  I smiled back while nodding my head.  

I later learned from their web site that during production  the hops are varied especially in quantity: a huge amount is added in a different technique. All the hops are added during the last 10 minutes of the boil, using 3 times more than regular ReAle. The result is an explosion of perfumes, in a range from citrusy to resiny (pine resin and incense). The mouth feel is dry, with immediate bitterness, then it finishes with a beautiful, persistent tangerine note.

Si?  I'd like to add that it also paired perfectly with o cuppetiello, a summer evening, and light conversation at the buffet table.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Serendipity - Liquore al Finocchietto Selvatico - Il Bikini

Wikipedia: Serendipity means  a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. 

At home, after lunch, looking for something to cool me me down.  With temperatures in the 90s in Napoli I wanted something fresh.  I headed to my freezer, not really sure what I'd find.  Popsicle, cream sandwich. no way. 
What I did find was a piece of the Sorrento coast...aromas of a summer gone by. A bottle of wild fennel liqueur given to me by Giorgio Scarselli of Il Bikini in Vico Equense during my first  visit last summer to one a place that has become one of my favorite places on earth .  Keep it in the freezer, he told me.  I did. And on that particularly hot and humid afternoon, I was ready to take it out.
Pour it in a glass.
Take in the light aromas...taste the delicate flavors of wild fennel straight from the Scarselli's garden.  A garden that hugs the sea coast.  That enjoys the salty sunshine by day, a spectacular sunset in the evening, and the cool breezes by night.

 Grazie, Giorgio.  Now I have a little bit of Il Bikini at casa mia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cool Recipes for a Hot Summer - Shrimp,Cantaloupe and Watermelon Pearls - Chef Giuseppe Daddio

A cooking class at Dolce & Salato  Scuola di Cucina is always a chance to learn new and exciting dishes.   Chef Giuseppe Daddio conducted a course last week full of recipes just in time for a hot summer.  This one includes some of my favorite ingredients... shrimp, cantaloupe, and watermelon.  Here is the recipe.

Ingredients for 6 :
(for pearl shrimp)
12 large prawns, 100 gr fennel, 100 gr celery, 100 gr corrots, radish, 1-- gr mixed salad lettuce, salt and

(For the pearls of fruit)
150 gr cantaloupe pulp, 150 gr watermelon

(for shrimp)
Clean the prawns, remove the head and gut the intestine.
Cut  the shrimp down the middle, and beat on wax paper
Cut the vegetable brunoise style  (fennel, carrots, radishes, celery)
Season the vegetables with salt, pepper and oil.
Place the vegetables on the shrimp carpaccio and wrap  like a pearl,then place the pearl in a silicone mold . Place in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Take them out  and serve with  pearls of fresh  cantaloupe and watermelon

Drizzle the  shrimp \with a slightly reduced bisque.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Il Bikini... the Sunset... 'A Pasta...

While driving to Vico Equense last Sunday evening,  I couldn't help thinking about that sunset.  That famous Il Bikini sunset when the sun has just about finished it's job of warming up the coast line, and makes its way down towards the sea giving off spectacular colors of orange and red.  
Last Sunday evening was a special dinner sponsored by Gazzetta Gastronomica to raise funds for earthquake victims in the Emilia region of Italy and conclude their 2 day 'A Pasta festival.  I arrived just as a spectacular evening was about to begin, actually, had already started.  Aperitivo hour with Ellenikos Groco spumante brut from Fattoria La Rivolta and Cobiki-a refreshing beverage with E' Curti's Nucillo and an organic chinotto.

Both were the choice for fried specialties such as  sardines and potato croquettes prepared by Bikini's executive chef Mimmo de Simone.
When everyone had arrived, it was time to take our seats and be treated to a cool night under the stars...with the stars.   Il Bikini's kitchen was the proud host for five chefs from five Michelin star restaurants.

mezzo pacchero pasta stuffed with Riccardo's ragù with a provolone del monaco fondue
Chef Mimmo de Simone-Bikini

mezzo rigatone pasta with pistachios and bottarga
Chef Mauro Uliassi-Ristorante Uliassi di Senigallia

mezza candela pasta with ricotta, tomatoes, smoked and marinated mullet, and wild mint
Chef Alfonso Caputo - Taverna del Capitano di Marina del Cantone

At this point in the game, I wanted to stretch my legs and see what was going on in the kitchen.  This is always an exciting place to be, standing off to the side, watching a team of chefs in action.  Each helping each other out.

the calm before the storm...chefs Alfonso Caputo, Alessandro Negrini and  Liberato Urru


durum wheat spaghettoni with spring onions, fresh chili peppers, olive oil and basil
Chef Alessandro Negrini - Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia di Milano

mezza manica pasta with coccio and redfish
Chef Liberato Urru - Ristorante Quattro Passi di Nerano

Then it was Chef Alfonso Iaccarino's turn.  The plate many were waiting for...

vulcano di rigatoni
Chef Alfonso Iaccarino - Don Alfonso 1890 di Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi 

Chef Mauro Uliassi, Maurizio Cortese, and Chef Alfonso Iaccarino
 It was getting late...I couldn't leave without dessert...

cantelope soup with a vanilla parfait
Chef Mimmo de Simone - Bikini
And a 'good night, G' to my favorite DJ...
Girgio Scarselli - Owner of Il Bikini