Friday, December 28, 2012

Spa Day - Light Lunch - Raito Hotel, Raito (Sa)

A few hours just for me.  A sauna.  A massage. Maybe followed by a lunch.  A light lunch.
That's what I wanted.  
No.  That's what I needed
So one Sunday afternoon I headed towards the 5 star Raito Hotel near the Amalfi Coast.  Into the lobby, past reception, and up the staircase on the right to the doors of Expure Spa.   Doors that would begin my Chef in Beauty Farm Day, a combination of beauty treatments and a light lunch prepared by Chef Francesco Russo.  In order to enjoy the light lunch, I'd have to endure a series of peaceful relaxing treatments.  Like a swim in the spas thermal pool, complete with mini waterfall and whirlpool...

Turkish bath, sauna, and an emotional shower, a combination of water aromas, and colors...

While waiting for my massage, I sat in the spa's tea corner and had a cup of...tea.
Then off  to one of the spa's three massage rooms for  a rejuvenating Dead Sea salt body scrub followed by a body mud mask by therapist Anna Fimiani. While relaxing in my body wrap, I was given my first little treat.  A preview of  how colorful and flavorful my light lunch would be. Chef Francesco Russo's Rubic's Cube.  
Fresh fruit sliced into perfect little cubes..perfect to tie me over as my spa treatment continued.  A relaxing massage and a quick nap, then it was time to visit the chef in the kitchen.

I met Russo as he was preparing my first dish.  A ricotta salad.  
Chef Francesco Russo
As he was adding the finishing touches, he shared with me that today's menu was based on the concept of well being that would pair perfectly with my previous spa treatments.  He chose ricotta cheese, for example, since it is very light.  He also added some raw vegetables and a drizzle or two of balsamic vinegar.

Next, I tried a dish with little packages of  anchovies and raw spinach  topped with a berry sauce.  I was curious why this delicious dish was be a perfect match for my spa day.  Russo told me that the anchovies belong to the blue fish family and are rich in omega 3 while the raw spinach and  berry sauce had antioxidant properties.  

My light lunch continued with a chickpea soup with spatola fish.  Legumes are essential for a balanced diet, Russo shared, as well as fish.  He also added a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top to complete this mouth watering minestra.

Russo told me that we needed something from the bread and cereal group.  He prepared a risotto pomod'oro.  Pomodoro means tomato in Italian.  Oro, however, means gold.  Like the 23 karat gold leaf that topped the dish.

I enjoyed learning about the nutritional value of each dish almost as much as tasting them.  Like my second course; seared tuna with a sesame seed crust. Tuna, rich in fatty acids.  Sesame seeds, like all dried fruits, have high nutritive  value.  To the side, a carrot puree and citrus fruit add a vitamin punch. 

After all this light lunching, I assumed that my desset would be a few slices of fruit.  But Russo brought over one of the lightest tarts I have ever eaten.. The crust was light thanks to exra virgin olive oil instead of butter and egg whites without the yolks.  A crust topped with hazelnuts from nearby Giffoni, nutritious annurca apples, and berries.  And to keep it sweet without adding a large quantity of sugar, the chef added raisins.

A few hours just for me.  A sauna.  A massage. Maybe followed by a lunch.  A light lunch. That's what I wanted.  No.  That's what I needed. I thought over my caffe.

Karen, Russo called.  Anna is waiting for you upstairs...time for your facial...

 That's what I got, I smiled.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Taste of Christmas - Struffoli at SUD - Quarto (Na)

I chose a Saturday evening to do my "Merry Christmas" rounds.  A Saturday evening to drive to Quarto to drop in on friends  with a Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo.  I chose a Saturday evening to chat with Chef Marianna Vitale in the cozy kitchen of her restaurant SUD.
Chef Marianna Vitale 
 I arrived before the dinner rush, so there was plenty of time to chat with the chef as she and her staff were preparing for a busy evening. Plenty of time for my dozen or so questions for Vitale about Napoli and traditional Christmas recipes. Like the one she was preparing - struffoli.   This colorful   dessert is a must on every Neapolitan Christmas table.  And just like any classic, each family has their variations on the recipe but it basically goes like this...
Balls of dough are fried and then drained on paper towels...

they are then drenched in honey ...

then decorated with colorful sprinkles and candied fruits....

I grabbed  a plate of these warm honey balls as Vitale continued to sprinkle her Christmas cheer onto the small shiny stacks of struffoli.  A tasty tradition, perfect for after dinner...perfect for snacking on while playing tombola...and perfect for  sharing with friends during a Merry Christmas rounds.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Night - Ristorante Evu' - Vietri Sul Mare (Sa)

I had never walked the streets of Vietri Sul Mare at night.  Sure, I've spent numerous summer Saturday afternoons with family and friends ceramic shopping in the numerous negozi all along this famous centro storico on the doorstep of the Amalfi Coast.
But at night?  Never.  That may be why my latest visit to Vietri seemed a little surreal.  Cold,  a light drizzle, semi deserted...fantastic.  Almost as fantastic as the sharp colorful contrast that hit me immediately as Annabella D'Elia opened the door and invited me into Ristorante Evu'...

Evu...a small ristorante packed with colors, calore, and smiles.  A young restaurant with an eager enthusiastic staff led by Riccardo Faggiano, his two chefs; Michele De Martino and Saverio Di Domenico, and a dining room staff with his fiance' Annabella and his mom Anna Borriello.  So what was it that made me feel so comfortable right away.  The Christmas decorations?  The interior decor?  The benvenuto glass of DUBL spumante Feudi de San Gregorio as I made my way to my seat? Well,  Persi nel gusto is what is written on the Evu's door...loosely translated as lost in flavor, lost in taste...I was ready to 'get lost'.
Get lost in a various appetizers taken from an antipasta  menu that changes weekly...

Red shrimp with an onion ring (ramata di montoro) and a sweet and sour sauce on the side....

Grilled squid with potatoes, green olives, capers, and  raisins...

Anchovy parmigiana with a San Marzano tomato sauce...

Green pepper stuffed with squid and aromatic breadcrumbs.  Topped with a buffalo cheese fondue...
I was ready to 'get lost' in the wine list overflowing with Campania choice was Fiorduva 2009 from Marisa Cuomo in nearby Fuore.

I was ready to 'get lost' for awhile with the ragazzi in the cucina as they cooked for what was now a jam packed dining groom...

Linguine with frutta di mare...

Paccheri with frutta di mare
I was ready to 'get lost' with a recipe demonstrated by Chef De Martino.  Maybe his linguine pasta with a his homemade pesto which included basil, black olives, anchovies, and walnuts...

Then maybe just a taste right after he plated it up...

I was ready to 'get lost' with a couple of items from the dessert menu.

Mille foglie

Lemon tiramisu
Yes,  I can truly  say that I was ready.  Ready for an evening leggera, light, fun.  In the company of Evu's staff, their customers, their friends.  And if that is what it feels like to be persi nel gusto, I'm more than ready to 'get lost' again, and again and again...

Annabella, Riccardo, Anna, Michele, and Saverio

Ristorante Evu'
Via Diego Taiani 1
Vietri Sul Mare (Sa)
089 210 237

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Taste of Tradizione - Ristorante Al Convento, Cetara (Sa)

It was pouring down rain as I pulled into Cetara.  Pouring as I parked my car at the tiny little fisherman's port about a block and a half from my destination.   It didn't matter.  I had my rainboots, an umbrella, and an appointment wth Chef Pasquale Torrente at his restaurant Al Convento.  An appointment that I had been waiting (con calma), patiently for quite some time.
I hadn't seen Torrente in awhile...he'd been in Rome for the past 6 months or so setting up  another locale, La Friggitoria, located in Eataly.
So there I was...splashing my way through the silent streets of Cetara to Torrente's door. I'm not sure what warmed me up quicker...The restaurant's heating system, or the smile and hug from Torrente as he greeted me at the door and hung up my coat.  It felt good to be back.  Back in Cetara and ready to immerse myself in tradizione, tradition.
 No sooner had I placed my purse, notepad and all necessary blogger gear at my table, Torrente called me into the kitchen...Catch of the day, he told me as he carefully looked over the fresh still alive and kickin' seafood brought to him from a local fisherman.
Chef Pasquale Torrente

We'll have some for lunch, I was told...but first there was a lot more to see, taste, and learn about in Torrente's kitchen.  So we began with a few appetizers rich in tradition, flavor, and most importantly...semplicita'...simplicity.
La caponata miniata:  a dish that dates back a couple of hundred years.  It was a poorman's dish which used just about everything in the kitchen cabinet.  That afternoon I enjoyed a salad with tuna, freselle (hard dried bread), dried tomatoes, gardenia (a mix of marinated vegetables prepared by the Chef himself) and sardines.

Next up polenta.  But before I could ask, Torrente quickly cleared up my  misconception that polenta is serve only up North.  He reminded me that in Naples it is served fried. But he had another idea, a lighter idea.  His version of polenta is grilled...then placed between fish, topped with tomato sauce with a few capers and black Taggiasca olives.

Tradition continued as Torrente brought me an escarole pie.  Common in Campania, with olives, pine nuts, raisins...but Torrente had a twist.  Instead of anchovies, he decided to top the dish with tuna bottarga to give this simple flavorful dish a little extra touch.

Next, a dish that I drove an hour in the rain for.  Torrente's Genovese pasta made with Tuna.  Genovese, is another traditional dish in Naples, made with onions, celery carrots and beef.  But since we were in Cetara, a stone's throw from the sea, Torrente uses tuna.  I stood in the kitchen while my candele pasta was being tossed with the sweet smelling sauce.

But we we're not through.  Not just yet.  Torrente called me back into the kitchen.  He wanted to show me something else.  His next dish, his cacio e pepe.  A pasta dish traditionally prepared with pecorino cheese and black pepper.  Torrente's version...parmeggiano cheese and mussels.   It looked simple enough...
He tossed a few fistfuls of grated parmeggiano cheese to a saucepan full of steamed and shelled mussel...
 Then whisked it up...
Added the cooked pasta (linguine) to the pan...tossed it around some more, and then served it up.

Then a shot of freshly ground pepper table side... afternoon of tradition, of stories in the comfortable cozy, caldo dining room and kitchen of Ristorante Al Convento.  Remember that fish I saw earlier?  Flopping around in the kitchen?
It was on my table...lightly battered, fried, and served with a side of lemon.

Time to go...the rain had stopped, at least long enough for me to thank Torrente for his time and his traditions. I walked along Cetara's fisherman's pier to reach my car.  There I saw a group of fishermen adjusting their nets.  I recognized one from the restaurant earlier.  I stopped to say hello.

Did you see the fish I brought earlier?, he asked.
Yes, and ate it too. I answered with a smile.

A smile that continued throughout the rest of our conversation about Cetara, seafood, and tradizione...

Ristorante Pizzeria Al ConventoPiazza San Francesco, 16 
84010 Cetara (Sa) - Costiera Amalfitana

Tel. 089.261039