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 

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