Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Andiamotrips Auld Lang Syne - My Top Eno-gastronomic Adventures in 2013 -Part 1

I've spent the past week looking at  photos, tasting notes, and videos that I made over the past year for the blog.  I must admit quite a few of my adventures brought back special memories of good times in the vineyards and restaurants of Campania. Here's part one of  a look back at 2013  After all...should auld aquaintices be forgot?

Let's begin in the vineyards. Let's begin in Irpinia.
Back in April I shared my visit to Villa Diamante in Montefredane.  A winery known for the Fiano di Avellino and we tasted several exciting examples of their going far back as 1998.

When Ida Budetta invited me to visit her winery, Az. Agricola San Giovanni in Punta Tresino last summer I was more than thrilled.  Until I got lost.  I remember, though, finally arriving and getting the opportunity and privilege to spend a few hours in her piece of paradise overlooking the sea.

Then there was a visit t Vico Equense.  An area where until a few months ago was familiar to me for their restaurants and beach.  I never imagined a winery tucked up in the hills.  Azienda Abbazia di Crapolla.  Winemaker Arturo Erbaggio showed me around the property which included Campania's only pinot nero vineyard.

I spent quite a large part of 2013 exploring some of the top restaurants and kitchens in the region. But there were a couple of days when several dozen chic chefs all got together in one place. Chef junkie overload during the two events scheduled by CHIC Charming Italian Chefs during the presentation of their 2013 guide
One  trip in particular took me to  the Iaccarino  family farm located in Punta Campnella. The view was spectacular as well as the artichokes that were picked and served later that afternoon at lunch at their restaurant.
Chef Ernesto Iaccarino
It was a cold rainy February afternoon when I drove to Telese (Bn) to visit chef Giuseppe Iannotti and his restaurant/bistrot and vineyard known as Kresios.
Chef Giuseppe Iannotti
The weather wasn't so hot when I went to visit chef Mirko Balzano who had some fantastic dishes for me to try.  
Chef Mirko Balzano
Summer took me by surprise when I ventured into the Sorrentine Peninsula for a couple of cool lunches.  The first stop was to visit Chef Alfonso Caputo at Taverna del Capitano in Nerano.  A kitchen  that welcomed me be back on several occasions.
Chef Alfonso Caputo
Then, it was off to Massa Lubrense to Relais Blu.  I enjoyed a fantastic lunch prepared by Chef Roberto Allocca.  A breathtaking panorama paired perfectly with my meal that day.
Chef Roberto Allocca
A trip to Benevento to visit Chef Angelo D'Amico at Le Macine during truffle season will be hard to forget. Not to mention the freshly baked dinner rolls paired with cold pressed olive oil that was produced the evening before.
Chef Angelo D'Amico
 Of course I had to squeeze in a few pizzerias this year.  Besides my usuals (Pepe, Ciro Salvo, Fratelli Salvo and Enzo Coccia) I found one not far from home.  Pizza maker Salvatore Santucci who runs a real family business, where even his young sons,
Salvatore Santucci
And speaking of pizza, a mega pizza marathon rounds out part 1 of my trip down memory lane.  Pepe in Grani and Franco Pepe hosted Gabriele Bonci for a 12 hour pizza making/eating extravaganza.  Of course I was there!
Franco Pepe, Gabriele Bonci, and Stefano Pepe
Auguri e Buon Anno!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Spaghetti con la Colatura di Alici di Cetara- Mamma Gilda's Recipe - Ristorante Al Convento, Cetara (Sa)

There are few pasta formats that make me go madder than spaghetti.  A pasta shape that doesn't need fancy sauces, elaborate sugos.  A pasta that is happy to be tossed with simple sauces like ones made with fresh tomatoes or like this dish I tried for the first time a couple of years ago in Cetara at Al Convento.  Spaghetti con la colatura di alici di Cetara.  

Coatura di alici di Cetara is a beautiful amber colored fish sauce made with the famous anchovies from Cetara. A dish, that on the surface looks plain, simple, with few ingredients.  But if you are an anchovy lover like I am, simple stops right there.  A quick inhale lets you know right away that this is something special.  And when prepared well, like they do at Al Convento, the sauce clings to the spaghetti and is enjoyed with every mouthful.  And if done really well, a delicious sauce is left behind on the plate begging to be soaked up with a thick piece of crusty Italian bread.

True, we can't all go to Cetara, but we can sure try the recipe at home.  Here it is for 4 people.

Spaghetti con la colatura - la ricetta di mamma Gilda 
320 grams of spaghetti, 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 clove of garlic, pepper flakes (to taste), Italian parsley (to taste), 4 tablespoons of anchovy fish sauce

Cook the pasta in unsalted boiling water according to directions.  Meanwhile, combine the garlic, olive oil, and pepper flakes with the anchovy fish sauce and a little of the water used for cooking the pasta. There is no need to saute. 
When the pasta is al dente, firm, toss the pasta with the ingredients, adding more fish sauce if desired.  Add a handful of fresh Italian pastry, and, il gioco e' fatto...you've done it!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Chef Giulio Coppola, his Gragnano, his Ristorante La Galleria, Gragnano (Na)

I first met Chef Giulio Coppola one summer Saturday evening in the main piazza of Gragnano (Na). The chef was one of half a dozen ish who had prepared a pasta dish for the large crowd that filled the city for A' Pasta that evening.  But as (bad) luck would have it, when I got to Coppola's stand, he was sold out. There was nothing left but Coppola's smile and a mi dispiace, I'm sorry.
Every cloud has a silver lining.  A quick investigation and I learned that Coppola ran a restaurant on the other side of the piazza.  So I decided then and there  that the next time I visited Gragnano, I would make sure to visit Giulio Coppola at his restaurant La Galleria.
Chef Giulio Coppola
The next time came a few weeks ago.  I arranged a visit to one the top pasta factories in town and I invited Coppola to come along with me before  lunch.  I thought he would be the perfect person to elaborate on Gragnano's  passion for pasta . He, a young chef who grew up surrounded by the aromas and  activity of the pasta factories in Gragnano.  After picking his brain in the pasta shop, asking advice about sauces, pasta shapes, pasta cooking times, it was time to head to that familiar piazza where we meet some 18 months earlier.  Piazza Gugielmo Marconi.  To a little shopping plaza, Galleria Garofalo.  To a little restaurant.  To a small table.  To sit down to a lunch prepared by Chefs Coppola and Carmine Sorrentino.  That particular day, Chef Vincenzo Imparato, was also there, assisting his friend Coppola while the restaurant where he worked was closed for the season.  In the dining room, Camilla Inserra greeted me with a smile and a glass of spumante.  I was ready.  Ready for a pasta is a girl's best friend lunch to complete my dynamic day in Gragnano.  The meal began with a welcome/benvenuto...

A ricotta 'lollipop' topped with almonds, anchovies, and figs.
On the table freshly baked breadsticks, bread, and foccaccia...

Next, a colorful and comforting series of appetizers arrived...
Scampi 'al naturale' with a 'liquid' insalata di rinforzo/reinforcement salad

one  egg-three textures:foamy, soft, crunchy...with a touch of parimigiano and white truffle.
From the wine list, I decided to go for a glass or two of Via del Campo Falanghina 2011 from Quintodecimo.

Then it was time for my first course.  The chef sent out a series of delicious combinations.

Lasagna with creamy beans and a lobster and tomato concasse'

Risotto with red mullet and candied apricots.

Spaghetti with white truffles.
My curiosity increased as each dish was brought out.  I had to pop in the kitchen every now and then. It was encouraging to see the teamwork and concentration of the three young chefs who worked in perfect harmony.   We spoke for quite awhile, then Coppola had something to show me.  A tail of beef.
Why?   I wondered.  Because the next dish, I was told would be an interesting inside out version...

Beef tail 'inside out'...a potato stuffed with slow cooked beef, melted caciocavallo cheese, and a grilled spring onion.
The chef asked if I had a little space left.  Well, there is always space for mozzarella and culatello. :-)

And homemade ice cream...

And little pastries.

Yes, I made some space and some time for some conversation before I needed to head back home.  Plus Coppola had to run a few errands.  Off to check out a local organic garden for some fresh produce.  You'll have to come with me next time, he smiled.
I smiled back.
There was much much more that I wanted to learn about Coppola, his Gragnano, and his Ristorante La Galleria.

La Galleria Ristorante 
Piazza Guglielmo Marconi .
Galleria Garofalo
Gragnano, (Na)
39 081 873 30 29

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Greco and Fiano in Black and White - BianchIrpinia 2013

Cold and rainy.  Not yet icy.  That was the weather that  met me on the road to BianchIrpinia 2013 that late Friday afternoon.  If all went well, I'd have enough time to taste some of the latest vintages of Greco di Tufo.
Yes, I was ready for a wine tasting on the run weekend where I would trade in my rubber boots which accompanied me in the vineyards for a pair of black leather ones better suited for the conference room in Mercogliano (Av), the venue chosen for Miriade & Partners BianchIrpina.
Greco- una bella bestia - as journalist Paolo De Cristofaro calls it affectionately.  Certo, certainly not a wine that wishes to impress with intense flowery aromas. In fact, I wondered a few weeks later, is it a wine that wishes to impress at all?  And if it does, who?  Tasting the 2012 editions a year after the harvest is an interesting point in a young Grecos life.  I say young because Greco  a white which antsy in the vineyard more still in the cantina, desires time to express itself.  It's particular, genuine, distinct. And as long as that is understood while tasting, then it makes what you have in the glass easier to appreciate.
So I tried quite a few Greco Di Tufos from familiar vineyards and wineries curious to see what this varietal which thrives in its minerality and acidity would have for me that November afternoon.  I didn't have time to try them all, so I decided to check out a few that caught my curiosity on the tasting list.  Wineries such as Di Prisco, Cantine Caggiano, Donnachiara, Di Meo, I Favati, Molettieri, Vesevo and Terredora stood out for me that afternoon with a silent promise to try again in a few months.

Quick tasting over just in time to prepare for a retrospective wine tasting of some of the older vintages.  Seven wines were on the table for us to try.    A Greco tasting with seven offerings from the 2008 and 2003 vintage.  Seven wines seems a small amount, but considering the small quantity of wineries who have held on to their earlier vintages, I looked at it as an honor to have a chance to open these wines and discuss them in a room full of journalist, bloggers, winemakers and producers.
I was served six from the 2008 vintage from Cantine Dell'Angelo, Di Prisco, Ferrara Bebito, Mastroberardino, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, and Traerte. Exciting to note the freshness and sapidity of a Campania white once though to only be valid during its particular vintage year.  In the end, Pietracupa's 2003 which had the responsibility, for lack of a better word, to represent the vintage year...all alone.  A vintage year which wasn't as powerful as 2008. I though about that as I packed up my things to go.  It was late, and Saturday morning I was eager to try a few Fianos.

 Outside the temperature had dropped a few degrees, but I found a warm spot in the front row to try 40 or so Fiano di Avellinos that Saturday morning.  A Fiano tasting takes you on a different type of journey in respect to a Greco one.  If Greco was the beast...then here is beauty.  That doesn't mean it is an easy wine.  Fiano, at least the ones that stand out for me,  can be just as complex, strong headed and feisty.  Wines that want to wait a little longer in the vat...a little longer in the bottle before being released.  And luckily more and more wineries agree.  Highlights of my morning beginning with the 2012 Fiano di Avellino DOPs from  Cantina Del Barone, San Paolo (Montefredane) , Vigne Guadagno, Mastroberardino (Radici), Contrada Michele and Fonzone Caccese.  Pietracupa, Terredora (Terre di Dora) , Colli di Castelfranci and Caggiano.  I then passed on to the 2011s and 2010 with impressive performances from Molettieri Salvatore (Apianum), Rocca Del Principe, Villa Diamante, I Favati (Pietramara Etichetta Bianca). In the Campania Fiano DOP category - Zampaglione Pierluigi with not only his 2011 but his 2010 as well as Fonzone's Irpinia Fiano Sequoia 2011.

Then as soon as it began, my BianchIripina was over.  This year it was quick, short, but still sweet.  A tasting that left me with questions, comments, and curiosities.   On my way back to Naples, the temperature continued to drop.  Snow started to fall. I said goodbye to this now more than ever bianchirpinia.  I'd be back...but next time, not with black leather boots. But with my familiar rubber ones...perfect for the vineyards and cantinas.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pasta is a Girl's Best Friend - Pastificio Dei Campi, Gragnano (Na)

After 20 ish years in Italy, my pasta palate has come a long ways since the days of spaghetti alla bolognese. :-)  Spag Bol - a dish that makes  Giuseppe Di Martino cringe.  Meat sauce is too heavy for spaghetti! Giuseppe once told me...
and spaghetti with clams?  Linguine is better.
Yes, over the last couple of years, I've learned a lot about pasta. Thanks to Di Martino and a few dozen chefs who have shared their dishes, suggestions, and secrets with me since my blog began a few years ago.   So I was extremely excited when Di Martino accepted my request and opened his doors to his pasta factory Pastificio Dei Campi  in Gragnano one Saturday morning.  What better way, I thought to deepen my insatiable curiosity about pasta  than to see up close and personal look where it is made?
Even better if I brought a few chefs along.  Chefs such as Giacomo De Simone, executive chef at Le Axidie along with Alfonso Apuzzo.  I also invited a young chef who knows Gragnano first hand.  Chef Giulio Copolla, whose restaurant La Galleria is not far from the factory.
Nunzia Riccio, Chef Alfonso Apuzzo, Giacomo De Simone, Giulio Coppola, Giuseppe Di Martino and Arianna Acropoli
We were met with a smile by Arianna Acropoli (Di Martino's right hand), and Nunzia Riccio (quality control)  who took us upstairs for a quick look around in their newly renovated pasta shop.  Here was where one could purchase a wide variety of pasta shapes, styles, and sizes all in that familiar  Dei Campi packaging. Pasta, not in bags, but in square or rectangular boxes to protect the pasta, and also make it easier to sit on the counter Arianna told me.  Pasta in black and red cardboard prisms with   peek-a-boo windows.  Photos on the sides with faces and places that tell their story.  Also on the package, a TTS - Total Tracking System that not only tells you the expiration date of the pasta, but every step of the production process. A process that I would more about later.

All this was quite interesting, but my eyes couldn't help but notice the large boxes on the small counter in the center of the room.  Packages put together just in time for the holidays.  Combinations that I was curious to learn about.  First of all, for spaghetti lovers like me, a  Kit Spaghetti 4 X 4.  Four different spaghetti sizes, 4 different tomato sauces to pair with the pasta, as well as an instruction manual for the perfect plate of pasta.

Another interesting idea?  Kit Deli-Pot.  Delicato (Delicate) and Potente (Powerful).  Continuing with the philosophy that each pasta shape needs a particular pasta sauce.
Or Kit O Solo Mio for the single serving size lovers.  6 different pasta in 125 g packages.
I was like a kid in a candy store, so to speak.  Examining the various maxi-cubes of particular pasta shapes.  Asking my chef friends what would be the right sauce, their opinions on cooking times, suggestions for recipes. I could of stayed in the shop forever examining packages of loooong spaghetti and candele pasta.
Riccio, however, suggested that we work our way to the pasta factory to see what was going on there.

We put on our blue hair nets and white jackets, we entered into a pasta lovers paradise.  Riccio began to explain the production process as we hung onto every word.  From where the wheat arrives in the factory all the way until it arrives in the box.  On that particular day, the factory was producing mezzi paccheri and fussili lunghi.  
The aroma of the factory was mesmerizing...the warmth, comforting.

And then it was time for Di Martino to speak.  Giuseppe Di Martino shared with all of us why he love's his family's business.  Fresh from Brussels where he, as president of the Gragnano Pasta Consortium proudly accepted the prized PGI certification.  The sitting room of his reception area instantly came to life as he spoke about his company's dedication to produce the best quality pasta - la migliore per sempre- the best pasta ever.  

How?  One way is by being attentive to the raw materials.  That is why he has chosen what he believes are the best wheat fields in all of Puglia.  Sticks to a three year rotation wheat-fallow-legume...As he spoke, we were instantly transported there through his passion and his words.  Side by side Di Martino and the farmers as the wheat was harvested.  I could practically feel the heat, smell the grain.
We talked about favorite restaurants, our favorite chefs, our favorite pasta dishes.  Pasta came alive for me that morning...I saw its spirit, it anima.  I saw that it had a face, a family..a new best friend.

Grazie, Giuseppe

Monday, December 16, 2013

Snapshot of A Territory, 18 December, Veritas Restaurant in Naples

Just a few more days until my second photo exhibit. This time accompanied with the  Fiano di Avellino wines of Cantine Di Meo, including a world premiere of a special 2000 vintage plus the cuisine of Chef Gianluca D'Agostino.

More info here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vineyard Hopping - Montefredane (Av) - Az. Vinicola Traerte

It was raining that Saturday morning.  Saturday, November 16th.  A light cold chilly rain that had decided to visit the Campania region for the previous few days.  So we, Raffaele Troisi and I, decided to have quick caffe' to take the chill off at Bar Moccia, our meeting point 5 minutes from the autostrade exit, before heading to his winery in Montefredane, Avellino.
Raffaele Troise, a man who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago at a dinner with friends  Troise, one of Campania's best known bianchisti...white wine makers with a history along and rich in tradition with their winery Vadiaperte, then most recently Az. Vinicola Traerte.
I followed Troise over a railroad track, up a winding street, to his little piece of wet paradise in Montefredane.  The rain had let up temporarily, so he thought best that we get our vineyard hop on before the skies decided to change its mind.
Montefredane.  Rainboots on.  Necessary for this clayey/terracotta soil that had become almost impossible to trudge through during our quick walk through the vineyards.  I could only imagine the difficulty a tractor would have.  The harvest, per fortuna, was completed already.  Muddy was an understatement.  Troise held up a handful of terrain and squeezed a little into a ball.  From that moment on, the phrase 'clayey soil' will have this image in my mind.
Raffaele Troisi
Troisi took me on a whirlwind tour as he watched the skies out of the corner of his eye.  First, an Aglianico vine, historical, still hosting a few bunches of Aglianico grapes which were on their way to becoming a dessert wine.  Troisi told me that his father remembers this vine...it was around when he was a kid.
We continued...towards Greco di Tufo vines which are at least 30 years old.  Fiano di Avellino...vines which were 2 meters apart, 70 years old.  A few snapshots, a quick conversation, the Raffaele suggested we head back to the winery before the threatening downpour.

At first disappointed,  but then I noticed Raffaele was leading me towards the stainless steel vats that housed his wines that had been harvested not so long ago.  With two wine glasses and a smile, he led me the first vat- a Falanghina from Torrecusco (Bn) which had been harvested on the 10th of October.
Then on to Coda di Volpe.  Coda di Volpe from two different territories. Torenocelle (Av) where the terrain is clayey...whre I should expect a higher acidity in the glass...

Then a second taste from another vat, Coda di Volpe but from Pietradefusi (Av)...where the acidity is a little more constant.  Perfect for his cru- Torama which I would try a little while later.
Next, a taste of his Fiano from Montefredane...vat #11, a particular selection for his cru packed with freshness, herbal aromas.
Then vat #5...aromas and flavors that whispered stay tuned...
Next- Greco di Tufo...first form Montefredane -fuori zona- for the DOCG, then vat # 2.  Vat # 2 contained Troisi's Greco from Montefusco.  Montefusco- I couldn't help but think back to a vineyard visit there few years back, with Troisi himself, a glass of Greco in my right hand...

This time, however, I was holding a glass of Greco which was turbid-thick- still fermenting.  A glass that would keep us company for the rest of that early morning.
Rain.  Not heavy, but steady...so we decided to leave the vats, and head towards the comfortable wine tasting room where we could open a few bottles and explore the latest bottled vintage -2012.
We started off with what was surprise for me.  Traerte's Coda di Volpe sparkling style.  So new that a label hadn;t been designed yet.  In the bottle for a little over a week. The first time for Raffaele Troisi- a bella esperienza, he told me...but already has in mind what he would like to adjust next vintage, he shared over a glass with a perlage that just didin't want to stop.  1,200 bottles - 5 magnums - coming soon.
Why not continue with Coda di Volpe.  Coda di Volpe Irpinia 2012  to be exact...A tasting of Troisi's base whites- each with a personality all their own, representing the vintage, the territory...
Fiano di Avellino 2012, Greco di Tufo 2012...

Then the crus-a mini vertical of Torama...vintages 2011 (the first) and 2012.  2012, recently awarded 5 Grappoli form Bibenda Magazine-the first for any Coda di Volpe...ever.

Next, Aipierti Fiano di Avellino 2012. It's freshness/acidity of this vintage was a bellissimo contrast to the next glass Troisi wanted me to try.  Aipiert Fiano di Avellino 2008.  A vintage important and special to him.  A glass of wine which shred a mature aroma in the glass, smoother sensations on the palate.
Next, Tornante Greco di Tufo 2012.  This Greco produced from the territory that I had walked/slipped/slid in earlier.

Troisi wanted me to try one more wine before our little get together was over.  At this point, he broke out a little cheese-caciocavallo from Calitri (aged 6 months) to be exact to share with a glass of Aglianico 2010 from vineyards in Venticano, a stones throw from Taurasi.  A red that sees no wood-only stainless steel.  Still holding on to those Aglianico tannins that we know and love so well.
We continued to taste, continued to chat, when I noticed the clock o the wall.  Amazed at how much time had passed.  Knowing full and well that sooner, and not later, I would have to go back into the chilly November rain, head back down the winding road, over the railroad track, past Bar Moccia before hitting the autostrade-direzione casa.
But at least now the chilliness that had met me in Montefredane a few hours earlier had melted.
Thanks to Raffaele Troisi...

 Az. Vinicola Traerte
Contrada Vadiaperti 
Montefredane (AV) 83030 
0039 0825 582080