Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mare Non Stop - Pizzaiola Cruda with Shrimp and Burrata, Chef Giacomo De Simone, Restaurant Punta Scutole, Vico Equense (Na)

I had spent a hot morning on the beach.  Very hot. So after a cool glass of acqua frizzante and a glass of Sireo Bianco 2011 I was ready to eat.    The breeze that met me at my table on the terrace at Restaurant Punta Scutolo did its best, but to no avail.  Then it arrived.   Chef Giacomo De Simone called it pizzaiola cruda with shrimp and burrata.  I called it one of the coolest seafood appetizers I had the chance to enjoy this summer.

The attention to detail was intense.  Tomatoes.  Colorful green, yellow, and reds all diced by hand into tiny tiny tiny pieces.   He placed them there, like a neatly arranged circular mosaic.
With a little extra virgin oilve oil.
A little salt.
A little oregano.
The chef gingerly placed a spoonful of burrata on top to balance out the acidity from the tomatoes.
Then the top.  Two pieces of carefully peeled raw shrimp side by side.
It was an appetizer. Un assaggio.  A taste.

With each small bite, that breeze from the beach seemed a little bit cooler.
My glass of wine seemed to appreciate it, too.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Vineyard Hopping - Punta Tresino (Sa), Az. Agricola San Giovanni

And to think I had almost given up.
 I didn't know it at the time, but I was just minutes away from one of the most breathtaking extreme vineyards I had ever seen.  But at that moment I was confused and a little frustrated.  My GPS only led me up to a certain point, a gas station attendant a little further.  So I sat there for awhile, at what I believed was a dead end...a short stroll from the beach.  One last attempt to call the winery. Mario Corrado, owner of Azienda Agricola San Giovanni picks up.  Who knows if he heard the relief in my voice as I asked to speak to his wife   Ida Budetta.  She assured me that I wasn't lost...I just needed to continue a little further.  Past the chain that said proprietà privata, up a steep rocky dirt road, along a narrow path that hugs the cliff, then turn left.  Continue down the road, open the wooden gate (the one placed there to keep out the wild boars) and you've arrived, she said, more or less.
More or less.  A few bumpy minutes later I was met by aglianico grapes and olive groves.  I arrived to Ida and Mario's property, their challenge, their dream.
You have to drive through hell to get to heaven, Ida told me later with a smile.  A piece of land far from the rest of the world.  A nature-lover's paradise.  It seemed like I was in a film as I walked through the vineyards with Ida.  Some of whch that Mario's father had planted nearly 35 years ago.  It seems like ages ago when Sig. Corrado, a lawyer form Salerno saw this piece of property inside the Parco Nazionale Del Cilento e Vallo di Diano and decided to purchase a piece of it.  At the time practically abandoned.  He thought it would be a great place to have a summer home.  But there wasn't much there besides an old decaying farmhouse, neglected trees and vineyards,and before I forget... no electricity.  But for years, he would spend time in this piece of property, dreams illuminated only by candlelight and determination when the sun went down.

Walking through this paradise that overlooks the sea I couldn't imagine how it must have looked like in the beginning.  Or how it must have been to leave a fairly big city-Salerno, high profile jobs-Mario, an architect, Ida a lawyer, and raise three children here.
Painstakingly vineyards were replanted/recuperated.
Passionately renovations began on the historic farmhouse, spearheaded by Mario
And restlessly Mario and Ida have been building their dream here since 1993.
A dream, as the back label of their bottle so beautifully expresses:

vivere in simbiosi con la natura incontaminata di Punta Tresino, allevare con amore i prodotti antichi del Cilento, proteggere con passione questa terra.

live in symbiosis with nature at Punta Tresino, lovingly cultivate the ancient products of Cilento, passionately protect this land...

This land...this territory with fiano, trebbiano,  greco and piedirosso vineyards that reach out to the sea.  Vineyards that are rewarded with cool breezes but sometimes struggle under the hot sun.  A territory that houses aglianico vineyards surrounded by olive trees...grapes which the wild boars in the area cannot get enough of.

Ida took me to another vineyard that we could only each by jeep...and a silent prayer.  It was a white knuckle ride to reach the family's youngest aglianico and piedirosso vineyard, Castellabate, tucked in nicely among wild berry bushes.

 I enjoyed my time in the vineyards, under the hot August sun, but I also came to taste wine,  Mario and Ida produce 5 - 2 whites and 3 reds.  I tasted in the air conditioned comfort of their recently renovated cantina.

Paestum 2012- Paetum IGT    Fiano 85 %, Trebbiano 10 %, Greco 5 %
Light straw yellow glass with pleasant deep, but not sweet,  floral aromas.  An enjoyable acidity and freshness which represents the terrain quite nicely.  A characteristic that Ida and I had discussed before.  A wine that leaves your mouth salivating, so to speak. Nice.

Tresinus 2012- Paestum IGT   Fiano 100%
This white wine is produced with fiano grapes from the winery's 35 year old vineyards.  A deeper straw color shone from the glass.  I must admit that I took my time with this glass.  I was curious to note how this would evolve in the glass over time-as it breathed and warmed up in the glass. Fresh, sapid , refreshing.  Ida tells me that there aren't many bottles left.

Castellabate 2011- Paestum IGT   Aglianico 80% Piedirosso 20%
Here's the first red. At first impact, an intense aroma of black pepper.  I decide to let this one sit for awhile to evolve in its glass.  A few minutes later, a bouquet of mature cherries, light at first, then deeper.  Nice flavor while lightly tannic. I learned later that only 20 % of this wine spends 3 months in French barriques.

Ficonera 2011- Paestum IGT Piedirosso 100%
This piedirosso is exclusively from their vineyard closest to the sea.  As I examined this glass, I thought back to the vineyard I had walked earlier.  I smiled as I remembered the faint salty breeze on my cheek.  Intense dark purple color, aromas of underbrush.  I set this aside, then went back to taste flavorful young fruit.  Smooth, dry.  Nice finish. Only 867 bottles produced.

Maroccia 2009 -Paestum IGT Aglianico 100%
A wine that spends 2 years in French barrique. Deep ruby color.  A fruit aroma that I appreciated as it evolved and matured in the glass over the 20 minutes or so that I let sit there.
I let it sit and took another stroll through the vineyards. I stopped at a particularly grande cluster of aglianico glistening in the sun, snapped a few photos, then went back inside.
And this time I tasted.  Lightly astringent, sapid.  One that you can hang on to.

Hang on to.  Like my memories of that afternoon with Mario and Ida.  I respect their life choice.  Their passion.  Their dedication.

It was time to go.  Maybe next time I'll book their apartment that they have on the property, surrounded by vineyards.  That way I can enjoy what is sure to be a magnificent sunset and those cool salty breezes.  Have breakfast with fresh bread and that famous Cilento fig jam.  Lunch with tomatoes from Ida's garden with buffalo mozzarella from nearby Paestum.

 I said goodbye to Ida, Mario, and their paradiso.
Then I  headed back down the road.  Past the vineyards and olive trees.  Past the wooden gate that did its best to keep out the wild boars that drive Mario crazy.  And down that narrow, dirty, dusty rocky road that earlier led me to one of  the most breathtaking extreme vineyards I had ever seen.

Azienda Agricola San Giovanni
Punta Tresino
84048 Castellabate (Sa)
0974 965136


Friday, August 23, 2013

Mare Non Stop - Lemon Scented Ravioli with Zucchini and Clams - Lo Stuzzichino, Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi (Na)

I was in Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi, a little Italian village on a hill not far from Sorrento, Massa Lubrense, and Positano.  During an early dinner at Ristorante Lo Stuzzichino, I enjoyed one of the most interesting fusion between land and sea that I have tasted so far this summer.  A plate with some special ingredients from this spectacular territory.  I asked Mimmo De Gregorio, second generation of this family owned and operated restaurant, about this plate that successfully grabbed my attention.

The dish begins with homemade ravioli that the family prepares using durum wheat flour, eggs and water.  A little lemon and lime peel from the gardens of Massa Lubrenese are added to give flavor, aroma, and color to the dough.  The filling is made with a leggera, light, sheep milk ricotta from Agerola, Parmeggiano Reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, and a touch of lemon.  After the ravioli is cooked, it is tossed with a simple summer sauce of clams and lightly fried zucchini.  De Gregorio serves it with a touch of lemon peel grated on top.

Ristorante Lo Stuzzichino
Via Deserto 1A - 
Sant'Agata sui due Golfi  (Na) - 80064

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mare Non Stop - Sunset Chasing - Il Bikini, Vico Equense (Na)

Wednesday evening on the SS 145.  The scenic highway that embraces the Sorrento Peninsula has an abundance of striking and impressive views.  Tourists slowly drive along this winding road, stop for a granita or take a few photos.  All well and good.  In the summer we should take it slow.  But not this evening.  I was on my way to Il Bikini for  Scalzo e Crudo.   Scalzo e Crudo, literally translated as barefoot and raw, is a weekly beach party organized by Giorgio Scarselli, owner of this popular beach complex.  And though the crowds would start to get heavy around 10 pm, my mission was to hit the beach at 8:15 pm.  That's the magical moment when the sun starts setting into motion one of the most dazzling displays of lights I've ever seen.
 I'm a self confessed sunset chaser, and though I've been to Il Bikini on numerous occasions, day, evening, and night - sunset is my favorite time.  That half hour or so when the sun descends into the bay surrounded by blues, oranges, pinks, and purples.  I had to be there by 8:15 pm ish, and the traffic on the coast was making me nervous.  I had an appointment with Scarselli and his sunset. Plus there would be music. pizza, corn on the cob, and barbecue kebabs with Scarselli's secret sauce.

Mission accomplished.

  Il Bikini
SS Sorrentina 145 Km 13,900
80069 Vico Equense (Na)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cool Summer Solitude - Relais Blu, Massa Lubrense (Na)

My desire for a cool beverage and the yearning to relax in front of one the most spectacular panoramas on the coast occurred at right about the same time.  Around 5 pm one hot August afternoon in Massa Lubrense, not too far from Relais Blu.  And after a phone call and stopping and asking for directions, I finally arrived at this panoramic 4 star hotel.  Though I had seen dozens of photos on the web, it was hard not to keep my jaw from dropping as I walked into the immaculate lobby and was ushered to the terrace.  That's when the wow escaped from my lips.  A soft wow, but a wow nonetheless.
I had the terrace to myself.  The honeymoon couple before me  had just finished their glasses of wine and left me alone surrounded only by bright white patio couches, dark blue patio umbrellas and a spectacular view of Capri.

I came for a cool drink so I glanced at the menu.  Francesco, the waiter and my terrace companion for the afternoon, must have noticed my look of indecision.  A glass of spumante...a rose' from Campania...a cocktail?  I couldn't decide.

Francesco suggested something fresh. Fresh and simple.  How about a green tea with lemon?
Iced tea?  I thought about it for a minute.  It wasn't the latest summer drink on the coast.  It didn't sound in or hot.
But it did sound cool.  And on this Utopian terrace, anything would be perfect.

Would you like a few snacks from the kitchen?  he asked.
Why not....
parmagiano reggiano and balsamic vinegar


frittata di pasta

mortadella with basil

After awhile my solitude was broken.  Several more guests joined me on Relais Blu's terrace of tranquility. And who could blame them.  It was time for me to leave, though.  I took a last look, snapped a last photograph.  The last wow escaped from my lips. A soft wow, but a wow nonetheless.
At the reception desk they suggested that I come back for dinner one evening.
The sunset is spectacular, I was told.
Yes, I thought.  I had seen some pictures.

Relais Blu
Via Roncato, 60
80061 Massa Lubrense (NA)
Tel +39 081 878 9552  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mare Non Stop - Taverna del Capitano, Marina del Cantone (Na)

A stroll around the small bay with a short pause on the pier.
A bottle of water.
A granita.
Wading up to your knees in the cool clean bandiera blu waters of Marina del Cantone.
A few hours under a light beige umbrella reading, relaxing, taking in the sea.
All activities that I highly recommend  before sitting down to a lunch at a restaurant/hotel that the Caputo family has been operating for three generations.  Michelin star Taverna del Capitano, nestled comfortably  in the family's 4 star hotel. Mare, mare, mare has always been the star of the Caputo family's menu and today would be no different.  I was led to a table by owner /sommelier, Mariella Caputo  and was poured a glass of Cinquantenario Spumante Brut Metedo Calssico by Janare by Claudio De Mauro, the Maitre D' (and one who would prove to be great company for the entire afternoon).  A sip or two as I took in the sea breeze then it was off to the kitchen to talk to Chef Alfosno Caputo.

Chef Alfonso Caputo
The chef was in his kitchen with two young cooks and his mother Grazia, who he introduced as a grande cuoca. Grazia was baking sweet pizzas that would be served to the hotel guests the next morning.  There was an enticing aroma of freshly baked bread.  Caputo told me that the restaurant bakes their own bread daily.  He then took me over to one side of the kitchen and began opening a series of large steel drawers.  We also make our own pasta, he shared.  Well, that may not sound so unusual, many restaurants do.  But not like here in Caputo's kitchen.  This wasn't fresh egg pasta.  Instead, Caputo over the years has studied and perfected how to make his own dried pasta.  Not easy. No one else does it, he added.

We continued our pre-lunch chat until we finally arrived to the topic of what I would like to have that afternoon.  There were plenty of things I could have said.  I have been following the chef for about a year since we met in Vico Equense last summer.  I'd seen plenty of his dishes on Facebook, Twitter and various food blogs.  But I decided to let the chef decide.  To let Caputo steer the ship-pun intended.
And so we set sail..  Beginning with my official benvenuto.  My welcome as I sat down at the captain's table overlooking the beach.

Lightly fried eggplant stuffed with ricotta and fior di latte.

I was ready to choose the wine.  Mariella has built an intense wine list and cantina over the years, with wines from all over, but I decided to choose a wine from the Amalfi Coast.  Tramonti to be exact.  Per Eva 2011 from Tenuta San Francesco.

This selected blend of falanghina, pepella, and ginestra grapes were bound to go well with whatever the chef would be sending my way.

Dishes like these appetizers full of color, simple but complex at the same time.

Paparandolo.  Small shrimp found in only two places n the world.  Portofino, a small fishing village in Genoa, and in nearby Punta Campanella.  Served on a sizzling hot stone (from the beach below, of course) and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

Next up, a tasty seafood salad with octopus and a red fish gelatin.

Still on the appetizers-calamaro m'buttunat... which is squid stuffed with zucchini flowers ricotta, fior di latte and herbs with a lightly spicy redfish sauce.  I couldn't resist the temptation to take  small piece from one of the freshly baked rolls and use it to soak up the remaining sauce before my next dish was ready.

Every know and then I would find my way back in the kitchen to see Caputo at work.  This time he was finishing up what would be my next dish.  The first of my first courses.  Risotto alla pescatora...seafood risotto.  Caputo served me an assaggini (little taste) on an impressive copper colored mussel shell..  Each bite full of what I came for-mare.  Shrimp and octopus surrounded by creamy flavorful perfectly cooked rice.  To be enjoyed lentamente...slowly as you look out across the bay.

I was curious, however, if I'd get a chance to try Caputo's homemade dried pasta.  The next dish satisfied that curiosity as well as my palate.  Caputo's trafilia pasta lightly and expertly tossed with the family's olive oil and sea urchin eggs.  Eggplants are in season, so a few fried slices were placed lightly on top of the dish.  To the side, a tasty mayonnaise which really wasn't a mayonnaise at all.  No egg,  just a creamy combination of ricotta cheese and eggplant   And just to stick with the theme of the day, Caputo added a few raw sea urchins to complete the dish. 

Time for the second course. A beautiful combination of land and sea.  Sweet and savory.   Red fish with pancetta and sweet kiwi fruit. 

One of my rules when I go out is to always save room for dessert.  I went back in the kitchen to see what the chef had in mind.  Eggplant.  With chocolate.  I must admit that though I had never tried it before, I was a little curious, if not anxious, about how it would taste.  I learned that though tradition calls for the eggplant to be fried, Caputo wanted to make the dish light and delicate.  He decided to make candied eggplant and wrap it gently around ricotta before he drizzled dark chocolate on top.  Delicious.  I would definitely go for it again.

That as well as the small dish of pastries...

And just when I thought I was out of space- I have one more dessert I'd like you to try, Caputo said.
He sent me a dish of summer.  Summer childhood memories.  Cotton candy.  Fresh peaches.  A peach semifreddo popsicle.  Sweet, but non troppo.  I couldn't help but imagine carnival rides.  Ferris wheels and bumper cars.  

My day was over.  And as I (sadly) finished my caffe', I thought about a few more activities that I should add to my list of things to do in Marina del Cantone.  
After lunch, head back to the beach and finish another chapter or two of that summer book you've been reading.  
Reserve a room in the hotel and take a nice little nap.
Visit the cantina with Mariella.  
Head back to beach just in time for sunset and walk along the pier.
Head to the dining room for dinner and another round of creative surprises from Chef Caputo's kitchen.

Taverna del Capitano
Piazza delle Sirene 10/11
Localita' Marina del Cantone
80061 Massalubranese (Na)
081808 1020