Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pizza Non Stop - Bonci + Pepe - Pizza Marathon - Pepe in Grani, Caiazzo (Ce)

Franco Pepe, Gabriele Bonci, Stefano Pepe

When I first heard the news that pizza makers Franco Pepe and Gabriele Bonci would be getting together at one of my favorite stomping grounds, Pepe in Grani  in Caiazzo (Ce), I couldn't help but take notice. But when I heard that this little get together would actually be a pizza marathon, I knew I was in.
I've never been in a marathon :-)  but this one looked like the one for me.  It was held on Sunday, October 13th  From noon to midnight.  Twelves hours ish of pizza non  stop.  A pizza improv...a pizza jam...whatever you wanted to call it, it was definitely a hot ticket.  A ticket which included twelve slices of pizza, a wide selection of cheeses, wine, beer and water.
A seat on Pepe's terrace next to the live jazz band.  A seat that wasn't too far from the kitchen so that you could see when the pizzas arrived at the buffet table.
Twelve didn't sound like much, but this was my first marathon...
Pepe, Bonci and their teams were on fire, so to speak...

Pizza with garlic, chili peppers, olive oil and anchovies from Cetara

Pizza with sweet onions from Alife, scamorza and fior di latte cheese, and prosciutto crudo from Caserta

Pizza with potatoes, onions from Alife, and salami from Caserta

Pizza with pumpkin squash, artichokes, and salami from Caserta

Pizza with sweet yellow tomatoes and anchovies from Cetara

Pizza with marinated pumpkin squash and ricotta

Pizza with wild herbs, ricotta, and salami

I began at about 1245....I hit my wall at about 1500.

 Next year I'll have to train a little harder!

Compliments to a grande donna, journalist, photographer, and friend Elisia Menduni who put this craziness together!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tapas per Tutti! - Milagros Paella Gastrobar, Naples (Na)

Though Spain has been on my bucket list for almost ever, I don't see me taking a trip there in the near future. But what about Spanish food?  
Naples is not known for a wide variety of ethnic food so my desire for all things tapas would have to wait.  Or so I thought.  My opinion changed back in October when I attended a dinner at Hotel Grand Angiolieri in Vico Equense, not far from Sorrento.  It was there that I met Spanish chef Carlos Peña for the first time.  Peña, who after nearly 18 months in Italy was about to open up his own restaurant in Naples.  And not just any restaurant...one featuring Spanish cuisine, particularly tapas and paella.
September 28, after a lot of sacrifice and Neapolitan red tape Milagros Paella Gastrobar opened its doors for the first time.  About 10 days later, I decided to pay a visit and see what it was all about.
I was greeted by a smiling Marina Delle Monache, part owner/graphic designer/interior designer/hostess and, coincidentally,  the chef's fiance.
Marina invited me in, and I chose a seat in this casual, colorful corner of Spain. 
I was handed the bright menu which promised to take me on a small tour of this large country .The menu explains everything- tapas traditions, paella, Spanish wine classification, etc etc etc.  
I was lucky, that day, however, to have the chef sit down a bit and explain his beloved Spain, his love for culture, tradition, and good Spanish food.  
One thing I have tasted before is Spanish ham. So I was excited when Peña sent me a plate of some of the best his country had to offer...starting with the big boy:  the Jamón Ibérico...the 'pata negra'.  It shared a plate with a spicy chorizo and the 'lomo coroda', which is a a flavored pork loin...

I had to wash it down with something, so I chose of of Spain's best beers (one that I later learned was voted the best in the world for 2012) - Estrella Galicia 1906 Reserva...
I could of spent a week just tasting those specialties, but I was very curious about what was to come next.
The tapas!
I learned from the chef himself  how il tapeo is a way of life in some areas. Sort of like bar hopping in my college days :-)..
So at Milagros, he chose some typical tapas offering clients the choice of a small portion or a heartier one...
I was served
chorizo sausage in red wine

croquettes di jamon

Spanish tortilla
Then it was time for...time for paella..
A real paella prepared by a Spanish chef in the heart of Naples....
I chose what  Peña informed me was the 'true' paella...one prepared with meat.  The meat of the day?  Rabbit mixed with artichokes, green beans, and the amazing riso bomba...crucial for the perfect paella...

It was lunch, so I didn't want to overdo it...but a Spanish sweet dessert I had to try.
 Peña put together a simple (his words, not mine) dessert.  Crema Catalana - a delicious cream flavored with citrus and spices...then the chef carefully caramelizes it with a mini blow torch.

My little trip to Spain was short...but sweet.  An introduction to a gastronomic world that I could visit whenever I wanted...
now that  Peña is in town...
Chef  Peña and Marina Delle Monache

Tapas per tutti!

Milagros Paella Gastrobar
ia S.Maria in Portico, 15
 tel: 081 032 0143 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Serendipity - Apianum Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2011- Az. Salvatore Molettiere

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

The wine list at Relais Blu is flowing with Campania whites, particularly Fiano di Avellino.  So I was just a little surprised when sommelier Alessandro Scrivo brought over a bottle of Fiano produced by a winery that I know very well...for their reds.  Azienda Salavatore Molettiere.
The name Molettiere alone instantly brings back memories to a visit to I made a few years ago to their vineyard Cinque Querce in the hills of Montemarano.  The blog has proudly been displaying a glass of Taurasi with a view of their vineyard in the background since I started back in 2010.
Over the years I've tasted the winery's reds dozens of times.  But their Fiano?  New to me.
So there was a little curious anticipation as Scrivo poured me a glass.
A glass of Fiano from Lapio in Avellino.  A territory known as Fiano's homeland.  A territory that produces some amazing white wines.  But what about this one I thought.  Can a producer who has been a red wine staple in my mind for the last several years have something interesting to share in this glass of deep straw yellow?
Of course it could...
It's intense aromas of minerals and florals paired perfectly with the slight breeze that passed over the terrace piu bello del mondo.  A taste or two before my appetizers offered a fresh acidity which was a perfect partner for Chef Roberto Alloca's stuffed calamari squid.
A pleasant relaxing finish.
Fitting for that afternoon.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cortese Way - Personal Food Experience...Coming Soon

I don't make many announcements on my blog, but here is one that I'm more than happy to pass along.  A new web site, Cortese Way - Personal Food Experience is being launched on the 19th of October.  Why is this interesting to me?  First of all, it is the brainchild of Maurizio Cortese, an amico whose way I have been following for quite some time now.  Maurizio is a food lover, food writer, traveler, and all around good guy who often shares his photos on the social network of the interesting places that he has been/interesting dishes that he has tried.
International travelers who are interested in one of a kind gastronomic experiences in Naples and Campania can contact Cortese directly via his site and book one of a kind tours that will leave them, like me, in love with Campania - the Cortese Way.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Spaghetti Madness - Spaghetti with Zucchini alla Nerano - Chef Alfonso Caputo

It was maybe a week after my visit to Taverna del Capitano in Marina del Cantone that I realized it.  I realized that I had spent a fantastic day on the beach followed by an even more spectacular lunch with Chef Alfonso Caputo that I had missed something very important.  Something big.
I didn't try a simple dish that, from what I had been told by several amici , Caputo had one of the best.  His spaghetti with zucchini alla Nerano.
So I had to go back.  A couple of weeks ago I showed up at his doorstep with a grande curiosity and an even larger appetite.
I watched closely in the kitchen as the chef prepared this piatto semplice for me and a dining room full of diners like me who wanted a little of Caputo's spaghetti madness.
Chef Alfonso Caputo
Fried zucchini were tossed with previously cooked spaghetti (al dente, thank you).  Over the next few minutes, Caputo explained the dish to me as he casually added water to the pasta and zucchini...hot water that he had cooked the pasta in, rich in starch.  He tossed and tossed and tossed every now and then, not missing a beat as he continued to prepare other dishes that needed to make it to the pass.
Simple, Karen, he said as he added a few chunks of butter...tossing, tossing, tossing.
The important thing is mixing well...and the right cheese.
Which cheese?  I asked, watching every move.
Parmigiano is ok...
Anche...also...he said as he added cheese and continued to toss.
A little more acqua, a couple of tosses and the pasta had fused perfectly with the cheese, butter and zucchini.

All that was left now was to plate it up...

add a basil leaf...a sprinkle of cheese

and taste...

spaghetti madness...

Mare Non Stop - Goodbye Estate - Ristorante Il Bikini, Vico Equense (Na)

I don't have a lot of traditions.
I strongly believe it is never to late to start a new one.
So as the end of September approached, I made sure that I had one end of summer appointment penciled in on my calendar.  Lunch at Ristorante Il Bikini in Vico.  I wanted my summer to end as it had last year.  At table overlooking the beach, an excellent bottle of wine, and a meal prepared by Chef Domenico De Simone and his staff.
There was quite a bit of wind that afternoon, but I was fine on my side of the patio...to the right...where the sun hit just perfectly.  My menu choice?  The Mimmo fai tu...  dishes hand picked by the chef himself.  My only request was mare, mare, mare and the vino giusto  - a young, fresh Vigna Cicogna Greco di Tufo 2012 by Azienda Agricola Benito Ferrara.  
So we began with a wonderful colorful melody of flavors :
red mullet with tomato gelle and basil
tuna with star anise, yellow peaches and Tropea red onions

Two assaggi of pasta  continued my end of summer salute...
mezzi occhi di lupo di Gragnano pasta with a tomato and sconcigli del golfo sauce

linguine with tartufi, clams and mullet bottarga
Second course was a pleasant surprise...

 bianco di pesce :-  shrimp, swordfish, and pumpkin stuffed squid
The pleasant surprise was the sweet pumpkin stuffing.  Just for you, smiled Il Bikini's owner Giorgio Scarselli.  Usually the chef uses potatoes.  

Pumpkin...a clear sign that the seasons were changing over.  But not just yet.  De Simone's pre-dessert followed by a parade of dolci served with a smile help me hang on to summer just a little while longer.

prickly pear sorbet and crumbled crispy dark chocolate
A sweet sorbet produced with the same prickly pears which grow on the grounds of Il Bikini..  Fichi d'India which thrive under the sun by day, and relax in the amazing summer sunsets as night approaches.
mini caprese cake

il baba'
So, traditions.  I don't have many.  But this new one. My goodbye estate, ciao summer lunch at the end of   Il Bikini restaurant's season would not be complete without a cup of caffe'.  A caffe' and a chat with Scarselli before I made my way up the familiar stairway, scattered with plants (prickly pears) and a spectacular view of the beach with Mt Vesuvius and Naples in the distance.
Il Bikini's last lunch of the season is October 6, 2013.  
Ci vediamo next spring...

Strada Statale 145 Sorrentina Km 13,900
80069 Vico Equense (Na)
081 1984 0029

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Into the Blu - Relais Blu, Massa Lubrense (Na)

One quick visit to Relais Blu for an aperitif in August demanded a follow up visit before the end of the summer season.  A visit for lunch, a trip around the wine list, and a conversation with the giovane Chef Roberto Allocca.
On this visit, I was determined to take it easy, take it slow, and enjoy my  journey into the blu.
The perfect way to begin any visit to this spectacular establishment is with a glass of spumante.  I was poured a glass of Marchese Antinori Nature-Spumante Metedo Classico.  A spumante with a never ending perlage.  

Perfect.  Perfect because I wanted to take my time.  Sip slowly as I  spoke with the owner of Relais Blu, Antonio Acampora.  He shared with me how his family has been in the hotel business for quite some time, with property in nearby Sorrento.  Seven years ago, they decided to purchase this paradise with its spectacular view of Naples and Capri.  How clients come from around the world to be pampered and cuddled in this renovated villa that hugs the cliff.  
Enjoy your day, Acampora said as he excused himself to get back to work.  
That wouldn't be to hard, I thought as I sat down to a few tasty appetizers...
smoked swordfish

prosciutto with figs

caciocavallo cheese with mandarin marmalade

porcini mushroom salad

Four bite size morsels that would prepare me for what was to lie ahead. Lunch on the terrace of Relais Blu.  A lunch prepared by Chef Allocca and his staff who had two options.  They could prepare a menu that would try its hardest to compete with the scenery, or they could present dishes that would compliment the view and speak proudly of the territory for their guest who arrive from all over the globe.  The chef chose the second option.  Dishes that would blend land, sea, and creativity into tasty beautiful creations.  
freshly baked bread with extra virgin olive oil and French butter on the side
 Each week at Relais Blu, the chef gives his customers an opportunity to try a different olive oil.  On the day of my visit, the oil was from Podere San Sebastiano.  I must admit that I tried the baba' salata and the roll filled with dried tomato without the oil, I did add a bit to my assaggio of the panino bianco.  I can still remember the aroma.
scallops with a cabbage salad, fried apples (mela annurca) and applesauce

squid stuffed with potatoes and leeks.  lemon sauce made with local masse lemons and 'aroma' of provolone cheese
These dishes were paired with wines paired by sommelier Alessandro Scrivo who has been managing the restaurant's wine list for the last four seasons.  A wine list full of Campania, particularly rich in Fiano di Avellino that pair wonderfully with the seafood dishes that exit from the kitchen.  I had a glass or two Apianum Fiano di Avellino 2011 from Salvatore Molletieri.

My lunch into the blu continued slowly...senza fretta...,
First courses...
spaghetti di gragnano with a grouper and finferli (wild mushroom) sauce.
topped with a basil foam and candied tomato 

pasta filled with king crab.  grilled porcini mushrooms on the side and a mushroom consume' 
velvety red lentils with red mullet wrapped in lard from colonnata and crispy fussili.

Grouper cooked gently in olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes with crushed potatoes and grilled porcini 

chocolate, fresh fruit and coconut semifreddo..
and desserts.  
caprese the relais blu way...

A stroll with the chef up past his herb and vegetable garden.  Up to the infinity pool.  We talked about his long career (that deserves its own post...stay tuned).

chef roberto allocca

The midday sun turned into an impressive twilight light show as I enjoyed my last sip of passito before I made my way home.  

Leaving before the sunset?  It's amazing....I was told/reminded.

No...gotta go, was my response.  Maybe on purpose.  
Another reason to return...

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