Thursday, July 30, 2015

Amazing Appetizers - Octopus with Cherries and a Red Beet Puree, Chef Gianluca D'Agostino - Veritas Restaurant (Na)

My octopus obsession continues this hot Neapolitan summer with this appetizer by Chef Gianluca D'Agostino of Veritas Restaurant in downtown Naples.  The chef put together three ingredients that were not only pleasing to the eye, but to the palate as well.

Octopus- together with cherries and a puree made with red beets... 



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Amazing Appetizers - Chef Paolo Barrale's Bloody Mary, Marenna' Ristorante (Av)

My server silently placed the dish in front of me with care and professionalism.  She was silent because she knew that right behind her the chef was on his way and he wanted to present this amazing appetizer to me, explain the details, and answer any questions I might have.
I looked at the dish.  A delicate colorful presentation.  I looked up at the chef.  Chef  Paolo Barrale  of Marenna' Ristorante.
Larger than life, smiling, ready to describe this amazing appetizer...
A version, his version of a Bloody Mary.  No alcohol here, but packed with the ingredients that make that popular cocktail a hit.
But first he explained the base.  Fish.
I usually use tuna, but the catch of the day was amberjack, he said.
He presented it in two ways.

  • Slightly sauteed with his bloody mary mix -  a tasty tomato gelatin and cucumbers.

  • A tartar version inside a spring roll.

Add a little garlic mayo, and here it is...


Amazing Appetizers - Baccala' with Escarole - Chef Paolo Barrale, Marenna' Ristorante (Av)

Somehow, someway baccala' (salt  cod) with escarole has become one of my favorite dishes.  I recently had a chance to try this version by Michelin star chef Paolo Barrale at Marenna Ristorante in Sorbo Serpico (Av).

The baccala' was cooked confit (slowly in extra virgin oil). And if that wasn't tasty enough, along with escarole, the chef added a basil seed caviar and set it on top of a smooth sauce made with almond milk.

And there it is...


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pomodoro Passion - San Marzano Hunting in Lavorate di Sarno (Sa)

Karen, guarda qui... Look over here...

Those were the words of Lorenzo Montoro as he accompanied me on my recent trip to Montoroerbe in Lavorate di Sarno.  I was back 2 weeks after my first visit trying to satisfy my San Marzano tomato infatuation that has been increasing at a baffling rate since my first visit.  The more I learn, the more I love...
So maybe that is why I didn't notice the heat as I explored the tomato garden that had changed dramatically since my previous visit.

We can't harvest yet, Dario Montoro told me.  We just sprayed the plants with copper.  We'll harvest in a couple of weeks he said with a smile.
A couple of weeks with the hope that this incredible heatwave that has hit Italy will ease up just a bit.

I strolled the the farm with Lorenzo, Dario, and their father, Giuseppe Montoro.  And as I did, I thought back to what I have learned lately...

The San Marzano tomato is one of the popular ones for many chefs in Campania and beyond, primarily due to its meaty flesh and particularly full fantastic flavor.  It has gone through several mutations over the years, but when you find one that is original and packed with power like the ones the Montoro family produces, it is hard to turn back.

It isn't an easy tomato to cultivate.  It requires a lot of manual labor - for example, as these photos show, the tomato vines grow pretty high.  Usually three rows high.  These seem like simple photos of women in the field but they are not.  These photos, sent to me  by chef Lorenzo Montoro show his mom, la Signora Corona along with Signora Carmela-Dario Montoro's mother in law working. Here, as lorenzo wrote me,  lei si occupa di legare le piante di san Marzano un operazione indispensabile e particolare perché in questa operazione , si pratica anche la "sfemminatura " cioè di tolgono a mano dalle Piantine i ramoscelli che sono in esubero.
that is, she is tying the San Marzano tomato plants to poles, an indispensable and particular operation. at the same time, she is also completing a task known as 'sfemminatura' which means that she is getting rid of all the excess twigs. everything is performed by hand.

The tomatoes ripen in different periods. Three rows, mean three different tomato harvests, beginning with the bottom rows which ripen first.  

So as we strolled, the chef pointed out the tomatoes that were piu belle...more beautiful than the others, red and almost ready...

But to me they were all beautiful.  For this girl who grew up in the suburbs, exploring a tomato garden and stopping to observe every little inch of the vines was exciting. mesmerizing...captivating. 

Allora, Karen...Torni quando raccogliamo i pomodori? Will you come back when we harvest the tomatoes?

Dario Montoro only had to ask me once...
Actually, he didn't even need to ask.  
Date saved.
Pomodoro Passion to be continued...  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Agriturismo Le Campestre's Conciato Romano - A Cheese with a Humble Past and a Glorious Future, Castel di Sasso (Ce)

Conciato romano cheese and Agriturismo Le Campestre.  I was introduced to both examples of Campania quality for the first  back in March of 2011.  Conciato romano is a pickled cheese- dating back to the Samnite civilization.    It's produced in Alto Casertano, home to Agritursimo Le Campestre and the Lombardi family who has nearly single handedly brought this cheese back to life by promoting it on a national level and helping it to become a Slow Food Presidia.  Le Campestre's web site describes this particular cheese like this...

Vorremmo raccontare il Conciato Romano ma non è facile farne una semplice descrizione in quanto non è solo un formaggio ma una vera esperienza antropologica.
E’ quell’insieme di sensazioni che investe il palato, travolge i sensi, rievoca trascorsi imprimendo il ricordo...

We would like to talk about Conciato Romano but it isn't easy to give a simple description since it isn't just a cheese but a real anthropological experience.  Together with the sensations that invest the palate,overwhelms the senses, and evokes after impressing memories...

Manuel Lombardi

I've seen Manuel Lombardi many times since that lazy afternoon in 2011 and I am proud to say that we have become friends.  His cheese  has found its way on menus in top restaurants and pizzerias throughout Campania and Italy as well.   Sitting  down with Lombardi and family as he opened up a terracotta amphora with that strong intense aroma was moving.  It was as if, after a year of ageing, he was presenting it to the world for the first time.  A proud papa', so to speak...
A proud papa' who is serious about this particular product that requires care, dedication, and amore to produce.  That same care, dedication, and amore is also required when pairing as well.
Signora Lilliana Lombardi
So what was the pairing of the day?  It required something sweet, dolce, Lombardi told me.  So that particular afternoon, with a warm summer breeze, the Lombardi family took me on a trip through time...
Beginning with baked pears. ( Pere volpine - fox pears - a forgotten fruit that has an interesting history as well) These pears were baked with another historical Alto Casertano treasure - a sparkling wine known as Asprinio  D'Aversa produced by a nearby winery- I Borboni, and sugar.

All this sweetness, dolcezza, went perfectly with carefully sliced chunks of conciato romano cheese...

A cheese that I have tried on pizzas, in dishes in several Campania restaurants.
But honestly?
I enjoyed it this way.  On a summer afternoon. With the Lombardi family.
At Le Campestre.

Learn more about this specialty here...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

GioveDrink - A Cool Aperitif for a Hot Summer

Aperitif hour and its time to go back to the Romeo Hotel and the Beluga Skybar. Yes, go back, as I've written about this spectacular terrace overlooking the Porto di Napoli here and here. This time, however, the 5 star luxury hotel had a new formula that they wished to try out on one of the hottest days of the summer so far.
GioveDrink - a play on the word giovedi, which means Thursday, saw its premier on July 16th.  A Thursday night aperitif which included:

  • a plateful of finger food fusion with appetizers from the hotel's Romeo Sushi Bar and Michelin star Il Comandante Restaurant  and Romeo Sushi Bar & Restaurant...

  • a cocktail or a glass of wine - I chose a glass of Falanghina del Sannio Bianco 2014 IGT from Cantine Mustilli...

  • and a voucher to use at the hotel's Dogana del Sale Luxury Spa.

Add a DJ with some cool music and you have the perfect formula to beat the summer heat.

With positive feedback, GioveDrink will be back return on a monthly basis starting in September.

Stay tuned...

Romeo Hotel
Via Cristofo Colombo 45, Naples
081 017 5001

Vincanto - Wine & Food...and So Much More, Pompeii (Na)

Pompeii is one of Campania's top tourists spots.  Known for its famous ancient ruins such as the ampitheater, the Faun's house and Villa dei Misteri.  Known for  its breathtaking  sanctuary of the  Beata Vergine del Rosario/Blessed Virgin of the Rosary.
As far as places to eat, there has always been a wide range of places with tourist menus to please the crowds who are in town for the sights and are looking for a quick bite to eat.  
So it was a pleasure to finally make it out to Vincanto - Wine & Food, the enogastronamical adventure that Yuri Buono began several years ago.  A passionate adventure that I soon got caught up in as Buono greeted me at the door and led me to my seat.  

My intention was to have a quick aperitif, having seen an advertisement for his Viniziamo la Serata featuring a buffet and a glass or two of wine from a small but robust wine list. But as Buono pulled out the menu, and we began to talk, I was impressed with the passion and pride he had with every item on the menu full of history, traditions, and small producers (all of whom Buono has visited himself to guarantee their authenticity)

Buono's desire for his guests is for the to be able to choose a fantastic  wine, whether by the glass or bottle,  and then surround it with something amazing yet uncomplicated to eat. So, with that in mind, he asked me what I would like to drink.  Something white, I said...and of course, something from Campania.  We headed over to take a look at the wines presented on a series of shelves on the wall.  Buono reached for a bottle - What about this one?  Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio from Villa Dora, a winery which is about 10 minutes away.  

And why not? He placed it in the chiller, and several minutes later, he opened up a fresh flavorful 2012 to enjoy with the following dishes.

Bruschetta.  One topped with a sweet yellow piennolo tomato from Vesuvius (Elgo di Saverio Bifulco), the other - that same sweet yellow gold, but with a thin slice of  black pork lard from Caserta.

Flavors of summer were presented here in a small white porcelain cup.  Neapolitan caponata with tomatoes, freselle bread, oregano, and basil

Smoked fish was also on the menu - cod, trout and salmon (Lofoton) which pratically melted in my mouth.  The addition of red peppercorns were a nice touch.

I learned a new word - Testaroli, a Slow Food Presidia from Lunigiana in Tuscany.  Buono eyes lit up as he shared with me his adventures in Tuscany and showed me a quick video on how the this thin crepe like pasta is made.  

His menu presents it as they do in Tuscany with loads of basil and grated cheese.

Another beat the heat menu item - a tomato stuffed with lettuce and anchovies from Cetara.  This was accompanied with chopped arugula and  radicchio as well as thick slices of buffalo milk mozzarella cheese.  

While enjoying this taste of Campania, Buono shared with me a project that he is close to and passes on to his clients.  Many of the fresh produce he receives for Vincanto come from Marialuisa Squitieri's organic farm Madrenatura Agricoltura Naturale.  He offers an interesting opportunity to those who wish to have fresh farm products as well by clicking on this link, seeing what is available, and calling Buono to order a package which can be picked up each Thursday at Vincanto.
So far so good.  Time to move on and conclude my aperitif/dinner at Vincanto.  But first, a new wine, sticking with Campania and close to home, a Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso by Vigna Pironti. 

 And what this wine needed was a hearty sandwich made with bread Ancient Pompeii style made with barley and farro wheat.  This crunchy little loaf or pagnotella was stuffed with pancetta, mozzarella and  friarielli greens.

An enjoyable evening, which for me was coming to an end, for others was just beginning.  As I was about to leave, Buono excused himself and headed over to the second dining room where his guests had been patiently waiting for him to play his guitar and sing a song.  
A Neapolitan song of course.  So he sat down and did just that. And as he did, I could hear the same passion and pride in his voice that I had witnessed earlier as he described his menu., as he shared stories, as we tasted the wines, as he greeted his customers, his guests.
Guests who like me, are Vin-dedicated and who will return to Pompeii for the ruins, for the sanctuary, and for Vincanto.

Via Nolana #89
081.19545046 or  392.9971314
Evenings only