Sunday, January 22, 2017

Breakfast is Ready! - Franco Pepe, Pepe in Grani, Caiazzo, (Ce)

I went to visit an old friend the other evening.  Franco Pepe – yes, THE Franco Pepe of one of the hottest pizzerias on the planet – Pepe in Grani in Caiazzo – a small town in the Caserta province.  I went, as one usually does when one visits an amico, to catch up on things, relax, have a beer or two.  That has always been the case with Franco. Except that sometimes Franco likes to add something to the mix
It was around 9 pm, I was hanging out in the kitchen when Pepe called me over.   Come here a minute

Ok.  Why not?

I met Pepe at one of his two pizza ovens.  He had an egg in his hands and as about to crack it open.  Wait! I pulled out my camera because I knew that something special was about to happen.
I was right.  At that moment, Franco was about to serve up a pizza that he had never served to anyone outside of his staff before. 
He cracked open an egg onto pizza dough previously topped and quickly cooked with creamy Grana Padano cheese that had been aged for 12 months and pancetta bacon courtesy of my fav-black Caserta pork. 

Then the pizza went back into the oven for just a bit – then sprinkled in pepper – then back in.
Extra virgin olive oil is added at the end, by Pepe himself.

For me, the memories were obvious – but for Pepe?  He shared with me memories of Caiazzo and his father on Wednesday mornings.  During the mercato, when his father would serve pizzas topped with egg to his customers.  His mom often added a slice of cheese on top. A connection that is very important to anything ne. How does it relate to the past?  Your past.

Karen, we need a name – something in English.
Then it was time for my memories to kick in.  I also thought about my father.  Who, whenever I visited with my son David over the past few years, would wake up early and fix us something to eat.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sunshine in A Sandwich - Panificio Boccia, Ischia (Na)

A day or two before my Ischia adventure, I wrote my travelling buddies – Pizza maker Ivano Veccia and Chef Crescenzo Scotti  – informing them about my travel plans.  Guys, I’ll be arriving probably around 1040.  And I’ll probably be hungry! 😃
Flash-forward, Saturday morning around 1100 am.  Spectacular sunshine and clear blue sky in contrast with the inter temperatures and slighting biting wind greeted me as my ferry pulled into Ischia Porto.  There I caught up with my greeting party, Scotti and his son Domenico alongside Veccia. 

Veccia Scotti, and Domenico

Right away I as whisked off to Ischia Ponte, near Castello Aragonese and most importantly, our first stop – Panificio Boccia.
Panificio Boccia, a bakery that has been around since 1938 and popular with the locals since….since forever!
I soon found out why.

From the street, Panificio Boccia looks like any other minimarket in Italy.  Veccia knocked at the small unmarked door and opened.  We stepped inside to a warm paradise of fresh baking bread produced daily in two wood burning ovens.  We arrived just in time as Michele and Luigi were taking out bread from the oven. 

One loaf would be enough for our mission.  Karen, we’ll get a piece of bread, open it up, and stuff it with mortadella, Scotti informed me.

We took our loaf, still steaming hot, next door to the grocery section of Panificio Boccia.  Behind the counter, we handed our lovely loaf over to Andrea and Luciana.  

Luciana cut that baby open, placed several slices of mortadella inside and served up four super sandwiches.

We paired it up with a park bench, a couple of beers, an amazing view of the sea.

Mission accomplished!!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Flavors of Forio, Una Giornata Verace, Ischia (Na)

Ivano Veccia and the gang!
I’m not sure how many guidebooks would suggest a visit to Ischia during the month of January.  Considering that the lidos are closed as well as a majority of restaurants including   three Michelin starred restaurants (like Nino Di Costanzo’s Dani Maison, recently awarded 2 Michelin stars after being opened for only one short summer season)

So why would a food blogger hop on a ferry during a sunny, yet windy rocky wavy day? I asked myself that question as well. However, the answer is easy.  This may be the perfect opportunity to see an Island usually jam-packed with international tourist slimmed down to just the locals.  A chance to rediscover the island con calma, in the company of those who know it best.  In the company of Ischitani like pizza maker Ivano Veccia and chef Crescenzo Scotti who took me on a journey through the traditions and flavors of Ischia- focusing on Forio.  Forio, one of six counties on the large island of Ischia with recipes and traditions all its own.  And what better way to discover those traditions than to enjoy a tavolata- a long lunch with friends and family.  A tavolata starring many of the recipes and flavors that inspire some of Ischia’s top chefs.

Veccia invited me into his home, into his kitchen, and into his close group of family and friends.  Veccia is a pizza maker and his brother Gaetano, a baker, so it seemed natural that the family’s cozy kitchen included 2 wood burning ovens as well as a fireplace.
The long dining room table, packed with food, wine and laughter treated me to one of the best meals I have had in a long while.  Ischia awaited me with dishes prepared by Ivano's mom, la signora Anna, such as a zampognaro bean soup.

The zampognaro bean is a bean that is only found in Ischia, and it’s not that easy to find.  It takes a lot of work to get a small quantity of beans including old school thrashing.    The beans were soaked overnight 10 to 15 hours.  Then cooked for about an hour or so alongside carrots, celery and onions.  The beans were served on a piece of toasted bread and lard.

Another dish that caught my eye and palate included escarole alla monachina – an endive salad stewed with raisins.

Pizza di scarola- Escarole or endive pizza is a Campania classic, but Forio has its own twist on this stuffed pizza.  Pizza dough is stuffed with stewed escarole/endive salad, olives, capers, raisins,  and in some cases, pine nuts.  Instead of baking the pizza pie in the oven, In Forio, it is cooked in a frying pan.  Mulled wine is added to give it a surprising touch of sweetness!

A must in Ischia is the famous coniglio alla Ischitana.  Rabbit Ischia style.  Once again, each county has its recipe, and at the Veccia household, I discovered that the rabbit is prepared in a terracotta pot over coals in the fireplace. 

Olive oil, piperna, tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper and about an hour or so produces an excellent pasta sauce….

Gaetano, Ivano’s older brother prepared the pasta with an expertise that only experience can teach.  Then an amazing thing- he tossed the pasta in the sauce, but not over the stovetop, but right at the mouth of the wood burning oven!

As well as an amazing second course that must be eaten with your hands!

And Ivano?  It is impossible to have lunch at a pizza maker’s home without trying a pizza or to.  In a wink of an eye, Veccia produced his escarole pizza, known in dialect as 'a pizza ca' scarol trciut 
His pizza dough is topped with tomato sauce, garlic and olive oil and placed in the oven.  

Then, as soon as it comes out, topped with escarole salad, tomatoes, papacelle, and marinated eggplant.  

Veccia also uses anchovies if he has them on hand. Then it is folded over and eaten like a sandwich! 


 As I think about that Saturday afternoon, one spent looking to discover the recipes of an Italian island during the off-season, I am thankful that I discovered the warmth and hospitality of the inhabitants of Ischia as well.  
And that you will not find in any guidebook. 😉

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Una Giornata Verace with Gino Sorbillo, Naples (Na)

Gino Sorbillo (center)

I can’t tell you for sure how long I’ve known Gino Sorbillo, but I definitely know that my first visit to his pizzeria at Via Dei Tribunali in the heart of Naples was back in 2011. That was the year that I, as a blogger, started getting interested in the pizza world.  The year that I stepped out of my neighborhood and started to open my eyes and see what was going around in the top wood burning pizza ovens in Campania.  An early afternoon in August of 2011 I stepped into one of the hottest pizzerias in Naples.  In one of the hottest –verace/real- neighborhoods of the city.  It was there that I enjoyed a pizza or five or six prepared by Sorbillo and his team.  A real full immersion!

Take a look at then...

The years passed, and for reasons that I still can’t explain, I never made it back to Via de Tribunali.  Sure, Sorbillo and I have seen each other on many occasions.  But back to his pizzeria, unfortunately no.
Until…until, an exchange of holiday greetings between the two of us developed into a ‘why don’t you come back and see what’s happening in the centro storico?”
I took Sorbillo up on his invitation, and I’m glad I did!  Sorbillo, over the years has become one of the most popular names and faces in the pizza world, not only in Italy, but internationally as well.
Our appointment was for 1130, I showed up at 1150. Casa della Pizza is what was written on the door.  Casa della Pizza/ Gino Sorbillo.  

I buzzed, the door unlocked, and I was let into a piece of Neapolitan history, Sorbillo style.

Casa della Pizza- or as I saw it, an office space/refuge/hideout if you will for Gino Sorbillo. This Casa della Pizza/pizza house is  in the very apartment building that belonged to his family is full of pizza artifacts, memories, and flavor.
I spoke with Sorbillo a bit about his office space, his family, and his thoughts on Naples and pizza in general.  As he spoke, I listened to a young man who was not only conscious of his family’s roots, but also proud of the hard work and dedication that has made the Sorbillo name famous throughout the world.  A family initially famous because Sorbillo’s grandparents were known as the family that had 21 children.  21!!! His office is full of newspaper clippings dating back to the 1930s.  He shared that many of the Sorbillo clan emigrated out of Naples, leaving only three of the Sorbillo 21.  Three that included his father and his aunt, Esterina. 

It was interesting for me to learn that back in the day; his Aunt was responsible for the fried pizzas.  In fact, it was normal that a woman would work the deep fryer while the men would be responsible for the wood oven cooked pizzas.
A mini tour full of touching memories.  A casa where Sorbillo surrounds himself with his past, reflects on the present and continues to dream of the future.  Not just for himself, but for his children. 
Talking about pizza and looking at the clock, I noticed that it was lunchtime.  Sorbillo and I stepped out on the balcony and looked down onto the crowd below.  The usual traffic stopping scene- an hour wait is the norm.

An hour wait that is expected and enjoyable for some.  In an alley around the corner, a man sings Neapolitan songs, small groups sit on the benches in front of the pizzeria and take selfies.  This is also the Sorbillo experience.
Gino ushered me in and right away, I was whisked into a world of pizza frenzy.  

Ground floor/ground zero.  Near the door, in plain sight of the pizza counter, voices calling orders, host/hostesses calling out numbers of who can come in next, waiters delivering pizzas at an amazing speed. 

Second floor- dining room 2.  A little quieter, for those who want their Sorbillo experience a little easier.  Less noise.  The chance to get a balcony seat. 
Sorbillo took me back downstairs to a smaller room.  A huge iron table in the shape of a horse shoe perfect for single diners or couples who don’t mind a little company.

Then he pointed to a large window.  A large marble counter with barstools and amazing light.  A seat there means people watchers like me could have a pizza and a glass of beer or wine while checking out what’s happening out on the street.  That’s where I decided to sit.  And as I sipped a craft beer, I glanced over the menu.

Margherita, I said.  With provola cheese and pepper
Minutes later, my pizza arrived.  A pizza so large that its plate served as just a suggestion.

Later I was asked if I’d like to try one more.  Why not? I said.  Just a small one, something ‘al bianco’.
Minutes later, one of the best pizzas I’ve had in a long time.  Fior di Latte cheese, anchovies. 

And yes, one more beer.  The perfect way to end an amazing giornata verace.
Before I left, Sorbillo and I caught up on our lives over the past few years over a beer in his basement dining room.  A dining room that housed only four tables.

Like the first pizzeria his family ran.  A private conversation between G and I.  Between a sip or two, a laugh and I smile, I reflected back on my first visit 5 years ago.  I reflected on not only that the pizzeria had changed, evolved, but so had Sorbillo. 
A real giornata verace.

 Can’t wait to return!