Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Minestra Maritata - Chef Nino Di Costanzo, Dani Maison, Ischia (Na)

Chef's table - Dani' Maison.  A chance to sit down to lunch with Chef Nino Di Costanzo, 2 Michelin stars, in his tiny kitchen of the restaurant that he transformed out of his grandfather's house is something that I still have to pinch myself every now and then to believe.  A weekend in Ischia, a chance to try Di Costanzo's new dishes for the second season of his dream on this fantastic island.
Di Costanzo loves tradition.  He loves simple ingredients.  He loves his childhood memories.  Ask any Neapolitan child of a classic dish prepared by their mother or grandmother and I can bet that minestra maritata is high on the list.  
Minestra maritata - or wedding soup is a typical dish prepared in Campania which marries meat and vegetables in a time consuming, yet labor of love.  It prepared just right, it not only produces an amazing broth, it also produces amazing flavors and and of course, memories.

I believe that is exactly what Chef Di Costanzo had in mind when he decided to serve up his take on a classic dish prepared in his family for generations.
Di Costanzo decided to substitute shrimp, rabbit ( a staple in Ischia) and escarole in place of the classic ingredients such as beef, pork and chicken.
Di Costano presented his version on a copper plate, ingredients wrapped in thin pasta or standing alone.  Standing alone waiting to be tasted alongside instructions given by the Dani Maison waiting staff to sip a bit of chicken broth.  

A spoon provided.  Bellissimo!


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Welcome - A Divina Domenica, Divina Ischia, Sant' Angelo, Ischia (Na)

Sunday afternoon on the island of Ischia.  A domenica divina, as I like to remember it.  A sunny day, a light breeze, the waves of the tiny exclusive fisherman town all accompanied me as I sat down to a lunch prepared by Chef Enzo David, chef of Divina Ischia.
A lunch that began with this benvenuto...

A pasta shell filled with Provolone del Monaco cheese. The chef added fava beans, peas, crunchy pancetta, and foamy lemon!

A welcome with wow written all over it!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Neapolitan Risotto Carbonara Style, Chef Nino Di Costanzo, Dani' Maison, Ischia (Na)

Seated at the chef's table at Dani' Maison is an amazing opportunity to observe Chef Nino Di Costanzo at work.  But maybe work is not the correct term to describe the 2 Starred Michelin chef.  Di Costanzo and his brigade are creating.  They are creating mini-masterpieces for his diners one spectacular dish at a time.
It was hard not to notice -and appreciate- the silence and concentration on the other side of the miniwall that separated my small table from the kitchen. My friend Ivano and I chose the Up to You, Chef! tasting menu which featured this fantastic first - a Neapolitan risotto carbonara style.

I'm a big fan of Di Costanzo's first courses and have always admired how he transforms pasta shaped rice into something special.  Di Costanzo prepared this dish as if preparing a classic carbonara - however...
he added lime to degrease - take away some of the fat - but not the fantastic flavors.

A creamy sauce made with parmigiano reggiano cheese, a crunchy pecorino cheese waffle, Caserta black pork stringataa tied and pressed combination of pork loin, lard, and bacon), and Melissa (lemon balm) sprouts. Sprouts that Di Costanzo chooses one by one -with the same concentration and creativity mentioned earlier.  The chef added several silver foil leaves added for a touch of elegance...


Friday, May 19, 2017

Festa a Vico 2017, Sweeter than Ever!

Just a couple of more weeks and the wait will be over.  Festa a Vico 2017, 4 - 6 June promises to be sweeter than ever this year.  The 15th edition of 2 Star Michelin chef, Gennaro Esposito's party on the peninsula with the sole purpose of raising money for charities such as ALTS ( Association for the fight against breast tumors), Fondazione Pro ( Tumor research and prevention), Never Give Up (Prevention and treatment of nutrition and eating disorders), Noi con Voi per le Mici (School camps for children with chronic intestinal inflammatory diseases) and Santobono Onlus (Operative microscope project).

Last year,  Festa a Vico raised nearly 190,000 Euro!  How?  By hosting a series of events featuring over 400 chefs and pizza makers.
Here's a quick glance at the program.

On Sunday, June 4, the "Republic of Food" will be on stage. Approximately 200 young chefs will animate the streets of Vico Equense's center by cooking dishes inside and outside of the nearby shops. You can enjoy their dishes in front of the florist, in the clothing boutiques or simply on the various tasting stations that will color the streets. Here's how to participate: a simple offer of 20 euros at one of the Onlus collection points will allow you to taste 5 dishes as  well as  a bottle of water and a coffee or to taste 4 dishes, taste a glass of wine and have a bottle of water and a coffee.

On Monday, June 5, there will be the "Charity Dinner" Over 20 star chefs will prepare a dinner for 200 diners. The great names from some of Italy's top  restaurants will take  guests on an unforgettable journey with classic dishes of their own restaurants. The dessert buffet will be made by the Accademia Maestri Pasticceri Italiani. This event is sold out!

On Tuesday, June 6, it will simply be the "Night of the Stars." In the beautiful scenery of the Seiano Marina, over 100 Michelin star chefs will delight participants with their street food. There will be a wonderful opportunity - just to say it - to taste the "Pizza of the Stars" of the Pizzaioli Masters and then conclude the evening in the tourist complex Le Axidie with the "Dessert Storm", a sweet moment starring over 20 of the best Italian  pastry chefs. Here's how to attend: you can take part in the evening with a minimum bid of 120 € that will be allocated to the Onlus Associations. It is possible to make the donation the evening at the bank of the Onlus which you will find at the entrance (also with credit card) but, since the places are limited, it is advisable to make the donation by bank transfer (as it has a value of Reservation) to be made by 27/05/2017

Further info can be found on the Festa a Vico' site here -

See you at Vico!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Amazing Appetizers, Chef Crescenzo Scotti, Il Flauto di Pan, Ravello (Sa)

A Mother's Day lunch with my son was the perfect excuse to hit the road towards Ravello, a medieval town high above the Amalfi Coast.  A perfect excuse to visit Chef Crescenzo Scotti of Il Flauto di Pan in the picturesque Villa Cimbrone Hotel.
 After a relaxing cocktail prepared by Baldo Durazzo (coming soon) my son and I sat down at the table an tried three of Scotti's starters-

Beginning with an appetizer that gives us a sneak peek of the summer season.  Il Pomodoro;  the tomato.

A reconstructed caponata featuring the classic ingredients such as tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, freselle, all stuffed inside Scotti's tomato casa.

Next, the chef's signature dish that has been a part of his menu for several years.  A cappuccino-

one made with potatoes, lobster and a sprinkling of black squid powder on top.

Then a montanarina.

A little fried pizza Scotti style starring some amazing ingredients.  Scampi, corbarino tomato confit, and caviar.  The chef stuffed the pizza dough with burrata and basil.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Amazing Appetizers and Aperitifs, Chef Emilio Desiderio, Rada Restaurant, Positano (Na)

Confession.  I have a love/hate relationship with Positano. 
Love- an amazing hot spot on the Amalfi Coast.  Great shops, restaurants, spectacular views, and a beautiful beach that welcomes travelers from all over the world.  Really, all over.
Hate – traffic, parking, and did I mention the traffic?

But as they say, love conquers all, so last Saturday afternoon I hopped in my car and headed out to Positano.  The drive was amazing, practically no traffic thanks to a little cloudy weather and a Naples soccer game.  I arrived early enough to window shop as I headed down the alleyways from the garage to Rada Restaurant located on the rocks.  On the beach.
Fitting this on the rocks, on the beach.  Fitting because when I arrived, Chef Emilio Desiderio was ready to take me on a little passeggiata sulla spiaggia.

Chef Emilio Desiderio

A walk on the beach, the affectionate name he has given to his aperitif starring his take on the sea that he sees from the restaurant’s kitchen window.

Let's go!

A little bubbly from Franciacorta...

Then, the chefs version of sea algae, reminiscent of the greenery that often washes up on the beach. Here in version 'crunchy chip'.

Next, sitting on a starfish, a smooth stone. Or is it?  Look closely.  The chef's fake stone is actually stuffed with sauro fish, dried tomatoes and oregano.

Algae is back, this time as a soft sponge topped with a salmon mousse.

Sitting inside this ceramic sea urchin, the chef served up creamed hake fish with a potato foam and Lapsang souchong black tea.

 Here a tuna tartar underneath a ginger foam.

 Inside this seashell, I not only heard the sea, but  was treated to Chef Desiderio's fusillo alla carbonara.  A puffy fusillo pasta with a carbonara mousse and Ossetra caviar.

Desiderio's bread, butter, and anchovy alongside an Italian classic - finger food style.  Spaghetti, garlic, olive oil, and chili flakes.

Our stroll continued and led us to a small fried mozzarella ball with a sprinkling of crustacean powder.

Next, onto the appetizers – brand new for the 2017 season, which for Rada opened up just a couple of weeks ago.

I think it's safe to say that my love for a great artichoke has spread throughout the region.  Desiderio's smoked version includes shrimp and a black squid chip on the side!

Shrimp bisque dripped around the side.

I hae a special name for this next dish.  I've nicknamed it my presunset seppia. An appetizer starring grilled cuttlefish.

Blessed with an amazing backdrop that only Positano knows how to give, the chef paired his cuttlefish with a creamy spring pea sauce, fake peas made with ricotta cheese and lemons, pea srouts, and an amazing sauce made with the the cuttlefish's 5th quarter.

The third appetizer - Chef Emilio's red mullet parmigiana.

The chef lightly fried the mullet in bread crumbs, and accompanied it with a sort of deconstructed parmigiana.  Creamy eggplant, parmigiano cheese,

A basil pesto, and provola cheese.


And The Winner Is!!!!

Our In the Kitchen Contest was a great success!  After reading entries from Italy and the United States, the chefs and I have decided on a winner.  Congratulations to Andrea from San Potito Ultra in the Avellino Province of Campania.

Here’s what Andrea had to say:

 Salve, Per me il piatto della memoria della mia infanzia è il soffritto di maiale. Essendo irpino di nascita, è sempre stata una tradizione della mia famiglia allevare il maiale. Una cura nell'allevamento dell'animale molto curata , anche perché la qualità della carne dello stesso è molto influenzata dalla sua alimentazione. Nei mesi invernali la famiglia tutta si riuniva per l'evento della macellazione. Il piatto prelibato era proprio il soffritto, costituito dal quinto quarto del maiale, parte che non viene sempre utilizzata nella cucina odierna. Bene, quella prelibatezza attirava tutti, dai ragazzi agli adulti , e soprattutto era un punto di unione dove la famiglia si raccoglieva per celebrare una delle famose tradizioni irpine.

Hello, For me the dish of my childhood memory is pork soffritto. Being Irpinian by birth, it has always been a family tradition to breed pig.  The care and attention to the animal’s diet is closely connected to the quality of the pork . In the winter months the family would meet to slaughter the animals. One of the  delicious dishes produced  was pork soffritto consisting of the fifth quarter of the pork, the part that is not always used in today's cuisine. Well, that delicacy attracted everyone, from kids  to adults, and above all was a point of union where the family gathered to celebrate one of the most famous Irpinian traditions.

Andrea has won a lunch or dinner in three top Italian restaurants run by three Michelin Starred chefs.  Palazzo Petrucci in Naples, Il Pievano Ristorante in Gaiole in Chianti, and Jose’ Restaurant in Torre del Greco!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fantastic Firsts, Chef Emilio Desiderio, Rada Restaurant, Positano (Sa)

There's a saying - good things come in threes.  That's probably one of the reasons why I enjoy a restaurant's tasting menu.  There's  usually  a chance to try three first course pasta dishes.  Like last evening in Positano (Sa).  It was my first visit to Rada Restaurant - a spectacular spot on one of the hottest beaches on the Amalfi Coast.   Rada, in the capable hands of Chef Emilio Desiderio who shared a taste of his Spring 2017 menu with me.

Beginning with this rice dish.  The chef used carnaroli rice and combined it with a light touch of flavors and color.

Beginning with lemons from the gardens of the Amalfi Coast - hand picked by the chef and his brigade.

Asparagus spears, edible silver leaves, and a spectacular view of the beach/glass of white wine all combined to make this dish a memorable experience.

Next, the chef sent out his bottoni alla nerano.

Pasta buttons stuffed with cacio e pepe/pecorino cheese and pepper.

This all served on a bed of zucchini.  Each bite produced a powerful mini-explosion of flavor!

The last of the three - served right after the sun had dipped behind the hill.

Black squid fettuccella pasta and a creamy garlic, extra virgin olive oil, chili flakes and sea urchins.

A ginger foam sat high on the top like a crown.