Thursday, November 1, 2018

Fantastic First, Chef Vincenzo Piacente, Gio Ponti Restaurant, Sorrento (Na)

A few weeks ago I was in Sorrento - at Gio Ponti Restaurant in the spectacular Hotel Parco dei Principi to be exact.  It was my first visit back in nearly 2 seasons so I was super excited to see what Executive Chef Vincenzo Piacente had been up to.  Of the many dishes I tried and admired, this Neapolitan classic - Candele Pasta alla Genovese - stood out.  I had a chance to hang out in the kitchen as the chef and brigade were plating up.  I took advantage of that time to learn a little history about the dish from Marcello Mosca -- a true Neapolitan.

Marcello shared with me that this classic recipe handed down to him by his grandmother was basically a poor man's dish.  Onions, carrots and pork were slow cooked to form the pasta sauce and it was used to top pasta formats such as maccheroni. 

 Nowadays, pork has been replace with beef - preferably with some fat to withstand the long cooking time ( a few hours at least). A popular choice for the pasta format is candele past.  Many pasta makers sell packages in which the pasta has already been spezzate - broken in thirds.  Piacente adds a gourmet touch to the dish by topping the dish with carrots,  fried leek and zucchini for a crunchy element,  a creamy Parmigiano Reggiano sauce, and fresh basil.


Amazing Appetizer, Chef Michele De Martino, Casamare, Salerno (Sa)

A little over a month has passed, but this appetizer starring flying squid by Chef Michele De Martino of Casamare in Salerno is unforgettable to say the least.  A dish that is a tasty mix of land and sea.

I asked the chef for the recipe and here it is.

Squid alla Luciana with Taralli from Agerola

For 2 people you need 2 medium flying squid (cooked), onions to taste, 6 Gaeta olives, and a bit of Pantelleria capers, 3 piennolo tomatoes.  

These  ingredients are mixed together with bite sized taralli from Agerola and a bit of extra virgin olive oil.



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Taste of Home, Chef Eduardo Estatico, J Kitchen, Capri (Na)

La mia cucina e' di concetto italiano, sa di storia e di tradizione, nello stesso tempo semplice e creativa.
Chef Eduardo Estatico
La memoria del gusto e dei profumi della mia infanzia, la verace cultura napoletana, la passione per il teatro di Eduardo De Filippo e le mie esperienze professionali ispirano i miei piatti.
La mia idea di cucina e' di stile neoclassico che va sempre alla ricerca del contemporaneo: rigorosamente di stagione, senza pregiudizi, di orto, di mare e di terra insieme.
Il viaggio del gusto parte dalla Napoli di un tempo, mia citta' natale, si nutre di Campania, fa il giro d'iltalia e infine approda a Capri, l'isola azzura.

Chef Eduardo Estatico
J Kitchen Capri

My cuisine is based on Italian concepts, its history and tradition, and at the same time, simple and creative.
Memories of taste and fragrances of my childhood, true Neapolitan culture,  passion for  Eduardo De Filippo's plays and my professional experiences inspire my dishes.
My idea of cooking is a neoclassical style that always searches for the contemporary: strictly seasonal, without prejudice, with products from the vegetable garden, the sea and land altogether.
This journey begins in historical Naples, my hometown, 'feeds' on Campania, travels around Italy and finally arrives in Capri, the blue island.

I thought deeply about those words written from the heart of Estatico on the inside of J Kitchen's menu.  Estatico is one of my go to chefs when I have a question or curiosity about Neapolitan cuisine.  And why not?  Estatico, 33 years young, even wrote a book of classic Neapolitan recipes, proverbs and anecdotes.
I wish you could have seen the excitement on my face when this dish of eggplant parmesan/parmigiana di melanzane arrived.  Two versions!

His inspiration for this taste of home is from his grandmothers.
 The first version - from his Nonna Giuseppina -  his maternal grandmother.  Estatico shared with me that his nonna would prepare for him this parmigiana bianca without tomato sauce, with buffalo milk provola cheese, and chocolate shavings. Chocolate! His grandmother had memories of this dish during the II World War, when American soldiers would give chocolates to Neapolitan children.  The original  recipe, however, probably dates back to the Bourbon period.

Estatico has Nonna Rita - his paternal grandmother - to thank for inspiring him for this version.   Recently Estatico wrote this on his Facebook page:

She's the light, the blunder, my home, my roots, my extended family.  I  a child, who depended on her for 'zuppa di latte' before going to school, creamy pasta and beans, and tomato preserves. I who ran barefoot defying  numerous dangers, while she chased me and made me do what was right.  She prepared bread with tomato and love for me. On Sundays (actually beginning Saturday evening)  during the cooler seasons , she meticulously prepared a mythical sauce of ragù , red flavor full of perfumes-as good as the sea is deep.  I feel so much love for Nonna Rita. Nonna Rita was indirectly  my first cooking instructor even if  she is not mentioned in my resume.

So it was Nonna Rita who inspired this gourmet classic version of parmigiana di melanzane with a rich flavorful tomato sauce.

That afternoon in August, even if it was just for a brief period, I felt part of Estatico's family.  I could sens in these dishes the love and admiration he has for his grandmothers.  His respect for tradition.  His taste of home.

Thanks, Eddy.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fantastic Firsts, Chef Eduardo Estatico, J Kitchen, Capri (Na)

A few weeks ago I headed to Capri to visit Chef Eduardo Estatico.  Estatico is the executive chef of J K Place, and more specifically the head chef of J Kitchen, the hotel's gourmet restaurant. 

It's been four years since your last visit, Estatico jokingly reminded me.  We've got a lot to catching up to do.
So, after a series of amazing appetizers, coming soon, the chef invited me into the kitchen for a chat as he prepared the first course.  One that the chef had picked personally for me from his rich selection of primi piatti.  His Riso Carnaroli Riserva San Massimo al peperone ripieno scoppiato. A risotto dish with all the flavorful goodness of the classic ingredients of  Neapolitan stuffed peppers bursting on the plate. 

Take a look as Estatico and Francesco Cappelli explain how the dish is prepared...

Steps include adding creamy roasted peppers to the rice and stirring stirring stirring, along with white butter and caramelized spring onions.   Why white butter?  To give the risotto that perfect touch of acidity.

Part 2 Estatico explains in more detail - the three important stages - tostatura, brillatura,mantecatura, toasting the rice, glazing, and stirring...

Taking a look at the classic recipe, Estatico explains, during the important toasting stage, where one had to be careful not to crack or break the rice, the onions would often burn. So it really didn't make sense to add onions during the toasting stage and risk burning them when they could be adding towards the end. That way you'd still get the onion flavors - if desired. 

This was an important lesson that Estatico learned while working alongside Chef Gualtiero Marchesi.  Another important lesson that Estatico learned from Marchesi is adding white butter towards the of the cooking process.  This gives a really nice hint of acidity, and can even eliminate the glazing stage when white wine and or vegetable broth is added.  Adding wine for acidity so early in the cooking process the acidity is often lost during the long cooking time.

This recipe, like many of Estatico's goes calls on fond memories of his time spent in the kitchen with his grandmothers.  When my grandmother prepared stuffed peppers, she would put the whole world inside -- Estatico shared.  Capers, olive, day old bread, parmigiana reggiano cheese...sometimes toasted pine nuts, raisins, and ground beef. Estatico took these ingredients that are placed insde the peppers, and has them bursting throughout the dish.  He enjoys cooking with rice - to him it is a blank canvas where he can use his creativity.

Cooking time for a dish like this?  Including about two minutes of toasting, about 14- 16 minutes. In the video we see Estatico adding whit butter extra virgin olive oil, vegetable broth, Parmigiano Reggiano cheesed (aged 36 months) and pepper.  Risotto needs to be creamy he tells me, as he performs the final stage of risotto preparation. Mantecatura - or tossing the rice in the pan so that all the flavors can meld and fuse together.

Part 3 - at the pass with Chef Estatico.  Right before he plates up, he adds a drizzle of vinegar for acidity...then ingredients mentioned earlier gourmet style.


Sunday, September 2, 2018

Ischia Safari 2018 -A Lot of Good Hearts and Great Cuisine!

Chefs Nino Di Costanzo and Pasquale Palamaro
The 4th edition of Ischia Safari is just around the corner.  Safari - as I call it is the ambitious undertaking of two of Ischia's top chefs; Nino Di Costanzo and Pasquale Palamaro. This year promises to be bigger than ever with nearly 200 chefs, pizza chefs, and pastry chefs participating in two grande evenings on the isle of Ischia.(take a look who here) The objective of this fabulous fund raising event remains the same---raising money for students to attend hotel and restaurant management school. 

Here's a quick breakdown of what to expect...

Sunday, 16 September an exclusive Gala Dinner at  Ristorante Indaco featuring some of Italy's top 1 and 2 Michelin starred chefs.  Tickets can be purchased online here

Monday, 17 September a grande festa at Negombo.  A fantastic opportunity to mix and mingle, drink and dine.   Tickets can be purchased online here.

For more info check out the website!  For a quick look at what went down last year, take a look at my report.

Ci vediamo a Safari!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Two Friends - Just One Hand, Chef Angelo Borghese and Chef Gian Marco Carli

August 4th around 9 pm…
A quick exchange on WhatsApp between Chef Angelo Borghese (Osteria Al Paese) and myself.
Karen, buonasera, com stai?  Listen, on the 23rd of August will you be in the area? I, along with Gian Marco Carli will be hosting a dinner at Il Principe in Pompei….
Hi Angelo.  I’m fine, thanks.  The 23rd I should be around…even if Pompeii is about an hour’s drive.  Remind me! Ciao!

Well, the chef didn’t need to remind me -as the weeks went by, the date remained saved on my mental calendar like a post it note.  A post it note with a half a dozen question marks scribbled on it. Questions and curiosities that motivated me to arrive a little early for the sold out event.
Since I was the first to arrive, I headed straight to the kitchen where I found Borghese and Carli adding the final changes to dishes that were to be prepared in little less than an hour.  Borghese handed me the menu for a quick look.  A menu rich with brand new dishes prepared by the two chefs specifically for evening. 

Together they picked out the ingredients, tried, tasted, tried again and finalized a full menu. I could almost imagine the two young talented chefs working together tied by a special bond of amicizia/friendship. A friendship which began on a boy’s night out some time back. 
Two friends, just one hand, a dining room that was filling up. 
  Guys, do we have time for a quick brindisi?  Certo!
Chefs Gian Marco Carli and Angelo Borghese

A glass of sparkling wine – and forza ragazzi! Then I took my seat with the diners to see what that boy’s night out so many months ago would produce at the dinner table. 
After our aperitif, three appetizers headed our way.

The first, Babba’
The classic Neapolitan dessert?  No!  This one was instead of rum the chefs used tomato water.  Other ingredients to make this dish savory included chantilly cream (made with provola cheese), lime and basil.

Second – Gambero.
Shrimp, fennel, anchovies from Cantabrico, escarole, raspberry vinegar, almonds and oranges. 

Third – Totano
Totano is flying squid in English.  The chefs served it filled with Campania’s Provolone del Monaco cheese, yellow bell peppers, salicornia (glasswort) and bottarga.

Our aperitifs and appetizers were paired with two wines from the winery chosen by the chefs for the evening - Tenuta Iovino.
Their Pompeiano Frizzante 2017. (Caprettone, Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, and Cacamosca)

 followed by their Coda di Volpe. 

When it was time for the primo piatto, it was also time to change directions.  As the sommelier poured me a glass of Terra del Gragnano 2017....

I was served their Tortello

Handmade tortello pasta filled with a Campania favorite – Genovese sauce. Genovese is a pasta sauce made by slow cooking beef and onion together.  The chefs chose the sweet coppery Montoro onion.  Layered on top a veil of Bluefin tuna belly that practically melted in my mouth and soy sauce air.

Moving right along.

Octopus prepared in a cacciatora estiva sauce.  Cacciatora means hunter style – a sauce prepared with onions herbs and tomatoes.  The chefs made it estivo…summer style, so light and delicate.  Alongside the octopus?  Celery root. 

 Wine paired for this dish? Piedirosso 1890 – which I must admit that after only 2 sips (I was my own designated driver) I decided right then and there that I needed to discover this wine again.

The evening went by smoothly…beginning around 9 pm…every now and then a chance to stand up, stretch your legs, and go outside for un po di aria fresca/fresh air. 
Then time for dessert – beginning with a predessert to clan our palate.  

A ginger granite with matcha tea poured on top table side. Refreshing!
Then dessert – Fichi

A dessert made with figs, milk chocolate and topped with foamy foamy buffalo milk mozzarella.
And so, an evening that began with a simple audio message concluded.  Or did it?  I could add the hour or so of after service chitchat that I had with both chefs.  The tons of info that I l learned about the original Il Principe Restaurant dating back to 1986 (!!).  The plans that both chefs have for incorporating the dishes into their own menus. Plans for the future, etc etc.
I could…and I will.  Soon. Very soon!