Sunday, December 29, 2019

My Favorite Fantastic Firsts for 2019

You know how I feel about my first course dishes -  as I think about some of my favorites, I was quite surprised to see such a difference in the formats.  Not just spaghetti madness, but dishes that included stuffed pastas, gnocchis, risottos as well as minestras.  So, sit back, look back, and reminisce with me about some of the dishes that made my 2019 fantasticaaa!  

So let's take a look at my favs in chronological order - My list begins back with a blog post back in February 2019.  There I took a visit to Casa A Tre Pizzi in Naples and tried this dish by Chef Francesco Sodano.   

This plate of pasta, inspired by the tradition 'spaghetti, garlic, olive oil and chili pepper'  dish includes cream codfish, tomato water and tomato water for a touch of acidity. The chef's personal touches included a mix of 4 types of chili peppers and fermented black garlic.  

What was really cool about the dish is that Sodano added a bit of mixed dried chili peppers on the side of the plate that could be softly blown over the pasta for an extra kick.

I also visited Taverna Estia last February.  Chef Francesco Sposito's genovese pasta. Pasta alla genovese, for those who don't know, is a classic Neapolitan pasta dish featuring a sauce of beef and onions that have been slow cooked together for hours.Fresh homemade tortelloni pasta filled with onions.  Each package of pasta was placed on top a circle shaped battuta di manzo, which is raw beef finely chopped by hand.  The chef added a juice made from flavorful Piennolo tomatoes as well as tart green apple spheres and a cream made from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

I did quite a bit of restaurant hopping last March.  One stop included Re Mauri on the Amalfi Coast.  There I had an opportunity to try Chef Lorenzo Cuomo's  minestra di mare or seafood minestrone.  This is a homage to Campania's beloved minestra maritata - but with seafood instead of beef, pork or chicken.

 Cuomo uses the treasures from the sea such as redfish, mullet, cuttlefish, octopus, sea truffles and cod tripe..  Vegetables include escarole, toasted fennel, and red algae.

In March I also visited a Neapolitan restaurant icon for the first time - Mimi alla Ferrovia near Naples's Central train station. There I had the chance to try many dishes including Chef Salvatore Giugliano's mega ravoli stuffed with sea bass, lime, shrimp and squid sauce.

April lunches included 2 visits to the Sorrento Peninsula staring in Nerano at Quattro Passi.  There, Chef Antonio Mellino and his son Fabrizio treated my palate to some classic dishes as well as some newbies.  I really enjoyed this one.

Seven first course dishes that included this gnocchi with lamb, foie gras and truffles.

A week or so later,  sat down at Don Alfonso 1890.  I always enjoy visiting this 2 Michelin starred restaurant and am always curious as to what Chef Ernesto Iaccarino has cooked up for the new season. He wowoed with with the spicy - yet subtleness  of this pasta filled with marinated grouper and creamy carrot with a spicy pumpkin sauce.

In May I headed to Positano, a tiny yet popular town on the Amalfi Coast.  I went there to visit Chef Emilio Desiderio, who had recently transferred to Villa Gabrisa to serve as Executive Chef.  Here's his spaghetti dish -His spaghettone alla positanese. Spaghettone alla Positano.. The dish includes seafood that Desiderio hand picks on his daily visits to the market - sconcigli and lupini clams.  There are also roasted tomatoes and crunch toasted crostini (bread cubes).

June 2019.  A visit to Caracol - the breathtaking restaurant in Capo Miseno.  Chef Angelo Carannante's show stopping spaghetti iodato. This pasta dish was created by Carannante who was looking to create a pasta moderna - a modern pasta dish.  Something without toppings such as shellfish or other types of seafood.  Something, sleek, black, bare, with just a touch seaweed salad and lemon on top.

So Carannante got his brigade together and began trying out ideas - .  
Oyster sauce...mussel sauce...sea urchin pulp, anenome, then finally cuttlefish ink.  Wow.

Back in June I paid one of many visits to Jose Restaurant.  This restaurant is like a second home and Chef Domenico Iavarone never ceases to amaze me.  That particular summer evening - oops, he did it again - with these two dishes.

A roasted potato ravioli, provolone cheese, zucchini and zucchini.

Then his spaghettone with mussels, basil, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Let's jump to July, shall we? Jam packed with visits to La Fescina Nuova Hosteria Flegrei  where Chefs Antionio Apa and Dario De Gaetano served this assaggio of  their classic ravioli  genovese with Provolone del Monaco Cheese and balsamic vinegar.

Also a visit to Bertie's Bistrot with Chef Valentino Buonincontri.  Bounincontri's gnocchi alla ischitana with rabbit and roasted peppers.

A visit to Ravello's Belmond Hotel Caruso hotel gave me an opportunity to try Chef Nino Di Costanzo's risotto dish.  Di Costanzo, of Dani Maison, was on the Amalfi Coast for a 6 hands dinner where he presented this dish.

 A risotto which included buffalo milk, sea urchins and croutons.

That visit to Ravello gave me the opportunity to meet and try Chef Mimmo D Raffaele's dishes.  He is the executive chef of the hotel and his Spaghettoni 'Ravello' Vicidomini.  His  spaghetti with tomato sauce. 
 For this dish the chef uses spaghettoni produced by Pastificio Vicidomini - an artisan pasta factory that has been around since 1812 located in Castel San Giorgio.  And the tomatoes?  Campania is lucky enough to have a wide range of varieties to choose from.  Di Raffaele uses  a rich combination from the local area such as  Corbari and Corbarello from Sapori di Corbara, mini San Marzano tomatoes, and pomodorini/small tomatoes from the Lattari Mountains which overlook the Amalfi Coast. 
 Last but not least for July was La Locanda del Testardo in Bacoli.  Here's Chef Luca Esposito's  version of the famous Spaghetti alla Nerano which features zucchini.  Esposito adds steamed mussels and Provolone del Monaco cheese.

For my next fav, I'd have to wait a few months.  Until October when I was in Sorrento at Terrazza Bosquet.  I spent an evening trying Chef Antonino Montefusco's dishes included this one. His Ready Ravioli.

 First - a dish with a San Marzano and cherry tomato sauce arrived at my table.  The sauce includes a swirl or two of cacciota cheese and majoram.   Next - a little black box - filled with ravioli.  The box is a play on the ready pasta that certain pasta producers have put on the market. Montefusco's ready ravioli with a cacciota cheese filling. The ravioli is cooked, then fried, then placed in the box until it is ready to be added to that amazing tomato sauce.

The end of the month found me back at Chef Francesco Sodano's table.  But this time on the Amalfi Coast in Maori at Il Faro del Capo D'Orso where he recently confirmed a Michelin star. 

 Linguine, carrots and garum. Garum - a fish sauce that dates back to ancient roman times. Before the anchovy sauce that nearby Cetara is famous for. Sodano's garum includes anchovies and mackeral. Very flavorful with Sodano’s choice of carrot.

November began with another visit to George Restaurant.  This time to congratulate Chef Domenico Candela and his team on their Michelin star.  Congratulate the team and try some new dishes.  Two knocked me out.

 and just like its spaghetti with tomato sauce, Candela's "mare nostrum" is another pasta dish that is fantastic! Linguine vicidomini cooked in red rock mullet extraction, acidic gel with tamarind, nori seaweed and mandarin sauce from the phlegrean fields.

  His cocoa ravioli black diamond dressed in fall colors.  His ravioli is filled with duck,  umeboshi puree, moire, black trumpet mushrooms, skrei cod and a spicy Neapolitan pumpkin sauce.

At the end of the month I took a trip to Milan.  There I had dinner at Vun Restaurant and enjoyed an amazing dinner which took me on a culinary journey with Chef Andrea Aprea.  I loved this particular pasta dish.    

 A dish that for me, was a taste of Neapolitan Sunday.  Tortello pasta filled with buffalo milk ricotta cheese. The chef served it on top of a flavorful dense Neapolitan ragu sauce - tender beef included.

Also in Milan, at Terrazza Gallia, I tried this spicy spaghetti dish served to me by Chef Antonio Lebano. Miseria e Nobilita' - Poverty and Nobility.  A dish named after the 1954 film starring the late Neapolitan comic actor Toto'.  The film is set in Naples in the late 1890s.  Two  families in poverty  have been asked to pretend that there are aristocrats/nobility.  

 Like the ingredients of this dish, Lebano explained to me later.  The dish begins with humble ingredients such as spaghetti, garlic, olive oil  and red chili peppers - the classic spaghetti, aglio, olio e peperoncino. A simple dish.It becomes nobility with the addition of a rich spicy sauce made with  red shrimp heads  that had been smoked on the barbecue, then ground with a mortar and pestle.  This particular shrimp has the astaxanthin enzyme which becomes bright red under high temperatures.

December brought the holiday season and I decided to head back to Sorrento. This time to Lorelei Ristorante and Chef Ciro Sicignano.   Capelletto pasta filled with smoked mozzarella cheese and basil.  The dish arrived  to my table smokin'

The pasta was served on top of a creamy cauliflower and saffron sauce, a drizzle of Genovese sauce, and topped with black truffles.

So that's it for 2019.  And next year? The new decade?  I can't wait to try some new firsts that are fantasticaaa!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Amazing Appetizers - Chef Ciro Sicignano, Lorelei Ristorante, Sorrento (Na)

An appetizer can be defined not only as something to tie you over before the main dish arrives, but as Oxford Dictionary puts it as something that arouses or increases anticipation for what is to follow. That is just what Chef Ciro Sicignano's dishes did.  Last Saturday's lunch at Lorelei Ristorante in Sorrento included his aperitif and four appetizers to arouse and increase anticipation for what was to follow.  Let's take a look.

Maitre Sommelier Sascha Fausto began by serving me a glass of Franciacorta DOCG Brut Doppio Erre Di - Derbusco Cives

Then the aperitifs - here which included a wide array of specialties such as a taco with bonito tartare, a panzerotti filled with smoked mozzerella cheese,  and  a mini fried pizza,

  As well as a flatbread filled with the famous nero Casertano suckling pig.

Then the appetizers- first up, Sicignano's millefogie with raw shrimp and broccoli.

On top, a creamy sauce made with sea urchins.

 Sicignano loves to serve up seafood platters, and here is one that reflects the freshness of the sea.

Raw roasted prawns served alongside braided cuttlefish. 

Sicignano's tuna appetizer is coated in a crumble made with vegetable charcoal.

He then adds artichokes served three ways, stewed, fried and grilled.

The last appetizer was pigeon and included a potato gnocchi...

and even a slice of banana bread!

Amazing, giusto?