July 17th-24th, 2011 This week’s tastes all come from southern Italy on our summer holiday. In the charming towns of Ravello, Minori and the lesser-known village of Scala, we have eaten well, sometimes superbly, and always with an eye to authenticity.
In the town of Minori, we sampled the two famous pastries of this area. One is the delicious, rum-soaked baba (here it is also available drenched in a syrup laced with limoncello), and the now-celebrated cake of pastry maestro Sal de Riso – made with ricotta and pears. It was as good as Arthur Schwartz said it would be. Arthur and Sal have become good friends because of Arturo’s many trips to this area. In the same town, in the tiny main square in front of the yellow Baroque church (Basilica S. Trophimenae), we had for the first time, the famous fresh pasta of the Amalfi coast known as scialatielli. At ristorante Libeccio, we drank a fabulous and unexpectedly dry, sparkling rose from Greco di Tufo. It was the perfect accompaniment to the local pasta adorned with an abundance of super-fresh seafood (including mussels, squid, and tiny razor clams), to the primal fresh vegetable soup, and a one-ingredient salad of arugula (the best and freshest!) with a squeeze of the extraordinary lemons of Amalfi and extra-virgin olive oil.
At the Ristorante dei Cavalieri in Scala, we sampled traditional dishes done in a slightly updated way, by chef Lorenzo Mansi. There was sartu – a traditional Neapolitan rice dish baked in a mold. Here it was surrounded by a thin coverlet of eggplant, filled with rice, provola, bits of chicken and meat. Often it is filled with peas, mushrooms, sausages or chicken livers. We also had a dish called gateau di patate – generally made as a sformata (a mold of potato, mozzarella, and bits of prosciutto), here was a more fluid, creamy version, almost risotto-like, or deconstructed. It was delicious, if not quite the potato “cake” it should have been. My husband had paccheri with seafood – another classic tubular pasta from this area. Our friend’s birthday cake – served with fanfare – was a credible version of a Caprese cake (made with cocoa and almonds) – a classic from the Amalfi coast.
At Cumpa Cosimo in the town of Ravello, we ate gnocchi alla Sorrentino, a fabulous sausage smothered in melted provola, and a bit of tiramisu, offered by the ebullient Netta Bottone, the owner.
The best pizza so far was eaten at midnight, under the fireworks, inches from the sea in the town of Atrani on the evening of the feast of their patron saint. The entire town came out to participate in this yearly event. The pizza was da morire (to die for) – especially the one with tomato, anchovies and garlic.
Lots of wine on this trip: falanghina, fiano, and nameless but delicious dry, fresh, slightly frizzante reds. D.H. Lawrence spent lots of time here, as did Wagner (an all-Wagner concert last night at the Ravello music festival) with the superb (and very beautiful soprano), Martina Serafin.