Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Travels and Tastes of Italy

Amalfi Coast ( part 2)

A breakfast with the view


Deserts deserve a separate mention.  Italian gelato of course is always highly praised but there is difference between just gelato and home-made Sicilian style gelato which is all over the Amlfi coast.  It comes in every flavor imaginable and my key to trying most of them is my daughter who eats a minimum 3 of these a day. 

 I selfishly let her; with the only condition… she cannot order the same flavor twice throughout the whole trip… I think it’s a win-win deal for everyone involved.  And trust me, you have not lived until tasting a hazelnut gelato, or the pistachio one or the one with wild strawberries ( fragolini) or the mango, melon, peach, pear…. This is why I travel with my kids, they eat everything and provide two more tasting plates at each meal expanding my food experience tremendously.  And you thought I intend to culture them up?

So back to deserts, since Lemon is the key here, you get your Lemon domes, which are sponge cake soaked in Lemonchello filled with cream, your Hazelnut torts again filled with lemon cream and of course the sfogliatelle, which alone can easily be the only reason to come to Amalfi coast. 
 A thousand layers of crispy goodness filled with Lemon Ricotta cream…. I once looked at the process of making it and decided this will be the only desert that I will greatly admire but will never attempt.

All this gorgeous food needs to be washed down with wine.  I made it a point to only order local Campania wines, most of the time, just house wines and was not disappointed.  House wine is cheaper than soda here (something I keep telling my 15 year old) and it is great.  Grape varietals are unusual to our palates, something we are not used, but complex and delicious never the less.  And if you ask for a recommendation from the ever so friendly, familiar and truly hospitable restaurant staff, you will get an even better treat.

Imagine walking into a restaurant on  thundering evening to find your family the only customers… an owner comes out and starts chatting with you like he has known you all his life… You don’t get menus, he tells you he wants to ‘feed” you, you will like it… just surrender to his all Italian hospitality and you do…  We had an experience like this in Scirocco restaurant in Monterpertuso and even though Rocco’s food was great but not the best we tasted on our trip we came back to him on our last night…just to experience this unbelievable hospitality, the true old fashioned enjoyment from feeding people.  He asked us if we wanted wine, I said “Just bring me the wine you want me to drink” he brought one of the best wines I ever tasted… He showed up with a huge Florentine steak, and antipasti and some of home- made gnocchi and at the end of the night with a plate of all of his deserts….
The Scirocco family
A grand big smile, and invitation for my son to come and stay with him any summer and another bottle of wine to take home (“come back and tell me how you like it” -  he said, I would have come back anyway) and on our last night he kissed us all on two cheeks and shook our hands and made you feel like you had family to come back to anytime you wanted….

And he fed us mozzarella…. Nine years ago, sitting in a tiny restaurant outside of Florence’s Duomo I had a religious experience.  I bit into a slice of mozzarella and knew I can never forget the taste.  And I didn’t, I searched for it everywhere in the US, coming close but it was still not the same.  The pure taste of milk, unpasteurized buffalo milk….. Pulled by hand, melt in your mouth….when Rocco put this cheese on our table and I took the first bite I knew I finally found it…. This mozzarella needs not to be dressed with anything; it needs to be savored like fine caviar….

Campania region is where mozzarella comes from, and there are many varieties but all are split into cow milk Mozz and Buffalo.  Mozzarella is delicious everywhere in this part of Italy but if you happen to be down near Paestrum, this is where the buffalo mozzarella farms are.
 I decided to kill two birds with one stone, visit the ancient Greek temples and eat the best mozzarella on the planet, so what that it is 3 hours away along some of the most dangerous roads….
My family had no say in this one…. Although I think they enjoyed it, at least they very well pretended. 

This trip was not all about food or great views, we had to get a sense for the ancient way of life and visited Pompeii, Heraclium and Paestrum.  There is something about touching a 2000 year old house wall and imagining a family that lived here, touched that same wall, and walked the same streets…. I always found it fascinating, a bit haunting, and almost invasive into their long gone lives…. What did they look like, what was their daily life like, what did they eat?  Surprisingly, fast street food is not a modern invention… two millennia ago it was just as popular in bustling cities of the Roman Empire… Roman McDonalds….

 Like ketchup pumps, these urns dispensed a kind of fermented paste of fish and animal intestines that Roman’s found irresistible and smeared on everything… Oh how the tastes change!

Bathed in Italian sunshine, properly salted by the blue water of Mediterranean and well fed, we headed to Rome…. And yes, all roads do lead to Rome if you manage to decipher the Italian road signs and get through the tolls without adventure… we didn’t.

To be continued….

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