Naples and The Amalfi Coast Pt. 2

Neapolitan Food

Eating in Italy is a religious experience.  Eating in Campania, well…..let’s just say it is one of a kind.  What is great about the food in Naples and it’s surroundings you say?  Wellllllll…….Let’s start off with the basics.  Tomatoes.  The best tomatoes in the world come from this area.  Namingly, the “Pommodori di San Marzano”

Tomatoes, Italy, Campania, San Marzano

This is the queen bee of sauce tomatoes.  Much like the roma, or plum, it is slightly longer and thinner, and juicy so perfect for that “Marinara” sauce on your pizza, or pasta.

Then there’s “Mozzarella di Bufala”.  This also hails from this region.  Delicious, sometimes tangy taste of pure Buffalo milk.

Mozzarella Cheese, Bufala, Italy, Campania

And then of course there’s “Pasta di Grangnano  trafilata al Bronzo”…..which is basically, excuse my home region of Emilia-Romagna, the best dry pasta, or Pasta Asciutta, your money can buy.

Faella, Pasta, Grangnano, Italy, Campania

And of course, I cannot forget all the seafood.  From squid, mussels, clams, octopus, and the queen of the sea, Ricciola, or Greater Amber Jack as we would call it.

But there is also the lemons….to make Limoncello, Granita, Salads, Lemonade……it is really a rich and diverse food basket that serves all of Italy, and the world.

Well, you know that one of the main reasons I went there was to eat.  So eat we did.  Here is the best of the best that we found in Napoli and around!

Our first night we were basically directed by a young lad to try “Oste Pazzo” restaurant, near the Lungomare and right below the “Castell dell’ Ovo”.

The waiters basically harassed (well, not too much, I mean, in terms of food you really don’t have to push me too far) to try the “Antipasto Tipico Napoletano”  This was basically comprised of a few octopus and squid salads with the typical “Fritti misti di pesce”.  That is mixed fried seafood.  I love me some fried food.  And it was awesome.

Fried Mixed Seafood, Italy, Naples

On the left is fried baby squid, quite like what we get here in Spain, but they were absolutely tiny and tender, and the batter was crazy good, crunchy, just a tad spicy, perfect.  In the middle we had two fritters with “neonati”, basically little fish in a delicious parsley spiked batter.  And on the right, fried white anchovies.  Paolo, my sweetie, wasn’t a big fan of these, he thought it was too fishy.  I however, loved it.  Something about munching on these, or any anchovy, is truly delicious.

Next up on the friend band wagon, is the Arancini.  I love arancini, and have featured them before on my blog.  But I have always eaten the Sicilian variety.  Never had I tried the Neapolitan ones.

Arancini, Fried Rice Balls, Italy, NapoliOn the left is the anemic looking “Arancino Bianco”, or white arancino, and on the right is the, you guessed it, “Arancino Rosso”, red arancino.  I was in for a huge surprise.  What looked like the bland, plain white arancino, turned out to be the tastiest one!  The white one stuffed with a pork sausage type of filling, and the rice was chock full of pepper and cheese.  It was absolutely amazing.  The red one, on the other hand, was more balanced, but also, less flavourful.  It is red because they cooked the rice with tomato sauce, and then it stuffed with a tomato meat sauce.  Both were delicious, but the white one won!

Neapolitans love their fried food.  Nary a street corner or restaurant menu that wasn’t filled with these guilty pleasures! Even for breakfast.  Upon arriving to the hotel we were instructed to go to a café called “Scaturchio”, a hundred year old café that has some pretty amazing pastries, and Napoli’s most famous, the Sfogliata.  Sfogliata is a filo-type pastry filled with sweet ricotta and candied fruits.  And one of the bonuses, is it’s served warm!

Scaturchio, Pastries, Naples, Italy

The pastry selection at Scaturchio

Sfogliata Pastry

Sfogliata Pastry from Scaturchio

It was delicious!  Crispy and buttery on the outside, warm, dense and moist on the inside.  Perfectly warm, so all you had to do was enjoy it without letting a drop of the ricotta fall!

In Capri, I mentioned we had a lunch with a view.  But obviously one of the things I wanted to eat in Capri was the Caprese Salad…..I mean, that is its birthplace!  So simple, but let me tell you, it was the best Caprese I have ever had.

Caprese SaladGorgeous, juicy, vine ripe “Cuore di Bue” tomatoes, with perfect spheres of “Mozzarella di Bufala”, accompanied only by a bit of rucola, extra virgin olive oil, and some salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Perfection on a plate!

We also enjoyed the “Insalata di Polipo con Agrumi”.  Octopus salad with citrus fruits.  This dish was made for summer in Naples.  Meaty, tender octopus bathed in lemon juice.  So refreshing for the unbearable heat!

Octopus salad with lemon dressingPaolo decided to go for the pasta, which was equally delicious, but I was trying to be “good” that day.  He had a very typical pasta that I have only tasted on this trip, called Sciallatielle.  This is a thick, flat, medium long noodle.  This pasta had been made fresh that day, and topped with Shrimp and cherry tomato sauce.

Sciallatielle Pasta with ShrimpThe shrimp in Naples are less briny than our mediterranean counterparts, equally delicious, but sweeter, and it complements the absolute star of this dish, the tomatoes.  Bursting with flavor!

Now the dessert here at Punta Tragara deserves special mention.  I was not very impressed by the title, Almond Crumble with Limoncello pastry cream.  But Holy Moses!!!!!  What an incredible dessert it is!  It is part lemon meringue, part lemon curd, part cheesecake crust!  All topped with the most beautiful and colorful summer berries.

Almond crumble with Limoncello Pastry Cream

In Positano, we went to a restaurant called “Le Tre Sorelle” that a friend of mine recommended.  It was a perfect beach-side lunch.  Although, Paolo chose the better (in terms of beachy-ness) option, but I just couldn’t be that close to Sorrento and not have “Gnocchi alla Sorrentina” which has to be one of my favorite dishes in the world.

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is gnocchi with a tomato and mozzarella sauce.  But this was definitely the best I have tasted.  Again, it comes down to the tomatoes my friends……I am having withdrawal symptoms already.

Paolo ordered the fish, with an “Aqua Pazza” Sauce.  The fish was perfectly cooked, fork tender and juicy.  Again….with amazing tomatoes and this time, potatoes!

Fish with Aqua PazzaThe presentation is gorgeous too, I have to say.

 

Oh my goodness….I can’t believe I forgot our starter at Tre Sorelle…..Zucchini Flowers stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.  Just sublime.  I mean, it doesn’t get any better than this lunch.  Until the next one I guess.  Ok, I am a sucker, they are all really good.

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto

 

And on our last night, we went uphill in one of Naples’ ritzier and more residential areas to a restaurant called “La Sacrestia”.  The menu looked amazing, the views were breathtaking, of the bay and Vesuvius.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of the view, because the sun had already set….but here’s one so you can imagine!

Bay of Naples Also unfortunately, the restaurant was due to close the next day for holidays, so they didn’t have many of the dishes on the menu.  One of the dishes I wanted to eat was the Ricciola, the fish I had spoken about before.  But instead, they brought out a little tasting dish of pasta that really amazed me!  And I ended up recreating it at home.  I was really, really surprised because when they described it, it just sounded, well, blah.  It was Pasta with Mussels, Cherry tomatoes, Pepperoncino and Pecorino.

I loved it.  Obviously, the ingredients are the best of the best, so why bother adding more things that are unnecessary?  Gorgeous.

Well kids, I hope you enjoyed my culinary extravaganza of a trip through Campania.  Tomorrow…….PIZZA!

Carla

 

 

Beet Gnocchi with Four Cheese Sauce

I’ve never made this before, but now I know it will definitely become one of my regular dishes.  Aside from being visually stunning, it was incredibly amazing tasting too.  Why had I never thought of this before?  I’ve made spinach gnocchi, pumpkin gnocchi, but this takes the cake.    I love spinach gnocchi, but find it tasting pretty much the same as potato gnocchi.  And I love pumpkin gnocchi, but you have to be careful with what you pair it with, because the pumpkin is very sweet, and you can’t just top it with any sauce.  Beets are another beast altogether.  Yes, they are sweet, but it is an earthier sweetness.  The natural sugars aren’t as prevalent as the pumpkin in this dish, and I think I can mix this with lots and lots of sauces.

My true meter of how good something is, is my daughter.  She isn’t finicky, let’s called her particular in her tastes.  She knows what she likes, and she likes good things.  She eats a whole heap of different vegetables, but it totally depends on their preparation.  After she finished her plate, she looks at me, almost incredulously, and asked, “WHY haven’t you ever made this before??”  And subsequently went on to have it again for dinner.  Now that, my friends, is a true triumph in my book!

When I first started making gnocchi, it was an absolute disaster.  They were either too gummy, or would just fall apart.  Gnocchi, once mastered, is quite easy to make.  But, it is a hands on preparation, and there is no one recipe that will be perfect.  Because it all depends on the potatoes you use, and as my Italian uncle (who taught me how to make perfect gnocchi) told me, you have to use just enough flour that the potatoes “take”.  This basically means, you need to practice your recipe and play with the amounts, and as you are mixing, you hands will tell you when it is ready.  I will list the ingredients I measured out, but please bear in mind, that no two potatoes are the same, and you have to feel it.  You will know when the gnocchi will be perfect because as you are mixing them with your hands, you’ll realize they are still too soft and you need more flour, or that you have added just enough.  It isn’t complicated, it’s actually quite fun.  I think the first person to make this was a genius, but was also having fun with his play dough and said, hey….why don’t I make pasta this way!  It also always reminds me of that Far Side cartoon where you see God making clay animals, and he gets to the snake:

Anyhow, I digress.  I also thought that a four cheese sauce would be awesome with the beet gnocchi.  I used parmesan, Emmenthal (swiss), stracchino (which is a creamy italian cheese, more pungent than mascarpone, less than gorgonzola) and gorgonzola.  It was a perfect match!

Stracchino Cheese

Please, please, please make this at home.  I think you will fall in love with it as much as I do!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4

For the gnocchi:

1 large beet, pureed and then strained to take out all the excess water (reserve the beet water to use in something else)

1.5 large russet or Yukon gold potatoes, boiled and peeled, then mashed through a potato ricer

1 egg

1.5 cups of Double zero flour (if you have it, if not, sifted all-purpose flour)

1 tsp of salt

For the sauce:

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 cup grated Emmenthal cheese

1/2 cup Stracchino Cheese, cubed

1/2 cup Gorgonzola Cheese, cubed

1 cup cooking cream (not heavy cream, half and half I suppose)

1 tsp freshly ground Black pepper

Salt to taste

Pinch of freshly grated Nutmeg

 

Mix your mashed potato with the pureed beets until thoroughly combined.  Add the egg, salt and mix.

Now make a well in the center, and start adding the flour, half a cup at a time, until it “takes”.  I used 1 1/4 cup of flour, but depending on how much water content your potato has, it could be more or less.

Form the dough into a ball, and let it rest for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, make the sauce and place a large stockpot of water to boil with 1 tbsp of salt.  To make the sauce, in a large skillet, over medium heat, add the cream and heat, but do not let it boil.  When it is starting to thicken, add the cheeses and stir.  Take off heat, add the pepper, salt, nutmeg and reserve.

On a clean work surface, bring out everything you will  need, such as some flour for dusting, your gnocchi board if you have one, and a tray with some flour and semolina (if you have it) to place the gnocchi after they are made.

Cut the dough into 4 pieces, and roll out each piece into a long snake shape.  (This is the fun part!)

Then cut into 1 inch squares, and roll them over your gnocchi tool thing, or the back of the tines of a fork, and place into the tray with the semolina and flour.

When the water is boiling, drop them into the water carefully, so it won’t splosh back on you and burn you (like I did).  Boil until the gnocchi just rise to the surface.  With a slotted spoon, take the gnocchi out and place them in a dish lined with paper towels.

Can you believe this color??????  Now, heat up your four cheese sauce again, and toss the gnocchi into the skillet with the sauce, until thoroughly heated up and mixed.  Serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla