EATING ALONG THE TYRRHENIAN COAST FROM CALABRIA TO CAMPANIA: Amantea, Maratea, Cilento, Amalfi Coast
I've just returned from a 15-day driving trip beginning in Amantea and ending in Praiano. This is the first installment, which covers Amantea, where we spent one night before moving north along the coast to Castrovillari, and then Maratea.
AMANTEA…LOCANDA DI MARE
We arrived in picturesque Amantea tired after two flights from New York and a 30-minute drive from the airport at Lamezia Terme, so wanted only a small snack before having a swim and bit of a rest. This SlowFood osteria was just two blocks from our hotel (Mediterraneo Palace) on the main “state road.” (As we discovered, no one along it is considerable length refers to this road as the SS18, but rather the “Strada Statale.”)
While we did not consume much, I mention this osteria here because it was the subject of a long CH thread prior to my trip.
My two companions and I shared only a large lettuce salad (3 euro; not my own choice) and a plate of hefty roasted gamberoni (11 euro). Both were quite tasty. The restaurant itself it cheerful and homespun, clad in a rainbow of bright colors and accented with hand-painted murals and ceramics and a large fish tank. As our first meal in Calabria, it certainly whetted our appetite for more and while I might not drive out of my way to eat here, Locanda di Mare is certainly an option if you find yourself in this endearing seaside town.
AMANTEA…RESTAURANTE LE CLARISSE
Located in an imposing 17th-Century former convent crowning the historic center of Amantea, Le Clarisse is probably the fanciest restaurant in this unassuming seaside town. Although “event restaurants” in historic buildings with great views often offer less than stellar food, this was an exception and we dined very well on our first night after arrival in Italy.
When I booked the reservation by e-mail, the owner offered us a spot in the garden, where there was to be an evening of “Calabrian cuisine, with cigars.” My friends, not being smokers, nixed this idea and so we were seated at a prime table on the terrace, with the lights of the town spread before us.
We saw no other diners on that Friday evening but suspect this was because we dined early by local standards, arriving about 8pm.
The printed menu offers limited choice of only about three dishes per course and while the descriptions sounded a tad fussy, the execution was very good. Three of us (there were three of us at all dinners described in this thread, unless otherwise noted), began with two shared appetizers, both excellent:
Involtini di Spigola e Coda di Gambero su Verdurine all’Agretto, sea bass stuffed with prawns and served with citrus scented vegetables. Feel free to correct mistakes in translation. (Interesting note: This region of Calabria produces bergamot and citron, among other citrus fruits).
Millefoglie di Polpo e Patate con olio al Basilico (thin sliced of octopus and potato, carpaccio style, accented with basil oil).
Knowing that nearby Bagnara is a swordfish center (thank you, Lidia!), each of us opted for the Filetto di Pesce Spada, crusted with almonds served with a fabulous marmelade made from the vaunted Tropea red onion, strings of which we saw for sale along the main road.
We drank a bottle of Calabrian Grayasusi Ceraudo rose (17 euro). With this wine, and water, the bill totalled a reasonable 88 euro for three of us.
Service was welcoming and enthusiastic. Little English is spoken here, or anywhere else in Amantea.
AMANTEA..BAR GELATERIA SICOLI
We passed on the restaurant’s desserts in order to partake of the swoooningly good gelato and pastries at this atmospheric bar which has been in the family for several generations and has just won acclaim for its gelato in the national Corriere della Sera:
Many complimentary tastes were offered and many were consumed before settling on the orange cream. A helpful patron offered this tip: when choosing gelato flavors, always choose one from a tub that is full, which signifies that is has been freshly made. However, all the samples here tasted divine to me. An essential stop and a popular local gathering place. Good selection of locally produced liqueurs in unusual flavors, including citron, bergamot, liquorice, prickly pear (fichi d'India, in season during our visit) and food items.
Corso Umberto 1, 35, in Upper Amantea, a few blocks from Le Clarisse.
COLAVOLPE….large and lovely main store on the state road in Belmonte Calabro; branch in Amantea.
Most renowned for dried, baked and candied figs in myriad incarnations, this more-than-a-century-old family business is a wonderland for gastronomic tourists, as well as a popular source of gift items among locals. The vast showroom offers products from all areas of Calabria, from Nduja, pancetta and lardi to Marmelades of Tropea Onions and Bergamot, to name but two local specialties to liqueurs to an endless variety of sweet delights. A must stop if you are in the area. They are enormously pleased that the holiday season will find their products in both Coluccio in Brooklyn, and at Eataly. Lovely people, scrumptious confections. Do not miss at least one type of their baked figs enrobed in chocolate. I bought several boxes to bring home; I returned home with but one lone box.
How lovely to have this detailed report of such an under-reported area of Italy. This past summer, a candied fruit vendor from Calabria set up a stall in the very hokey pan-Italia food feste my town hosts on odd weekends. He had, among other things, beautiful gem-like candied kumquats, which were unbelievably delicious. I bought half a kilo, and they were devoured by my summer guests (but mainly me). I bought plain dried figs from him which were equally addictive and to this day I regret I didn't try the several different types of dried bananas he had on display, from candied chips to leather-like black strips. I doubt he had any connection to Colavolpe, but he was very proud of his wonderful products.
Looking forward to more, with gratitude.
B: Your comments mean a lot. Who knew that figs had so many incarnations, not that these could be so delicious? I wished that I had had more time in the region; because I had in my sights a restaurant in Castrovillari (comments to come here; well worth the detour), we veered inland and therefore missed towns like Scalea and Diamante, of pepper fame. But even though we could not even scratch the surface, and even though we were for the most part in the more touristed coastal towns, I would say that, with a few notable exceptions, we had better (and much lower priced) eating in the regions south of the much more heavily trod Amalfi Coast.
San Demetrio, Calabria is my dear friend's family home. At an agriturismo on the hill above San Demetrio, I bought the most amazing deep, dark carmelized, fig syrup! It was drizzled on our gelato. They do not normally sell it, it was just something she did because they have so many figs. I begged, and she sold me a liter bottle for 5 euros! I shared some with my friend's aunt, then carefully packaged and carted home the remainder. It has been the most wonderful thing to have in my kitchen! I've doled it out for a year, and am now down to about 2 tablespoons left. So sad! Time for another trip.
CASTROVILLARI (CALABRIA)…LA LOCANDA DI ALIA
“If you eat anywhere in Calabria, I recommend this place first,” commanded Mario Batali on www.babbonyc.com. This command, along with raves from Luciano Pignataro, convinced us to choose the inland autostrada route when transferring to our next stop, Maratea, in Basilicata. Only about a 10-minute drive from the A3 autostrada, Castrovillari lies within the Pollino National Park at the northern edge of Calabria. The inn/restaurant is located at the entrance to the town, down an unremarkable residential street; look for directional signs.
My comment on the menu that I was given: “Exceptional!” This is a warm, welcoming, and sophisticated restaurant that was well worth the slight detour. The menu highlights a raft of local fare from the famed nduja sausage from Spilinga, to cardoncelli mushrooms from the Pollino mountains, to bread from nearby Cerchiara, pecorino from Crotone, and caciocavallo and beef from Podolico cows. The wine list was impressive, although we had only single glasses of the house white due to the long drive after lunch.
We shared three excellent antipasti:
Cardoncelli mushrooms “in tiella”
Bottarga di Tonno, with tomato, figs and red onion
Crostino of figs and pecorino
I followed with an outstanding candele pasta (dry pasta from Gragnano) with nduja and pecorino Crotonese. The menu lists this as “molto piccante” but for me it had just the right amount of bright heat.
Other pastas were house made Panzerotti stuffed with herbs and tossed with wild anise seeds and aged Parmigiano, and Whole grain linguine with Sibari tomatoes, celery, and pecorino from nearby Campotenese
Although meat was the obvious choice for secondi, I could not muster the appetite and decided upon the delicate and delicious Calamaretti “with the flavors of our orchard,” small squid bathed in a light broth and studded with red and green peppers.
Shared among the three of us, dessert, was a very rich but unremarkable molten chocolate confection.
After coffee, we were offered several varieties of house-made liqueurs including limoncello.
The total was 125 euro for one of the better meals of the 2-week-long trip.
Funny, I just bought some candele today, dreaming of a good pasta alla genovese now that finally autumn has arrived.
Alas, the last of the good figs just disappeared around here, or else I would immediately try to reproduce the fig, tomato , red onion and bottarga dish you had. I'm also quite curious about the baby squid with green and red peppers. The whole grain pasta sounds terrific. That I must try, although the pecorino will have to be from Sardegna.
Sounds like a fascinating meal.
Thanks! That squid does look luscious. I'm studying it closely, nose pressed to the screen. Looks like it has some chard in it? And that the green peppers are the long pale greens, not the bells?
The pasta reminds me of a beautiful little cat I knew with red and orange swirls who never came out in photographs as lovely as he was.
This is a homey and casual osteria on a narrow lane leading off the main piazza in this jewel of a resort town. We had two dinners here; the second was purely for the proximity of the restaurant to our hotel, which was located in the town. (Maratea is the the hill town, but the name is often used to encompass both the actual town and a long stretch of coastline below).
The restaurant was filled mostly with Italian-speaking tourists at the time of our visits in late September. An antipasti table greets diners at the entrance to the restaurant; out-of-season artichokes were one of the dozen or so mostly vegetable offerings.
On each of our two visits, three of us shared three pastas of which the best was the special of ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a light but rich sauce of pistachio and gorgonzola. The same sauce was offered on cappellini on the second evening.
We drank the house wine, a white Aglianico from Terra Aspra.
Two types of baked walnut sweets from nearby Panza bakery served as dessert. Neither was exceptional.
The total bill was in the range of 55 euro for three persons, with wine and water, which was expensive for the area. Keep this place in mind but explore other options out of the town, as we would do, if you find yourselves in Maratea. Keep in mind, too, that you need a car in this area.
MARATEA…IL GIARDINO DEL EPICURIO
Although just a 10-minute uphill drive from Maratea town, this SlowFood osteria is located in the hills and therefore the focus is on land-based dishes and not the seafood that predominates in most restaurants in the area. It is close to (by car) the famous Christ statue that towers over Maratea, in the Massa neighborhood (fraccione) of Maratea. The place is mentioned in many Italian food guides (including Gambero Rosso Low Cost) and a bookcase lined with food and wine guides lines one wall of the rustic dining room decorated with farm implements and baskets.
A son of the owner who has lived in the US and in Australia and therefore speaks perfect English, is a help to non-Italian speaking diners. However, he is a strong, and at times loud, presence that some might find a bit annoying. Another negative is the hard sell from a female relative, who makes her own rosoli (liqueurs). When she approached us near the end of the meal with a spiel, we thought at first that complimentary tastes of her products would follow as is customary at many eating places. But no, she was pushing instead for us to buy a few bottles.
The food here, however, is good. We began with a shared order (for three, as my companions are light eaters) of the house-made strascinati with a sauce of local black truffles that we were assured were in season in late September. Very good.
We had been advised that the restaurant was a grilled meat specialist, so three of us opted for the grilled lamb chops which were actually various cuts of the animal; well grilled if less tender than I would have preferred.
We also shared roast potatoes and grilled eggplant—both good and served in hearty portions.
With one dessert of lemon cake, the house red Aglianico/Merlot blend, and coffee, the total for three was 70 euro.
Strascinati! A pasta I have never eaten. I have heard it comes in a variety of raggedy shapes, some like bigger ears than orecchiette (think Prince Charles) and others more a Cuban hand rolled cigar. I've imagined it as quite chewy.
Today, in a supermarket, I found myself staring at packages of frozen squid, only because of that picture you posted of calamaretti in brodo. I am scheming to replicate the dish in some fashion.
BB: So true about the strascinati. I have been buying it dried at Borgatti in the Arthur Avenue area (their prices are lower than most of those I saw in Italy for premium imported dried pasta, by the way) and it looks like an elongated, slightly folded ear. I use it for what has become one of my favorite dried pasta recipes, the one with Senise dried peppers from Saveur magazine.
But the ones in Maratea were thicker and rounder, almost like an unfilled ravioli shape. I will try again to link photo.
Many many thanks for this lovely report from a son of Calabria and lover of all things meridionale for this lovely report. We've spent most of our time in rhe Cilento, the Pollino, and in Reggio Calabria (where my cousins live) and along the Ionian coast, and just love the bounty, and the hospitality. Delighged to hear of Coluccio's bringing in Colavolpe figs, but would love someone in NY to bring in the high quality pecorino from Fattoria della Piana (Rosarno). By the way, Eataly has the oils of Olearia San Giorgio (RC), one of the finest of all Calabrian--and Italian--oils.
Bob96: I am so pleased that you are following along and enjoying. You have been a tremendous help to me here on all things Italian. There is so much to discover in the south! I cannot say enough about the beauty of Maratea, for those interested in resort locales. Our tip about the olive oil comes at a good time since I am due for a new bottle. Do you happen to know when the new oils start arriving in the stores here in NY?
We had two lunches here that ranked among the best meals of the two-week-long trip. Da Cesare sits right on the main coastal road, about a 15-minute drive from Maratea town. There is no sea view and surroundings..both on the covered terrace and in the vast white dining room..are unadorned. I could have cared less what the place looked like; I was looking at the deliciousness on my plate.
We had one Sunday lunch here; the entire place was packed with local families spanning several generations. A group of 10 men at the adjacent table brought their own home-made Aglianico, and even their own special glasses, which were filled and brought to our table as well. Midway through their meal, they brought out an accordion and each one proceeded to take turns belting out old Italian standards.
Although they are not local, I could not pass up the vongole with spaghetti, which was brought to the table with hot red pepper oil (5 euro for a half portion). I followed this with an impeccably grilled platter of seppie, calamari, and gamberoni, each with that perfect char at the edges. (15 euro).
With water, limonata, and a bottle of Feudi San Gregorio Pietraclada Fiano di Avellino, the lunch totalled 22 euro per person.
The following day we returned here for lunch, when I began with a repeat of the grigliata mista, this time followed by a grilled orata. The bill for both of these dishes was a very reasonable 26 euro. (cover charge here was 1.50e per person; we would see the cover as high as 4e on the Amalfi Coast)
A highly recommended eatery in an exquisitely beautiful region of Italy.
VILLAMMARE DI VIBONATI (CILENTO)…TAVERNA PORTOSALVO
We stopped at this miniscule SlowFood seafood trattoria for lunch, en route from Maratea to our next base, in the southern Cilento town of Pisciotta. This small restaurant with only about 8 tables, located in a former fisherman’s storage shed now decked out with old photos of local scenes is one of several lining the lungomare that edges the pretty town beach. Although we had phoned ahead to book, we were the only diners on that Tuesday afternoon in mid-September.
Pride of place under the stone arches is given to a large table piled high with an abundance of fish and shellfish. Rotund Proprietor Gerardo Menza (in photo below) speaks no English, so was not able to learn as much as I would have liked about the various offerings but the variety alone was impressive and I wished that my dining companions had been willing to linger long enough to sample a few of the enticements.
After superb grilled bruschetta, unadorned, I proceeded to a simple sauté of clams, followed by a trio of hefty grilled local gamberoni, sold here by weight, as is usual in these parts (70 euro per kilo). (Prices for fresh fish and shellfish ranged from 50 euro to 80 euro per kilo at the eateries we visited).
We drank a half bottle of Cantine de Notaio Il Preliminare white Aglianico.
With the two house-made pastas and several canned soft drinks and a lettuce salad ordered by my dining companions, the bill totalled 60 e.
There is a Tuesday market in the town, a few blocks from the restaurant.
Corso Italia, 77 (along the sea); 39-0973-36547
I agree! Pisciotta is lovely. We stayed one night at SlowFood agriturismo A MACHINA, LOCANDA DEL FIUME. The location is superb, since it is at the southern entrance to the town, very easy to access the main road for daytrips, and within a 10-minute walk of the town itself. Accommodations are in an old watermilll and are lovely; my room had a view of both the sea and of Pisciotta. Flooring is olive wood and just might be the most beautiful I've ever seen in a hotel. I wish I could say great things about the breakfast but this was a real weak point. I had expected a breakfast that showcased the bounty of the area (the estate is an olive farm and the owner jars her own jams and marmelades) but we received something much less--just day-old bread with no capacity for toast, a piece of indifferent cake, and coffee. The jams--peach, fig, etc--were, indeed, excellent. Even so, I would give the place another try, perhaps asking ahead about the breakfast, since the setting is so good. There is even a pool (too cold to swim when we were there, though) We paid 50e per person per night.
This was the first of two excellent meals near this beautiful old Cilento hill town. This SlowFood restaurant, owned by Vito Puglia, an important figure in the Italian movement, commands a hillside position amidst the olive groves for which Pisciotta is famed, and overlooking the sea. It was too far to walk there from our agriturismo, located at the edge of town, so the restaurant offered us a lift and we were whisked north from town along the winding corniche road in a plush BMW sedan.
We were the only diners in the restaurant that weeknight evening in late September. The dining room, with three whitewashed walls adorned with striking contemporary ceramic art, opens to the sea and would offer gorgeous views in daylight.
The wine list offers a tremendous range and with the help of the amiable Pugliese wait person, we chose a San Matteo Fiano 2010 from Alfonso Rotolo of Paestum.
We began the meal with two orders of mixed appetizer, which was not a great idea since it was difficult to divide the selections into three portions. Presented on a beautifully composed platter, these each were good, none was extraordinary:
*Melanzane al Forno with tomato sauce
*Fiore di zucca stuffed with ricotta
*Pizzette of escarole
*Shrimp on lemon leaves, gratineed with fine bread crumbs
*Marinated anchovies for which Pisciotta is famous (the most coveted of local anchovies, those caught with the Menaica nets, were not available, however, their season having ended in July
We followed with grilled pezzogna, local bream, and grilled gamberoni; the fish was good enough but the shrimp were less than flavorful.
Desserts were outstanding..among the best sweets of the 15-day trip:
Torta Caprese, an almond and chocolate cake ubiquitous on this coast but not often as scrumptious as this version
Ricotta cake with orange and chocolate..simply put: To die for.
After dinner we were ushered into the inner enoteca for a chat with Sr Puglia and glasses of walnut wine, and a look at the vast wine library which encompasses selections from throughout the country.
The total: 116 euro.
Contrada Marina Campagna, 5 (north of the upper town of Pisciotta); open June through September only
For some reason, the website you gave for 'A Machina is frozen, so you can't click on anything to enter the website and see the pictures. So I'm posting another link where that's more easily done:
I had pretty much the same experience at Le Vrille in the valle d'Aosta, where an agriturismo recommended by Slow Food Editore (le Vrille) had an indifferent breakfast except for some great jams produced on site. (However, it also served marvelous dinners.) But I can report that a different locanda in the valle d'Aosta recommended by Slow Food Editore (Le Petit Dahu) served an excellent breakfast with many local goods.
Ricotta cake with orange and chocolate, eh? I have made a fairly thin ricotta tort flavored with orange where the crust was first spread with a thin layer of dark chocolate before the whole thing was baked. Bascially it's a torta di arancia Caprese, but with that extra line of chocolate. Any similarities?
(A bit like this but mine is much thinner/flatter, baked in a small pizza-type round)
Thanks for posting the additional ink. This cake had the chocolate lavished over the top, rather than embedded within. Divine, but I already said that.
Interesting about the breakfast at Le Vrille. I understand that these are often working farms, but in my book there is no excuse for less-than-fresh bread, especially when the place is less than 1km from bakeries in town. Apart from that, which I suppose is a miniscule element of the big picture, it was a good enough place in a beautiful part of Italy that appears to get little English-speaking tourism.
we were served stale-ish bread at an agriturismo in E-R a couple years back. We also have seen cakes, etc languish from day to day in hotel breakfast spread. . Maybe out on farms the owners are not going tomake the effort to buy fresh bread for morning service. Its not like most italian breads will last well from day to day. But it is disappointing.
re: jen kalb
True--even where the breakfast buffet contains local cheeses, fruits, and salumi, I've often encountered commercial cornetti, cakes, and some of last night's bread. Doesn't dampen the pleasure too much, but I've come to realize there's so much the small agriturismi and country hotels we frequent can do everyday. Dinners are usually a much different story.
I quickly want to say there was nothing disappointing in Le Vrille's breakfast. It just wasn't a true treat in every respect like the dinner was. I think the key really is how many non-Italians tourists regularly come by. The Slow Food Editore griturismo in Valnontey that served me a memorable breakfast is at the gateway to the national park of the Gran Paradiso, so most people staying there are trekkers from everywhere.
ANGIOLINA..MARINA DI PISCIOTTA (CILENTO)
This very well-regarded SlowFood restaurant sits at the southern edge of the compact Marina, the shoreline counterpart to the town of Pisciotta high above. The restaurant is now run by Angiolina’s son, Rinaldo Merola, and his wife Ivana, who gave us a warm welcome and presented us with a copy of the GamberoRosso pamphlet listing the restaurants, of which Angiolina is one, that have earned the “Tre Gamberi” from the 2011 Gambero Rosso guide.
Angiolina encompasses an indoor dining room an an outdoor garden terrace, where we were seated. Furnishings are minimalist and the place has a sleek look.
A couple of the signature dishes, including the ciauledda and the cauraro, which sounds like a Cilento version of vignarola, were not in season. Nor were the Menaica anchovies or the famed artichokes of Cilento, but we managed to eat abundantly and very well here.
We shared three antipasti: Alici Mbuttunate, a layered concoction of anchovies, eggs, and ricotta, with a sauce of tomato..excellent. (6 e)
Eggplantn dishes are a forte and we had two: Melanzane alla Pisciottana, a Cilentano caponata with olives, capers, pine nuts and ricotta (6 e) was delicious. Equally good: Melanzane ‘Nchiapatte (4e) eggplant stuffed with cheese, egg, and mozzarella bathed in a tomato sauce.
We followed with three pastas. My choice was Calamarata con Crema di Ceci, Totani, e Rosmarino (10e) a traditional combination of ring-shaped dry pasta (reminiscent of calamari rings, hence the name), with a cream of chick peas and chunks of totani, a type of squid ubiquitous on area menus.
Other pastas included Farfalle con Tonno, Melanzane, Pomodori Secchi, Menta, and Semi di Finocchio (10e). One of my companions (inexplicably because this was in September) ordered “Gnocchi with Shrimp and Asparagus,” and was apologetically informed that the asparagus was “cultivated” and not wild.
Wine was a Fiano from San Matteo in Rutino.
Dessert was a Croccante con Crema di Ricotta di Bufala (5e)
The bill was 62 e for three persons.
These photos, which are not mine, show some of the dishes we enjoyed; there are many photos of the dishes, the restaurant, and the village, along with detailed menus, on their website.
Marina di Pisciotta,Via Passariello, 2, Pisciotta, Campania , IT
I DUE FRATELLI..SANTA MARIA DI CASTELLABATE (CILENTO)
We had two dinners at this seafood restaurant on the Strada Statale just north of the town of Santa Maria and both were good. The first night we ate at the edge of the vast terrace which has a sweeping view of the town and the sea beyond. The next evening we ate in one of the handsome warren of brick-arched rooms comprising the interior space, a cozier choice since the restaurant was almost empty on both evenings.
On both evenings, the service ranked among the best of the trip, with waiters solicitous, kind, and welcoming. No English is spoken.
Highlights of our meals included the antipasti (10e each): Smoked swordfish was gossamer and incredibly tasty. Borlotti with squid and shrimp were also excellent, as was a layered concoction of eggplant, anchovy and tomato sauce.
Second courses included grilled fish on both evenings. Merluza was not my favorite.
The Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo proved to be among my favorite wines of the trip.
Dinners were in the range of 30 euro per person on both evenings, including the wine, cover (1.50e) and water. Closed Wednesdays.
I too love that Greco di Tufo wine. It turns up on some wine lists in Liguria, and sometimes in the supermarkets too! It's a wonderful wine with seafoods.
Chickpeas and seafood is also a wonderful pairing in my book. I continue to be amazed at the low prices you are paying for all this bounty.
In case you are interested, buried within this Ligurian recipe for artichoke-stuffed squid is the difference between calamari and totani.
Yes! chickpeas and seafood. In fact, many types of beans and seafood.
That blog is interesting and the first photo is making me hungry. Too bad we get such a measly selection of artichokes here in NY. There is a at least one farmer at Union Square market who has them in season at about $8 per pound.
See if you can find that particular Greco di Tufo, from Mastroberardino. I think the 2009 is the one to look for..I noticed that 2009 vintage whites carried much higher prices than the 2010 almost across the board in the places we visited.
So true about the prices....big difference between these areas and the Amalfi Coast, although even there one can get off the beaten path and find good values. But it takes work...
May I ask what you paid for the Greco di Tufo you liked most? Since it is not a local wine, it is always one of the pricier white wines in restaurants around here, great vintage or no.
I guess artichokes are really a dry stony soil kind of veg. But even when I lived in California, all you could get were globe artichokes, and a lot of the smaller spinier ones, with very long legs, from Liguria and Sardegna, are terrifically tasty (but a real danger to prepare).
Sorry..did not see this until just now. The Mastroberardino Greco would have been in the 20-22-euro range on the wine lists. Just as a comparison, in New York, the Greco di Tufo from Feudi San Gregorio, which I liked slightly less than the Mastroberardino, is widely available for about $18 retail but I have seen it for as low as $14.99. It is quite good. I have to check the NY price of the Mastroberardino and will do so if you would like.
TENUTA VANNULO..CAPACCIO SCALO (near Paestum, south of Salerno)
Whenever the discussion turns to mozzarella from the Paestum area, the name Vannulo comes up, as this is the most well-known of the “mozzarella farms” lining the state highway south of Battipaglia. (The word mozzarella, when spoken in the Cilento, refers to buffalo mozzarella only. Mozzarella made from cow’s milk is “fior di latte.” In the Amalfi area, the term “mozzarella” means the cow milk cheese, produced in Agerola; the product from Cilento, or from Caserta, is referred to there as “mozzarella di bufala.”)
Unlike most farms, Vannulo is organic and unlike most farms, they offer tours in several languages. We phoned ahead to book the 10am English tour, making the short drive from Castallabate on a Friday morning.
For a fee of 4 euro per person, about 20 of us received a tour of the vast buffalo pens, housing several hundred female animals and only a few males, with separate sections for eating, relaxing (on rubber mattresses) , and milking. Feeling itchy? Waddle over to the large, vertical car-wash-like rotating brush for a rubdown. Much was made of the special Swedish milking machine. A few minutes were spent in front of a large picture window, watching the stretching of the curds into the familiar mozzarella balls and the not-so-familiar treccia braids. An equal number of minutes were spent inside the “leather boutique,” offering handbags and small accessories made from (male) buffalo skin. (The male buffalo meet a fate far less pleasant than that of the females) A small museum details the history of the farm and displays old implements and interesting photos, including one of the animals grazing amidst the temples at nearby Paestum. Generous samples were handed out at the end of the tour, which lasted about 45 minutes. The information imparted at the tour was pretty basic; one could probably wander around alone and view the animal barns and the through-the-window cheese making.
The most interesting part of the excursion, for me, was the shop selling the buffalo mozzarella, ricotta, provola, and other heavenly incarnations of the milk. Since shipping requires refrigeration, and since this mozzarella should never be refrigerated, it is available only here and the waiting throngs indicated that this is, indeed, a much-prized local product. The cheese often sells out before noon. The white-swathed saleswomen obligingly packed up my meager purchases, with their "acqua bianca" liquid, in a plastic container which was set inside a Styrofoam container. Every other person who exited the shop seemed to be carrying at least 4 of these containers, along with assorted shopping bags. It was quite a sight.
There is a “yogurteria” next door that also saw lots of activity on that Friday morning. Although the menu offers a long list of cakes, and gelati, and yogurt made from buffalo milk, the signature order here appeared to be a heft slice of brioche slathered with fruit yogurt. I tried an apricot yogurt and it was, indeed, pretty terrific.
As for the mozzarella? I lack the words but will never forget.
The farm is but a few minutes drive from the Paestum site.
Note the disrespect accorded to fior di latte on this officlal site:
Thanks! Greco di Tufo goes for about the same price in restaurants, maybe 2 euros more, and it is not necessarily the best Greco di Tufo. It is very haphazard about who has good wines from regions other than Liguria, and when they have it, so I will just have to keep my eye out.
There's no point to buying bufala around here, although there is one shop that trucks in milk every day and makes the cheese fresh in-house. It's definitely got more barnyard aromas than fior di latte ( "pleasant as ice cream" is so damning!), but not silky milkiness of what I've tasted fresh while in the south (not as fresh as you tasted).
Your description of the tour was so complete, I think I can skip it when I go to Paestum and head directly to the shops instead! I'm a big yoghurt fan, and have never tasted bufala yoghurt, so making the detour to Vanulo is a great tip for me. Thanks again.
This picturesque fishing village enjoys a well-deserved reputation as the food mecca of the Amalfi Coast. There are three well-known restaurants here and I had tried two of them on a previous trip; report here:
We booked ahead by phone, arriving in Cetara at lunchtime on a gorgeous September Saturday afternoon. Around and around we drove, looking in vain for a space to wedge our car. (Keep this in mind if you arrive by car!) Finally we gave in and left it at the brand-new (and expensive) covered garage at the top of the town’s main street, about a 10 minute downhill walk to the restaurant.
Acquapazza sits at the lowest point of the town, just a few steps from the pretty beach. On that weekend afternoon every table was taken and we were pleased to meet one family that makes the pilgrimage from Benevento at least once a month to eat here. Other diners were a combination of locals and a few German tourists. We sat on the street-side terrace, there is also a sleek interior dining room.
Lunch here was among the best of the two week-long trip.
We ordered one of each of the three antipasti selections which, like all the dishes, are served on gorgeous hand-painted (Ginori??) porcelain:
Carpaccio di Pulpo, gossamer slices of octopus with a light dressing (10e)
Parmigianella di Zucchine con Alici su San Marzano..a layered confection of zucchini and the famous Cetara anchovies bathed in a light tomato sauce (10e)
Crudo di Pesce..an artfully arrayed platter of raw selections that included trigle (mullet), beautifully carved leaving the head and tail intact and the torso bared; my beloved ricci di mare (se urchins); two types of shrimp; a generous mound of tuna tartare;
Oysters; anchovies; and a few other impeccably fresh selections. (30e)
Spaghetti con la Colatura di Alici left me swooning. The essence of simplicity, this was probably the single best pasta of the trip: A glass beakerof colatura was left on the table for diners wishing a stronger anchovy flavor; garlic; parsley; olive oil. The pasta was dried, from Gragnano. I tried to make this at home this week,using the colatura that I brought home) and am sad to report that my version did not come close. (13e)
Our reservation was for 1:30 so by the time we were ready for a secondi, there were only two fish left: A tiny amberjack and a huge Spigola, weighing in at 2 kilo. Having had my heart set on trying this fish, baked in a salt crust (love the version at Marea in New York), we ordered the two-kilo specimen for the three of us. Whole fish are priced here at 55 e per kilo; I do not recall seeing fish priced any lower on this trip, and we certainly saw prices as high as 80 e per kilo at several eateries.
The spigola was impeccable.
One of the two Gennaro’s who own the restaurant, Gennaro Castiello, provides genial and relaxed (read: slow) service; little English is spoken but they have a translated menu.
With house wine, a Sanmarco from Ravello (7e), water and coffee, three of us paid 198 euro; the fish alone was 110 e and we would have paid much less had smaller specimens been available. Excellent price/value ratio. A memorable meal.
Corso Garibaldi, 38, Cetara, Campania 84010, IT
We had decided upon Da Lorenzo for our Sunday lunch, a walk of about 30 minutes from Ravello, where we were based for three days of our trip. I had booked the restaurant ahead by e-mail after reading about the place on Pignataro, and with the knowledge that much of the fare served in the haute eateries of Ravello originates in the gardens of Scala. Since I received no response to my e-mail, the concierge at our Ravello Hotel eventually made the booking for three of us.
The restaurant is located a somewhat steep walk along the road from the main piazza in tiny Scala, which sits across the valley from Ravello and is within about a 30 minute walk of that town.
We were greeted effusively by Owner Lorenzo and his sons, one of whom was most competent in English (his English skills would undergo a steep deterioration once the bill arrived, however). The Waiter/Son proceeded to give us the introduction, using all the buzz phrases: Much of the food came from their farms, we could eat anything we wanted since Mama was in the kitchen and would be happy to prepare, this was a family place, Mama, Dad (Lorenzo) and at least two sons ran the show, etc etc. We were pleased to see that other tables on the terrace were filled with what appeared to be locals.
No written menu was presented and here the problem began. I've eaten at homey restaurants throughout Italy where the owner describes the dishes and there is no menu in sight. Foolish me: This is the Amalfi Coast and not a small town in Basilicata. I should have asked for that menu, or for prices, before we ordered.
Much was made of the house mixed antipasti with seafood and vegetables so we began with three orders. We will then decide on how to proceed. (I was eating with two older folks who do not have large appetites).
The antipasti plates arrived quickly, having been prepared in advance as we might have expected. This is what we ate:
Totani with potatoes ( type of "flying squid" in a classic local preparation)
Marinated octopus salad
Fried croquette of potato with specks of shrimp
Fried anchovy and provola
Marinated anchovy from Cetara
Thin slices of excellent smoked tuna
Fior di latte with mediocre tomato (in September)
And because I have requested a baked eggplant dish and this was not possible for Mama to prepare, we were given a taste of caponata
Cover charge was a steep 4 euro each (by comparison, we had paid 3 euro each at Acquapazza the day before, while 2 euro was the cover charge we had most often encountered during our southern Italian meanderings of the past two weeks or so.
We drank a half-carafe of Marisa Cuomo vino sfuso, wine so young it had not yet made it into a bottle. This carried a high 8 euro charge. (High because the bottled wines of this Furore producer typically carry restaurant pries from 16 euro and up for a full bottle)
Each of the antipasti was competently prepared and a good example of coastal Campanian home cooking. The surroundings are pleasant and terrace tables enjoy a view over the valley to Ravello beyond.
Feeling sated, we opted to end our meal with only three coffees. Upon asking, we were presented with the bill for 132 euro. (For three mixed antipasti, half-carafe of tap wine, and three coffees). When I objected to the 35 euro per person charge for the antipasti, the heretofore English-speaking son suffered an immediate loss of his linguistic skills as well as his previous welcoming manner. He said that anchovies from Cetara were very pricey and that was partly the reason for the high charge. Having purchased said anchovies many times, I am well aware of the prices and in no way would this account for so high a total bill.
He then told us that is we did not like the charge, we should pay whatever we wanted. And so we did, leaving a still-very-generous amount of 25 each for the mixed appetizers, instead of the original 35 euro per person. The final bill, after adjustment, came to 102 euro for the three of us. I wonder if the local people dining at adjacent tables are being charged similarly. We were left to find our way alone out of the restaurant, with a stream of sotto voce muttering at our backs. All semblance of hospitality had vanished along with the English skills of the owner and his sons.
LE QUERCE, TRAMONTI
We opted for a light meal on Sunday evening and, wanting to explore outside our current home base in Ravello, I asked the hotel concierge for a recommendation of a local agriturismo in the Tramonti township. Although it is unlikely that many Ravello hotel guests request similar dining locales, she unhesitatingly remarked that if we liked grilled meat, we should head to Agriturismo Restaurant Le Querce.
A 35 minute ascent from Ravello along steep winding forested roads of the Monti Lattari took us to this rustic rural outpost situated next to the communication towers in the area known as Chiancolelle. (Apparently this word is in dialect and I could not understand if it referred to the towers, or the area; if anyone knows, I would be grateful if you would explain). The restaurant sits at what must be one of the highest points of the Amalfi Coast region and the atmosphere on this Sunday night, when local families chattering in dialect filled almost every table, was about as far removed from the rarified confines of Ravello dining spots as might be imagined.
The cozy stone and knotty-wood-paneled dining room is dominated by a pizza oven, and a television. Noticing that almost every table was ordering pizza, we opted to do the same. We began with a gigantic house salad, served in a trough-like vessel. Very good.
I wish I could report that the pizzas were terrific but alas, despite Tramonti’s exalted reputation as the birthplace of many of the nation’s best pizza masters, that was not the case. While the Le Querce special pizza, with rapini, sausage, and mozzarella, hit the spot nicely, the Margherita was akin to an average New York slice pizza, with a good crust drowning in low-moisture mozzarella. Strange as it may seem, however, the warm welcome and the fabulous people watching elevated the meal into a memorable experience for me.
With a half-carafe of house red wine, the bill for three persons totalled 19 euro.
" Le Querce" Farm House - Via Chiancolelle", Tramonti (SA).
Tel: +39 3382032931/ +39 3299380782.
Your question about "Le Chiancolelle" made me curious, and a lot of googling has turned up this website, which makes reference to a mountain Chiancolella in the area, inside the Parco Regionale Dei Monti Lattari of Campania:
Iin Puglia, the dry stones used to construct trulli are knowns as le chiancole, and while look-alike words aren't necessarily related in meaning in Italian, I thought I'd toss that in.
Had a pleasant lunch few years ago at I Due--were there off season on a gray wet day and except for a business duo nearby, we were the only customers. Smoked swordfish yes, and good seafood pastas, formal and polite service. Had a local Cilento white, minerally fine with our meal. Agree about Greco di Tufo--addictive with any seafood; Urciuolo makes a very reasonably priced version. Even the Mastroberardino Nuova Serra is a good value.
I can't say enough about the region, even though I only got a tiny peek! Apart from Naples and the Amalfi Coast/Sorrento peninsula, there is virtually no interest here in the entire Mezzogiorno. Talk about undiscovered! And much more reasonably priced than further north.
I've not tried those onions..I think you mean the ones sold by Pfaffenroth, right? I did go to Coluccio about 6 weeks ago, but was disappointed at the tiny selection of Colavolpe products.
But they will no doubt get more in for the holidays.
BB: Thanks for tracking that down. when I tried to find out the actual meaning of Chancollelle, the two hotel staffers dissolved into giggles and told me they could not give me a meaning in English.
There are huge communications towers atop that hill and I thought it referred to those. Incredible how far removed in spirit that Tramonti hinterland is from the actual Amalfi Coast.
I hope to finish this report someday soon. Meanwhile, I will list the remainder of the restaurants we sampled during our stay in September, 2011, in descending order of preference.
I'll be happy to add details if anyone has them on their radar:
LA TORRE. MASSA LUBRENSE. Very highly recommended.
HOSTARIA BACCO. FURORE. We spent a night at the pleasant but simple attached inn which offers sea views for reasonable prices; in the hills high above the Amalfi Coast.
TAVERNA DE LEONE, POSITANO Near the Hotel San Pietro in Laurito, just east of Positano town, this is tied with Bacco on my list of the week's favorites
A PARANZA, AMALFI
IL RITROVO, MONTEPERTUSO Located above Positano in the village of Montepertuso; the hotel offers free shuttle service from a bar near the Chiesa Nuova bus stop in Positano.