I left Italy this morning and heard my last “arrivaderci.” I was sad to go, not only because I had a wonderful month doing stories there, I was starting to feel at home in Italy, and my Italian improved over the month, but because I have to leave that glorious food behind.
This was not a culinary trip, but you have to eat, and if you are as interested in eating as I am, as the people I know in Italy are, well…it was a culinary trip.
Here a few of my favorite meals on this trip. I was in Puglia (Salento), Sicily (near Palermo and Salemi), Rome, and Orvieto.
In Puglia, I wasn’t concentrating on the food, and have to say I didn’t have anything that amazed me, but I was nevertheless so delighted when I first arrived at an airport hotel in Brindisi to have such a good pizza at La Locanda ti li Spilusi. The atmosphere made me happy, as did the wood-fired pizza.
In Sicily, I was doing a food-related story (see afar.com in a few months), but most of the best food I tried was in private homes. My friend Giuliana Schimicci Scaduto made an amazing meal with a group of her friends, cooking pasta with tuna bottarga and serving it in her lovely garden; she is starting cooking classes in Palermo: email@example.com. Her sister, Daniela, is managing a lovely aperitif bar in Palermo I’d heartily recommend, called Parisi7, right near the Via Liberta (carpaccio di polop!)…. I went to a couple of traditional osterias in Palermo, the tiny ones where they cook the pasta to order, nothing fancy: Osteria Paradisa Giuseppe Corona, Via Serradifalco, 23. Another is Osteria con Cucina Lo Bianco, via Emrico America, Palermo. Both were simple with authentic Palermitano ingredients…
The best meal of the trip by far was in Rome at Alfonso Iacarrino’s “Baby” at the Aldrovandi Palace in Villa Borghese. It was an expensive meal, but worth the experience–a lovely terrace, impeccable service, and a rare meal, truly memorable. The best lunch in memory. Iacarrino is the chef, passion, and mastermind behind Don Alfonso 1890 Restaurant in Sant’Agata, the Amalfi Coast restaurant that RW Apple, Jr. named as one of his top 10 restaurants in the world, before he died—and the only one in Italy. Iacarrino is obsessed with the quality of his ingredients, which he picks daily from his garden and are front and center on the plate. Each incredible dish had only four or five ingredients—everything was simple, showcasing the freshest ingredients of the season. I had a pasta dish with only four ingredients–flour, water, tomatoes, and ricotta, with a sprig of basil–that was the most amazingly intensely-flavored pasta I’ve had, purely from the quality of the ingredients. The dishes were modern, but simple.
As Apple put it: “(…) Alfonso and Livia Iaccarino grow herbs, lemons and peaches, artichokes and eggplants and, of course prize tomatoes, plus the olives for their own tangy, fruity oil, in a sun-kissed garden facing the isle of Capri near their restaurant on the Sorrento peninsula. In their lovely pastel dining room, they serve fresh, understated, unmistakably Italian food in great profusion – ravioli with caciotta, wild marjoram, barely heated chopped tomatoes and basil, or rolls of baby sirloin filled with raisins, pine-nuts, parsley and garlic, atop a ragout of wild endive. The tufa cellar, first excavated by the Etruscans, is stocked with wines from all around the world. (…)”
I’m just going to put the menu here, because I was so overwhelmed by the lunch I could barely take notes:
Ricciola affumicata alla cannella con macedonia di patata viola
ed arancia di Sicilia
Cinnamon smoked Amberjack with potato and Sicilian orange
Il peperone …….
(this was a delicate pepper filet, plus a pepper stuffe with anchovies)
Ravioli di caciotta fresca e maggiorana
con pomodorini vesuviani e basilico
Ravioli Stuffed with Fresh ‘Caciotta’ Cheese and Marjoram,
‘Vesuvian’ Cherry Tomatoes Sauce and Basil
Paccheri di Gragnano cacio, pepe e scorfano
Pasta from Gragnano with ‘Cacio’ Cheese, Fresh Pepper, and Scorpion Fish
Dentice in sfoglia di zucchine, schiuma di curcuma e limone confit
Dentex Fish with Zucchini, Lemon Confit and Turmeric Sauce
I also tried:
Calamaro ripieno di provola campana e ricotta
con fagiolini e salsa al nero di seppia
Squid Filled with Provola and Ricotta Cheese Served
with Green Beans and Squid Ink Sauce
and for dessert:
Concerto ai sapori e profumi di limone
A Concert for the Lemon: Fragrance and Flavour (served in a cold lemon skin)
Sinfonia di pesca con salsa ai frutti di bosco*
Peach Symphony with Wild Berries Sauce
Nothing else in Italy compared to that meal.
In Salemi, where I was doing a story, I had two wonderful meals. The first was at La Gummara, where we had a homemade pasta with tuna bottarga and wonderful service, and the other was at Valentino, where the fish was delicately friend and fresh.
We spent one day in Orvieto, and ate at Al San Giovanale, at a lovely terrace overlooking the hills. We had a flan with black truffles, a pasta with fennel and prosciutto, and game hen with potatoes…a beautiful meal from the hills…
Now I’ve left Italy for Russia, where all of a sudden I can’t speak a word and have no idea what to order! Next: St. Petersburg.
photos by Casey McSpadden
Top: pasta with pork and fennel at Al San Giovanele in Orvieto.
Second: stuffed squid at Baby
Peppers at Baby
Lightly fried fresh fish at Valentino
House-made ravioli with gameri and bottarga at La Gummara
Octopus at La Gummara
Little fish in the Palermo market, and vegetables.