I have just come back from two weeks on the Amalfi Coast. I had heard that this was a place of special beauty and had long wanted to visit this area for its superb walking routes and stunning vistas. However, I had also heard that this was a foody’s paradise; beautiful Neapolitan cuisine (some of the best in Italy), coupled with some amazing local wines and alcoholic drinks. I have not returned disappointed. I have reviewed aspects of the drinking (wine and spirits) side for Vinspire, but here are some of the highlights from the food that I tried whilst I was there:
The Caprese Salad
It is only in the Mediterranean that you really realise why the tomato is considered a fruit. The difference that it makes to the taste when you are eating these delicious fruits is phenomenal. Back in the UK I am not exactly enamoured with the tomato and would only really use it in a sauce, it just doesn’t have enough flavour in when it comes to salads. However on the Amalfi coast things are so different. The tomatoes are luscious and juicy, flavoursome and sweet.
Southern Italy is also blessed with another world-class source of food: Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. This delicious cheese, made from the milk of Buffalo and protected by a Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) status. The Mozzarella that we had all around the Amalfi Coast was noticeably quite firm and solid, certainly more so than the Mozzarella that I ate on my tour of Sicily a year and a half ago. As such, it wasn’t quite as creamy, but it was definitely full of flavour.
Now, we tried this salad in almost every restaurant that we went to around Amalfi – it seemed rude not to. However, it wasn’t until I went to Capri that I realised that this salad was originally from the fabled island itself! When we were on Capri we went to a wonderful restaurant called Ristorante de Paolino and the photograph above left is from the Caprese salad that we had there. The restaurant itself is set in the midst of a lemon grove, which creates a beautiful atmosphere for eating. We did ask the waiter what happens if a lemon falls on you (there were some rather large ones balanced right above my head at the time) and they just smiled and shrugged…
The Neapolitan people are fiercely proud of their pizza, a food type that is ubiquitous in restaurants all around the globe. The pizzas are thin, soft and doughy. I would say that they are a little thicker then ones that I’ve had in Rome, but they are certainly not deep-pan. There are, of course, a multitude of options that one can have on a pizza, however it was interesting to see that the pizza bianca was quite popular; this is a pizza that doesn’t have a tomato base to it.
To the right are some pizze (the plural of pizza, don’t you know…) that we had in Sorrento. One of them was their take on a Caprese Salad, complete with delicious tomatoes and Mozzarella, and the other was an Amalfi bianca pizza which focussed on their love of sea-food with capers and anchovies – although if I’m honest the whole thing ended up a little bit too salty for my taste; it did look amazing though.
Again, this will hardly be a surprising addition to my list here, but we were blown away by the quality of the pasta that was on offer during our visit. I would say, however, that the pasta we had fell into one of two camps dependent on what kind of place you were in. If you were eating in a slightly more well turned out Ristorante then the pasta would be slightly more dainty, primarily as it was supposed to be a primi piatti served before a fish or meat dish; it was not supposed to by a whole meal in itself. The dish on the left was a rather lovely Spaghetti Pomodoro that we had in a hotel called Tramonto D’Oro in Praiano.
If you are eating in a side-alley Trattoria, chances are that the plate of pasta will be designed to be bigger and a meal in itself. We certainly found that in some of the places we ate the portions could be very generous indeed! On more than one occasion we were defeated by the food and couldn’t manage a single further bite!
One of the great joys in life is sitting on an Italian piazza in the early evening with a gelati (ice cream). The breadth of choice that one has when it comes to selecting gelati flavours can be bewildering. Broadly speaking there tend to be fruity ones (lemon, strawberry, raspberry, etc.), creamy ones and chocolatey ones. Some of the gelati shops offer novelty flavours too (I saw Disney themed ones, a Smurf themed one and a Bounty ice cream). I tend to go with a policy of sticking to a flavor family – ie: all fruity ones or all chocolatey ones. My personal favourite gelati was in a lovely place in Amalfi called Caffe Royal, which was just off the main square.
A further honourable mention needs to go to Bougainvillea in Sorrento which had a selection of over 80 different gelati flavours to choose from. When you are looking to select three flavours to combine together on a cone, this abundance of options to select from was somewhat of a hinderance (although a nice hinderance)!
I must say that I didn’t enjoy every aspect of the cuisine that was an offer on my Amalfi voyage – I felt that the breakfasts left a lot to be desired. Now normally I am one to try and embrace a different style of food, however it seemed that there was a real focus on eating sweet things over breakfast. Sweet croissants stuffed with marmalade or jam, little cakes, little torts, etc. I do appreciate things on the sweeter end of the scale (see gelati above), but I cannot go overboard on them and I felt that every morning waking up to this sugar assault was too much – I craved cereals or even some sausage, bacon and eggs!
All I can say really is that if you are looking for a holiday destination where you want to gastronomically treat yourself then the Amalfi Coast is certainly right up there in terms of wonderful places to visit.