Central and North Italy’s food scene

The place in the world most famous for it’s lemons – and yes they are as huge as someone once told you! – the Amalfi Coast is truly stunning.

Our spot for the night came with a gorgeous view! Read more about that in our other post – North of Italy via the coastal roads.
We had a fabulous Sicilian white wine to drink and the light was fading, so we got cooking right away. A simple dish with stunning surroundings. Pasta with a Tropea onion and garlic cream sauce, fresh marjoram and black pepper.

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Naples claims to have the honourable notion that pizza originated there. We were fortunate enough to get a recommendation to try the oldest pizza place in town – L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. We were lucky to arrive early enough to avoid the massive crowds of hungry punters, and were sat within about 40 minutes of arriving. The menu was complicated, with a choice of two different pizzas; margherita and marinara, with an option of three different sizes. The margherita was our favourite, with the buffalo mozzarella being the most wonderful topping either of us had ever had on a pizza; perfect meltable cheese with an incredible creaminess to it. As we left the place, we had to fight our way through the sea of people – locals and tourists alike – waiting to have their number called.

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Once we were done with Naples we headed for the hills of Monti Aurunci National Park, where we cooked Pasta Napolitana, a classic from Naples, to pair with a bottle of Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria that we got when we were visiting the winery in Sicily. A blend of nero d’avola and frappato grapes, both are very commonly grown in the south of Sicily and indigenous to the island. The wine was very young (2015) but good to drink now; super fruity (cherry, strawberry and pomegranate), lovely and round. You might even enjoy it for it’s freshness alone, without food, in the sun on a summer day.

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As we drove north past Naples, we were hit with really amazing regionalism. Driving through Campania, where Buffalo Mozzarella is from, every store along the road side is selling it. As you pass through Tuscany the famous Chianti vines litter the hillside and  wine is produced in abundance. Soon after you’ll find yourself in Emilia – Romagna, where Modena is all about the balsamic and only a few kilometres down the road is Parma, where everyone has their hands involved in parmesan – from selling it out the back of the farm, to both small and large scale producers scattering the countryside. ‘Fromagerie-s’ are everywhere. This area is also known for it’s charcuterie; dry cured sausages and prosciutto crudo di Parma.

After an entertaining two days on the Island of Elba – see more HERE – we decided to head for Bolgheri, which is another small area of Italy’s wine making scene, just south of Livorno. Wine producing didn’t start here until the late 1970’s, when someone had an idea to start planting Bordeaux style vines. It seemed to be a good idea because the stony, gravel-like soil in the area rather reminded them of the soil of Graves and Haut – Medoc in Bordeaux – so instead of planting sangiovese (which is more abundant in the neighbourhood) they put down cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.

A few days in Florence at our friends place saw us discovering some true Italian hospitality. The first night in Florence, Sammy’s parents put on an incredible show in real Italian style. His Dad was the pizza man, making all sorts of fantastic pizzas from the wood fired oven in their back yard; an anchovy one to start, an artichoke one, nutella pizza’s for dessert alongside the Florentine classic of a grape tart (Schiacciata all’uva) and of course limoncello to wash it all down.

One evening while we were having late dinner in their backyard, we were all startled by some rustling in the bushes. We put the torch on it and were a bit surprised to see a wild boar, not more than 10 metres away. There are many tales about wild boar in this area, and within the Tuscan region, but in all the years of living here, the family had never seen one this close.

The following day we took a little trip outside of Florence with Sammy, where we got hold of a T-Bone steak from the prized Chianina breed. The Chianina cattle breed is the pride and joy of the folk around these areas. It’s been raised for over 2000 years now in the Tuscan, Lazio and Umbria regions and is the key behind the famous bistecca alla fiorentina.

We BBQ’d this 1.6kg beauty and served it with truffle and caper crushed potato and olive oil (from Sammy’s family trees of course) and a 2011 Chianti Riserva from La Castellina winery. We had a speedy wine-tasting at a Vinoteca earlier, as we were driving across the hills, looking for our spot to cook. We tasted local specialty wines from different vintages, dominated by sangiovese and merlot. The one we chose all three of us put our vote down on; full, spicy, fruity, earthy and all in all very well balanced. 

Between here and lake Como we experimented with some different antipasti style platters, involving peach and mozzarella, local olives, caponata and focaccia, melon and prosciutto, wild boar sausage, red wine sausage, rosemary flat bread (known as schiacciata rosmarino) and an aged pecorino all with a bottle of Modena Lambrusco. We were a bit lost when we were looking at the shelves at the local wine shop; there were many different Lambruscos to choose from and to be honest it’s not that kind of wine we’d drink regularly enough to know what is what. All we knew was we wanted sparkling, red and dry, that’s about it. After a brief introduction to them from the lovely store owner we went for his recommendation. It was delicious, and at four euros a bottle, a fantastic bargain!

Other things we explored with while on this leg of our trip included;

Turning foraged apricots into apricot and fennel seed compote, discovering that one can cook from the hammock! And the divine simplicity of serving it on top of yoghurt for breakfast.

Little bruschetta’s with some phenomenal on-the-vine tomatoes, minced garlic, pecorino and a little drizzle of the 12 year old balsamic we picked up from Giuseppe Giusto.

Vanilla rice pudding with macerated foraged blackberries and chocolate shavings – which coincidentally we took on the ferry ride to Elba for breakfast.

Panzanella with datterini tomatoes, capers, pecorino, basil, rocket, onions and olive oil.

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