Sunday, October 26, 2014

Southern Italy, September, 2014
Easiest way to get to LAX is Shuttle2LAX!  They are always on time and you arrive at the airport without any stress!!!  Made a couple stops inflight to Naples and finally arrived at the airport about 12:30 p.m.  Took the bus to Piazza Garibaldi and then the metropolitana to Piazza Dante where my b&b, Palazzo Ruffo di Bagnara ( was located.  Up on the top floor Carmen met me at the door and it was a delightful stay!!!  My room was large, airy and quiet and she was so informative on what to do, how to get there, etc. etc. etc. that I felt right at home.  PLUS, to my good fortune, Piazza Dante is right in the center of everything.  I picked up my first cream filled Italian pastry as a quick lunch and then bought a day metro ticket and took the funicular up to Castel Elmo.  The museum was closed but the view was spectacular!  Wandered around a bit, hoping to return another day, and then took another funicular down to the large Galleria Umberto, a shopping mall under construction but very old and impressive. 

Nearby is the Teatro Colon and the Castel Nuovo, housing municipal offices and built in the 13th century by Charles I, King of Naples as a royal residence.  I walked down towards the sea passing through several beautiful piazzas, especially piazza del plebiscite with its impressive church.  I then walked up the main street, Via Toledo towards Piazza Dante and turned onto Via Tribunal, a narrow walking street in the old part of town.  As it was getting late I decided to head to Gobbetto restaurant which was recommended as being excellent.

There was a line of about 10 people when I arrived at about 8:30 p.m.  Everyone eats late in Italy, i.e. 9:30 p.m. so I waited for a table.  The night was pleasant and the location was good so I didn’t mind the wait.  Once inside, it was charming and my antipasto platters were excellent.  One contained grilled zucchini, eggplant, roasted peppers and mushrooms and another contained fried things, i.e. cheese, sardines, polenta, squash blossoms on a bed of arugula.  A delicious and not expensive first meal in Italy!

In the morning Carmen set out some croissants and fresh fruit and I enjoyed breakfast at a little table overlooking the piazza.  Coffee in Italy is strong and delicious and the pastries I tried along the way were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Afterwards I went to the Catacombs a bit out of town.  As I couldn’t find a bus to take me there I used the little Italy I had studied to ask a young motorcyclist if I could pay him to take me there.  He was so surprised that someone my age would actually ride with him that he didn’t charge me!!!

The Catacombs of San Ggennaro date back from the 2nd century.  The many tunnels held Christian burial niches and some of the old frescos still remain.  It is one of the largest and very impressive.  Afterwards I took the train to Pompeii where I spent about 5 hours wandering through the old amphitheatre, forum, baths, old shops, villas, etc.  Stopped for dinner at the famous Gino Sorbillo for pizza and a plate of arugula for dinner.  Since there were about 30 people waiting when I arrived at 8 p.m. I figured this must be “the place” to try Napolitan pizza.   The pizza was delicious with a chewy crust, cheese and a few mushrooms – a bit soft in the center but still yummy.  Easy walking distance back to the hotel…

Warm croissant and fruit for breakfast and then took the metro to the train station where I picked up my rental car.  With some “ado” I finally made it to Aberobello.  I stopped near the town to ask directions and was “lead” to La Truffesa Holiday where I stayed in an adorable little trullo, which is like a hobbit house.  The owner was very nice and drove me into town later that afternoon where I wandered around these many trulli where people still live.   Some are made into shops and restaurants, sometimes combined two together.    In one of these little trullo, in the restauarant L’arturo, I had a delicious pasta from the Puglia area, i.e. a type of ham, onions and some shell pasta on top of fava bean puree.  I ordered a side of arugula and piled that on top – really good.  Piero picked me up at 10:00 p.m. and drove me back to my “trullo”.

In the morning after a nice walk around some of the streets filled with more of these little trulli, Piero brought breakfast to my door.  It was sooo delicious.  Warm chocolate croissant, delicious strong Italian coffee and lots of melon, plums and grapes.  Went back into town to visit the museum which explained how the trulli are constructed and who lives in them now.  Originally they were just one room with a table set in the middle for meals.  One platter and one spoon were used by all.  Today 2 – 3 are combined to make a more pleasant environment.    On to Matera where I wanted to visit the famous caves.

I stopped near the town to ask directions and a very nice man lead me first to the parking garage (as the old city is a pedestrian city) where I parked my car and then he carried my bags up and down cobblestone stairs until we reached Antico Convicino where I was staying.  I only hoped I could find my car again!!!  My “hotel” was in a cave and they upgraded me to a suite so I actually had two levels – it was awesome. 

Map in hand, I set out to see this well known historical center called “Sassi”.  Sassi are houses dug into the calcareous rock.  I stopped at the museum where I watched a video about how people lived in these caves until the late 1980’s without heat, water or sanitation until their plight was made known and the caves were condemned and it became an UNESCO heritage site.  I visited old churches with ancient frescos and wandered the streets soaking in the history, stopping at a little pastry shop for a prosciutto and cheese croissant and a hazelnut gelato to sustain me until dinner.

Walked towards the cathedral which is under construction and down along the wall surrounding the city to Baccanti Ristorante set in a cave!  I had a half portion of delicious shell pasta with wild chicory, sun-dried tomatoes and chickpea puree sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and a side of arugula.  The atmosphere was peaceful and I didn’t feel pressured to order a lot of food.  Leisurely walked back to my “hotel” and enjoyed my space!

Took a walk around the old wall in the morning and then had breakfast in the cave-like dinning room, i.e. delicious pastries, fruit and coffee.  Headed to the amalfi coast.  I had thought about parking the car in amalfi and just taking the bus to ravello and positano but decided it would probably just take too long so I drove the hair pin turns, narrow roads with their amazing vistas.  I stopped first in Ravello and then drove through Amalfi on to Positano.  Ravello is a lovely city up on a hill with shops, gardens, piazzas, etc. Positano is also a beautiful city filled with cobblestone streets which lead right down to the sea.  However, it’s the drive that is the most spectacular and if you have time, the walks between some of the little villages are supposed to be awesome as well. 

After Positano I drove back to Maiori where I was staying the night as it was closer to Naples where I needed to return the car in the morning.  Maiori is a less populated city but set on the sea so is a nice place to stay.  Also the Michelin star restaurant Capo d’Orso is a short taxi ride away.  I had made a reservation and although I got there late it was no problem.  Very few people were there on a Sunday night but, nevertheless, my 5 course meal was excellent.  It started with a little plate of appetizers, i.e. little fried coquettes, lightly seared tuna, crock of ricotta and little tomatoes with a tiny spoon to eat it with.  Next came spaghetti with clams, zucchini flowers and zucchini dice, fish topped with roasted peppers, green beans and crisp potato cubes, peach meringue with peach gelato and chocolate cookie like dessert filled with lime cream.  Sooo Delicious.

In the morning I took a walk along the sea and had a croissant and coffee for breakfast before heading back to Naples and returning the car.  I left my luggage with Carmen at the Palazzo Ruffo di Bagnara where I had stayed before and walked to the Archelogical Museum to see the mosaics from Pompeii and some of the glass and metal objects Also found at the site.  Relaxed at Café Gambrini with a delicious cherry tart and café doppia and then walked down to the Castel d’ovo located on a peninsula.  It is the oldest standing fortification in Naples; however, its importance began to decline when Charles I of Anjou built the Castel Nuovo.  It was cavernous and fun to wander around the ramparts.

Picked up my bags from the hotel and took the metro down to the port where I caught the overnight ferry to Palermo, Sicily.  I booked a “seat” thinking it would be like the recliner I took on the train from Paris to Barcelona but it didn’t recline; however, there were hardly any people in the room so most of us just stretched out on the floor.  I had picked up a Panini for dinner and asked the guy at the bar to “per piacere” put it in his Panini press to heat up for me which he did and it was a fine little dinner.

Arrived in Palermo about 7:00 a.m. and found my hotel very easily as it was only 10 minute walk from the ferry.  I pressed the button and was happy someone answered as it was so early in the morning!!  Took the elevator 4 flights up and was greeted at the door by Carmen still in her pajamas!!  She was very sweet, gave me a map and off I went to explore the town.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fingerling Potato Salad w/grilled onions
1-1/2 lb. fingerling potatoes, roasted, cooled and cut in half
2 red onions, grilled, slices separated and cut into one-inch pieces
½ lb. asparagus spears (optional), roasted in a 400F oven until tender,
  cut in half
1/3C toasted walnuts
1/2C sour cream
2 Tbsp. honey mustard
3 oz. creamy blue cheese
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1C baby arugula

Combine the sour cream, mustard, blue cheese and vinegar together and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the potatoes with the dressing, grilled onions and roast asparagus.  Add the walnuts and arugula and toss again.
MAKES:  6 – 8 servings

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Warm Crab and Artichoke Dip
1/4C cream cheese, room temperature
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3/4C (about 4 oz.) crabmeat, well drained
6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. chopped drained grilled marinated artichokes from a jar
2 Tbsp. sliced scallions
2 Tbsp. diced red or yellow bell pepper
2 Tbsp. diced celery
1/4C fresh corn kernels
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
2 tsp. Sherry wine vinegar
½ tsp. hot pepper sauce

Toasted baguette slices

Preheat oven to 400F.  Beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in the crabmeat, ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese, artichokes, scallions, red pepper, celery, corn, basil vinegar and hot pepper sauce gently with a rubber spatula.

Transfer the mixture to a two cup soufflé dish and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese.  Bake until the mixture is warm and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a platter and surround with toasted baguette slices.
MAKES:  1-1/2C