Sunday Shout-out: Chef Chuck’s Cucina

Chef Chuck

When I started this blog, Chef Chuck from Chef Chuck’s Cucina was one of the first readers to find Ciao Amalfi and introduce himself. With family heritage going back to one of the most prominent and influential families in Amalfi, Scala and Ravello during the Middle Ages, Chuck visits the Amalfi Coast just as often as he can. What an amazing experience to be able to visit the churches in this area and see your family crest! I look forward to meeting Chef Chuck one day when he returns to explore his family heritage along the Amalfi Coast.

In the meantime, I enjoy his blog Chef Chuck’s Cucina where his motto is: “Bringing families and friends together around the dinner table to share old and new Italian recipes.” His tantalizing recipes often send me scampering to the kitchen or to the market fresh with lunch or dinner plans. Since the weather is hot hot hot here on the Amalfi Coast, I have fresh summer salads on my mind. Here are a few of my favorite Chef Chuck salads that I know I will make again and again this summer:

Chef Chuck’s Garbanzo Salad

Mille grazie for sharing all of your wonderful recipes Chuck!
Buon appetito!

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Road Trip: Mozzarella in Campania

Today we are going to take a road trip from the Amalfi Coast about an hour south to the city of Paestum, where you can see stunning Greek temples and a lot of water buffalo. Wait, water buffalo? While these less than lovely looking beasts certainly don’t rival the beauty of the Greek architecture nearby, one taste of the locally made mozzarella di bufala and you will enjoy a culinary moment nearly as divine! Last week I came across this entertaining article on the Los Angeles Times website called Campania region is where fresh mozzarella roams. A visit to Campania is not complete without enjoying at least a taste of the world’s best mozzarella. I wanted to share this fun and informative article, which has some great facts about mozzarella scattered throughout. I found these tidbits particularly insightful:

Mozzarella fact No. 1: Fresh mozzarella made from unpasteurized buffalo milk does not belong in the refrigerator. It is best kept at room temperature and optimally should be eaten within two days of production.

Ahem, yes. I can personally guarantee if you make the refrigerator mistake while living with a Campanian that you will only make this mistake once. Moving on . . .

Mozzarella fact No. 2: Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomatoes and basil) is delicious, and leftover cheese is fine for cooking. But when purists get their hands on a lump of real, fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, any accompaniment is superfluous.

True true! The tomatoes are definitely for the side when you have the best mozzarella. I am always fascinated by the table talk that goes on at family meals when there is mozzarella present. While I am still trying to pick up the subtle differences in flavor, it seems everyone has an opinion about whether it is too salty, not salty enough, a little too soft, too dense, or the ultimate compliment – buonissima!

Mozzarella fact No. 10: Eating the cheese promotes intelligence and good looks.

The author notes that although this hasn’t been proved it certainly does make people happy. And that I agree with!

The photos in this post were taken during a fun mozzarella tasting visit with my Mom at the Tenuta Vannulo, which the LAT article covers on the second page. Known in the area for making some of the best organic mozzarella and ricotta in Campania, Vannulo is a great way to finish a day in Paestum area. The fresh products are made daily and only sold on site in order to insure freshness and quality. While there you can explore the sprawling estate, see the approximately 500 buffaloes soaking up the Campania sun or munching away on a pile of feed, watch the mozzarella being worked and formed by hand in the dairy, and enjoy fresh tastings of mozzarella, ricotta, and buffalo milk yogurt and gelato in the tasting room and shop. (The apricot yogurt is particularly tasty!)

“What are you looking at?”

I wasn’t planning on mozzarella today, but I think I have to now! In case you are wondering, in my opinion the best mozzarella on the Amalfi Coast comes from a man named Ferdinando who has a small dairy in a fraction way up at the top of the city of Scala. I don’t have any contact information, but if you happen to find yourself in Scala, ask around for the mozzarella di Ferdinando and you will be shown the way. Deliziosa!

Tempting Tuesday: Scala Porte Aperte

As those of you who have traveled in Italy already know, it can be difficult to get inside smaller churches and historical sites. This is the case especially in small towns. Here on the Amalfi Coast, many towns have four, five or more smaller churches in addition to the one major church. Those of you reading for awhile have already been along with me to Torello, to Ravello, and to Sorrento. So you can imagine my glee (and I mean kid in a candy shop glee) when I saw the sign above last week advertising Scala Porte Aperte, or Scala Open Doors. I nearly (or maybe I did) jump up and down as I read the list of all the churches that would be open. No surprise then that I was dressed and ready to go first thing Sunday morning with my camera fully charged.

La Piazzetta S. Giovanni di Pontone

Sunday was beautiful and sunny as we drove all over Scala stopping at six churches and a courtyard to a 17th-century palazzo. Then we headed down to nearby Pontone to see a few more churches and stop by the tasting of local foods and wines that was set up in the Piazzetta San Giovanni. Let’s see . . . architecture, free samples of local wine, cheese, salami and pancetta, and a booth selling strawberries and herbs . . . that is certainly my equivalent to a candy shop! Here are few photos from Pontone to wet your appetite:

Display of local wines

Ceramic display

Display of local pasta made in Gragnano

As I have been delayed and distracted by technical difficulties here (complications with our new wireless internet), the church photographs will have to wait until the coming weeks. Check back soon for a series of posts on the churches of Scala!

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Tempting Tuesday: Naples at Table

This Tuesday I would like to tempt your taste buds with a little tale from the beginning of my culinary adventures on the Amalfi Coast. When I first arrived here two years ago, I have to admit I was quite nervous to start cooking for my boyfriend. There I was, a novice with Italian cooking, trying to find my way in this land of many traditions and make a good impression at the same time. Fortunately, I found a man who loves good food and loves to cook. Many of our first meals were cooked together, which is a tradition I love that we have maintained. Yet it wasn’t long before the wonderful cooking here inspired me to be a bit more adventurous in the kitchen. I wanted to know how to make my own zuppa di fagioli e scarola (bean and escarole soup) and I wanted to know how to prepare those delicious looking melanzane (eggplant) and funghi (mushrooms) I saw at the market.

At just the right time, my Mom came to the rescue (grazie Mom!) by buying me a copy of Arthur Schwartz’s cookbook Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania. I didn’t take me long to realize just how good this cookbook was, and it very quickly became my cooking bible. I have learned so much from this book, and I can say it is spot on about many of the cooking methods and traditions here in Campania. (Although with certain dishes there are, of course, many different ways to prepare them.) Schwartz clearly did his research, as many of his dishes are prepared exactly how I have learned to cook them here from family and friends. Schwartz does an excellent job capturing the simplicity of many typical dishes here, such as Spaghetti con tonno sott’olio (Spaghetti with canned tuna) and Linguine all’Amalfitana (Linguine with walnuts and anchovies). These dishes are simple and take no longer to make than it takes to boil your water for pasta. Quick and easy and delicious, these dishes will quickly become standards in your home!

I will never forget how this book helped me prepare meals that shocked my boyfriend at first. He would ask, “How did you know how to make this exactly how we make it here?” My little secret! Over the last two years, I have met several of the people that Schwartz talked to and gathered recipes from, and I have enjoying trying my own hand at making recipes from some of the best cooks on the Amalfi Coast and in Campania.

In addition to being a great cookbook, Naples at Table is also a real pleasure to read. Schwartz has an in depth knowledge of the cooking traditions and history of Campania, and he shares it in interesting tidbits throughout the cookbook. This book has taught me so much over the past two years, and I would highly recommend it to those of you interested in learning about the fabulous cooking here in Campania. It is temporarily out of stock at Amazon, so check with your local bookseller. You can read more about Naples at Table over at Food Maven and South of Rome.

Do you use this cookbook? What do you think?
Do you have other
favorite cookbooks
for Campania?

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Sunday Shout-out: Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino

The Italians are famous for their many traditions centered around food. A wonderful part of my last two years in Italy has been discovering and attempting to prepare the traditional meals and desserts that seem to come with every holiday. Food traditions here are not only centered around the holidays though, and it is these everyday traditions that I have grown to love the most. By far my favorite tradition here in Italy is the Sunday lunch with family. A good meal, time to catch up with the family, to laugh and relax, all finished off, of course, by some type of tempting dessert. I love being out and about late on a Sunday morning and seeing people hurrying to their lunch destinations carrying bundles of pastries, delicately stacked on trays and carefully wrapped in paper and ribbons by the local bakeries. I can just imagine the moment after a wonderful lunch when each bundle will be unwrapped to the happy sounds and eager eyes of the family and friends around the table.

Last Sunday I was reminded of all of this when I read a beautiful post by the ever so talented Lola of Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino called Sundays spent satiating. If the photo above has your mouth watering, head over to read about Lola’s Sunday lunches with her family and learn how to prepare her mother’s Tagliatelle al Ragù. If you didn’t already have plans for lunch today, now you do! It is not a complicated dish to prepare, and it is one that rewards you with all the time and love you put into it. For me this is the quintessential Sunday pasta, and I have noticed I start craving it on Saturday nights, already with the thoughts of Sunday lunch seeping into my mind.

Just a week ago I found Lola’s blog Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino, and since then I have been enjoying her interesting, funny and beautiful posts. I have been wondering for awhile now how to prepare Fried Zucchini Blossoms, because I kept hearing just how good they are. With Lola’s recipe, I learned that it really isn’t all that difficult. I also learned that although her home is in Rome, she has a deep connection with the Amalfi Coast. Having practically grown up in Positano, as she described it, she knows the Coast and the food traditions here very well. In fact, when I see the name of her blog, I can’t help but think of the three most important cooking ingredients here… aglio, olio & peperoncino!

Lola has recently launched a new blog called Forchettine, where she continues to share her food expertise in the form of restaurant reviews. Last week she wrote a review of the restaurant Da Teresa located at the Santa Croce beach near Amalfi. Santa Croce is by far my favorite beach on the Amalfi Coast, and have have so many happy memories of enjoying lunch and vino bianco with fresh peaches from Da Teresa while soaking up the sun. Forchettine is written in Italian (I told you Lola was ever so talented!) for those of you who also read Italian, or those of you learning (like me!) who are looking for some enjoyable reading practice.

I give a four fork rating to Lola’s excellent blogs Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino and Forchettine!

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