Cookbook Review: “Mamma Agata – Simple and Genuine” by Chiara Lima

Sometimes you happen across a cookbook that you know you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. That’s how I felt when I first looked through Chiara Lima’s beautiful cookbook Mamma Agata – “Simple and Genuine” Italian Family Recipes. I’ve written many times here on Ciao Amalfi about my adventures discovering and learning about cooking here on the Amalfi Coast. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Chiara Lima, director of the Mamma Agata Cooking School on the Amalfi Coast, had written a cookbook of her mother Agata’s traditional family recipes. Here was a chance to step inside a family kitchen and learn about real home cooking here on the Amalfi Coast. And you couldn’t find a warmer or more welcoming kitchen than Mamma Agata’s to step in to!

Image courtesy Mamma Agata Cooking School

More than just a cookbook, Mamma Agata – “Simple and Genuine” is a labor of love, telling the story of Agata’s life in Ravello, cooking up her wonderful dishes for movie stars and sharing her talents in the kitchen at the cooking school founded in 1994. Throughout the book you also meet Agata’s family, including her daughter Chiara who writes with passion and love about her family’s history and cooking traditions.

One of the hallmarks of Mamma Agata’s recipes, which is reflected in the title of the book, is that good food doesn’t have to be complicated. To make authentic home cooked Italian dishes all you need are fresh ingredients and the know how to accentuate and combine flavors. The recipes in this cookbook take you step by step through the process of preparing Agata’s signature dishes. The photography throughout the cookbook is extraordinary and leaves you yearning to move right in with Mamma Agata at her beautiful home in Ravello. Each recipe is accompanied by step by step photos that make following the recipes easy and natural.

One of my favorite touches in the cookbook are the sections called “Mamma Agata’s Recommendations” and “Mamma Agata’s Secrets” that are interspersed throughout the recipes steps. While I’m cooking her recipes, it really feels like Mamma Agata is there looking over my shoulder and offering little tips and suggestions to make sure I get it just right. Cooking isn’t simply about following a recipe, and I learned some really handy tips about cooking from these recommendations.

 

Mamma Agata and her family refer to their beautiful home and cooking school as “The Hidden Treasure,” and it truly is a magical spot on the Amalfi Coast. For those who have visited the cooking school and all the rest of you who might dream of visiting some day, this beautiful cookbook will be a real treasure. I can tell you that it has quickly become one of my most prized resources in the kitchen. It’s already been splattered by tomatoes bubbling away on the stove and filled with notes as if I’ve already owned it for a lifetime. Anyone who has traveled to and enjoyed the wonderful cooking here on the Amalfi Coast will also treasure this wonderful resource.

 

Psst… Don’t miss meeting Chiara Lima on her USA BOOK TOUR!

For those of you reading in America, Chiara Lima will be traveling to many locations on a book tour during the month of November, including stops Bernardsville, New Jersey and New York City before continuing on to Chicago and then Dallas. Check here to see all the details on the dates and event venues. Best of luck to my sweet friend Chiara on her book tour to America!

A Taste of Paradise at Mamma Agata’s Cooking School on the Amalfi Coast

One afternoon not long ago I stepped into paradise. That’s really how it feels when you walk through the doors of the Mamma Agata Cooking School on the Amalfi Coast. The pretty ceramic tile sign outside the door says “The Hidden Treasure,” and as soon as I stepped inside I knew I had discovered one of the true gems on the Amalfi Coast. I invite you along as I recount the enchanting summer afternoon I spent in Ravello at Mamma Agata’s …

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Sign

 

I arrived just as the morning’s cooking class was wrapping up. I received the warmest greeting from Chiara Lima, Director of Mamma Agata’s (and the daughter of Agata). Within minutes I found myself with a glass of red wine in hand and sampling an antipasto of Involtini di Melanzane, delicate rolls made with eggplant and filled with provolone, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula. It was the beginning of the best meal I’ve ever eaten!

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Wine Glass    

Although I didn’t see the entire cooking class, I was happy to have a chance to see the part about preparing the antipasti. The classes are taught by Agata and Chiara, with Chiara’s wonderful English translations and good humor making it a lively and fun experience. I was welcomed into the group immediately and could tell from the moment I arrived that they were having a fabulous time. The class takes place in a beautiful kitchen located just steps from a gorgeous outdoor terrace. After enjoying the antipasti in the kitchen, while learning some invaluable tips on frying, we were all invited to retire to the terrace and enjoy a glass of wine and the views while Chiara and Mamma Agata put the finishing touches on lunch. 

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata View

 

The views from Mamma Agata’s are extraordinary and are certainly part of the enchanting setting.

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Terrace

 

The table was beautifully set on the terrace, and it was so inviting on a gorgeous summer day.

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Lunch Table

 

Everything served at Mamma Agata’s is grown in the family’s garden, located on the terraced land stretching down to the sea. They serve their own wines, which get the close attention of Chiara’s husband Gennaro, a professional sommelier and wine expert. If you’re interested in a Wine Tasting, Gennaro will be your sommelier for an unforgettable evening on the Amalfi Coast!

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Wine

 

The lunch started off with a taste of Mamma Agata’s Parmigiana di Melanzane, which was hands down the best I’ve ever had. After that fine beginning, we were served two outstanding pasta dishes. The first was a Spaghetti del Contadino with olives, fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden, capers and arugula. Next came Pappardelle con Perperoni e Salsiccia, broad pasta noodles served with peppers and sausage. I would go back again simply for this pasta dish … it was that good!

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Chiara Lima

The delightful Chiara serving the Parmigiana di Melanzane

 

But it didn’t end there! Out next came Mamma Agata’s famous Pollo al Limone, chicken cooked in the famous Amalfi Coast lemons from the family’s gardens. After that I had to get up and take a stroll around the terrace garden to make room for dessert!

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Grassy terrace

 

The finishing touch of this wonderful meal was a slice of Mamma Agata’s Dolce al Limone, an absolutely divine lemon cake, and a glass of the family’s limoncello. Mamma Agata’s has hosted countless celebrities, and they have a fun book put together where you can see photos. Chiara has many great stories to share, too! All of the recipes I’ve mentioned in this post can be found in the Mamma Agata Simple and Genuine cookbook written by Chiara Lima. After enjoying the fabulous meal, I dare you to leave without one!

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Book

 

That afternoon I spent at Mamma Agata’s Cooking School was a dream. I felt like I had stepped into paradise! Not only do you get to learn about the secrets and cooking traditions on the Amalfi Coast, you also get to eat a meal of a lifetime. Perhaps the best part, however, is the feeling of being welcomed into a family. When you walk through the front door that’s how you feel—like you’re a part of the family. It’s an absolutely unforgettable experience on the Amalfi Coast!

 

Ciao Amalfi Blog Mamma Agata Bougainvillea

 

For more information, visit the Mamma Agata Cooking School website, which has all the details on their cooking classes, wine tastings and how to get your own copy of the Mamma Agata Simple and Genuine cookbook.

Favorite Italian Films: Under the Tuscan Sun

With the Venice Film Festival under way and three big movies out in America – “Letters to Juliet,” “The American” and “Eat Pray Love” – all filmed in Italy, I thought it would be good timing to host a series of guest posts on Favorite Italian Films. I’ll be weighing in on some of my favorite flicks filmed right here on the Amalfi Coast as well. Kicking off the series is Lisa Fantino from Wanderlust Women writing about “Under the Tuscan Sun,” one of the all time great movies filmed in Tuscany … and the Amalfi Coast!

Welcome, Lisa!

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Under_the_tuscan_sun_poster

I first visited Tuscany in the shadow of “Frances Mayes Mania.” Her 1996 book, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” was bringing throngs of tourists by plane, train and automobile to the picturesque villages of Montepulciano and Cortona and the beaches of La Maremma. It seemed I was the only woman I knew who had not read her account of finding herself in Italy. I must say it was my last “group” tour. Hahahaha!

However, I also became enchanted by the land of golden hues and honey-colored sunsets, where the hills carry the perpetual scent of jasmine and the rustled brush of cinghialle (Tuscan wild boar). It is a land unlike any other. So, when the film based on Mayes’ book was released in 2003, I was one of the first to see it. I ran to the theater expecting to reminisce about my stay in La Toscana, about the quiet hillside for writing, about the beach which baked me in its warmth. Instead, I began a love affair with the Amalfi Coast, a geographic 180…..oh yeah, and Raoul Bova. (He is my celebrity boyfriend but don’t tell Clooney!)

The film stars Diane Lane as Mayes’ character, venturing to Italy on a pre-booked gay tour following a bad divorce. Right off I figured this would be campy and corny or entertaining. It was the latter, thank god. Lane’s character throws herself into renovating an ancient farmhouse. She is a hands-on homeowner and not a weekend warrior, so when she needs a chandelier, she ventures to Rome and happens into the arms of the gorgeous Bova, who immediately whisks her away to Positano.

By now I am sure you are thinking this can only happen in the movies and if you had only visited Tuscany then I would have to agree with you, having not been “hit on” once during my stay. I thought the Tuscan men were playing for the other team……..ahhhhh, but travel to Lazio and Campania and that’s where things get interesting very quickly. Men in the south are a lot more “approachable” for want of a better word. They don’t mind being approached and will readily approach you, so the happenstance between Lane and Bova’s characters is quite natural and just flows, as does the rest of the film.

The Tuscan hills and the Amalfi Coast, as well as the energy of Rome, all contribute to the plot as much as the storyline. It’s a film that highlights the warmth and passion of the Italian people, no matter whether from the north or the south, and it makes you feel good wherever you are in your life. I stopped counting how many times I’ve seen it after twelve.

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Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist and attorney. She is the creative force and Italy travel consultant for Wanderlust Women Travel and the Amalfi Coast destination wedding site Wanderlust Weddings. She recently launched Amalfi Blu, gifts and jewelry inspired by the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. In her spare time, she also writes travel features for MNUI Travel Insurance and blogs as Lady Litigator.

Southern Italian Generosity

This morning while shaking a rug out the window (Yes, I actually do that.), our friendly neighbor called across the garden asking if we’d like some tomatoes. Of course! These neighbors have some terraces of land that they put to very good use and work hard every day tending all kinds of fruits and vegetables. It’s always a treat when they offer something fresh from their garden. When I went to pick up the tomatoes, I got a surprise dose of southern Italian generosity when I found the basket piled full of more than just tomatoes. She also shared some of their wonderful plums (better than any I’ve ever bought!) and the most delicious ripe figs. Oh my!

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Summer Fruits

 

This type of generosity is so common here in southern Italy. (And no doubt in the rest of the country as well, but this is only place in Italy I’ve lived.) Without any space for gardening, I often feel like I have so little to give in return for such generosity. So today, blessed with such abundance and kindness of neighbors, I want to share with everyone just how lovely, warm and generous the people of southern Italy are by their very nature. For many, something as simple as sharing an abundance of fruit is just as natural as saying buon giorno in the morning. It’s something that I learn from and love every day here on the Amalfi Coast.

Buona domenica a tutti! (Happy Sunday to everyone!)

Bleeding Espresso’s Gita Italiana 2010

Gita2010[1]

Have you all been following the Gita Italiana 2010 (Italy Tour 2010) over at Bleeding Espresso? If you love Italy, then this is the perfect chance to do some virtual traveling around the boot this month. Michelle has invited guest writers from all over Italy to write about where they live, and each day until the end of August you have the chance to read about another beautiful spot in Italy each day. Plus, she’s doing Italy themed book giveaways on Mondays until the end of the month! Really, does it get any better?

I am honored to have been included in Michelle’s Gita Italiana this year, and I wrote Mountains & Sea: Between Two Worlds on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Check out my article, and be sure to follow along on the Gita Italiana 2010!