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Eating in Italy: the list
Pasta in Rome and pizza in Naples — and oh, the gelato.
Because so many of you said you wanted to know where I ate in Italy — grazie, I love hearing from you! — I’m back with the list. And a little explanation. As I mentioned, I was lucky enough to be in Italy on a tour with Pure Flour from Europe and, as part of being treated like a principessa, all of our meals were planned. And so, with few exceptions, these are the restaurants that were chosen for us and, because they were chosen with such care, they were all good and all recommendable. You might not find yourself sitting around the table at La Cantinella in Naples singing until well after 1 a.m. as we did, but you’ll eat as well as we did. Who knows? Maybe you’ll sing!
I’m not really sure how best to organize this for you. For a moment, all I wanted to do was show you one gorgeous plate of pasta after another in an endless loop of indulgence, but I decided to be more practical and make city lists.
As I said, this is a limited list created under very special circumstances, but I think it could be a good jumping off point for you to share your favorites with other readers here. Drop everything you want to say in the comments. We’ll all be listening.
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When in Rome and On Our Own
Michael and I got to Rome ahead of the group (it’s an easy jump from Paris) and so we had a little time to wander around town with Stacey Ballis, another early bird, and the first place we stopped was the place we dream about when we dream of Rome: Roscioli. Roscioli has many small shops and is many things — a bread shop, a pastry shop, a food shop, a caffè, a restaurant. I devoted one of my columns for The New York Times Magazine (subscription) to a cake from the caffè that haunted me — I called it the Roman Breakfast Cake — and still turn to the recipe when I feel the need to make a memory real. (You can find the recipe in NYT Cooking or in Baking with Dorie, where it’s called “Breakfast in Rome.”) But on the rainy afternoon that we got to Rome, my pick for a first bite was this onion and potato focaccia stuffed with porchetta.
Also, having nothing to do with food and everything to do with beauty and joy, we turned a corner and were delighted to find ourselves once again at Gilbert Halaby’s. (I say “once again” because, about five years ago, I turned a corner, just as I did on this last trip, and met Gilbert — I’ve followed his work ever since.) Technically, we were at his shop, but it’s impossible not to think of this beautiful space as his home. The books, the flowers, the piano, the aroma of something baking in the back, his paintings on the walls. He designs and crafts magnificent handbags and it’s reason enough to visit. But go for the pleasure of meeting him and for seeing his art. His new exhibit at Maja Arte Contemporanea is a marvel. And if you can’t go — follow him on Instagram. He is remarkable.
Joshua, who spent a semester in Rome when he was a junior in college, loves Giolitti gelato — we do too. These days, to judge from the lines, people are liking Frigidarium — it might be great, but the line was too, too, long for us each time we passed. The place that didn’t have a line, but really should, is Rūma, where the gelato is made from buffalo milk, the same milk that makes mozzarella and burrata. (Hat tip to Jeanne Fratello for being the first among us to find it.)
Dinners in Rome
The specialty here is seafood — I love coming into a place and being greeted by dinner-in-the-raw. Take a look at those fish. We all shared a whole fish baked in a salt crust, which was cracked with a hammer and good cheer. I loved the marinated raw gambas and the pasta. Notice how spare the sauce is — a hallmark of how pasta is served in Italy.
Doesn’t the sauce on the rigatoni below look as though it was brushed on — another example of how balanced pasta and sauce are in the dishes. Also, a good cacio e pepe (if cacio e pepe interests you, here’s a chef’s tip for keeping the dish creamy — and cheesy) and a combo that was a first for me: calamari and artichokes.
I loved the happy tumult of eating outdoors here, a tumult we added to, since our little group had grown to about 20 for that dinner and, broken up into smaller groups, we table-hopped to see what everyone else was eating. It was a fun evening and the handmade pasta with crushed tomatoes was a good part of the fun.
A Remarkable Lunch in Torremaggiore
After a good visit to the De Vita Mill, we drove to Torremaggiore, a quiet town with bumpy cobblestoned streets, a church at its center and Il Vicoletto, a restaurant where I’d be delighted to become a regular. Opened after Giuseppe and Lina Volgarino had retired, this is truly an endeavor of passion. Giuseppe welcomes you with warmth and Lina cooks with heart. From the tiny casserole of stale bread, broth and greens baked together until they were like pudding, offered as a little something to whet our appetites, to the pastas, the pastas, the pastas, and the variations on the theme of tiramisu, I could have everything again and again and love it as much each time. Thank you, Donatella Barzan, our guide, for slipping this gem into our itinerary.
Feasting in Naples
Naples is boisterous, exuberant, loud, disorganized and messy. And the traffic is crazy. It’s a town where red lights are considered suggestions, seatbelts an annoyance and the best advice we were given was to not look a driver in the eyes — do that and he’ll think you’re saying: Don’t worry, I’m watching out for myself, so you just go ahead and do whatever you want. It’s kind of wild and, depending on your type, kind of exciting — I loved the energy. And I loved the food.
Naples is considered the center of the pizza universe, but the pizza that I loved there was off-center and original. The welcoming Nando Adamo — we took a pizza-making class with him and I’ll be telling you more about it when I get Michael to fire up the oven — is a young pizzaiolo with his own ideas about what makes a great pie. For him — as for many of the best pizzamakers around the world — it’s about high-quality ingredients and a high-hydration dough that gets a long, slow fermentation. We ate several of Nando’s pizzas, but the one I keep thinking about had bufalina mozzarella, pancetta and pistachio cream.
When I saw calamari and artichokes on the menu again, I had to have them again, but unlike in Rome, the ingredients were fried and so the dish was completely different. And completely delicious. As was the seafood carbonara that was mixed in a hollowed out round of Parmesan. And the wine — while we drank a bunch (we were a good-sized group), it was the Amarone that we all loved
This is where we sang and drank Champagne and ate many different pastas, including tender ravioli filled with ricotta and glistening with tomato sauce and cavatelli with crayfish. The cavatelli — shaped a little like a bean and a little like a nugget — was made with 50% semolina and 50% 00 flour; I was told that’s very Neapolitan.
While we sipped aperitivo, we nibbled on olives and perfectly fried anchovies, but the restaurant’s menu — and its reputation — is based on salt cod (baccala in Italian). My picture of eggplant parmesan with salt cod in a canning jar was a flop, but the dish was terrific — you can see it on the restaurant’s site — and the mussillo (bottom right), a salt cod stew with potatoes and cherry tomatoes was a comforting dish that I’d return for. And yes, you’ve got to love cod to eat here.
One brilliantly sunny day, our group was driven up the coast to Amalfi. The beauty of the coastline — as well as the hairpin turns and the staggering views of the cliffs dropping into the sea — could make you dizzy. Hungry and thirsty too, so it was a good thing that we stopped at Pansa. Not that you ever need an excuse to have a world-class sfogliatella. That burnished, crispy, perfectly pleated pastry was a wonder.
On the day when everyone in our group had to zoom to the airport at different hours, Michael and I spent the morning wandering around Naples alone. First, we went to the fish markets, which were lively and loud and brought back memories of New York’s old Fulton Fish Market. In a combination of English, French and smiles, I had a terrific conversation with a seasoned fishmonger, who put small squid and slippery anchovies in my palm and then washed my slick mitts down with a hose.
Clean, and just a little water spattered, we strolled around the neighborhood and came upon a small shop, Rognani, that boasted an award for its mortadella. I’m not sure the owner had ever had New Yorkers come in for a few slices, but he was delighted. Even more delighted when I took this picture of him and his prize salumi. I didn’t get a picture of Michael tasting the mortadella, which he loves, but gosh he was happy.
We would have counted the fishmonger and Signore Mortadella enough to merit calling the morning stellar, but just a few steps from Rognani there was a sparkling pasticceria — we lingered so long we had to race to grab our bags and fly.
The shop is the perfect mix of chic and comfy, of dressed-up-for-company and just right for regulars, and the pastries were lovely. This would be my go-to if I lived nearby.
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