Spaghetti con pesce spada e pistacchi – Swordfish Spaghetti with Pistachio

For seafood lovers like ourselves, our recent trip to Sicily was culinary nirvana.  At Bed & Breakfast Mammaliturchi we feasted on one amazing meal after another, each authentically with passione and orgoglio by hosts Cico and Lola.

We devoured:

  • Spaghetti al nero de seppia (Spaghetti with Black Squid Ink)
  • Spaghetti alle vongole (Spaghetti with Clams)
  • Pasta ai gamberi rossi (Pasta with Shrimp)
  • Cozze al pomodoro (Mussels in tomato broth)
  • Ostriche gratinate al forno (Baked oysters with breadcrumbs)
  • Spigola arrosto (Grilled Sea Bass)
  • Grigliata di pesce (Seafood on the Grill)
  • Gamberi rossi al pomodoro (Shrimp in tomato sauce)

One of our favorite dishes, Spaghetti al pesce spada con pistacchi (Swordfish Spaghetti with Pistachio), captured the essence of Sicily, with the uniting of freshly caught swordfish with ground Sicilian Bronte pistachios.

Cico served the pasta with a Sicialian white wine, Inzolia della vineria Principe di Corleone.  He generously shared his recipe with us to pass along to our Due Spaghetti readers.

Spaghetti pesce spada e pistacchi

Ingredients
one package of spaghetti
2 fillets of swordfish, preferably fresh caught
Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
One large cherry tomato, or several smaller ones
One bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
Ground black pepper
Sea salt
Crushed red pepper
Dry white wine
Toasted bread crumbs*
Ground Bronte pistachios**

*Quickly toasted plain, unseasoned breadcrumbs on the stove top in a small amount of olive oil, minced garlic, and grated tuna roe.  Remove from heat, let cool, and store in an air-tight container.  (Tuna roe, also called bottarga di tonno, is expensive and difficult to locate in the U.S..  Bottarga di muggine can be substituted, or it can be omitted entirely.)

**Bronte pistachios are a high quality Sicilian pistachio grown in the region of Bronte. If needed, regular pistachios can be used and ground at home in a food processor.

Directions
Dice the swordfish into small cubes.  Set aside.

Mince the garlic and the parsley.  Add each to a large skillet (big enough to accommodate the cooked spaghetti), along with a few tablespoons olive oil, a half-cup of water, a few dashes of ground black pepper, a few dashes of salt, and crushed red pepper to taste.  Sauté over medium-low heat for several minutes. Add the cubed swordfish and the white wine and simmer for about 5 minutes, adding more white wine only if needed.

Remove the swordfish and set aside.  Slice the cherry tomato(es) and add them to the skillet.  If you have dry grated tuna roe, add a pinch or two.  Let cook for 5-10 more minutes, pressing on the tomato until it deconstructs.  Add more white wine and simmer to make a sort of reduction sauce.  Add a tablespoon or two of crushed pistachios and another tablespoon or two of toasted bread crumbs, and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Return the swordfish to the skillet, mix everything well, and turn off heat.

Cook the spaghetti in salted, boiling water according to the directions on the package.  When al dente, remove immediately and drain well, saving one cup of the cooking water.  Add the spaghetti to the skillet, turn the heat to high, and toss the pasta with the swordfish mixture, adding the cooking water gradually if needed to provide moisture.

Serve immediately with a dusting of bread crumbs and ground pistachio.

Spaghetti pesce spada con pistacchiSpaghetti pesce spada con pistacchi

Buon appetito da mammaliturchi!

~Cico e Lola

La Sicilia! A Photo-Essay

The fall colors are at their peak, and local newspaper headlines warn, Some Minnesotans Could Wake Up Saturday to a Blanket of Snow. Our Sicilian vacation is a distant memory.  With the fire place radiating warmth and and a glass of Nero d’Avola unearthing memories, we capture the sights and the flavors of our July 2014 tour of the western coast of Sicily.

Our tour of Western SicilyThe Sicilian countryside

Bed & Breakfast Mammaliturchi
Cico and Lola’s B&B Mammaliturchi on the southern Sicilian coast was so spectacular, so perfect, that it merited its own blog post.  A short walk up the beach to the dazzling white  Scala dei Turchi and a 15 minute drive to Agrigento and the magnificent Valley of the Temples, B&B Mammaliturchi is nothing short of paradise.

Scala dei Turchi

Sciacca
Sciacca is a small, medieval fisherman’s village built steeply into the rock that descends down to the sea.  At sea level, fishing boats dot the waterfront and fisheries line the streets.  Climb a steep set of stone steps, some which take you right past the doorways of local residents, and you will reach the heart of the town of Sciacca.  Souvenir shops line the main street which leads to a piazza that looks dramatically out over the Mediterranean.  Stop by the local pastry shop and try out some of the local bitter almond and ricotta-based treats.

Stefano and Luca sample local pastries in the back end of a Fiat 500-turned street art.

Stefano and Luca sample local pastries in the back end of a Fiat 500-turned street art.

 

Sean, Nonna Maria, Luca and Stefano pose for a photo in Sciacca's main piazza.

Sean, Nonna Maria, Luca and Stefano pose for a photo in Sciacca’s main piazza.

Luca and Sean descend Sciacca's city steps.

Luca and Sean descend Sciacca’s city steps.

Mazara del Vallo
Founded by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC, Mazara del Vallo was ruled by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines among others, before finally coming under Arab control in 827 AD.   During the Arab period Mazara del Vallo was an important commercial harbour and the main gateway between Sicily and Northern Africa.  The historical center of Mazara del Vallo is  known as the Kasbah, and it boasts distinct Arab architectural influences.  It is also the best place in Italy to eat cous cous, a Northern African dish that Sicilians have adopted as their own.

Mazara del Vallo

Arab-influenced architecture in the Kasbah neighborhood of Mazara del Vallo.

Mazara del Vallo

The Kasbah, Mazara del Vallo.

Mazara del Vallo

We had delicious cous cous at Trattoria alla Kasbah in Mazara del Vallo.  (Luca is in his “cross-eyed photo-bomber” stage.)

Trapani and Erice
Trapani is known for its salt marshes, and picturesque windmills used to drain the water during the long process of drawing salt out.  It’s also where you can catch a ferry to the heralded Egadi islands, which we didn’t have time for on this trip but fully intend to return to do.  We made a quick stop to see the salt flats, gave in to curiosity and tasted it (yes, it really was salty), and then continued up, and up, and up and winding mountain to the town of Erice.

Image from http://customitalytours.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/segesta-erice-marsala/

Image from http://customitalytours.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/segesta-erice-marsala/

Erice is a medieval village that sits at the peak of a mountain, 750 metres (2,460 ft) above sea level.  On a clear day, you can see Tunisia and Africa’s Northern coast.  The day we visited it was anything but clear.  It felt like we’d  stepped right into a scene from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  In foggy, damp, cold weather we diligently trekked up the main street to Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which we’d read on the internet had the most amazing pastries.  It is a humble pasticceria, as far as Italian pasticceria’s go, but their cannoli, genovesi and cassate were truly amazing.

San Vito lo Capo
When you live in place as cold as ours, some beach time is a must.  San Vito lo Capo is among the most beautiful beaches in all of Italy.  Located on the northwestern tip of Sicily, the winding drive through the mountains offers spectacular views of the sea below.

San Vito lo Capo

A spectacular view from above on the road to San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo’s beach is a long stretch of soft sand that leads to a mountain in the distance.  The bright aquamarine sea is calm, warm and amazingly clear.  You could lose your wedding ring in waist deep water, look down and see it sparkling on the sea floor below.  The bright beach umbrella made for a splendid scene.

San Vito lo Capo

The beach at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

The clear, calm water at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Bright umbrella dot the beach at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Sun, sand and sea at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Drammatic views at San Vito lo Capo.

Enjoying a frittata di pesce on the beach.

Enjoying a frittata di pesce on the beach at San Vito lo Capo.

Palermo
While the charm and slower pace of Sicily’s small towns offer the greatest appeal, a stop in the chaotic, complicated Palermo is worth it.  The tour of the historical city is quick, and worth the cost of one of the open-air tour buses.  A walk through the markets and the old Arab quarters is overwhelms by sight, sound and smell.  We were most drawn by Palermo’s unique foods: panelle (fritters made of chickpeas and flour), sandwiches with milza (gall bladder), and breakfast with granita al caffè and large gelato-filled brioche.

Milza

Milza – a Palermitano delicacy.

brioche con gelato

Breakfast in style in Palermo – brioche con gelato.

Cefalù
Cefalù is a charming, small town on the northern coast of Sicily.  Full of tourists in the summer months, it is delightful nonetheless with a convenient beach and lots of modern shops, Italian bars and eateries, many with lovely sea views.  We dined at Il Covo del Pirata, and loved it.  It’s location was amazing, with tables that looked right out over the water, yet it had a casual, family feel.  We ate seafood to our heart’s content.  Stop by early in the day and reserve a table with a view for dinner.

Cefalù

The town of Cefalù, seen from the beach.

DSC_0080

Cefalù

Il Covo del Pirata

The view from the restaurant Il Covo del Pirata, in Cefalù.

Bed and Breakfast Mammaliturchi

the-terrace-at-b-b-mammaliturc

Minneapolis to Frankfurt. Frankfurt to Rome. A loud and crazy birthday party in Rome for three splendid 5-year-olds, and then off the next morning to Catania.

With Etna in the distance rising above the hilly landscape, we drove through the Sicilian inland to the Southern coast. Finally, after two or three laps around impossibly narrow roads in the tiny town of Realmonte, we arrived at our destination: Bed and Breakfast Mammaliturchi. Within 5 minutes of our arrival we knew that it was worth every minute and every mile of that long journey.

Francesco met us as the gate, showed us our parking spot, and led us around to the vast terrace on the beach-side of the home, where the view of the sparkling blue sea is breathtaking.  The sound of the waves crashing against the shore washed our tiredness and tension away.  It only got better when Francesco and his wife Loredana (affectionately known as Cico and Lola) showed us our rooms – large and breezy with a wall of windows that overlook the Mediterranean.

In a matter of minutes we shed our travel attire, donned our beachwear, and descended the stairs back to that marvelous terrace and the broad and quiet beach below to begin our vacation.

The Trip Advisor reviews of B&B Mammaliturchi were good and the photos alluring.  One never knows for sure, though, if a place rented over the internet will truly be what it claims to be.  B&B Mammalituchi did not disappoint.  In fact, it exceeded our every expectation.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

The Home

Cico and Lola’s dazzling white stucco seaside home is trimmed in brilliant blue, a color scheme that mirrors the sand, sea and sky and that is reflected in the tasteful, modern and playful decor throughout.  Every convenience is available – parking, laundry, wi-fi, and even air conditioning, although despite visiting in July, we never needed it due to the comfortable sea breeze that gently blew through the windows at night.  The home offers direct, private access to the beach, a shower to rinse off in, and breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the beautiful patio.

B&B MammaliturchiThe Trip Advisor reviews of B&B Mammaliturchi were good and the photos alluring. One never knows for sure, though, if a place rented over the internet will truly be what it claims to be. B&B Mammalituchi did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded our every expectation.

The Location

B&B Mammaliturchi is located on a quiet stretch of the Southern Sicilian coast.  It is a 5 minute walk along the beach to Scala dei Turchi, a fascinating geological formation of chalky white limestone cliffs, shaped in like a staircase.  Scala dei Turchi translates in English to Staircase of the Turks, and it is from here that B&B Mammaliturchi gets it’s name.  Legend has it that during the 16th century when the Ottomans expanded westward into Europe, the Turks arrived in their ships, and found it convenient to anchor up against these cliff, which served as a “staircase” for them as they debarked their ships.  When the locals saw the Turks arrive, they exclaimed in fear, Mamma li Turchi (Oh Mother, the Turks are here!)

B&B MammaliturchiB&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

B&B Mammaliturchi

 

The bed and breakfast is also located a mere 15 minutes by car from the city of Agrigento and the archeological site Valle dei Templi, one of the most outstanding examples of Greek architecture anywhere in the world, and one of Sicily’s main attractions.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

Finally, it you can bear to pull yourself away from the slice of paradise that B&B Mammaliturchi offers, the charming towns of Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Marsala, Trapani, and Erice are a short drive away.

The Hospitality

Without question, the amazing amenities and location of B&B Mammaliturchi are matched and even surpassed by Cico and Lola’s warm and generous hospitality.  Exacting yet friendly, they offer an exceptional level of service while making guests feel like old friends.  They gave us tips and recommendations on local attractions and sites (like La Sosta, home of the most amazing pistacchio gelato ever), and they attended to our every need.

Each morning we awoke to an Italian breakfast of cappuccino, espresso, juice, toast, jam, Nutella and fresh-fron-the oven croissants are served on the terrace, where we watched the morning joggers and early beach-goers in the cool, sea-side breeze. Guests are free to explore off-site restaurants and bars for lunch and dinner, but quite frankly there is no reason to.  Cico and Lola’s generous, authentic Sicilian meals served open air on the terrace were a high point of our stay.  Featuring seafood that Lola bought fresh off of the fisherman’s boats each day, these were genuinely among the most memorable meals we’ve ever enjoyed.

B&B Mammaliturchi

A better Sicilian vacation we could not have found.  Cico and Lola are the perfect hosts in an absolutely spectacular destination.  As one Trip Advisor commentor wrote, everyone should treat themselves at least once to a B&B Mammaliturchi vacation.  We’re already contemplating when we can return.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

 

 

 

Riomaggiore delle Cinque Terre: Un fotoracconto

What an August it has been!  When we wrote our most recent post, The Wineries of Northern Italy – Piedmont and Le Langhe, we had just moved back into our house and were floor to ceiling with boxes.  It’s gotten a little better, thanks to lots of help from Cara’s mom and dad who took turns coming down and helping Stefano unpack while Cara was putting in long hours at work.  After two or three days trying to get the kitchen in order, they both concurred that we have far too many kitchen utensils!

Fall is here, school has started, and while we are far from settled in, things are calmer and we’re glad to begin giving some attention to Due Spaghetti again.  And cooking again!  We’ll be sharing new recipes with you again soon, but first we need to tell you how our Italian vacation ended.

After touring the beautiful countryside and visiting the most amazing wineries in Trentino Alto-Adige, la Valpolicella, and Piedmont and le Langhe, we ended our road trip across Northern Italy with a stay in Riomaggiore, one of the five fishing villages that make up the Cinque Terre.  You’ve probably heard of the Cinque Terre, as it has become a popular travel destination in recent years.  Located in the Italian region of Liguria, near the  town of La Spezia in the Gulf of Genoa on the Mediterranean coast, Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the villages.  Like another of our favorite Italian destinations, the Amalfi Coast, in the Cinque Terre, the mountains meet the sea creating spectacular, dramatic landscapes dotted by colorful, pastel-colored villages that seem sculpted right out of the stone.

We will let the photos speak for themselves, but here are a few tips about travel to the Cinque Terre:

  • Hotels book out very fast.  Instead of a hotel, we opted to rent an apartment from Signora Edi, who oversees the rental of several apartments in Riomaggiore.  We communicated with her and her staff via email, and booked from the U.S. after seeing photos of the apartment she had available.  Her website is here.  Our apartment was Il Pescatore.  It was very simple but clean, and we loved the view overlooking the Marina and the sea from the kitchen and master bedroom windows.  We fell asleep at night to the roar of the waves.  An added plus is that Edi offers private parking for a small fee.
  • Speaking of parking, it’s a challenge in the Cinque Terre.  The villages are not accessible by car.  In Riomaggiore, you need to park off of the main road that leads up to the village, and walk several blocks downhill into the village.  Of course, that means you have to walk back up the hill to get back to your car.  Pack light.  If you have a lot of luggage, consider bringing only what you need in a smaller bag, and leaving other things in your car.  When you are booking a room or an apartment, ask them about parking arrangements.
  • The Via dell’Amore is one stretch of the walking path that connects all 5 villages.  Via dell’Amore connects Riomaggiore to the neighboring village of Manarolo, and is just over 1 kilometer long.  When we were there, Via dell’Amore was open, but other parts of the path were closed due to the torrential rains and resulting mudslides that hit the area in fall 2011.  You have to pay to access the path, but it the spectacular sights are worth it.  You can also take the train from village to village.  There is free internet access during daytime hours in and around the train stations.
  • Unfortunately, the Cinque Terre seem to have been discovered by young Americans looking for a good time.  In Riomaggiore, on Friday and Saturday evening we were greeted by youth walking in the streets with beer bottles and even entire wine bottles in hand, and making a lot of noise in the marina, late into the evening, disregarding not only those tourists looking for a quieter stay, but also the many Riomaggiore residents whose apartments look out onto the marina.  Stefano in particular was baffled by this, noting that there are plenty of sea-side spots in Italy that cater specifically to young party go-ers.  Why did these travelers choose Riomaggiore?  It was not so bad that we would recommend not visiting the Cinque Terre, but it is a factor to consider if you visit on summer weekends.

It was dark by the time we arrived in Riomaggiore.  This is the view from our apartment window overlooking the marina.

The outdoor restaurant with the umbrellas is called La Lanterna.  It served the most delicious seafood.  Reservations are not taken at lunch, but if you are willing to wait you can find a table.  At dinner, you will definitely need reservations.  We highly recommend it!

After a stormy night in which the wind blew and the sea roared right outside our window, we awoke at dawn and captured some photos of the sleepy village just beginning to stir.

Riomaggiore, looking like a patchwork quilt.

The sea was too rough for the boats to go out, so they were docked in the marina the entire time we were there.

Our apartment, Il Pescatore, was right in the marina, overlooking the sea, in Via Giacomo, 107 right next to the gelateria.

Luca looking out the kitchen window at the activity below.

The mountains meet the sea.

Some of the amazing seafood we ate at La Lanterna.

The Wineries of Northern Italy: Piedmont and the Langhe

Summer moves steadily along.  It’s mid-August already, and the weather is turning cooler.  We moved back into our house just over a week ago, and we’re still digging out from under boxes of possessions that we haven’t seen since the fire.  It’s a bit overwhelming, but we’re making progress.  The silver lining to it all is that our 1920s south Minneapolis house is all new.  We have a little more closet space and a bigger bathroom.  The kitchen, though, is what we’re most excited about!  It’s spacious and open with lots of counter space and a fabulous gas range.  Soon we’ll get back to cooking and we’ll post a few photos on Due Spaghetti.  In the meanwhile, let’s finish our tour of northern Italy’s wineries.

We started in Trentino-Alto Adige along the Strada del Vino, and then worked our way through Veneto and La Valpolicella before traveling west to Piedmont and the Langhe.  Our first stop was in a tiny village high in the hills called Castiglione Tinella, home to the Paolo Saracco Vineyards.  Stefano met Paolo this past winter when he was in Minneapolis recently to present his wines, and was impressed not only with his Moscato d’Asti, his trademark wine, but also with the Pinot Nero he produces.

Paolo Saracco Vineyards owns a hotel called Albergo Castiglione, just minutes away from the winery.  The hotel pool is located near the Saracco vineyards, on a hilltop overlooking the vines below.  We stayed at the hotel and while nonna Maria and the boys enjoyed the pool, Stefano and Cara toured the winery.

The entire experience was delightful; the village was charming, the hotel staff were attentive to our needs and recommended two very good local spots to eat, and the winery itself and the wines we tasted were splendid.

Seemingly the setting could not become more idyllic,  until we traveled 40 kilometers southwest to the Azienda Agricola Cogno, storied Barolo producers, and found ourselves immersed in some of the region’s most beautiful scenery.  The winery was founded by Elvio Cogno in his hometown of Novello, where his family had been producing wine for several generations prior.  Under his daughter Nadia and her husband Valter Fissore’s attention, the winery produces highly acclaimed Barolo as well as a Barbaresco, a Dolcetto d’Alba and two Langhe.  The Elvio Cogno representative for the American market, Daniele, was in Minneapolis last winter and came to the Butcher Block to present his wines to Stefano and Filippo.

We arrived at the winery complex in mid-afternoon, under a scorching sun.  The winery is housed in a perfectly restored 18th century manor.  The family lives in on part of the facility, adjacent to the actual winery.  A spectacular outdoor kitchen sits alongside an infinity pool that looks over the rows of vineyards that run up and down the hills of the Langhe.  Once again, Sean and Luca put their swimsuits back on and spent a few hours in the pool under nonna’s supervision while Stefano and Cara toured the winery and tasted the outstanding Barolo and other Elvio Cogno wines.

Stefano and Valter Fissore of Azienda Agricola Elvio Cogno

It was a fitting end to our tour of northern Italy’s wineries.  With an extra several bottles in tow, we packed up Marco’s Toyota RAV 4 and headed to the sea and the Cinque Terre.

The Wineries of Northern Italy – La Valpolicella and Villa Monteleone

The second stop on our tour of northern Italy’s wineries was Villa Monteleone, where we talked wine, politics, culture and travel with owner and wine producer Lucia Duran Raimondi over a splendid lunch in the estate’s protected historical garden.

Stefano and Lucia met in Minneapolis in the winter of 2012, when she was in town promoting her wines with her distributor, Wirtz Beverage Group.  Stefano and Filippo of the Butcher Block organized a spectacularly successful wine dinner, and months later when we were planning our trip to Italy, we knew that we would take Lucia up on her offer to visit Villa Monteleone.

Villa Monteleone is located not far from the town of Verona in a tiny town called Gargagnago.  A beautiful 17th century villa serves also as a bed and breakfast, and a separate two-story apartment in a historical building located on the estate is also available for travellers.  The estate’s gardens are lovely, and the view of the vineyards and surrounding villages is breathtaking.

This part of Italy is called la Valpolicella, a hilly area within the Italian region of Veneto, long known for its wine production, and especially for the production of Amarone Classico, a prestigious Italian red wine with D.O.C.G. status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes.  Amaro means ‘bitter’ in Italian, but Amarone is far from bitter; instead it is a ruby red, full-bodied, dry rich wine, unquestionably one of our favorite Italian reds.  It earned its name to distinguish it from another, slightly sweeter local wine, Recioto.

Villa Monteleone produces five wines: a Valpolicella, a Ripasso, two Amarones, and a Recioto.  Each is excellent, but our favorite was unquestionably the Amarone della Valpolicella D.O.C. Classico Riserva Campo San Paolo.

Lucia’s story is both fascinating and inspiring.  She grew up in Bogotà Colombia, raised her children in Chicago together with her husband, the American pediatric neurosurgeon Anthony Raimondi, and then moved to la Valpolicella with him in the 1980s to make wine, an activity that Lucia oversees on her own today.  She is strong, yet sensitive to the history and traditions of the land and the people that have given us some of the world’s best wine.  She is a business woman, but she is also a passionate defender of authenticity and quality in Valpolicella Classico wines.

But she’s the best one to tell you her story, perhaps over lunch in her garden or with a glass of wine on the villa’s terrace during your, overlooking the vineyards of la Valpolicella during your stay at the Villa Monteleone Bed and Breakfast.

The Wineries of Northern Italy – Tretino-Alto Adige and Alois Lageder

After a week of fun in Rome, we borrowed Stefano’s brother Marco’s Toyota RAV4 and headed north, for a spectacular, 6-day tour of northern Italy.  Our itinerary included tours of 4 wineries, each distinct and unique from one another, but all 4 producers of some of Italy’s best wine, and excellent examples of Italian hospitality.

Our first stop was in Trentino-Alto Adige.  Located in the Dolomite mountains on the border with Austria, this region, also known as Trentino South Tyrol, is heavily influences by its Austrian-Hungarian roots.  We stayed in a tiny city called Cortaccia, located along a road called La strada del vino, or the road of wine.  Even though we were still in Italy, this area was culturally much more German than Italian; many people we encountered were bilingual, but at our hotel we had to resort to English on several occasions because the German-speaking staff did not speak Italian.

Cortaccia sulla strada del vino is located just south of Bolzano, in the Dolomite mountains in an area known as South Tyrol.

The German influence is evident in the architecture of Cortaccia.

Nonetheless,we were welcomed and well-treated at the Turmhotel Schwarz-Adler.  The morning view from the balcony off of our room was lovely, and the boys enjoyed the swimming pool with its view of the mountains in the distance.

The view from the balcony of our room at Turmhotel Schwarz Adler

Just down the winding mountain road from Cortaccia is a sleepy little town called Magrè.  One would never suspect that it is home to the Alois Lageder winery, a sophisticated wine production facility designed in accordance with sustainable and ecological building practices.

We arrived in Magrè and even though the village it tiny, had to ask a local where the winery was.  Nothing about the town suggests that it is home to such a modern production facility.  However, Paolo our host walked us through the archway into the Löwengang estate, and we discovered a beautiful wine-producing complex.  The office space has a remarkable ceiling system that allows sunlight and cool mountain air to penetrate the space.  Commissioned artwork fills the walls and the open spaces, the most notable a permanent exhibit of three large, square glass containers containing the soils and plants of the three primary microclimates that produce the grapes used to make Lageder wines.

Entering the Lageder wine production facility with our host, Paolo.

The roof of the Lageder office space lets in sunlight and the cool mountain breeze.

A living art exhibit captures the soils and plants from the three main microclimates.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Lageder winery is how the vinification facility was designed to leverage the force of gravity in the handling of the grapes, must and wine, to render the winemaking process as efficient, gentle and ecological as possible.  This was done through a 17-meter tall vinification tower located at the heart of our winemaking facilities.  Grapes are deposited into the top of the tower, and are cellared in free fall, with gravity pulling the must down into tanks below without the use of pumps or other mechanical transport systems.

Lageder vinification tower. Photo from http://www.aloislageder.eu/en/cellar

Two labels make up the portfolio of Lageder wines.  The Alois Lageder label includes wines made partly from grapes grown in Lageder biodynamically farmed vineyards, but predominantly from grapes purchased from local growers.  The Tenutæ Lageder wines are made entirely from grapes that are grown in the Lageder estate vineyards, which are all biodynamically farmed.  Lageder produces an unusually high number of wines, mostly whites such as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, but their Pinot Nero is notable, as well.

At the end of our tour, Paolo guided us through a tasting of nearly 20 of those wines and came home with a 2009 LEHEN Sauvignon, a 2011 BETA DELTA Chardonnay – Pinot Grigio, a 2008 KRAFUSS Pinot Noir, and a 2000 COR RÖMIGBERG Cabernet Sauvignon that Paolo pulled out the Lageder cellar for us.

Magrè is home one of the 3-4 oldest vines in the world, dating back to the 1600s.

Read more about Due Spaghetti’s trip to Italy in our previous posts: Date Night in Rome, and Il Cinquino di Zio Marco and Ciao, Roma!, and  check out our Due Spaghetti Facebook page for more trip photos.

Pasta fredda al salmone e sedano (Smoked Salmon Pasta Salad)

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve posted a new recipe on Due Spaghetti.  The pace of summer is supposed to be slower and more relaxed, but June has been a whirlwind so far.  On a positive note, we are getting closer and closer to moving back into our house.  Our friend Tiet, a true artisan cabinetmaker, is almost done making our walnut kitchen cabinets, and they are beautiful.  The hardwood floors are in, and we’re picking out paint colors.  If all goes well, we will return from our July trip to Italy and move back in.

We are looking forward to that trip, to spending time with family and friends and to finally slowing down.  We’ll spend a week in Rome with Stefano’s family, celebrating the 3rd birthdays of our nephews Davide and Flavio, and catching up with our 8-year-old nephew Damiano.  Nonna Maria will have all 5 grandsons home at once, and the cousins will be happy to be together again.

We’ll spend the second week touring Northern Italy.  Our first stop will be Trentino, in South Tyrol along a road called the Strada del Vino  in the midst of vineyards and wineries.  The kids will stay with Nonna Maria and enjoy the pool at Schwarz Adler Turm Hotel, while we will tour the Alois Lageder winery.  The next day, we will travel down to Veneto and have lunch with Lucia from Villa Monteleone winery.

Next, we’ll head east towards Piemonte, and Barolo country.  We will stay at Albergo Castiglione, with its pool overlooking the vineyards of the Langhe countryside, and visit the winery of Paolo Saracco, producer of fine Moscato and Pinot Nero.  Finally, we’ll end our trip in the Cinque Terre, where we’ve rented a small apartment in Riomaggiore right near the sea, from Signora Edi Vesigna.

This weekend we made a summer pasta salad that reflects the the simplicity and the slow pace of the warm months.  Smoked salmon is the primary focus of this pasta salad. Chopped celery gives it a mild, cool flavor and lemon zest and juice provides a hint of summertime freshness.

Ingredients
1 box of Farfalle or any other short pasta
200 grams (7 ounces) smoked salmon
1 stalk of celery
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 handful of coarse salt
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions
Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil.  In a large bowl, break the smoked salmon into small pieces.  Chop the celery finely, and add it to the bowl with the salmon.  Add the zest and juice of one lemon, and set aside.

When the water boils, add a heaping handful of coarse salt to the water, and then the pasta.  Cook al dente according to the time on the package.  Drain the pasta and rinse it well under cold running water, mixing it with your hands until it is evenly cool.  Drain well.

Transfer the pasta into the bowl with the salmon mixture.  Stir in the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. The pasta salad is best when eaten right away.

Pasta fredda is the perfect summer time lunch or dinner.  Here is another Due Spaghetti pasta fredda recipe you might like.

How to Drive on the Amalfi Coast, and what to see along the way

It happened again.  At a party last weekend, we found ourselves enthusiastically in conversation with friends who are planning a trip to Italy in October and who want ideas about places to visit.

The Amalfi Coast or costiera amalfitana, is one of our favorite places in Italy.  The dramatic mountain cliffs rise up against the emerald-blue sea sparkling in the sunlight below.  Pastel colored villages carved into the mountain-side shine vibrantly against the landscape, while scented lemon groves and a salty sea breeze fill the air.

The drive along this spectacular coastline is simply breathtaking.  It’s not, though, for the faint of heart.  With steep rock on one side and a dramatic drop to the Mediterranean on the other, the narrow road clings to the mountain and follows the twisting shoreline, resulting in winding roads and sharp curves.  Equipped with a sense of adventure and some solid advice, you can drive the coast and experience one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

If you already know this and want to skip directly to the driving lesson, scroll to the bottom of this post.  Otherwise, read on for our recommendations on where to go and what to do on your trip.

Location
The Amalfi Coast is the 60 km (37 mile) stretch of coastline between Sorrento and Salerno, located just south of the Bay of Naples.  The most charismatic part of the coast is between the cities of Positano and Vietri sul Mare.  36 km (22 miles) separate the two cities.

Itinerary
1.  Vietri sul Mare
2.  Ravello
3.  Amalfi
4.  Positano

Directions
Arriving from Rome or any other northern Italian city, take the Autostrada A1 south toward Naples.  Just past Naples, exit onto the Autostrada A3 headed toward Salerno-Reggio Calabria.  Follow the A3 past Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano whose eruption in AD 79  buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, to the Vietri sul Mare exit.  Follow the road down to toward the city of Vietri sul Mare.  As you drive down the hill, you will have your first glance at the sea down below.  As you enter the town, you will see a municipal parking lot.  If space is available, this is your best parking option.  There is a parking ticket machine at one end of the lot.  Pay in advance and place your ticket on your dashboard.  If there is no available space in the lot, look for street parking.

Vietri sul Mare
Vietri sul Mare is famous for its hand-painted ceramics.  Ceramic-tiled storefronts line the main street of the village.

Inside there are dishes, vases, urns, wall-tiles and countless other items hand painted in vibrant colors in the traditional style of the Amalfi Coast.  Stefano and I began a collection of dishes years and years ago, and each time we go back we acquire a few more pieces.

From Rome, it’s a two-and-a-half to three-hour drive to Vietri sul Mare.  Plan to arrive in the morning and do your shopping before lunch.  Stores will close at approximately 1:00.

Lunch
Leave Vietri sul Mare and proceed west along the coastal road.  Stop for lunch at Torre Normanna for spectacular coastal views and perfectly prepared seafood in an amazing location.

Proceed along the coastal road through the villages of Maiori and Minori, stopping for a caffè or a gelato if you wish, and on towards Amalfi.  We will save Amalfi for tomorrow, however.  When you arrive at the village of Castiglione, turn right and follow Via Castiglione up the mountain to the city of Ravello.

Ravello
Ravello sits high on the mountain overlooking the Amalfi Coast below.  It is a quaint town, and has been home to many famous artists, musicians and writers, the most notable of whom include Richard Wagner, who found inspiration for his opera Parsifal,  and D.H. Lawrence., who wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover, here.

Ravello is home to two villas with striking architecture and gorgeous gardens.  Villa Rufolo, originally a watchtower, is an oasis of serenity with it Moorish cloister that reflects the Arab cultural influence and its immaculately cured garden on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean.  Wagner loved this garden, and each summer during the Ravello Festival concerts are held in this garden, with the sea as a spectacular backdrop.  Villa Cimbrone is equally beautiful, with its lush gardens, temples , statues, and fountains and its famous terrace named Belvedere of Infinity for its view out over the coast and the vast expanse of sea below.

Spend the night in Ravello.  There are many hotel choices at a variety of price points.  Some hotels are located just outside the gates of the city just off of the main road, and are quite accessible.  Others are tucked away inside the town, often down narrow cobblestone paths.  Before making a reservation, ask about parking (there essentially is none inside the city walls), and also about luggage services.  Be specific about where the nearest parking is, what parking costs, how far there is to walk, whether it is up or down hills, and if there is help with luggage.  And of course, request a room with a sea view.

We stayed Villa San Michele years ago and were very satisfied.  We have also stayed at Villa Amore.  This more cost effective hotel is located deep into the heart of Ravello.  A simple and clean place, it has a few rooms with small gardens overlooking the sea.  Ask for a room with a full sea-view, vista sul mare, and don’t accept a partial or blocked view.  Don’t be afraid to not accept a room if the view does not meet your expectations, and even to leave for a different hotel if they cannot offer you a different room.  You are on the Amalfi Coast and a full-sea view is a must.

Many hotels along the Amalfi Coast offer a full- or half-pension.  A full-pension includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The half-pension, which we prefer, includes breakfast and either lunch or dinner.  You need to let the hotel manager know each morning which meal you plan to have there.  Our recommendation is to take advantage of the half-pension, eating lunch away from the hotel while you are exploring the coastline, and having dinner back at the hotel.  We’ve always enjoyed the hotel dinners we’ve had on the Amalfi Coast; well prepared meals that take advantage of the fresh seafood, sun-ripened tomatoes, and amazing mozzarella di bufala native to that part of the country.

In the morning, have a caffè, hop back in the car and take Via Castiglione back down to SS163, the official name for the coastal road, and proceed toward Amalfi.

Amalfi
Once a the capital of the powerful Maritime Republic of Amalfi, but later ravaged by years of natural disaster and poverty, Amalfi is now a quaint, if very touristy, town.  As you enter the town you will see several municipal parking lots near the shore, often with city traffic officers directing tourists into parking spaces.  Be prepared to pay the high parking fees – there simply is no alternative.

Head up the hill into Piazza Duomo, the town square.  Admire the cherubs and chuckle at the nymph’s water-jetting bosom at the Fontana di Sant’Andrea in the center of the square, and then turn to your right and visit Pasticceria Pansa for a Neopolitan-style pastry and a cappuccino or a cup of tea.

Make a mental note to return to buy some chocolate-dipped candied citrus peel or babà al limoncello to take away with you.

Adjacent to Pasticceria Pansa is the impressive 10th century Duomo di Sant’Andrea with its Arab, Norman and Gothic influences.  Climb the 62 steps up to to the cathedral and admire its bronze doors, cast in Constantinople  in AD 1044.  Inside the Duomo frescos cover the walls of the Baroque interior.   Be sure not to miss the Cloister of Paradise on the left side of the cathedral’s portico, with its Moorish white marble arches and beautiful garden.

After exiting the Duomo, stroll up the the streets of Amalfi and into the small alleyways of the village.  Although the small shops are often over-priced, some fun items can be found.  Look for confections of limoncello, the lemon-infused liquor made popular by the Amalfi Coast, or glass jars of tuna canned in olive oil.  We promise you it will be the best tuna you’ve tasted.  Before returning to your car, stroll down to the shoreline to see the quaint fishing boats and the sometimes impressive yachts docked in the harbor.

Lunch
Have lunch in Amalfi, or find a spot further down the coast on your way towards Positano.  Two highly recommended places are Ristorante Eola, which is along the coast  in Amalfi, and Hostaria il Pino, which is further along the coastal road near the town of Praiano, just over half-way between Amalfi and Positano.

Positano
Positano is a jet-set and touristy village built dramatically and steeply into the side of the mountain in stunning pastel colors that glow in the evening sunlight.

 

Parking in Positano can be challenging.  If you plan to spend the night, be sure to find a hotel that offers parking.  In the best case scenario, you will pull off on the side of the road in front of your hotel, go in to check in, and hand your keys over to a valet, and not worry about your car again until you are ready to leave Positano.  Luggage service is another thing to ask about.  Steep staircases unlike anything you have ever seen have been cut into the mountain to allow locals and tourists to move about through the village.  However, you don’t want to try to go up and down those with heavy suitcases!  If you are not staying overnight, you will need to pay 20-30 Euros per day to park in a garage.  It is outrageous, but simply part of the cost of experiencing the beauty of the Amalfi Coast.

In Positano, stroll up and down the charismatic labyrinth of streets.  Shopping is one of the highlights of this little town, and hand-crafted, made-to-measure strappy leather sandals are what Positano is famous for.  You can choose from a variety of styles and leathers and in about 10 minutes you will have your sandals made exclusively for you.  They will cost a pretty penny, but will also last forever.

Wander down to the beach to soak up some Mediterranean sun, or simply for a stroll.  There are two beaches: Spiaggia di Marina Grande is the busiest of the two, while Spiaggia di Formillo, a little further west, is quieter.  Don’t expect white sand; both beaches are made up of small, round pebbles.  You will want sandals to walk in, and if you plan on spending time on the beach it is worth renting chairs and an umbrella.  From the beach you can see Li Galli, the archipelago of little islands just off of the coast that are said to be where the Sirens seduced Ulysses and other ship captains in Homer’s Odyssey.  The coast is home to dozens of spots to grab a drink, an afternoon aperitif, or dinner.

If you prefer action over relaxation, consider taking a ferry to the islands of Ischia or Capri for a day trip.  You will see a lot of advertising about the Grotta dello Smeraldo, the sea cave full of stalactites and stalagmites that fills with emerald-glowing light.  Most reviews suggest that it is an excursion to pass on.

Directions out of the Amalfi Coast
When you are ready to leave Positano and end your stay on the Amalfi coast, get back onto the coastal road SS163 and follow it west.  It will eventually take you inland in the direction of Sorrento.  Follow the signs to Sorrento; the road will eventually turn into SS145.  Stop and stay in Sorrento for a night, or follow the SS145 until you see signs for E45 Napoli/Roma.  Take the E45 Napoli/Roma, which will turn into the Autostrada A1 headed toward Rome.

How to Drive on the Amalfi Coast
By now you are enamored with the costiera amalfitana, appreciative of the flexibility that a car offers, and enticed to experience the amazing coastal drive yourself.  You can; just follow the advice below.

  1. Choose a smaller-size car.  It will be easier to handle on the curves.  Too much luggage is a hassle on the coast anyway.
  2. Consider automatic vs. manual transmission.  Most Italian cars have manual transmission (cambio manuale), and if you know how to drive a straight-stick, the manual transmission is a lot of fun.  Be prepared, however, for frequent shifting between first, second and third gear as you speed up and slow down on the winding roads.  If this isn’t your thing, get a rental car with automatic transmission (cambio automatico).
  3. Keep an eye out for the scooters.  Locals, especially the youth, use motorini and Vespas to travel up and down the coast.  Their driving will seem reckless to you, especially as they pass you on the right, squeezing between your car and the mountain wall.  Keep your cool and stay in your lane.  Don’t be tempted to veer into the oncoming lane to go around them.  They’ve driven this road hundreds of times, and you haven’t.  They know when they fit and when they don’t.
  4. Don’t get too adventurous and rent a scooter yourself.  You’re not ready for that yet.  If you get really good at driving the road in a car, then you could maybe consider it.
  5. Don’t drive too fast, but don’t drive too slow, either.  It’s very frustrating to be stuck behind a tourist who is creeping along the road, holding up traffic behind him or her.  This is especially frustrating for the locals.
  6. Be mindful of cars flashing their lights at you; this is a form of communication in Italy.  If an oncoming car flashes its lights at you, this means “watch out” or “get out of my way.”  If a car behind you flashes its lights at you, this generally means “hurry up.”
  7. Slow down and hug the walls as you go around curves; you can’t see what is coming around the corner from the other direction.  At some point, you’ll be surprised when you see a larger vehicle or a tour bus in the other lane and realize that you both don’t fit.
  8. When you encounter a tour bus on a curve, the tour bus has precedence.  Slow down or stop if necessary to let it get around first.  If you encounter a tour bus on a curve and you both cannot fit, you will be expected to carefully and slowly back up to allow the bus through.  Put your car into reverse so that the cars behind you see your reverse lights and understand that they also need to back up, and slowly move backwards until the bus can get by.  It will be scary the first time, but you’ll be fine and the cars behind you will understand that they need to back up, too.
  9. If you are approaching a curve and you hear a deep horn honk, it is likely a tour bus approaching from the other side.  Hug the wall and slow down, so that hopefully the bus can get by and you can avoid #8 above.
  10. You will encounter men and women with small fruit stands in little enclaves along the side of the road.  They will be selling what appear to be gigantic lemons, but are actually citrons, which are more for attention-grabbing that anything else.  You can stop, but you need to pull off the road into the enclave so that you are not blocking traffic.
  11. When you park, allow your passenger to get out of the car first so that you can park tightly against the side of the road and the wall.
  12. Before getting out of your car, look very carefully behind you to be sure that you are not opening your car door in front of an oncoming car, or even worse, a scooter.
  13. When you close your doors, take a moment to turn your side mirrors in against the car door.  On this stretch of road, every inch counts.
  14. Finally, go easy on the white wine and limoncello if you are hopping back into your car after lunch.  This isn’t the time to play Mario Andretti.

Have you been to the Amalfi Coast?  Tell us about your experiences and recommendations.

Have you driven on the Amalfi Coast?  We welcome your comments and feedback on our advice above.

More on the Amalfi Coast:

The Amalfi Coast is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Read what National Geographic says about the Amalfi Coast Roadtrip.

View this YouTube video of driving on the Amalfi Coast.  It’s the real deal, with delightful music in the background.  Our only comment is that the filmperson was so focused on the road itself, the video does not do justice to the spectacular coastal views.

TripAdvisor has a forum on driving on the Amalfi Coast, with advice for drivers and for those who prefer to hire a transport service.