Tag Archives: Amalfi Coast

A Radically Delicious Recipe: Torta Caprese with Espresso, Served with Lemon Mascarpone

4 May

Photo: Terry Brennan


Sweet Friday

I often write for a wonderful magazine called Real Food.  It is not available on newsstands but instead can be found in some of the best upscale supermarkets across the county. In the summer 2012 issue, out now, I created a cover story based on our trip to the Amalfi coast last summer.  Included in the story are recipes for a white bean, mussel and red onion salad made with a dressing fashioned from sliced lemons, another salad of grilled romaine with Roma tomatoes, chicken breasts with black olives, lemon and fennel, and little potatoes with sun-dried tomatoes baked al cartoccio.  The final touch is a a famous cake from Capri called Torta Caprese (adapted from Arthur Schwartz’s wonderful book, Naples at Table.) My version has added espresso powder and a hint of almond extract added to the chocolate-ground almond batter. I gild the experience with an unorthodox helping of mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) whipped and flecked with bits of lemon zest. Limoncello, anyone?

2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
12 ounces almonds
6 extra-large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon espresso powder
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
8 ounces mascarpone
1 large lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using 1 tablespoon butter, butter bottom and sides of a 10-inch removable bottom cake pan.  Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper. Melt the remaining butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth, stirring often. Process the almonds in two batches, each with 2 tablespoons sugar, until very fine and powdery. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in espresso powder. Set aside.

Beat yolks until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Add ½ cup sugar and beat 2 minutes longer. Add the melted chocolate and the almond extract to the yolks. Stir well. Stir in the ground almonds until thoroughly mixed. Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt and ¼ cup remaining sugar until very stiff. Add beaten whites to the batter in 2 batches until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake on a rack placed in the bottom third of the oven for 1 to 1-1/4 hours or until the cake is just firm. Cool and invert. Remove paper. Dust with 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar pushed through a sieve.  Serve with lemon mascarpone:  Beat mascarpone with 4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar. Grate the lemon zest and add to mascarpone with 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice and a large pinch of salt. Serve with cake. Serves 10 to 12

Tastes of the Week (Italy Edition)

24 Jul

July 17th-24th, 2011

This week’s tastes all come from southern Italy on our summer holiday.  In the charming towns of Ravello, Minori and the lesser-known village of Scala, we have eaten well, sometimes superbly, and always with an eye to authenticity.

In the town of Minori, we sampled the two famous pastries of this area. One is the delicious, rum-soaked baba (here it is also available drenched in a syrup laced with limoncello), and the now-celebrated cake of pastry maestro Sal de Riso – made with ricotta and pears.  It was as good as Arthur Schwartz said it would be.  Arthur and Sal have become good friends because of Arturo’s many trips to this area.  In the same town, in the tiny main square in front of the yellow Baroque church (Basilica S. Trophimenae), we had for the first time, the famous fresh pasta of the Amalfi coast known as scialatielli. At ristorante Libeccio, we drank a fabulous and unexpectedly dry, sparkling rose from Greco di Tufo.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the local pasta adorned with an abundance of super-fresh seafood (including mussels, squid, and tiny razor clams), to the primal fresh vegetable soup, and a one-ingredient salad of arugula (the best and freshest!) with a squeeze of the extraordinary lemons of Amalfi and extra-virgin olive oil.

At the Ristorante dei Cavalieri in Scala, we sampled traditional dishes done in a slightly updated way, by chef Lorenzo Mansi.  There was sartu – a traditional Neapolitan rice dish baked in a mold.  Here it was surrounded by a thin coverlet of eggplant, filled with rice, provola, bits of chicken and meat.  Often it is filled with peas, mushrooms, sausages or chicken livers.  We also had a dish called gateau di patate – generally made as a sformata (a mold of potato, mozzarella, and bits of prosciutto), here was a more fluid, creamy version, almost risotto-like, or deconstructed.  It was delicious, if not quite the potato “cake” it should have been.  My husband had paccheri with seafood – another classic tubular pasta from this area.  Our friend’s birthday cake – served with fanfare – was a credible version of a Caprese cake (made with cocoa and almonds) – a classic from the Amalfi coast.

At Cumpa Cosimo in the town of Ravello, we ate gnocchi alla Sorrentino, a fabulous sausage smothered in melted provola, and a bit of tiramisu, offered by the ebullient Netta Bottone, the owner.

The best pizza so far was eaten at midnight, under the fireworks, inches from the sea in the town of Atrani on the evening of the feast of their patron saint.  The entire town came out to participate in this yearly event.  The pizza was da morire (to die for) – especially the one with tomato, anchovies and garlic.

Lots of wine on this trip: falanghina, fiano, and nameless but delicious dry, fresh, slightly frizzante reds. D.H. Lawrence spent lots of time here, as did Wagner (an all-Wagner concert last night at the Ravello music festival) with the superb (and very beautiful soprano), Martina Serafin.

Notes from Ravello

22 Jul

It is almost noon in Ravello on Friday afternoon, July 22nd.  We are overlooking the Gulf of Salerno way up above the cliffs of Ravello — not far from the former home of Gore Vidal and just steps away from the cooking school of Mamma Agata.  Perched on the balcony off the bedroom of our friend’s home, we gaze upon the tiny coastal beach town of Minori, across terraced hills to the never-ending expanse of a very blue sea. It is calm yet exciting to be here.  It is cool in the evenings, enough for a sweater, and magical enough to reconsider both where and how one lives.

I am wearing “borrowed” clothes.  One of our suitcases (mine!) never made it from Rome to Naples.  Perhaps it never even left New York.  It might even be making a trip of its own, independent of me and my needs. It’s an odd feeling not to have your “stuff” but liberating in its own way.  As the days go by with no clue to its whereabouts, I am less optimistic of ever finding it, but maybe there will be good news along the way. Is this the way one feels about a child when they leave home?

Most liberating about this trip, however, is the lack of aforethought. Little planning and little research abandoned for in-the-moment pleasures.  It is the time of the Ravello Music Festival and so we had lunch, catered by Gino Caruso (the former owner of the Hotel Caruso and grand-nephew of the great singer Caruso) in the garden of our friend’s villa – our lunch guests were Wynton Marsalis and most of his orchestra. Pretty cool talking about music with these guys, as we sipped local white wine interrupted with fresh “hard” peaches (the required peach for this drink), gorging on fabulous pizza prepared in the wood-fired oven on the terrace, prepared by our very own pizziaolo, no less, slender fresh anchovies which I twirled around my fork as though they were spaghetti, the ubiquitous caprese salad – fashioned from scarlet local tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, marinated calamaretti, the size of your pinky nail, and limoncello flavored with anise (great).  The wife of Gino Caruso makes a “dry limoncello” which is a simply fabulous idea.  I am eager to try it as the syrupy lemon elixir for which this area is famous can be very sweet!

In the evening, we joined our new friends for what was one of the most exciting concerts I’ve ever been to.  Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra in the amphitheater of the gardens of the Hotel Rufolo.  It was a packed house – under a royal blue sky, overlooking the sea, with the moon rising ‘round midnight, behind a large cloud. Wynton played his heart out, the others followed.   Then, a small reception – with adequate pizzettes and abundant prosecco — and a long walk from the town square down hundreds of steps to…bed.

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