Italy


I was going to go all out for my last dinner in Ischia – could I get through perhaps four courses: antipasto, primo, secondo, dolce? I was very keen to try one of Ischia’s most famous dishes – Ischian-style rabbit. While one might think that the only food on the island is sea-based, it turns out that rabbit is a popular meat there, with farmers raising them inland. After wandering through Ischia Porto and Ischia Porte for a while, I found Da Raffaele, which was one of the few restaurants that served individual portions of the rabbit. Many other restaurants require one to order an entire bunny in advance. Good, the place looked promising and busy and the restaurant’s location along Via Roma made for some fantastic people watching during my meal.

I started with Brushetta, that famous toast lavished with plenty of olive oil and beautiful tomatoes. I liked that you could order it by the piece here, perfect for the solo diner.

Bruschetta

Pasta time! Linguine alle Vongole was exactly what I wanted. Perfectly al dente pasta with salty clams and sweet tomatoes.

Linguine alle Vongole

And here was my secondo of Coniglio all’Ischitana. Here, portions were stewed with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, chilli, rosemary and parsley. It was delicious if a little freaky when served with its lungs and heart intact!

Coniglio all'Ischitana

I couldn’t fit in any dessert! What a shame – I bet their offerings would have been good!

Ristorante Da Raffaele
Via Roma, 29
Ischia Porto, Ischia
80077 Province of Naples
Italy

The next day, after a slow and leisurely breakfast, I checked out of the hotel, transferred to the ferry port and while waiting for the ferry, I ogled a nearby fruit stand.

Look at those stacks of cherries!

Fruits

What an amazing variety of tomatoes! I wish I could have carried some back with me.

Tomatoes

Anyway, a ferry ride and I was back in Naples. I caught the bus to the airport and then found myself there at lunchtime. Perfect. A Fratelli La Bufala (there are branches of this Neapolitan chain in London too) pre-security was a good choice.

I started with a small plate of the vegetables on display at the front. The tender dark green leaves of the Neapolitan Friarielli saltati were perfect – dark, bitter and so so moreish. Melanzana a funghetto was not with mushrooms as the same may imply but silky soft aubergine cooked with tomatoes.

Friarielli and Melanzane

A Margherita pizza was very good. Sure, it wasn’t da Michele but it was excellent for airport food.

Margherita

Fratelli La Bufala
Viale Fulco Ruffo di Calabria
Aeroporto di Napoli Capodichino
80144 Napoli
Italy

I’ll just quickly mention here how fabulous the food was at Milan Linate airport too, where I changed flights both ways. Are all Italian airports like this? Ah, not just airports I’ve just discovered but also railway stations, highway rest stops and big downtown shopping districts – it’s the Ciao Ristorante! It’s self-service and affordable and the food is very very good indeed. All the airport workers lunching there were a good sign. Here’s some of my lunch on my flight out – bresaola with parmesan and rocket and a fantastic strawberry cake.

That’s it from Italy this time! All my photos from Naples and Ischia can be seen in this Flickr photoset.

I didn’t have much time in Naples, the reason being a wedding to attend on the nearby island of Ischia! It’s a short ferry ride away, first past the island of Procida and in our case, arriving at the town of Forio. Our hotel was not too far away and they had sent some transportation to move us and our luggage.

We soon were back in Forio town that night in search of a place to eat. After walking round the town and finding the Chiesa Soccorso, we ended up at Il Soccorso, just at its foot and had a feast while watching an all-night outdoor performance by the town’s children. A few bits and bobs were first shared by the table for antipasti and my favourite was the incredibly tender octopus salad with chunks of potato and lots of olives.

Octopus Salad

A friend and I split two dishes. Paccheri with clams and zucchini was perfectly al dente and the combination of clams and zucchini is one I hope to replicate at home!

Paccheri with Clams and Zucchini

Scaloppine di Vitello al Limone was indeed very lemony and tender and delicious. The entire region is famous for its lemons and I certainly got my fill of lemony goodness on this trip.

Scaloppine di Vitello al Limone

A bit of a delay with the pizzas on the table (some were incredible, with ricotta stuffed crusts) resulted in chilled glasses of a local liquor arriving as an apology. It’s a dark sweet fruity liquor called rucolino…and yes, it’s made from rucola (rocket)! Fascinating!

Rucolino

Il Soccorso
Via Soccorso, 5
80075 Forio
Isola d’Ischia, Italy

On the day of the wedding, a few of us hopped on a bus for the town of Ischia Porto from where we would walk to the neighbouring town of Ischia Ponte where we could access the Castello Aragonese.

Castello Aragonese

It wasn’t too taxing a walk to the top and we were rewarded with amazing views and a delicious lunch at the restaurant. My stuffed omelette (with ham and cheese) hit the spot. Best to avoid their pizza though.

Stuffed Omelette

Ischia Ponte

The wedding that evening was beautiful and I’m so happy for the now married couple. And what a reception it was – I think it was pretty epic, even for Italian wedding standards! Highlights included a boat of oysters,….

La Barchetta dell'Ostricaro

…a dedicated chef for deep fried nibbles from Naples,…

L'Angolo dell'Olio Caldo

… and sea bream baked in a salt crust.

Il Secondo - Il Filetto di Orata in Crosta di Sale

I was utterly stuffed.

The next day (well… the same day…as the night was long) I woke late and could barely stomach the thought of more food. It was time for a day rest and relaxation and I hoped to achieve it at the Giardini Poseidon Terme, a thermal spa with multiple pools of  naturally heated water and water jets. But just before I entered, a man with a fruit cart (more like a fruit van?) outside had me distracted and I ended up entering the spa with a bag of the juiciest cherries and sweetest giant figs. Then it was an afternoon of soaking and napping and soaking again.

Cherries and Figs

Giardini Poseidon Terme

Though the food offerings at Poseidon did look very good, I thought I’d explore the beach area a bit and so for lunch (ok, I found some space in my stomach later in the day) chose a place called Bar-Ristorante Bagno Teresa, the only restaurant along the beach that advertised daily specials. I started with a classic melon and prosciutto …

Prosciutto e Melone

…followed by one of their daily specials – linguine with lemon and scampi. This was incredible, with the shellfish as fresh as it could be and the island’s famous lemons very clear in the simple sauce.

Linguine al Limone e Scampi

Bar-Ristorante Bagno Teresa
Via Giovanni Mazzella
Forio, Isola d’Ischia
Italy

That evening (a Sunday), I headed into the town of Forio to find it packed with families out for la passeggiata, the evening’s promenade. Feeling only a little peckish, I joined the queues of families buying little snacky bits from stands outside on the street.

Fried

I stopped at a stand in front of a rosticceria and picked up a small pizza (average but outstanding tomato sauce that I licked up) and this excellent fried potato croquette filled with salami and cheese. It was not exactly light but it was good. I sat by the Chiesa Soccorso and watched the sun go down.

Fried Potato Thing With Salami and Cheese

Oh, and if you see this little drinks stand below in Forio, do try their lemon granita. It was the best I’d tried on the island.

Lemon Stand

On my last full day on the island, I headed for Sant’Angelo, a beautiful town on the south coast of Ischia.

Sant'Angelo

The pastries in the display case outside Bar Pasticceria Rosticceria Dolce e la Vita caught my attention. After failing to get into the Terme Cavascura (ugh, after a water taxi ride and walking through a gorge, I found it closed), I headed back to  Sant’Angelo and entered the cafe, grabbing one of the prime seats-with-a-view in the back, in the shade.

Lunch with a View

As suggested by IschiaTown on Twitter, I tried a zingara, a sandwich invented on Ischia. The toasted sandwich I ordered was filled with mayonnaise, prosciutto, cheese, tomato and lettuce. Delicious though perhaps a hot toasted sandwich wasn’t the best choice in the heat!

Zingara

I was really looking forward to my sweet – a Dolci Pensieri, according to the label in the window. The wild strawberry topped confections had been calling out my name since I first saw them and I greedily chose the one with both crema and nata (or was it panna? What’s the word for Italian for whipped cream?) inside.

Dolci Pensieri

More specifically, it was a crisp flaky pastry cup lined in dark chocolate, filled with crema (custard), then a layer of sponge cake, a layer of nata/panna and then the wild strawberries. It was insanely good.

Inside the Dolci Pensieri

Bar Pasticceria Rosticceria Dolce e la Vita
Via Nazario Sauro
Loc di Serrara Fontana
Sant’Angelo, Serrara Fontana
Isola d’Ischia, Italy

Anyway, this has become a bit of a novel so my last two meals on Ischia and in Naples will be in the next post! I’d just like to end this post by saying how surprised I was that there was never a dud meal on Ischia – everything is just extremely fresh, simply and expertly prepared and delicious. You won’t eat badly if you holiday there!

It was about 4pm Thursday afternoon when we landed in Naples and 5pm when we dropped off our bags and went out in search of pizza. We needed to eat and fortify ourselves as my friend and I were soon off on a stag night and hen night, respectively (egads). My copy of Saveur featuring pizza in Naples had a good list of places in the old town and the hotel receptionist was adamant that the best on the list and the best in Naples was at Michele. So, to Michele we went.

The tiny restaurant was still empty when we arrived (just shy of 6pm) but started filling very quickly after we sat down.

Da Michele

A wood burning oven was sitting in the corner but we barely felt the heat from it (was there air conditioning?). A few pizzaioli were moving swiftly about, preparing the pizzas, slipping them into the oven and then whisking them out, all hot and steaming.

Wood Burning Oven

I love their very minimal menu. Two kinds of pizza (margherita and marinara), a few size options, a double mozzarella option and drinks – that’s it! We both had drinks and normal margherita pizzas.

Menu

Our pizzas arrived very quickly.

Pizzas

Mine was a thing of beauty. The crust was beautifully blistered from the intense heat of the oven and was amazingly tender yet chewy. Oh, it was delicious. How delicious it was.

Pizza Margherita

And I couldn’t get over how delicious the tomato sauce was; I can see now the point of a marinara pizza. While the cheese was excellent, I could see how it’s not always necessary!

Was it the best pizza in Naples? I have no idea as I’d need to try them all but I know that this was the best pizza I’d ever had (possibly). Highly recommended if you’re in Naples. A queue was already forming when we left so get in there early to get a table immediately.

Oh, and the hen night? Yeah, I survived (and even fit in a second pizza that night!).

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
Via Cesare Sersale, 1-3
80139 Naples
Italy

I saved La Matricianella for our last dinner in Rome. Yes, the name of the restaurant does bear a striking similarity to the restaurant where we ate our first dinner in Rome but this is just coincidence! La Matricianella is located more centrally and according to this article by the New York Times, is recommended by locals. We didn’t book (though it is recommended) but walked up just as it was opening at 7:30 in the evening. We were sat at one of the last available tables by a grumpy host/waiter who looked like he’d just rolled out of bed; they started turning people away soon after. So, I’d really recommend booking!

The place gets seriously busy and is a good mix of both locals and tourists. And like all the other Roman trattorias I’d eaten in, the tables were packed tightly together. This resulted in our waiter being unable to actually walk up to our table and he had to hand us our dishes with outstretched arms! All along the walls are framed reviews of the restaurant from both local and international publications.

How about another plate of fried to start with? We split this platter of fritto misto consisting of artichokes, cauliflower, potato croquette, and mozzarella chunks all in batter. We never ate a single dud fried item in Rome; everything was gorgeous.

Fritto Misto

Because we obviously didn’t have enough artichokes on this trip, we ordered the tonnarelli with artichokes as our pasta course, to split. Turns out tonnarelli is a fresh long pasta with a square cross-section. It was delicious with a very simple sauce of olive oil, garlic, and the fresh artichokes. I also detected just a tiny hint of pepperoncino.

Tonnarelli with Artichokes

To follow, polpettine, rucola e tartufo – light meatballs in a rich dark sauce with rocket leaves and shaved black truffles…

Polpettine, Rucola e Tartufo

… and arrosto di vitalla – roast veal with roast potatoes.

Arrosto di Vitella

The meatballs were ethereally light but still very rich – plenty of breadcrumbs and cheese in there! And plenty of peppery rocket and earthy black truffle to balance the richness. The veal was well roasted with a lovely light gravy. The potatoes were tinged with a hint of rosemary and though they could have been a bit crispier, they were fine specimens.

Along with a bottle of water and the bread basket, the meal came to a total of €56 (the initially grumpy host/waiter turned on all the charm when bringing us our bill!) . Not bad for enough food for us to feel a little uncomfortable afterwards.

Did you notice that we didn’t have dessert? For some reason, nothing on the dessert menu looked interesting to me (I’m guessing that the uncomfortableness had a role in this). We ended up walking round the block and suddenly the need for a gelato arose. We went into Ciampini (just around the corner from the La Matricianella) and bought a cupful of pistacchio and marrons glace gelati. Lovely chunks of candied chestnut in the latter and the former was the best pistacchio gelato we’d tasted in Rome. And that was dessert sorted.

Ristorante la Matricianella
Via del Leone, 4
Rome, Italy

And that rounds up my Rome posts! Thank you again to everyone who gave us recommendations for places to eat – I’m just sorry that we didn’t have enough time to visit all of them (I suspect I would have needed lunches and dinners for a month to cover the whole list!). All my photos from Rome (and the Vatican City) can be found in this Flickr photostream.

Pizza pizza pizza! I couldn’t go to Rome and not eat proper Roman style pizza! A huge thank you to Shayma at The Spice Spoon for recommending La Montecarlo to me – there are so many pizzerias to choose from in Rome that my mind was boggling. This would be our first time having a proper Roman style pizza – they’re thin and crisp in comparison to the puffier, chewier Neapolitan style. You’ll definitely want to get there early as it gets packed very quickly. As is usual with most Roman restaurants, you’ll be sitting elbow to elbow with your neighbours, the place is loud and jolly, and the waiters fast and efficient.

Something I noticed in pizzerias is that on the fried section of the menu, items cooked from frozen are usually clearly marked. We avoided those and went for a couple of crocchette (potato) and suppli (like arancine, those fried balls of risotto). The crocchette were fine – tasty, crunchy, potato mash – but I prefered the suppli with their centres of tomato sauce and melting mozzarella.

Fritti

Inside the Suppli

I wanted the most classic of pizze, the Margherita. Oh boy, this was magnificent. The crust is indeed extremely thin and very crisp towards the edges, and I loved it. Though thin, it was still sturdy enough to hold its cargo of cheese and tomato sauce. The mozzarella does look different to the fresh kind used on Neapolitan pizzas but it was no less delicious for it. I hoovered this up, yum yum yum.

Margherita

Blai went deluxe and ordered a capricciosa, topped with ham, mushrooms, artichokes and an egg. Though it was tasty, it was less successful than my margherita due to the number of toppings. This made the pizza heavier and more watery and led to a less crispy crust. Blai was also a bit disappointed that the artichokes on top were preserved (canned, we think). Do any places in Italy use fresh artichokes on top of pizzas? Still, the flavour was still good – I quite liked it despite its sogginess.

Capricciosa

There was just enough space in our tummies for a spot of dessert. We ordered a torta di ricotta to split and it came looking comically like a helicopter. It was gorgeous – the filling was of creamy, fresh cheese studded through with chocolate bits.

Torta di Ricotta

We loved it here so much that we came back for a last lunch on the day we flew back to London. Looking for a relatively early meal, we were the first in the restaurant at noon. We needed another taste of proper Roman pizza! We opted for the pizza al prosciutto, again aiming for one of the simpler pizzas on the menu. This was simply a margherita topped with slices of prosciutto. It was excellent – I was happy to see that there was no reduction in quality even if this was the first pizza out of the oven that day.

Pizza al Prosciutto

We’d wanted to try one of their pasta dishes too as we’d seen others enjoying huge platefuls of the stuff on our last visit. This carbonara (we had to order a Roman pasta for our last meal!) wasn’t as transcendental as the one we ate at La Matriciana and tasted more like our attempts to make carbonara at home (with the whole egg), except for that wonderful guanciale they use everywhere. Still, if it’s pasta you desire, you can’t go wrong with one off their menu and you certainly won’t leave hungry! Look at the size of that pile! But you really should try their pizza at least once!

Rigatoni Carbonara

We paid about €20-25 total on each of our visits, making this an excellent budget spot. Oh, I miss La Montecarlo. London, you need a Roman style pizzeria!

La Montecarlo
Vicolo Savelli, 13
Rome, Italy

While this meal was good, I want to make note of the ugly as well. We had dinner one night at Da Ricci (Via Genova, 32) and while the fried bits and pieces were excellent, the pizzas were truly awful. They were thick and crunchy and reminiscent of many frozen pizzas available here. And Blai’s was very very charred on the bottom. I don’t think we were served “special” pizzas on account of being tourists as the Italian woman sitting next to me also received a pizza that was overbaked. Avoid.

I couldn’t miss a trip to the Campo De’ Fiori. Every morning, Mondays to Saturdays, Rome’s oldest market comes alive in the square. It was a little smaller than I expected and alongside the beautiful food stalls were also those selling cookware, scarves, cheap jewelry, etc. Clearly it was a mixed bag of a market. Still, I loved browsing the food stands full of both touristy pastas and jars and fresh produce for the locals.

Produce

Chili Posies

Puntarelle

Chestnuts

I bought a little punnet of wild strawberries as I’d never tasted this delicacy before. They weren’t cheap but they’re hard to find in London. These little gems were so juicy and full of strawberry essence – they weren’t the sweetest strawberries I’d ever encountered but their flavour more than made up for it. Apart from these strawberries, we also left with a bagful of tiny sun dried tomatoes and some candied dried cherries. And we came back on our last morning and I walked away with a big chunk of pecorino romano too.

Wild Strawberries

But that market wasn’t the only thing I wanted to see in this square; at one of the corners, there’s a fantastic bakery: Forno Campo de’ Fiori.

Forno Campo de'Fiori

In the photo above, there’s the main bakery, with the ovens and bakers, through the door with the white awning and the main shop under the big Forno sign. The two are connected and bread fresh out of the oven is brought over to the shop when supplies run low, which is often. To the left of main building, there’s another shop selling sandwiches made with their gorgeous bread.

When I say bread, I really mean pizza. Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) to be precise. Long sheets of thin pizze are brought over to the main shop and a couple men there slice off as much as you require, weigh it and wrap it up in brown paper, giving that and a bill to you to pay at the final counter. Simplicity seems to be the rule here with the pizze ranging from super simple to those with a topping or two. We started with the simple and most famous of the pizze here – their pizza rossa and pizza bianca. For a slice of each suitable for a generous snack for two, I paid about €3.

Their pizza rossa was just out of the oven (we watched as a baker dumped a long slab of it onto the counter) and we immediately ripped open the paper as soon as we were out of the shop, eager to have a taste. Wow. Wow wow wow. The thin bread was highly flavoured with olive oil and topped with a deceptively simple, fresh and sweet tomato sauce (I bet I will never be able to replicate that at home). The base was crispy while still having a good chew here and there and I could have eaten a whole slab of it there and then.

Pizza Rossa

The pizza bianca was very plain in comparison though this doesn’t mean it was any less of a pizza. There’s just the base, salt and plenty of olive oil on top and without the weight of the tomato topping, it’s free to puff and bubble as it bakes. Again it had a great flavour and a good moist chew with no toughness. This slice wasn’t just out of the oven but it was still excellent at room temperature.

Pizza Bianca

On our last day in Rome, I couldn’t just stop into the market without making another visit to the forno. This time, more of the pizza rossa (I fell in love the first time) and instead of the pizza bianca, we opted for the pizza with mushrooms and cheese as this was fresh from the oven on this second visit. There’s nothing wrong with these more “complex” pizze – in fact, this was downright delicious!

Mushroom and Cheese Pizza

Apart from their pizze, there are pies, pastries and biscuits. We can vouch for their occhi di bue (bull’s eyes biscuits) – rounds of biscuity pastry filled with jam – we had a few of these as Blai love them. I did have one miss here though… a flat tile of cakey biscuit studded with pine nuts – I think it was made of chestnut flour. I wasn’t keen on its strong, almost smokey, flavour and was the only thing we failed to finished. (If you do have any further information on this pastry, I’m keen to know more!) Anyway, there was nothing wrong with it – it just wasn’t to our taste. I am, however, a big fan of their pizze!

Forno Campo De’ Fiori
Campo De’ Fiori, 22
00186 Rome, Italy

Trastevere is a charmingly picturesque area in Rome to the west of the river Tiber but still easily accessible from the city centre by foot. I was keen to try a restaurant there; when we were there at the beginning of the month, there were very few tourists around and Trastevere felt like “old” Rome. Dan from Essex Eating recommended a couple trattorias in the area and that’s how we found ourselves at Da Augusto one lunchtime.

The trattoria was a little tricky to find. When you get to Piazza de’ Renzi, there’s one clearly marked restaurant…that wasn’t Da Augusto. There’s no sign for the trattoria but there is a menu posted up – and this was the only hint of the restaurant (except for when it’s packed, of course, with tables spilling into the square). The photo below is what the place looked like when we left.

Da Augusto

The menus are handwritten and are in Italian on one side and English on the other, the only hint that tourists do find this trattoria. When we were there, we were the only tourists – the rest of the tables were full of Roman families, single businessmen, couples meeting for lunch. We weren’t any less welcome though; our waiter was very keen to practice his English on us. There’s loads of character to this trattoria: it’s rammed with chattering Italians, the plain wooden tables are packed close together and are topped with just a large piece of paper, and it’s clearly a family run place and I love it more for that. From this environment, we expected a home style lunch and we were not disappointed.

Ravioli was available the day we were there and we opted to split a dish of it to start. There was no indication of what the ravioli filling would be but it turned out to be ricotta and spinach between delicious thick homemade pasta sheets. We were given the option of meat sauce or tomato and basil with our ricotta and we chose the former. What came out was a tomato sauce and we found a telltale shred of tripe within it – I think this was the sauce from trippa alla romana! Waste not, want not. Fresh and delicious and a big portion too – six huge ravioli.

Ravioli

Inside a Raviolo

We split two second courses. The first was agnello alla cacciatora, lamb cooked with white wine, garlic, rosemary and anchovies too, I think. The meat was falling off the bone and the simple ingredients complemented that characteristic lamb flavour. Every bit of the sauce was sopped up with bread.

Agnello alla Cacciatora

Our second second course was straccetti con rucola, strips of beef with rocket leaves. Though plainly cooked, the beef was thin and tender and obviously of good quality and the rocket leaves added a peppery contrast to the robust meat. Again, we inhaled this.

Straccetti con Rucola

I couldn’t turn down dessert, not when they’re listed on the menu as “Dolci di Nonna Leda“. Oh yes, grandmother Leda was in charge! (And did I see her in the kitchen? There was a nonna in there…) A torta con pinoli to split again, please. It was a slice of sponge cake with thick pastry cream on top with a good layer of untoasted pine nuts. The Romans love their pine nuts but we were surprised to see most of them untoasted in desserts. But this untoastedness worked well with our light cake and cream – toasting would have made the pinenuts overwhelming.

Torta con Pinoli

We wondered why it took a while for our bill to come; it was because we actually needed some time from a waiter or waitress to recollect what we ate and to calculate our total bill on our paper tablecloth. We left after paying about €30, certainly good value eating. The place was absolutely rammed by the time we left so get there early!

Da Augusto
Piazza de’ Renzi, 15
00153 Rome, Italy

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