The bang of fireworks sounded as though they were going off in our bedroom as my son and I bid farewell to Ferragosto 2017. My husband was already off to work at a nightclub in Ischia, Italy. There, tourists and natives alike would keep up the celebration until the wee hours of the morning. Dancing too close. Drinking too much. Celebrating just enough.
A Delicious Start to Ferragosto 2017
But before the holiday could be over, it had to begin. In Italy, the start of every celebration is all about the food. Tourists who visit the island for Ferragosto, Aug. 15, can expect the hotel to go all out. Restaurants are also keen on marking the occasion. My husband works for the 4-star Hotel Continental Mare, so he graciously took photos of the spread and scene for us. This way, you can see just how to launch a holiday that is a mix of secular and religious sentiment with just a touch of indulgence. Just look at that carved squash with sunflowers splashed across it.
Ah Salute! Cheers!
A flower of a watermelon graces the banquet table holding glasses waiting to be filled with refreshing drinks. I can only imagine the wine was flowing. But what strikes me most about the picture is what gets me every time in Ischia. That view of the sea and greenery all around combined with that ocean perfume transports your being. The divine beauty is intoxicating. There is nothing more to say.
One of the most delightful aspects of any Italian meal is antipasto. This precursor to the meal always offers lovely little surprises. Italians often call it “sfizioso.” It literally translates to “delicious,” but it’s more than that. The word refers to the food being more than delectable. It suggests it is addictive. Indeed, often antipasto can be like a drug – at least for me. And I can make an entire meal of it. I’m not a wine drinker, but I live among them. They all love to pair their vino with the littlest bites. Certainly, antipasto is the perfect way to kick off a party.
Ship as centerpiece is a fitting decoration on the island of Ischia. This table brought guests the treasures of the sea. Ischia is famous for its coniglio Ischitano, a rabbit dish that many a native family eats every Sunday. But it is an island, so the seafood is must-eat as well. These are the freshest clams, mussels, octopus, etc. you’ll ever eat. Seriously, I dream about the stuff when I’m not here. That’s not an exaggeration. Aaaah, now you want to sail away to Ischia. You with me?
NOTE FROM EDITOR: My husband works for Hotel Continental Mare, and he was working when he took the photos. I just want readers to know that this is not an objective review or anything close to that. This is merely an opportunity to see the preparation for the Ferragosto celebration and the beauty of the hotel’s view and its offerings. Not bad, eh?
Biting into Ischia Italy peaches is like tasting a little piece of Heaven. That sounds like an exaggeration. But words can hardly describe the sweetness of the fruits you’ll find on this little island off the coast of Naples. Indeed, the island is known as L’Isola Verde or The Green Island for its lush vegetation. All around you in Ischia, you see green hills and the emerald sea. The island is an inactive volcano. As a result, its naturally thermal soil and waters draw tourists. But it’s the soil that counts when growing delectable fruits and vegetables.
What You’ll Find Here to Eat
As a result, you won’t want to miss these peaches. Lots of people eat them just like this. There are actually three varieties in the photo – red, yellow, and white peaches. Another favorite way to enjoy them is in Italian wine, which soaks in the fridge all day. Then, natives drink the wine with dinner and eat the peaches for dessert. I think of it as Italian sangria.
But peaches are not the only stars of the summer season. Soon, you will also find figs, which pair nicely with prosciutto. It’s a good alternative to cantaloupe and prosciutto, which has become popular even Stateside in recent years. In the early summer, the natives enjoy apricots. They’re actually a pretty big deal around here and seem to be much more available than in New Jersey, the Garden State. You won’t find many blueberries. But wild strawberries and frutta di bosco (fruit of the woods) are widely available in early summer. When fall hits, the grapes become abundant. With the grape harvest comes winemaking, which is actually quite celebratory here. People gather for picnic meals and to harvest the grapes. They call it the vendemmia, and it’s like a holiday around here.
Fresh mozzarella, as Americans know it, is not even close to the real thing. For starters, it is sold in plastic wrap in the refrigerated section of your supermarket or deli. The real stuff comes in a double plastic bag and is filled with water that turns white from the milk leaking from the mozzarella. It’s nothing like the traditional mozzarella (think Pollyo string cheese and the like) used in the United States.
How to Tend to Your Fresh Mozzarella
You’re never supposed to refrigerate it. First, you open the bag and pour its entire contents into a bowl. It sits in the liquid. Then, the bowl remains on your table or counter until you finish eating it. Some Italians (myself included) own a special ceramic bowl. It is a regular bowl on the bottom, but the cover looks like a half moon. It sits on top of the bowl, so that you can see the drowning mozzarella underneath. The half moon cover has holes in it to drain the liquid when you lift the mozzarella on top to cut it. Many of these bowls are handmade and hand painted. Mine comes from Ischia, of course, and it features the island’s famous lemons.
Eat It Fast
Now, the mozzarella won’t taste fresh unless you eat it right away. You risk the mozzarella souring if it is left out too long. If it gets less than fresh, most Italians will put it in the fridge and then use it to cook. They’ll add it to baked pasta or la parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana). Frankly, any recipe that calls for melting mozzarella is going to include the fresh stuff. That other stuff we call mozzarella does not exist here. Indeed, the fresh mozzarella is a big difference between pizza in Italy and pizza in the United States, even New York.
Truthfully, however, most pieces of fresh mozzarella never make it to the point of souring. They’re just too irresistible. When you cut into one of those big balls of fresh mozzarella, the milkiest cream oozes out. The texture is soft and even somewhat creamy. And the taste is slightly sweet with a touch of tang. It is best served on its own with a hunk of bread. Or you can pair it with deli meats, such as prosciutto crudo. Of course, the most popular way to eat fresh mozzarella is in a Caprese salad. This is a salad of fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, and salt.
Where Does It Come From?
Also, in the United States, we classify mozzarella as cheese. In Italy, it is not considered cheese exactly. It’s in a class by itself. Many distinguish between mozzarella and cheese, in fact. The best fresh mozzarella is believed to come from the Campania region, specifically Naples. Artisans make the fresh mozzarella largely by hand, and it’s truly considered an art.
In the United States, at least in the Northeast, you can pick up some decent fresh mozzarella in Italian specialty stores. I hear it’s near authentic at Eataly. Also, local Italian American delis often make the real fresh stuff. Personally, I can attest to the authenticity of what you’ll pick up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Still, most of the time what you’re getting is a cow’s milk based fresh mozzarella. Occasionally, it’s the real deal with buffalo’s milk.
Another Story in Italy
See, mozzarella in Italy comes from buffalo’s milk, not cow’s milk. In fact, you’ll read “mozzarella di bufala” on the package. There are some variations worth sampling. You can get smoked fresh mozzarella, known as mozzarella fumigata. Or you can taste fior di latte (flower of milk) mozzarella, which offers the same creamy, milky deliciousness. But it comes from cow’s milk. Often, this version comes braided and is therefore known as treccia. Whichever version you choose, it’s all delicious.
Ristorante Bar Dai Tu’ is a small eatery perched over the sea on the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples in Italy. Located in Ischia Porto, the island’s capital, the restaurant offers delicious seafood in an ultra romantic setting. I would love to inform you about price. But this is southern Italy, where the prices are never set in stone. If you know the owner, you pay one price. If you don’t, you pay another. That’s just the truth. Still, from what I’ve gathered no one has ever been gouged here. So, we can call it affordable. Whatever you call it, you’ll be calling the food delicious.
Essence of Romance
See those lights in the photo? That is the restaurant. It looks like a tiny shack, but it’s absolutely charming. The inside features an arched doorway to the kitchen and long farm tables. But the luckiest diners score a table on the terrace outside. The lovely breeze and the view of the sea make Ischia all the more alluring. I was there with my husband, his entire family, and our son. But my sister-in-law had been there with her husband for their anniversary and raved about the pumped up romance level, especially when seated outside. The nice part is that some “romantic” restaurants are elitist. Or they’re so fancy that you feel uncomfortable. This is not like that at all. The restaurant is casual and beachy, so it does not come off as stuffy at all.
See the Seafood
Of course, the best part of the restaurant is the food you are served. Seafood in Ischia is hard to beat. It’s super fresh since this is an island. It never has that fishy smell or taste like you sometimes experience in the United States. At this restaurant, you can experience the sea’s treasures and a touch of sweetness to boot. You won’t be disappointed. Discover the plates my group sampled:
Shellfish is my absolute favorite whenever I’m visiting Ischia. The best way to eat it, in my opinion, is in “saute.” This is when the juice from the shellfish, white wine, olive oil, and some seasoning, including garlic come together to form a broth. The mussels and/or clams sit atop a shallow pool of this broth. And there are always pieces of grilled, crusty bread adjoining them. I’ve shared with friends visiting the island; they always tell me they want to drink vats of the stuff. It’s seriously addicting. When I’m not in Ischia, I dream about it. This version at Dai Tu’ was one of the best I’ve had.
Served still warm, the octopus are boiled to make them soft for this salad. I’ve had this kind of salad cold, too, which is just as delicious. This warm version was doused with olive oil and lemon. The ruchetta (known to Americans as arugula) was particularly spicy, which was a nice contrast to the mild octopus.
This plate of fried fish was the very reason we headed to this restaurant. One of the people with us was having a craving. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of fried fish with “spina,” bones. And I don’t really know how to clean these fish well. So, I mostly steered clear of this dish. But it included a few types of fish, including merluzzo, a mild white fish popular on the island. My husband enjoyed this dish and gave me a few bites of his. It was truly delicious, especially with a spurt of lemon. It made the flavor pop.
Normally, these kinds of eateries disappoint when it comes to dessert. After all, the emphasis is on the fish. The sweets are an afterthought. But this place has it all. For starters, the presentation is gorgeous. The light, fluffy cheesecake is served in a bowl made of cookie crust. Then it is topped with homemade sorbet and sauce. I believe it was a wild berry sorbet and topping. Everyone at the table was envious of those of us who ordered this.
It was divine. The sorbet was refreshing and cut into the sweetness of the creamy cake. That bit of crunch from the crust was just perfect. Others at the table ordered tiramisu (in a cup) and panna cotta. They were all satisfied with their dessert, but I focused on the cheesecake. I didn’t even feel the need to taste the others. It was the cherry – err, wild berry – on top of a delicious night.
In Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples, these one of these “drumsticks” is called a “bacio.” Woop! Woop! Bacio is the Italian word for kiss. Smooches to summer! Inside the chocolate shell and various toppings is hazelnut gelato.
Shellfish is popular in many Italian restaurants. In Italy and abroad, you will find popular dishes, such as linguine con le vongole (linguine with clams). Or you might prefer shrimp fra diavolo, which is a little spicy. When you order one of these beauties in Italy, be prepared for judgment. Everyone agrees that shellfish is divine there, especially in southern Italy. But there are rules for eating it. And many foreigners, especially Americans, are clueless about them. Discover what you need to know before sitting down at a restaurant:
Fresh Is the Best
What makes these dishes so delectable in Italy is the freshness. As Americans, we are often getting fish the restaurant manager bought at the Restaurant Depot. It’s fine and all. But when I’m in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples that is home of my ancestors and husband, I’m seeing my meal get plucked from the ocean moments before it is cooked and served. Italians prioritize fresh, seasonal food. You’re going to get fish that’s native to the area, and it will have been alive shortly before it was plated. You will notice the difference immediately. If there is a fishy smell or fishy taste, it is not fresh. This means you should not eat it. If the clams or mussels are still closed after their little friends have magically opened during cooking, you should toss them.
Spare the Salt
Whenever I’m watching a cooking show in the United States, I notice chefs are heavy handed with the salt. That’s not the case in Italy. Many seafood dishes – especially if the fish is coming from the already salty ocean – require little to no salt. If you dare use salt, keep it to a pinch. Shellfish usually doesn’t require any.
No Cheese Please
This is the one that really trips up Americans. We are quick to put Parmigiano cheese (or whatever is passing for Parmigiano at the supermarket) on any pasta. Italians believe it is sacrilege to put cheese on a shellfish dish. In fact, when my cousin ordered linguine con vongole in Italy, the waiter famously refused to give him cheese to top it. Oh yeah, he told him, “No way, mister!” If you want to avoid getting your hand slapped, you won’t even ask for it. However, a few intrepid chefs in Ischia have recently added a few Parmigiano shavings to a dish of pasta with mussels and zucchini. It’s not bad. For the most part, though, the cheese on shellfish is still off limits. The belief is that it destroys or hides the taste of the fresh shellfish. When it’s straight from the ocean, you won’t need the cheese. Promise.
Never Mess with Shrimp
Americans are all about cleanliness. We buy already cleaned shrimp, usually frozen in a bag. We never see the shrimp with their heads still attached. Ewwww! Right? But Italians are distinctly different. They don’t mind the mess of cleaning the shrimp at the table while eating. Indeed, cooking the shrimp with skin on and head attached makes for a tastier dish, they say. You’ll see the eyes and everything. But after you cut off the head and remove the skin, you’ll take a bite. And you won’t be disappointed. Many Italians suck the juice out of the head, in fact. I’m not a big fan of that practice. I’m too American, I guess. Still, I never complain about fully clothed shrimp anymore. It’s too delicious to argue.
Only Lemon for the Fried Stuff
While Americans only seem to eat calamari fried, they are at least indulging in one of southern Italy’s finest ingredients. But they serve the things with red tomato sauce and lemon. Sometimes, there are other dips and doodads surrounding the calamari. Often, there are far too many ingredients in the batter, too. Italians usually just cover the calamari in flour and some light seasoning, such as parsley, before frying. An Italian restaurant in Italy is never going to serve you red tomato sauce on the side of your calamari. The waiter will just bring out lemon to squirt on them. Again, when you are eating fresher food, you don’t need all that other stuff to cover up the natural flavors. Besides, the lemons of southern Italy are usually also exceptional, so you won’t miss getting saucy.
Gomorrah is riveting. It’s not because of the thrilling storyline. That certainly helps. But it’s because of the profound characterizations of each personality in the show. Every viewer naturally gets to be an armchair psychologist. At this – the midway point of season 2 – you start to wonder if all the main characters are really the same person, just at different stages of life. Then, you start to think that the war they’re all having with each other is really just symbolic of the internal struggle we all face as we grow older. Sorry, but I had to wax philosophical. It’s the only way to live with what I’m seeing on screen. Believe me, you have to live with what you see. It’s like a scar on your memory that you can’t scrub away.
Still, watching is holding up a mirror to your face. It’s looking closely at every line and flaw and stray hair. It’s admitting there was a reason so many of our families ran from southern Italy, made lives elsewhere, and never looked back. Every once in a while, that’s important. Episodes 5 and 6 immediately addressed food and family, the driving forces of everything that happens in Italy.
La Fame Is the Plight That Leads to Destruction
“Fame” means “hunger” in Italian. My husband says “la fame” is what hooks even seemingly innocent people into the disgusting life of the Camorra, the mafia in Naples. In the last episode of Gomorrah, which focused on Italy’s obsession with religion, you saw drug dealers smashing statues of the Madonna to get to their stashes. In this one, you see the dealers opening pineapples to get to the drugs. And the old man, Don Aniello, is eating an apple as he oversees them. He talks about how much he likes fruit.
The fruit is highly symbolic and sets the tone for the rest of the episode. The warring families now run by Ciro and Gennaro (and perhaps to some extent his father Pietro Savastano) have to find peace, so money begins to flow into their neighborhood in Naples again. Until then, the people are forced to live with la fame.
In various scenes, throughout both episodes, you see the ups and downs of the drug business symbolized by full dishes of pasta on the table. Don Pietro throws his dish of pasta across the room in an uproar over his son taking over their mafia family. You see Ciro and Rosario (the Dwarf) eating spaghetti with tomato sauce contemplating the future of the “dogs,” old friends of Gennaro’s who are still wet behind the ears and trying to play both sides. These junior mafiosi – Trak, Little Bird, and Bomber – are hungry for money. They live in a shack of an apartment that looks like a jail cell only grimier. They speak of the people starving in light of current events with the mob families.
Let Them Eat Spaghetti
The trio act out by viciously robbing people at different points in the show. They clear out an entire apartment building to claim it as their own place to deal drugs. The bookie is making tomato sauce when Trak comes to shoot him in the head. In the end, the trio betrays their old friend Gennaro, who comes unarmed to woo them back to his side. They shoot and kill Angelino and injure Malamore, confidants of Gennaro’s father. But they refrain from killing Gennaro as per the agreement the two sides made with Don Aniello. At the end of the sixth episode, “the dogs” are still holed up in that prison of an apartment. But with their guns by their side for fear of retribution, they are finally eating. They too have dishes of spaghetti with tomato sauce in front of them.
That dish – spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce – is poignant. After all, that is the most basic of meals for an Italian. It is representative of the bare necessities. Being able to have that is why so many people in Naples and the rest of hungry southern Italy are willing to put up with the atrocities of the Camorra. It feeds them.
Father and Son, Papa’ e Figlio
In the Sopranos, you always had the feeling that Tony wanted a different life for A.J. You got the sense, in fact, that he wished his father had wanted better for him, too. In Gomorrah, on the other hand, you get the feeling that Pietro wants Gennaro to be more like him and that he doesn’t want this criminal life enough. Pietro meets with his son at a store that sells bombonieri, favors for Italian events, such as weddings and baptisms. He explains to Gennaro that he bought 500 statues of the Madonna (of Mount Carmel) as the bombonieri for his son’s baptism. It was what his late wife wanted to thank the Madonna for the miracle she gave to them – a baby boy. Pietro tells Gennaro that his mother wasn’t supposed to be able to have children. And his Nonno wanted Pietro to find another woman because the Savastano crime family needed a male heir. Pietro was in love and insisted on marrying Genny’s mother. That’s why they were rewarded with him.
Of course, then he described how he has let him down. He feels as though Ciro and Co. are attempting to humiliate him, and his son is going along with it. After all, Ciro asked to have a meeting with him about peace, not Don Pietro. By now, Gennaro has abandoned his father to Naples (as his father wished). He is living a new life with his girlfriend, whose father works with Don Aniello in Rome. He has impressed the Romans with the cocaine supply he has coming from Honduras. His reign seems to be apparent.
Raising Children in this Sinister World
At the same time, viewers are seeing Ciro’s 10-year-old daughter for the first time since he killed her mother. She is watching her father pack to leave for this meeting with Gennaro. She tells him that the new house doesn’t feel like home because the old house made it seem as though her mother was still with her. His face looks pained. He hugs her and tells her it will take time to get used to the old place. Once he arrives at the hotel, he speaks with his daughter on the phone and they express how much they miss one another. It’s one of the few times you see a loving side to this cold, calculated murderer.
Not long after that Gennaro sneaks up on Ciro in his hotel room. He seems like he might finally kill him, which is what his father told him to do when he sent a gun made with a 3-D printer. (Oh yeah, technology is revolutionizing crime syndicates, too.) Ciro tells him to shoot already because he’s sick of this life and of himself. He explains that he used his own two hands to kill “Debora mia,” his wife. Gennaro asks how he explained the death of his wife to his daughter. Ciro says that’s his business and to just shoot him. Instead, Gennaro throws the gun at him and says, “Remember this as the day I could have killed you but I didn’t.”
Letting Go of Your Babies
The next day, they sign off on the peace treaty, which includes Ciro’s team buying drugs from Gennaro’s people, in front of Don Aniello. Ciro returns home and spoons his sleeping daughter in one of the few images of love apparent in this series. The agreement also has Don Pietro and his few henchmen imprisoned in one little part of town. This sends Don Pietro into a rage. Gennaro had previously told his father that their real problem was he never trusted him. Now, Gennaro was getting the family business in order – not to mention having saved his father’s life in Germany.
Patrizia, Don Pietro’s messenger, says, “My father always said, ‘Young children need you to give them milk. Grown up children need you to give them trust.'” Don Pietro agrees that he will give Gennaro trust. He tells his men to follow the rules. This works out until Gennaro’s meeting with Trak, Little Bird, and Bomber ends with two of Pietro’s henchmen shot. Then, he says his son’s words don’t mean anything anymore. We’re left to wonder what their divisions will mean for the extended mob family.
Lavazza, one of the big coffee companies in Italy, is promising to bring imagination to the country’s restaurant scene while invigorating its hometown. Its new headquarters in Torino, which is slated to open at the end of 2017, is more than mere office; it’s also a destination for visitors. One of the biggest draws is CONDIVIDERE by Lavazza, a restaurant that is aiming to change the way people think about food and eating. Lavazza announced the restaurant concept early in March, so there are still few specific details. Learn about what we know so far:
Coffee to Jolt the Experience
Appropriately, coffee will take the main stage in the Lavazza restaurant. “Lavazza is strongly committed to creating a new restaurant where the coffee experience is at the forefront of every dish, making it a unique concept found nowhere else,” according to the press release. There is little explanation of what this means. But am I wrong to imagine coffee rubs on meat or espresso in desserts or even a hint of coffee in a pasta dish? I’ve had a gourmet meal in Ischia, where chocolate was used in a pasta sauce, and it was surprisingly delicious. Maybe Lavazza could make coffee and pasta – among Italy’s main food groups – marry and live happily ever after. Who am I to judge? Lavazza is, after all, the company that gave us coffee caviar. True story.
Lavazza Hires an Experienced Team
Chef Ferran Adrià
Interestingly, Chef Ferran Adrià, who co-created the concept for the restaurant, isn’t Italian. He’s Spanish. More than celebrity chef, Adrià was called a “gastronomic genius” by The New York Times. During his time as head chef of elBulli, which Restaurant Magazine named as world’s best restaurant five times from 2002 to 2009, according to the Times, he helped people reimagine food. Americans would know him as the guy who turned food into foam and made that a thing in foodie circles. When he shut the doors of his restaurant in 2011, people wondered why. It might have been money troubles and family in-fighting or it could have been the desire to avoid repeating himself; you can decide for yourself after reading the Times article. Either way, Lavazza now has him helping it, presumably to reimagine how people consume coffee and the traditional dishes of Torino and its region.
Chef Federico Zanasi
Federico Zanasi is the chef at the helm, however. Italy’s La Stampa described Zanasi as “giovane e brillante,” which means “young and brilliant.” He comes from Hotel Principe delle Nevi, a five-star restaurant in Cervinia, which is alpine resort territory known for skiing. Indeed, Zanasi is the chosen one. Adrià, who had worked with him, according to La Stampa, selected him for the job. The restaurant is already promoting its commitment to “food democracy,” an idea that has galvanized many Americans recently but has long been a part of the Italian culture. Basically, it’s a belief that food should be food without chemicals or byproducts. Everything should be fresh. But it’s not just about being healthy; it’s also about making everything delicious in its simplicity.
Set Designer Dante Ferretti
The trifecta of greatness would be incomplete without the set designer, three-time Academy Award winner Dante Ferretti. He’s developing the interior of the restaurant. It will be urban, modern, and colorful, and will perfectly reflect Zanasi’s concepts for the menu, according to La Stampa. His Oscar-winning touch brought us The Aviator, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Hugo Cabret. Now, he’ll bring his vision to a place where people will gather to eat. The interior will undoubtedly be a showstopper, but it’s not just about looking at what’s around your own table. The place is going to be like a character, one can imagine. There will be movement. In fact, the press release explains that guests will actually move from one setting to another to enjoy different parts of the meal.
More Than Good Eats
The restaurant is more than a restaurant, of course. Yes, it’s also the Lavazza company headquarters. In addition, visitors will find the Lavazza Museum, which is being designed by Ralph Appelbaum, who designed the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Hall of Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History. A convention center and a farm-to-table dining hall for employees and students of the nearby Istituto d’Arte Applicata e Design (IADD) round out the offerings. Of course, a place like this wouldn’t be Italian if it didn’t include a “lush, green” piazza for people watching and gathering. There visitors will find artifacts from a 4th and 5th century A.D. paleo-Christian basilica that the company found during construction, according to the press release.
A Higher Purpose for Lavazza
Finally, the name of the restaurant, CONDIVIDERE, is significant. It means to share. This place is intended to be as much about new concepts in food as an affirmation of the human need to break bread together. Perhaps, Adrià put it best in his discussion with La Stampa, where he waxed philosophical about the place. “You will find a place in which you feel at ease and have the desire to be together,” he said, according to my translation. “The intention is to provide exceptional cuisine that brings to the forefront man’s need to socialize, share, and analyze what’s on the table in a show of love for food.” Now, that kind of thinking couldn’t be more Italian.