The word itself brings back memories of long, endless summers, old villages, the sound of the crickets in the midday sun, the blue sky and the stars Since I was 2, I have been spending my summer holidays in a small place called Villammare, located on the Gulf of Policastro, near the town of Sapri. Italians are usually familiar with the area, at least geographically, but foreigners hardly ever know where Cilento is located. Yet, you mention the Amalfi coast and everyone raves about it. Cilento is just next door, a further hour or so south from the bustling chaos of Napoli.
Apart from the beauty of the place, in its rugged mountain peaks and the vertical coastline all the way down to Maratea, the area is known for the food and recently, the wines too.
This year, I thought I would collect a few ‘bites’ of the Cilento gastronomy in the hope that some of my readers might one day wish to visit such a beautiful and under known location.
|Pizzette – home made|
Part of my holiday involves of course eating and cooking at home (but I am not the one doing the cooking!). The local markets sell plenty of ‘chilometro zero’ vegetables and I love eating things that I don’t usually find here. For example, I love the ‘talli‘ which are the leaves and the un-developed courgettes. Lightly fried in the pan, they are delicious.
Another big summer dish is ‘pizze fritte’. This used to be my grandma recipe.. calories aplenty but who’s counting now? They are soft, shallow fried in the pan, and either topped with fresh tomato sauce, basil and parmesan or filled with local salame (we use Cellitto) and ricotta.
|Seared Tuna – Locanda Marinara|
We usually tend to eat out at least once a day.
Sometimes we go ‘posh’
One of our favourite places is Locanda Marinara, by the Sapri marina. We’ve known the family forever, and despite the not exactly elegant location (debatable taste on the furnishing), the food is incredibly good. Gianfranco, the larger than life chef, uses locally fished catch and without too much pretentious preparation, serves up some fabulous plates such as Citrus Marinated Sea bream, Paccheri with fish Ragu and Courgette and Tuna sashimi pasta.
|Starters – Da Alfonso|
Sometimes going ‘posh’ doesn’t quite match up to the local standards. The Ghiottone in Policastro, one of the most established restaurants, seems to be overdoing it. On the prices as well as the food, it was a bit hit and miss. Panzanella entree was delicious but ‘Lasagnetta croccante’ was boring and heavy. My Crustaceans ragu, however steep at 15£, was very good.
Another interesting place we went is Alfonso, near Scario. This used to be a small grill near the Sapri cinema, but moved recently to new, massively large premises in the middle of nowhere and is targeted mainly to weddings and events. When we arrived, I was not too sure about the place, as it doesn’t seem to have a lot of personality and it’s absolutely huge but the food is of very high standards, from the local produce served as starter to the abundant mixed Grigliata I had as a main.
Yet my favourite posh meal this year has to be the one we had our last evening at Lazzarella in Sapri. Gorgeous location as it’s right on the beach overlooking Sapri bay, smart decor, great service. The food was a surprise, actually. Creative and full of flavours starters (such as tartare of salt cod and citrus), fantastic mains such as Fusilli with pancetta and smoked mozzarella and exceptionally good fillet steaks and tagliatas.
|Pasta al forno – La Rustica|
But it cannot all be posh, right? One evening we went back to Cantina ‘i Mustazzo, one of the long standing restaurants in Sapri’s main square. In the summer, they spill out onto the square and it’s always very pleasant eating here. It might not be the top of the gourmet Cilento, but the hand made, robust local food always delivers. Dishes such as Cavatielli with broccoli, courgette flowers filled with ricotta, grilled mutton, are always on the menu.
However, in terms of genuine, no fuss eating, our favourite is without a doubt la Rustica.
|Spaghetti alle Vongole – La Rustica|
This unpretentious, very local, restaurant has been cooking the same stuff for years but never fails to disappoint and for the prices they charge, is not to be missed. Pasta al Forno, Impepata di Cozze, Grilled cheese, Antipasti, Saute di Vongole and of course, the Spaghetti alle Vongole are all dishes that we never tire to eat here. Outdoor seating and a colourful owner make this one of our favourite experiences each summer.
|Cake by Orchidea|
It is also worth mentioning an ‘outsider’. In the small town of Montesano sulla Marcellana, near the motorway junction of Buonabitacolo, is the pastry laboratory and shop of Giuseppe Manilia, Orchidea. It is a bit show-offy on the interior, and decorated with opulent if not so stylish taste, but the glass windows display an array of amazing looking, creative, patisserie.
Using local ingredients and exotic touches, this master patissier produces very interesting cakes and tea cakes. We tasted a lot of different shapes and flavours, our favourite being an upmarket version of the Viennetta.
Fantastic! Shame he does not host a tea room as a good cup of tea would go really well with his pieces (how British do I sound?)
Finally, our friend Enzo Crivella – a point of reference for local foodies. We’ve known him since we were kids. He is the local rep for the Slow Food, and currently owns an ice cream parlour on the seaside (Crivella) and opposite, a smart, tea room called Chocolatera. Whether is for a morning coffee and croissant, a glass of prosecco before dinner or a digestif and a dessert, it’s a must, much like his ‘Sapresine’. Donut shaped local delicacies which went down a treat in my team in London, made by Saprese women using Cilentan honey, hazelnuts and white figs.
For another year, our summer break in Cilento is ended. While looking forward to next year, I am happy to share some of my foodie memories!