The places and people we love in Amalfi

Earlier in the year we returned to Amalfi to take copies of our new book  as gifts to the many wonderful local people who helped us while we researched the unique food of the region.
With the holidays coming up I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the places we would recommend should you visit the Amalfi coast this summer… Places where we enjoyed memorable meals and met equally memorable people.

Ristorante Il Pirata is my favourite restaurant it perched on the waters’ edge, with fresh fish, chilled local wine and with stunning views of the Mediterranean – what more could you want?  Rino the patron will give you a great welcome… tell him that we sent you.
Ristorante Il Pirata
Giovanni is the host at Il Giardiniello and serves up wonderful pizzas in a vine covered garden.
Il Giardiniello

Chef Patron Francesco serves the best local fish and anchovies try them deep fried.
Ristorante San Pietro
Andrea Pansa Pasticceria in Amalfi and Sal de Riso Pasticceria in Minori are must tries for the famous local patisserie.
Andrea Pansa Pasticceria
Sal de Riso Pasticceria

Run by a mother and daughter team, Chef Tanina cooks with a wonderful lightness of touch. Her food seems to melt in your mouth, try the smoked cheese gnocchi.
Next 2 Ristorante
Via Pasitea 242
84017Positano  (SA) Italia
Netta runs her family restaurant Cumpa’ Cosimo in a tiny back street away from the main square in Ravello. Make sure you book in advance her cooking is renowned and she champions Slow Food.
Cumpa’ Cosimo
Try to book a table on the terrace at Trattoria da Gemma and enjoy the Amalfi lemon and prawn risotto amongst other treats.
Trattoria da Gemma
Amalfi (SA)
Watch the sunset from the terrace at the 5 star San Pietro Hotel just outside Positano.

‘The Amalfi Coast – A Collection of Italian Recipes’  published by Hardie Grant is available here

Talking Turkey

It was a wet and dusky afternoon in October when I decided it was time to visit Sarah Copas at her free-range turkey farm. As we arrived at the farm we were greeted by the sight of several thousand birds pecking and running around in fields and my two bored boys (it was the school holidays) were immediately engaged. Sarah encouraged us to take a walk into the cherry orchards where most are kept. As we entered they ran up to us – they have the funniest run; their fat bellies swinging from left to right as they hop from one foot to another. (A little too like me at Wednesday night Zumba!). My sons shrieked with delight and to our astonishment the turkeys answered right back with the same pitch. We spent a good 20 minutes watching them and calling out to hear them answer.
If you wanted to eat poultry knowing it had enjoyed a good life then these birds would be the answer. They were happy, healthy and had a great deal of space to run around in including an area of maize to give them a feeling of safety and cover. Big barns provided straw bales for their natural roosting behaviour. At night two specially trained collie dogs are used to round them into barns.
So concerned are the Copas family that the birds are happy and well that at the time they were being trained to like fireworks (my visit was during the run up to Guy Fawkes). Each night a rocket or two was being set off so that November 5th wouldn’t be such a shock! Apparently when turkeys are startled they can fall over and once on their backs cannot get up again.
I came home having had a fantastic time and bought a turkey too. At 5.8 kilos it took around 2 ½ hours to cook. It even came with a popper to tell you when it is ready.
These birds have a superb taste because Sarah and her family leave them to grow up to 7 months old (compared to an average turkey which is only two months old.) During this time they develop a layer of fat which means they don’t need to be basted at all and yet the meat remains juicy and succulent. The maturity of the turkey also means they have more meat on them so they go a lot further. Mine provided five meals for a family of five.
Sarah Copas on her free-range turkey farm
Specialist pluckers are bought in to hand pluck each bird hence the occasional little black stub left behind. These crispen on cooking and can simply be brushed away but it was this pathetically slight negativity that stopped the bronze turkey being farmed from the late 60’s to the early 90’s when the white feathered bird was more fashionable. As interest in free-range meat increased in the 90’s the bronze turkey began to increase in popularity again as it became synonymous with being reared outside. Sarah’s mother, Brenda, has developed her tried and tested methods of cooking which I followed. It was very straight forward and recommended cooking the turkey upside down to begin with.  She also explains how to make gravy from the giblets and an easy stuffing. Her recipes and other information arrive with the turkey and are also available on their site
Being a frugal cook, after our sumptuous traditional roast turkey, we enjoyed the remaining turkey in another five ways:- cold with bubble and squeak, with broccoli, ginger and noodles in chow mien, with tomato and cheese in cannelloni, with onions and spices in curry and of course stock for minestrone.
Sarahs free-range turkeys
Turkey cannelloni
Use leftover cold turkey for filling cannelloni tubes. Put a mixture of white and dark meat into a food processor or chop by hand until you have fine mince. Add to this one egg, a handful of soft white breadcrumbs, a handful of grated Parmesan, good pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper. If the mixture seems a little dry add a dash of milk. Fill dried cannelloni tubes with the mixture using a piping bag. Lay these into a lasagne dish. Pour over tomato and béchamel sauces, grate over some more Parmesan and bake for 20 minutes at 180oC or until cooked through.

Our fight for the fish in our seas – our journey into sustainability

The world’s ocean larder is under threat and campaigns like Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall’s ‘Fish Fight’ and now Project Ocean at Selfridges have bought issues such as overfishing and discard once more to the public eye. It seems we can all do more to protect the ocean environment and prevent whole species from extinction by sourcing our fish in a different, more sustainable way. I decided to go on my own fishy adventure to find out more.
It’s all about searching out fish that has been responsibly caught, seeking out species that are not over fished and eating them in the correct season.

Is size important

There is always a lot of talk about the weight and size of the fish. The reason for this is that this ensures maturity of fish, for example a cod should be fully grown before it is caught to allow it to have spawned. Being sure of provenance is key and that’s why I started my journey by visiting the people on the front line…

The fishermen

Back in February Giancarlo and I, with our two boys, went down to Hastings and Eastbourne where we met local fisherman and saw dabs, whiting and flounder being landed. These species are sustainable but overlooked when it comes to the big hitters of cod, seabass and haddock. I returned two weeks with the Sustainable Restaurant Association to Hastings with Mario, one of our chefs, to see around the market, talk to more fishermen and fish cognoscenti. This time, only a month later the fish had changed, dabs were still abundant but now cuttlefish and mackerel were prevalent. Because of high winds and their small boats the fishermen hadn’t been out the night before so the market was almost empty bar the dabs and cuttlefish. It’s so obvious but it’s not something I had considered before that you just cannot get fish when you want, sustainable or not. The fishermen we spoke to were disheartened generally, reduced quotas, the ridiculous discard law and little help had rendered fishing a pretty awful job in Hastings and young people were simply not joining the workforce of local fishermen. I would dearly love to help but as France pays more for the fish than we do they don’t send the fish to Billingsgate or anywhere in London, instead it goes to the fish market in Boulogne. It would be easier for us to get fish from Cornwall as they have better established links to London but as a Sussex girl I would love to support my home county.
Giancarlo took a trip to Mercea island in April also with the Sustainable Restaurant Association where he saw hand harvested oysters from the beds around. Oysters and their opulent meatiness have been enjoyed for centuries in Britain and after his trip Giancarlo often puts them on the menu at Bray.
A few weeks later we were in Suffolk where we saw line caught cod being landed and spoke to fishermen about the best way to buy our fish. They felt there were plenty of cod out there but if they were fished using unsustainable methods ie nets they would be further endangered, put other species at risk and damage the marine environment. So the message is if we really want to eat cod we should insist on them being line-caught.

Buy local

Obviously if you live near the coast then to buy direct from local small boat fishermen is the ideal but if not then look for a fish merchant who can give you the full provenance of the fish you’re buying… some even down to the name of the boat that landed it and its Captain!

Eat fish in season and be prepared for an empty net.

We then took a rather frenetic trip to Cromer on the North Norfolk coast to enjoy some juicy local crab only to find that the crab season hadn’t started yet which brings up the point of seasonality. It’s a no brainer really why not wait until sweet juicy crab from Cromer or Brixham is available on the market than open a tin of crab from Thailand? The answer is in the taste as well as the fact you can eat our indigenous crab with a clear conscience too!
Most recently we took a lovely trip down to Lyme Regis in Dorset where we fished for first of the season mackerel and came back with empty keep nets empty… but then again we’re good a cooking fish just not catching it.
Back at our restaurants I met with our fishmonger Craig where he basically told us that to benefit the most from sustainable British fish we should introduce “Catch of the Day” where the best of what has just been landed that day can feature on our menus and we can react to what is available. So watch out for our catch of the day blackboards at the Caffe and Giancarlo and Gregorio’s changing fish dishes at Caldesi in Campagna in Bray.
I’ve included some simple recipes with sustainable fish in our current Caldesi newspaper. I’ll keep updating this as the season’s fish change, this weekend we are off to Puglia so I hope to come back with some great new recipes to share. I remember raw fish dishes being popular on my last visit there so we will see…..

Beautiful Venice

I have just come back from Venice where we had the scariest white knuckle ride in a water taxi to the airport through the aqua-alta – the all too common flooding that occurs.  However it didn’t mar the experience of being there though.  Surely Venice is the prettiest city in the world.  Winter is a great time of year to go, we had two days of sunshine and blue skies and only one of rain and there were hardly any tourists.  I am glad I took a pair of wellies to combat the flooding but nothing spoils the staggering charm waiting round each corner.
For breakfast we stopped at Pasticiera Rosa Salva near Piazza San Marco.  I had a strange little dome of vanilla soaked sponge with sultanas, delicious with a proper cappuccino.   At Carnevale time they have crispy doughnuts filled with Marsala custard called Fritelle allo zabaglione which at 1euro each are irresistible.

For food I would recommend Ristorante Carpaccio in Riva Schiavoni.  It is a small family run restaurant owned by Abruzzeze so the menu has Venetian classics but also a chilli-hot lamb ragù typical of Abruzzo. Then you can’t go wrong at La Madonna near the Rialto bridge.  It’s busy and bustling with loads of white coated waiters serving mainly Venetians rather than tourists.  I love it and especially the squid cooked in its ink, black, startling and so tasty I could have had thirds.  Also the risotto frutti di mare, just pure comfort food when you come inside from the wintery air.  Finish the meal with a “sgroppino” a delicious sweet drink of lemon sorbet, vodka and Prosecco.
Went to Harry’s Bar but didn’t really enjoy paying 15 Euro for a Bellini, it tasted great but is any drink worth that much especially in half-empty bar.  Better still, stand up with the locals in one of the plentiful little corner bars where made-with-love-and-care tramezzini (sandwiches) tempt you and glasses of local wines.  When are our sandwich bars going to do raddichio, speck and chopped egg or preserved chiodini mushroom and mayo?

We are going to celebrate Carnevale big time at our restaurants in February so look out for our menus, costumed staff and general sense of partying.  I am also doing a Splendours of Venice cookery class inspired by my trip and Giancarlo is throwing a Venetian Masked Dinner in Caldesi in Campagna.  For further details see

Little Italy

I wrote this piece a while ago after a visit to New York but redid the recipe just recently and loved it so thought I would share it!  I am doing a demo at Vintage Goodwood on August 15th at 4pm and will be making the 70’s dish of Chicken in a Basket, similar to this in that it is breaded chicken – something I think will be popular in some form for millennia.
We visited New York and went to see Little Italy in Lower Manhattan.  It was started by the massive influx of Italian immigrants in the 19th century who were escaping great poverty at home.  They “escaped” however to dreadful conditions of overcrowding in the dumbbell apartments where natural light never made it to the lower floors.  Tuberculosis and other diseases were rife but despite that the Italians created a new version of their homeland preserving their traditions and language.
Little Italy was nearly six times bigger than its current size before the Italians started moving out to the more comfortable suburbs of Bronx and Queens.  There are still the stubborn few who cling onto their tenement apartments and talk about the old days when each street “belonged” to a different region.  We met an old man in a patisserie who told us that there were different streets for the Pugliese, Calabrians and Sicilians.  In those streets you heard only the dialect language of those regions.
A couple of deli’s and patisseries are still there which look and feel like the real thing selling Italian products with knowledge and pride.  The few remaining restaurants however are touristy and are run by Americans with distant Italian heritage or Mexicans who sport the Italian colours.  Neighbouring Chinatown is expanding and maybe one day Little Italy will be gone forever from its original position but the strength of feeling in the immigrant Italian families has not diminished and I believe Little Italy’s all over the world will be continued for a very long time to come.
Chicken Parmegian’
Recipes evolve and mutate when immigrants recreate them in new countries sometimes with great results.  I was given this dish, typical of Little Italy, to try by an American family and it was delicious, in fact I had about four helpings it was so good so I learnt the recipe and here it is.
Serves 4

  • 2 skinless chicken breasts,
  • 1 egg, beaten in a shallow dish
  • 100g fine breadcrumbs
  • 50ml olive oil
  • Half a litre of tomato pasta sauce, preferably homemade
  • 1 x 125g balls of Mozzarella di Buffala, cut into eight slices
  • 50g Parmesan, finely grated
  • A few basil leaves as a garnish
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the grill to its hottest setting. Using a sharp knife, open out each chicken breast and put them between two sheets of cling film.  Bash them out evenly to 1cm thickness using a meat tenderiser or the base of a small saucepan.  Cut each piece into two.  Warm the tomato sauce in a small pan.
Season the chicken breasts, dip them in beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs to coat them on both sides.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan and then fry the chicken on both sides until golden brown and cooked through.  Set aside on kitchen paper to drain.
Arrange the chicken on a baking tray and pour over the tomato sauce in a thick stripe across the middle of the chicken pieces.  Lay two slices of Mozzarella over each portion and then scatter over the Parmesan.  Grill for five to ten minutes until the cheese starts to brown and bubble.  Lift each chicken piece onto a serving plate and garnish with black pepper and a few basil leaves.  Serve with salad and crusty bread.
If you would like to make your own tomato sauce here are two ideas for fresh – only when tomatoes are at their ripest and plumpest and bursting with flavour – and the tinned tomato sauce recipe when tomatoes smell of nothing but the plastic they are wrapped in.
Passata al Pomodoro
Fresh Tomato Passata
The double cooking of this tomato sauce gives it such an intense and sweet flavour, it’s worth the effort.  However only do this sauce with really ripe flavourful tomatoes.
First stage

  • 2.5 kg of fresh tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 sprigs of basil, left intact

Second stage

  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt
  • 10 g sugar, optional depending on the natural sweetness of the tomatoes
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

For the first stage, add the tomatoes and basil to the pan. Cover the pan and leave to simmer for about ½ hour shaking the pan frequently to make sure the tomatoes don’t stick before they have released their juices. Remove the basil and pass the sauce through a passetutto, food mill or seive until you are just left with the skins and pips which can be discarded.  The other option is simply to use a stick blender and whiz up the tomatoes, skins and all.
For the second stage, heat the oil in the pan and add the red onion and garlic.  Cook for around five minutes or until soft.  Then add the passed tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer.  Skim off any scum that occurs on the surface and cook for half an hour.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and sugar as necessary.  Any leftover tomato sauce can be kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen.
Franca’s Tomato Passata
Passata al Pomodoro di Franca
The quintessential tomato passata is as much a part of the Italian kitchen as good stock. A ladleful is needed frequently to enrich a sauce or soup or to serve with pasta for a fast lunch. This is the simplest tomato passata I came across on my travels. If you like garlic, add some and remove with the vegetables before blitzing.
Serves 6

  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 celery sticks, broken in half
  • 1 carrot, cut into half lengthways
  • 1 red onion, peeled and cut in half
  • 3 large sprigs of basil
  • 1.2kg Italian tinned whole plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar, optional
  • Salt

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Briefly fry all the vegetables and basil in the hot oil then add the tinned tomatoes. Season with salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much time you have: the longer you can leave it the more concentrated the flavour. Stir regularly, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Remove the flavouring vegetables and basil and purée the tomatoes in a blender or food processor. (or leave the vegetables in the sauce if you prefer and blend). Add a little sugar if necessary.