I was super excited to be visiting Italy again this summer after a gluttonous weekend in Milan in February. This time we packed our bags for the Amalfi Coast where the food, people and scenery are completely different from that of Northern Italy. We had already been to Sorrento a whole 7 years ago – eugh getting old – and eaten our weight in Neopolitan pizza, downed with shots of limoncello. This time we stayed in the smaller town of Positano, a little further down the coast.
Soon after arriving we went in search of a lemon granita to cool us down. Amalfi lemons grow all over the coastline and up to the size of footballs. As well as making their way into granita and limoncello there’s also a tasty local dish of grilled mozzarella with lemon leaves where the gooey cheese is perfumed with the lemon from the leaves. Absolutely delicious. After our granita (we liked the stall at the top of the pedestrianised part of town), it was time for a light lunch at La Pergola – a little restaurant on the seafront. We had a great insalata caprese and some arancini filled with a Milanese risotto and served with a rich tomato sauce. Not a bad start to a week away!
The best restaurants are slightly out of town in the hillside village of Montepertuso. Don’t let the out-of-town location put you off though because the restaurants will come and collect you in a minibus and drop you back… for free! You do have to endure the slightly hair-raising ride up the winding mountain roads, swerving Vespas, but it’s worth it for the food at the top. By far the best place we went to was La Tagliata. There’s no menu, just a set price of 35 Euros for an absolute feast. Everything is home grown and so the menu is adapted to what’s in season and to what Mamma and Nonna feel like cooking! After we were seated we were served a welcome bruschetta topped with home grown tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Such a simple dish but with Italian grown tomatoes and basil and local extra virgin olive oil, it’s raised to new delicious heights. Next came an antipasti platter filled with more goodies from the garden – a dish of fagioli beans, chickpeas and peas covered in herbs and oil along with some melanzane parmigiana, a dish of spinach, potatoes and rapa and a plate of homemade ricotta and mozzarella with parma ham. And then comes the obligatory pasta course! We were treated to an assortment of “Nonna’s special pasta”, porcini fusilli, ricotta ravioli and gnocchi. All delicious though naturally very filling and we hadn’t even got to our main course. Eeeek!
The name La Tagliata means ‘cut of meat’ so it’s no surprise that the main course is a full-on meat feast which would probably feed 4, not 2 people! Accompanied by crispy fries and a lovely dressed salad the meat platter overflowed with grilled pork, rabbit, steak, chicken and spicy sausage. It’s a serious case of the meat sweats by the time you’ve finished. The dessert was squeezed in just before we burst – another selection of homemade goodies – an almond cake, profiteer rolls and “Mamma’s cake”. With just enough space for a complimentary limoncello shot, we waddled out and bundled back onto the now very heavy minibus back down to Positano.
Sorry that this is fast becoming an aubergine blog but I can’t help being crazy-obsessed with them. But so are the Italians, so I’m in good company. The Amalfi coast is home to melanzane parmigiana, a layered dish of fried aubergines, passata and cheese which is baked until gooey. Tasty hot or cold, I can’t get enough of it.
– 4 aubergines
– 2 tbsps good olive oil or extra virgin olive oil
– 1 clove of garlic, crushed
– 1 anchovy fillet, chopped
– 3 cans peeled plum tomatoes
– Handful of fresh basil
– 12-16 tbsps olive oil
– 150g Parmesan, finely grated
– 1 ball of Mozzarella, chopped thinly
– Small handful of soft breadcrumbs
1. Trim the aubergines and slice them lengthways into 1cm slices.
2. Sprinkle the slices of aubergine fairly generously with table salt on both sides. Place into a colander and leave for 1 hour. This should take the bitterness out of the aubergines and will help them not to absorb too much olive oil when fried later on. After an hour, rinse the aubergines well so they won’t taste salty and pat dry with kitchen towel. Cover and leave to one side.
3. Now it’s time to make the tomato sauce for the Parmigiana. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on a medium to high heat. When warm, add in the chopped garlic. Fry for a minute or so which will allow the garlic to give off an aroma but won’t be enough to burn it (which tastes gross). Add in the chopped anchovy along with the tomatoes. Break the tomatoes up best you can with a wooden spoon. When the sauce starts to bubble, turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook like this for 30 minutes. A few minutes before the end of the cooking time, season with pepper (the anchovy will make the sauce salty enough) and tear in most of the basil leaves.
4. While the sauce is cooking, you can start frying the aubergine slices. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a frying pan on a medium-high heat. Fry the aubergine slices in batches until soft and golden on both sides. Although salted, the slices will soak up a lot of the oil so you’ll need to add a splash when the pan gets dry and another couple of tablespoons at the start of each batch you are frying. When cooked, set aside on some kitchen towel to drain.
5. Now comes the big build! First, preheat your oven to 190°/Gas Mark 5/375°F. Take an ovenproof dish and place a couple of big spoonfuls of sauce at the bottom. Give a generous scatter of Parmesan on top followed by a layer of aubergines. Keep repeating until the sauce, aubergines and cheese are finished. Arrange the Mozzarella slices on the top of the dish with some remaining basil leaves. Finally scatter over the breadcrumbs and then bake for 30 minutes.
6. If you can, leave it to rest for 15 minutes before serving. I managed to wait for just 5.