Ode to the Insalata Caprese

Twas on the isle of Capri that I found her, beneath the shade of an old walnut tree—Jimmy Kennedy from Isle of Capri,1934

Nothing embodies summer for the tummer (sorry I was in a lyricist frame of mind) like the Caprese Salad.

My first sign of summer in eastern Kentucky was not the oppressive heat, or the air that felt like you were wearing a wet dog, or the flowers blooming in everyone’s small gardens, or the neat rows of tobacco in the field…it was the first bite of the “garden tomato”. Nothing tastes as good as the tomatoes grown in an eastern Kentucky garden.

Now I know some may take issue with this last statement, especially the good folks I have met here in my new home in southeastern Indiana, for the tomatoes are very tasty here also. And those who grow tomatoes in southern Italy, but c’mon will any of them actually read this blog?

In the hills and hollers of eastern Kentucky, the first tomatoes were usually eaten on a bologna sandwich, or just on a plate with salt and pepper, or as my dad would just make a tomato sandwich with mayo. But for me, it’s the celebration of the first locally grown tomatoes in a Caprese Salad.

This wonderful, simple salad is believed to have originated on the beautiful island of Capri, off the Amalfi coast in southern Italy. It is probably the closest most of us will ever get to this heavenly place and as far as the taste buds are concerned that is ok.

The salad is traditionally made with only five ingredients…tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, salt, and olive oil. Thankfully it can still be called a Caprese salad with variations of ingredients. I usually add olives, sometimes cucumbers and onions. I usually top it with red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar mixed with the olive oil and add pepper. I hope the Italian chefs don’t take issue with my liberties for it still has the red, green, and white colors of the Italian flag (well, other than the balsamic and kalamata olives and occasionally the purple onions and yellow tomatoes I will use).

I know this last salad is pushing the Italian envelope here with the hard boiled egg, so if you see “insalata caprese con uovo sodo” on the menu when you are in Capri, just remember where you saw it first.

Eating in Milan and Lake Como, Delizioso

L’Appetito Vien Mangiando!—Italian phrase

The above phrase basically means “appetite comes with eating” or explained, as people always want more than they already have.

This is Big Surf Daddy in a nutshell. I am always planning the next trip when I am on a trip. I think about the next meal while I am eating a meal. I’m not proud of this trait and it drives Mrs. Big Surf absolutely batty.

In Italy, I can’t wait to eat. I am always thinking about the next thing to eat or drink, while I am already eating or drinking something. Of course in Italy it is easy to do. My thoughts are constantly swimming in pasta, sauce, gelato, cheese, wine, coffee, pastries, and pizza.

As some of you know, who read this blog, we travel a lot with our family and that includes small grandchildren, five to be exact (6 yrs old and younger). Eating with this group takes more planning than the D-Day invasion and also the ability to bob-and-weave like being in the ring with Ali.

As you could imagine, the food on our recent trip to Milan and Lake Como was delicious and easier than I thought it would be.

Beginning with the best food for children…GELATO!!

This was a great spot for gelato, Dulcis In Fundo Gelateria on Piazza Garibaldi in the beautiful Lake Como town of Menaggio. I recommend the limone (lemon).

The Gelato Fatto Con Amore, near the Cadorna train station was a big hit with all of us. I thought the name was a subliminal message to us Americans, but actually it means “made with love”. I could taste the love. The lead photo is the gelato bar in this gelateria.

At Gelato Fatto Con Amore, you get a piece of waffle cone with your cup, so innovative.

Venchi is a really nice gelateria, chocolateria, coffee cafe, and crepe-ateria. This is a large chain with quite a few locations in Milan. We had wonderful gelato here one day and breakfast crepes the next morning along with wonderful coffee.

This crepe with chocolate sauce was so good at Venchi.

The coffee at Venchi was very good and notice the little square of dark chocolate served with the coffee, a nice touch.

Ok, the last image of gelato (because it is causing a great yearning for me to return to Italy). This lovely treat was from Veranda Beach in Calozzo on Lake Como.

A big part of eating in Italy for me is the quick bites that you can take away and eat on the piazzas. We found this at Panzerotti Luini, a small cafe about a block away from the Duomo in Milan.

At Luini’s you get the panzerotto. This simple Milan tradition is made from flour, cheese, and tomatoes. It costs about 2.70 Euro and it may have been the best thing I ate all week. Mrs. Big Surf and I took ours to the steps of the Duomo and ate while watching the activity in the piazza. I advise you to do the same. You can also get a glass of red wine at a vendor in the piazza. We complimented our panzerotto with one of those.

Miscusi served a wonderful pasta dish called Paccheri Tricolore. While we were debating about going in, a very nice young local couple convinced us to eat here. It was their go-to pasta and I must say it was a good piece of advice.

We had a simple lunch at La Marmora. We noticed a lot of young people eating here after school. Normally this would not be the information I would use to choose a cafe, but this is Italy and young people evidently like good food in Italy.

This panini sandwich was Italian bologna and cheese. It was so wonderful. I would put it right up there with Kentucky bologna. The Missus had a pizza panini and it also was very good.

This small pizzeria was located across the street from our AirBnB apartment in Milan. I hadn’t planned on ordering from here and that would have been a big mistake. We were only Milan for two nights and our other family got in later on the last night, so we had to decide what to eat with the kids, so pizza it was. Johnny Takeue was a great place for carry-out pizza. It was the best pizza I had this trip.

With this pizza oven at Johnny Takeue you know it had to be good.

On to Lake Como…

We had two wonderful evening meals and a really nice lunch. Our breakfasts consisted of walking to town and getting some breads, cheeses, and pastries.

Since Signore Clooney and his lovely wife did not invite us to dinner, we were on our own.

Our best meal on Lake Como was at La Baia Ristorante in Cremia. In addition to wonderful food and a lakefront setting, they went out of their way to accommodate our large group with our small children and made us feel welcome.

Risotto is a traditional dish in Milan and Lake Como. This dish, called Persicotto, served at La Baia Ristorante, with lightly-breaded, fried lake perch was so good. It was the best meal I had on the trip.

The lovely blue-eyed darlin’ went with another risotto dish, served with pesto and a creamy cheese with red prawn carpaccio. This is their best selling dish and I could see why…so good.

This plate of small lake fishes was gathered from some of our parties seafood dishes and eaten like fries. I loved them, some of us weren’t so sure…couldn’t get past the heads.

This beautiful restaurant is called Veranda Beach in Calozzo. It was mentioned earlier as a place to get gelato. We came back later for our evening meal. It is a lovely restaurant on the lake, with an Italian menu and operated by a very charming lady.

Quite the ambience at Veranda Beach.

This take on a caprese salad with burrata cheese was the star of the meal, we all had some of this.

Our last meal on Lake Como was at the Grand Hotel Menaggio, a beautiful old hotel on the lake. Most of us had the spaghetti, a truly wonderful dish and one of us had the Insalata Nizzarda, a salad with anchovies and tuna.

This was our lake view for lunch on the patio at the Grand Hotel Menaggio.

Spaghetti at the Grand Hotel Menaggio was a dish of comfort.

The Insalata Nizzarda tasted as wonderful as it appeared on the plate.

We had to fly out of Milan back to the US. We had to have a negative Covid test to get back into the states, so it was easier to stay at the Sheraton Hotel at the Milan Malpensa airport. This turned out to be a good thing. The kids and adults got to swim and we had a lovely meal at the hotel restaurant, IL Canneto.

I had the salmon poke bowl, a delicious choice.

Mrs. Big Surf was presented with a lovely leek soup. She felt the presentation was better than the flavor.

It was a whirlwind trip for us, not much planning since we didn’t decide to go till about a two weeks before departure to meet the rest our family. I left everything up to the next generation and they didn’t disappoint us.

Until next time, buon appetito.

It Was a Mediterranean Kind of Day

I’ve been on a diet for two weeks and all I’ve lost is fourteen days.—Totie Fields

So yesterday was kind of a Mediterranean day.

No I wasn’t on a Greek Island, or on the Italian Coast, or the south of France, or dining in a Tunisian cafe, or on beach in Turkey…I was home in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. My wife and I had just returned from the closest thing we have to the Mediterranean, the Gulf Coast of Florida.

So, yesterday I decided to reinstitute a new dedication to the Mediterranean Diet. I don’t know if it was the sea, the salty air, the breeze, or the fact that I ate everything in sight for a week and it hurt to bend over and tie my shoes.

Beginning with breakfast, a Greek yogurt with honey, walnuts, and berries.

For lunch (pictured above), a salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, olives, mozzarella, and topped with tuna. It was dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar and oregano.

For supper (pictured below), Big Surf’s stuffed peppers. The peppers were roasted and stuffed with a vegetarian chili of crushed tomatoes, quinoa, cannelloni beans, and topped with cheese.

All of these dishes were very good and I loved them all. And the bonus, I felt so good about myself.

Until…

For lunch today, I made myself a bologna sandwich and chips. Hard to get away from that Eastern Kentucky DNA.

Hey!! Wait a minute, Bologna is in Italy, right? So Italy is on the Mediterranean…

So come on self esteem, get back over here. You can’t go anywhere yet.

Tomatoes and Flames…Mt. Sterling, KY

 

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You better cut the pizza into four pieces because I am not hungry enough to eat six—Yogi Berra

 

I love pizza.

I know many of the few who read this blog will say the same thing.

Lately the lovely missus and I have been trying to make good pizzas at home.  So inevitably we go out to find good pizzas.  Not that we are totally incompetent in the kitchen, we just haven’t gotten the final result we want just yet. The only way I can get the pizza dough to cook at 800 degrees is to stick it in a pile of burning leaves and that just leaves it a little too smokey.

So we decided to go to the old country to find good pizza.

Now for us the “old country” turns out to be Mt. Sterling, KY. This picturesque small city was established in 1792 and if you know your Kentucky history, you will remember that this was the same year Kentucky became a state.  Mt. Sterling is one of the oldest towns in Kentucky.

A friend of mine told me about the pizza he and his wife had eaten at Tomatoes and Flames in Mt. Sterling.  Since I valued his opinion very much, we decided the hour drive would be worth it for good pizza.

 Tomatoes and Flames  is in a small intimate setting in an old building with bright yellow paint.  Most of downtown Mt. Sterling buildings are old, or historic if you prefer that term.  Just like the “old country”.

We had the Pizza Margherita.  We loved our pizza.  The Margherita pizza is simple in its ingredients and complex in its flavor.  It is so good when done right.  Let me tell you, this was done right.  It looked like the same thing we ate in Rome and it’s taste was the closest to the pizza in Italy we have had anywhere in the US.

The dough was wonderfully thin and crusty and the sauce was so good.  So simple, yet so remarkably delicious.

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The Pizza Margherita is a classic Neopolitan pizza and prepared to perfection at Tomatoes and Flames.

The bonus was being able to eat Crank and Boom ice cream that was sold in the restaurant…the icing on the pizza.

Pizza Margherita has a history that dates back to 1889 when King Umberto I and his Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples shortly after the unification and formation of Italy.  Legend has it they were tired of hoity-toity French cuisine and asked the most famous pizza maker for some common street food.  He provided a pizza made from tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves, which just happened to be the colors of the newly formed Italian flag (red, white and green).

The alternative theory is it was named after the Italian word for “daisy” which is margherita.  Evidently the shape of the pizza with the toppings resembled a daisy.  I’m going with the first theory.  That is what was told to us in Rome when we had our first Margherita pizza.

I am so thankful that we can get old world pizza within an hour drive at Tomatoes and Flames.

Mt. Sterling’s downtown is very picturesque and I enjoyed strolling through the streets.

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The brick oven at Tomatoes and Flames.

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You order at the counter.

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Cool door with windows.

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We never pass up Crank and Boom ice cream.

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I had a wonderful chocolate latte here at Spoonful of Sugar.

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Ligurian Delicacies

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I just don’t like my main entree concealed in a heavy sauce—Barney Fife

This is my all-time favorite food quote. This is a good beginning to my new blog.  My goal is to share some of my experiences with searching for good food, some travel, and some pictures.

This will not be a typical travel blog or a food blog.  My wife and I are in our middle ages.  Of course I am closer to getting out of the middle ages than she.  So we do some traveling, spending time with grandchildren and search for good food wherever we are.  Neither of us are accomplished chefs and wouldn’t pretend to lead you on.  However in the recent years after raising our children and me getting closer to retirement, we plan on doing more traveling and cooking.

This photo is where my taste awakening began.  We traveled to Italy in 2010.  Part of our trip was to Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast of Italy.  These are five villages cut into the rocky coastline that was absolutely stunning and so relaxing.

This dish was served to us in Riomaggiore, the southernmost village of the five.  We ate lunch at a small restaurant called The Bar and Vinni A Pie de Ma, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This is a photo of the dish that aroused my desires for food.  On this plate is cipolline onions, olives, salami, fresh anchovies (put aside everything you think anchovies should taste like in America), cheese and bread.  This was the best dish I had in Italy.

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Market in Riomaggoire

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Manarola

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Vernazza

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Vernazza harbor with Santa Margherita di Antiochia church on the left.