A bank holiday weekend is always a good excuse. It’s an excuse for anything: an excuse to relax, an excuse to eat to excess, an excuse to go on a last minute trip to Italy, or all of the above.
Ever since I can remember I’ve felt an affinity for Italy. I love the history (I did my dissertation on Renaissance Florence); I love how each region has its own characteristics and specialities; I love the sound of the language, and most of all I love the food.
Apart from looking a little mediterranean I have no concrete connection to Italy, but I’m lucky enough that my boyfriend, Harry, does. With family connections he’s been to Amalfi every year since birth and knows it like the back of his hand, so where better to spend the bank holiday than there?
We had some truly incredible meals on our trip. On the first evening we went to La Capannina in Pogerola, a little way up the mountain. This place does Harry’s favourite pizza and I was certainly not disappointed. When I think about people enjoying a greasy, processed Domino’s I feel quite sad – this is what pizza should be about. Mine was covered in bresaola, rocket and parmesan mature enough to make my mouth itch. The salt from the cheese and the peppery leaves were the perfect accompaniment to the richness of the bresaola, a type of charcuterie made from air-dried beef. The sourdough base of the pizza was thin and light with plenty of slightly tangy mozzarella adding a beautiful texture. With a bottle of local red I was as happy as hell.
The following day we visited Santa Croce beach, where I had my other stand out meal of the holiday. The beach is only accessible by boat, but fortunately there’s one that will take you there for free if you’re eating at Ristorante da Teresa.
After our antipasti of prawns and fritters made from dough and seaweed, I ordered spaghetti alle vongole – spaghetti with clams – and it was without a doubt the best I have ever eaten. The clams were intensely flavoured, tasting sweet and delicately salty. Cooked simply with their juices making the sauce, they were combined with silky spaghetti and a handful of chopped parsley. This meal sums up my favourite thing about Italian cooking – the best ingredients cooked simply with as little sodding about as possible.
The mediterranean climate definitely enhances those ingredients, especially where fruit and veg are concerned. Not a day passed when I didn’t eat a handful of sun-warmed figs straight from the tree, or pluck off a couple of tomatoes to go with lunch. I also love that there’s such a culture of people growing their own food. Looking up and down the terraces the rows of aubergines, tomatoes and peppers are overwhelming, often punctuated by lemon, olive and fig trees, many of which have been there for generations. For those without a garden the plants are often grown in pots by the front door.
Harry and I have tried our first foray into growing our own this year (although that’s a whole other story), but visiting places like Amalfi makes me want to not only continue, but also learn more.
We finished our trip with a hike up into the mountains for some truly beautiful scenery, and managed to burn off a few of the calories we consumed. I think we could’ve stayed for an awful lot longer, but unfortunately the real world was calling us back.