I just came back from a little slice of heaven on Earth. I traveled to Naples and Amalfi with my friend Alba, her boyfriend Francesco, and three other people from the lab. Having two native Italians from the area made the trip wonderfully unique as I got to see their favorite places to eat and see and do as the Neapolitans do! Not to mention, having them around made traveling and communication easy peasy lemon squeezy.
We arrived in Naples on Saturday night. Once we settled into the hotel, we went out for dinner–to the Friggitoria! As Francesco put it, “Friggtoria is a place where fried things get done.” For appetizers, we had something like Arancini (little fried rice balls), but instead of a rice filling, it had pasta and béchamel. These fried balls of goodness were my favorite things I ate this trip, which is saying a lot since I ate an obscene amount of delicious food. For dinner, I had pizza fritta, a Neapolitan special, which is in my uncultured, American terms like a massive fried calzone (see picture on the right).
Sunday morning, I went on a run. I went down by the port and then turned west to reach a long park. When everyone else woke up, we went out for breakfast (delicious Italian coffee, literally the best) and a pastry. We walked along some streets near our hotel and I saw a nasty looking sea creature. It didn’t look like an angler fish, but it had a protrusion from the head that resembled that of an angler fish. We met Alba and Francesco at the hotel and made our way underground on a tour of Napoli Sotterranea. We saw caves beneath the city that served as aqueducts 2500 years ago and as bomb shelters during WWII. At one point, we traveled where the water used to flow through a very, very narrow tunnel.
In the afternoon, we walked near the coast, sat at a café to avoid the rain, saw a gorgeous rainbow that framed Mount Vesuvius and Naples, and ate dinner at a restaurant on the coast (La Scialuppa, which is pronounced like La Schalupa). One thing I really enjoyed on this trip was being taken care of by Alba and Francesco. What I mean by this is that they were able to communicate with whomever–they ordered food, talked to taxi drivers, and generally sorted out any situations that naturally arise with traveling. It might sound dumb, but after living abroad for 9 months, it felt unbelievably good to be exactly understood by other people. I never thought about how lovely it is to be able to communicate before moving to Switzerland.
On Monday, we left the city and headed to Amalfi, the highlight of the trip, and maybe even this year. The drive was, well, crazy. The road to Amalfi hugs the cliff of a mountain, which means there are a ton of hairpin turns and very little road space. Thanks to Francesco’s mean driving skills, we safely made it. We had rented a villa on airbnb. Turns out, the villa is part of the Hotel dei Cavalieri. It was on the sea-side of the road, built into the cliff with terraced gardens full of lemon trees, vegetables, herbs (thyme, rosemary, lavender, etc.), and other plants. We had a wonderful patio with plenty of outdoor seating and a BBQ grill. Best of all, there were stairs (200 or so) that led STRAIGHT down to the water!! It’s really difficult to describe it, but “paradise” will have to do.
After exploring the villa, we went into town for ice cream and a late lunch. In the evening, we went back to our villa to enjoy our own quite part of the sea. Nicolas and I made lemonade, and we settled into a wonderful evening on the patio with rounds of telephone pictionary.
Tuesday morning, I went on a run. As usual, I tried to go up whenever possible. This lead me to the top of a hill/cliff. I explored the top and found the tower that we could see from our villa. When everyone else got up, we went to the beach. The sea was refreshingly cold! The beach was rocky (as opposed to our Floridian sandy beaches), but the stones were smooth and soft. We went into town to get groceries and fish. Alba worked her magic and made fresh bruschetta with intensely red, flavorful tomatoes. She seasoned the fish with rosemary and lemons picked from the garden and rock salt. The guys grilled the veggies (aubergines, zucchini, peppers), toasted the bread, and grilled the fish. I love mozzarella from this region. It’s so juicy. The second you apply a little bit of pressure to the cheese, milk starts oozing out of it.
I was too tired to run on Wednesday morning. I am not used to going to sleep so late but my body couldn’t help but wake up at my normal time. So I worked on my primary and read on the patio. We poked around in the morning before heading into town for an ice cream. “An ice cream” turned into lunch, ice cream, and climbing up the hill I climbed the day before. We wanted to grill again, but because the fish market was closed when we came down the hill, we went to the butcher. Alba learned that the butcher’s niece was going to marry the the man who runs the pescheria..or something like that. Local gossip was included in the price of the steaks. Back home, Alba shared her tiramisu recipe with me while Aaron marinated the steaks with rosemary, thyme, garlic, and salt. We made a feast! Bruschetta, mozarella, grilled veggies, steaks, and tiramisu (recipe below)!
This trip to the south of Italy was bliss. Good company, scrumptious veggies and fish, the majestic sea, fresh lemons, terraces to explore, hills to climb, and generally just wholesome vibes. I feel so happy and so full. I will forever identify deep blues paired with bright yellows as the colors of happiness.
And now, for Alba’s tiramisu recipe:
~300-400 g lady fingers
4 medium eggs
500 g mascarpone
1. Make coffee.
2. Make the cream: crack the eggs and whip until they become fluffy. Add the sugar (~4 big spoonfuls) and continue to incorporate air.
3. Spread a layer of cream at the bottom of the dish.
4. Quickly dip the lady finger biscuits in the coffee and layer on top of the cream. Optional: sprinkle chocolate chips.
5. Add a second layer of cream and coffee-dipped lady fingers. If feeling really gluttonous, add a third layer of cream and biscuits.
6. Finish with a layer of cream and sprinkle cacao powder + chocolate chips.
Optional alternative to step 1 for a fancier version: split the egg yolks and whites. Whip the whites until stiff peaks form. Separately mix the yolk and sugar (~5 min) to incorporate air into the mixture. Stir in mascarpone cheese. Finally add the whisked whites by hand. Don’t over mix.