Today I leave for Italy. It has been almost two years since I last set foot in the country that is so much a part of my being. In time for Pasquetta (little Easter), my friends will meet me at Fiumicino and whisk me away to their home on the beach near ancient Ostia. Pasquetta falls the day after Easter and is a day of feasts and picnics, which tradition says is to be spent with those you love. After a night’s rest, I head to Napoli. While my intention for this trip was to re-engage with the pizzerias and pizza makers close to my heart, and to visit some other highly recommended spots, my plans have taken an exciting turn. I will be working with Sky Dylan-Robbins, a young film maker I met two years ago when she was a freshman journalism student at Northwestern University. Truly talented, she created a wonderful video on the spirituality of food featuring Spacca Napoli. Sky has been in Bologna this year, documenting the making of chocolate, doughnuts, pasta, and the quintessential Italian cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano. These specialties and their time honored traditions are lovingly portrayed in her work.
After a day to wander the streets of Spacca Napoli and other quartiere (neighborhoods), Sky and I will get to work. First stop is Molino Caputo, the producers of our flour. Dating back to 1924, this flour mill is world renown. We’ll meet with two generations of the Caputo family, Antimo and Eugenio. Eugenio (the master technician) will walk us through the milling process, while both he and Antimo answer my never ending questions about dough. We’ll go on to the pizzerias where I’ve spent so many hours, and interview the third and fourth generation family that came over to build our oven. These folks, have had a significant influence on my development as a pizza maker and celebrator of culinary and cultural tradition.
Then it’s on to the Cilento, a beautiful region rich in history, that lies south of Salerno and the Amalfi Coast. We’ll be guests of Baronessa Cecilia Bellelli Baratta and her two sons, Ettore and Massimino. Their working farm and inn, Tenuta Seliano, is near Paestum, where the Greeks had a colony circa 600 B.C. Ginny and I were there two years ago when Arthur Schwartz was running one of the culinary programs that he and Cecilia offer several times a year. We’ll observe the way mozzarella di bufala and ricotta are made. There are around 900 head of water buffalo on their farm and I will try my hand at milking! I would love to learn and master making treccia (braided) mozzarella, but I trust it takes years of practice. Finally we will head to the Baronessa’s kitchen. She is excited to demonstrate many of the wonderful antipasti and classic fritti typical of the area.
Returning to Naples we’ll visit some incredible pastry shops and cafes that are the pride of Napoletani. As Sky and her crew make their way north, I’ll return with my friend Domenico to the interior of the Cilento to some smaller villages and sample some local foods. Wherever I end up, I trust that the days will go by quickly. I look forward to seeing the masters and artisans at their work and familiarizing myself once again with the nuances of pizza, as they differ from one locale to the next. This brings to mind the expression “De Gustibus Non Disputandium Est”: Taste is not to be disputed. Though we all have our favorite pizzeria, café, or pasticceria, they are all to be celebrated.