Thursday, November 1, 2012

Days of Wine and Fishes -- Amalfi Coast, Part 2
What’s cooking? Fettuccine with Zucchini Sauce

Ravello, from below
My taste buds are slowly readjusting to Texas produce and flavors – which aren’t bad, mind you – but in my quiet moments, I read over my notes from the delectable dishes we had only a month ago in Italy, and I keep thinking it shouldn’t be so hard to reproduce at least some of the tastes.

One of my favorite spots on the coast is Ravello, a tiny town (population 2,500) in the hills above Amalfi. It was founded in the 5th century, as a refuge from the barbarian invasions; in more recent times, it’s been a refuge for artists (M.C. Escher and Joan Miró), composers (Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg, Leonard Bernstein), and writers (Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams, Graham Green, Truman Capote). But you must only visit Ravello if you’re in decent physical shape, because you park your car at the lowest point in the town and walk up, ...and up and up.

In the central square is the entrance to the 13th century Villa Rufolo, with drop-dead view of the coast and gardens that are almost always in bloom. This trip, we went farther up the hill, to the 11th century Villa Cimbrone, which is not as pure architecturally as Villa Rufolo, but is nevertheless charming and with even more magnificent views.

We had lunch at Hotel Palumbo, a grand old hotel closer to the center of town, where the dining room opens out to another truly stunning view of the coastline far below. I know, it seems like you’d get sort of tired – or at least jaded – with the views, but that is somehow not the case. There’s a calm that comes upon me when I stand next to an ancient stone wall looking down 1,200 feet to the coast below. The air is so pure and clean that even though my heart is generally pumping wildly after the climb, the feeling of peace and quiet (no cars, remember?) makes you want to open your arms and gather it all in. Ah yes, heaven.

But you’ll get hungry with all that walking, and the Palumbo, in addition to the view, has a really talented chef. I started with sea bass carpaccio bathed in Amalfi lemon juice, and topped with shaved fennel, pink peppercorns, and citrus segments. Are you hungry yet?

This was followed by risotto with lemon sauce and prawns. Now, I may be crazy, but I think that if you could get some sushi-quality sea bass, and maybe some Meyer lemons, you could make that carpaccio. And this week, the Kitchen Goddess is planning to tackle the risotto. Stay tuned.

Last week, I posted a picture of my rockfish with Paccheri pasta, from the Eden Roc Hotel in Positano. The food is delightful, the service exquisite, and, yes, more nice views from the 5th floor garden restaurant. The fish appeared to be poached in a simple fresh tomato-parsley-garlic-olive oil sauce, and while you might not be able to find Paccheri pasta, rigatoni would do nicely. Paccheri pasta, by the way, was developed in the early 17th century, when the Prussians closed the border to Italy in order to close off trade in Italian garlic in favor of Prussian garlic. The Italian garlic farmers were infuriated, so Sicilian pasta barons developed this shape that was designed to smuggle 4-5 garlic cloves each into the Prussian market.

The next night, looking for a light dinner, we ate at Bar Bruno, a small trattoria where outside dining is wedged between a wrought-iron railing and a narrow street halfway up the hill above the center of Positano. I wish I had a photo of my dinner, but I don’t, so I’ll just tell you that it was spaghetti tossed with sliced Sicilian olives and baby shrimp sautéed in olive oil with garlic. How simple is that? And so good I had it again as my last meal on the trip.

Lo Scoglio is the brown building on the shore.
Finally, the meal of the week was lunch at Lo Scoglio, in Nerano, a fishing village near the far eastern end of the Amalfi Coast. You can get there by car, but it’s faster and  more fun by boat from Positano, as the restaurant literally juts out into the water.

We left ourselves in the hands of the charming family who own and run Lo Scoglio, and I don’t think I’ve ever had so many wonderful dishes in one meal.

The antipasti, which seemed never-ending, included fresh sardines in lemon juice, tiny raw clams, fresh mozzarella, pomodorini with baby arugula, and an amazing platter of sautéed vegetables: bell peppers, asparagus, eggplant, pumpkin, green cabbage, and escarole – all grown in their gardens. My main course was sea bass, baked with sliced potatoes, olives, capers, olive oil and lemon juice. Be still my heart.

 The pasta course at Lo Scoglio was scialatielli – native to the Amalfi Coast and shaped like fettuccine or linguini, only thicker – with zucchini sauce. So, this week, the Kitchen Goddess has been working on that. I’m not sure I’ve achieved exactly what they served yet, but what I have got a “Very good” from my husband, who’s been warned not to say that if his heart isn’t in it. I liked it, too.

The Kitchen Goddess's take on Lo Scoglio pasta with zucchini sauce.

Fettuccine with Zucchini Sauce

Serves 2 with leftovers

½ pound fettuccine, cooked according to instructions
2½  tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped fine (about ½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium zucchini (about 1½ pounds), cut in ½-inch dice
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 heaping teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup white wine
1 heaping tablespoon parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
salt/freshly ground pepper

Before you start cooking the sauce, start heating the salted water for the pasta.

To a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the shallots. Cook the shallots, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes, without letting them brown. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Stir in the zucchini for about 5 minutes, then add the oregano and thyme, turn the heat down to medium low and cook the zucchini, covered, for 20 minutes, until it’s soft.

While the zucchini is cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot to stay hot until the sauce is ready.

When the zucchini is soft, add the salt, chicken broth, and wine, and cook another 5 minutes to let the flavors combine. Spoon the mixture into a blender, add half the parsley, and purée until smooth. Add salt to taste.

When the sauce is ready, you can either stir it into the pasta – keeping in mind you’ll have more sauce than you need – or serve the pasta and spoon the sauce on top. In either case, top with grated parmesan, chopped parsley, and freshly ground pepper to taste.


  1. What a beautiful presentation for your yummy recipe! And I drooled over the pictures and your commentary. I'm going there ASAP!

  2. Your trip sounded amazing! I am definitely going to try this zucchini sauce. I can't wait for your risotto recipe.

  3. What great inspiring posts, Lee. All so beautiful and scrumptious!