Posted: July 31, 2010
Agriturismo Villa Maria in Minori is owned by Vincenzo Manzo and his wife Maria. The property is almost totally self-sufficient, with olive tress and home-grown vegetables such as lemon, lettuce, zucchini, cucumber and cherry tomato. Their homemade charcuterie, including cured pork and salami with wild herbs, is exceptional and so tasty. Mamma Marie’s cooking is hearty and delicious. The freshness is of paramount importance - from the sea and the garden into the pan with minimum fuss, then straight into the mouth. No preservatives, no stabilizers, no artificial ingredients. Her food doesn’t need any makeup or styling, it’s just so flavorful that it nearly took my head off. You know what I mean.
Lemon in Amalfi coast is unique and called “Sfusato Amalfitano”. They are a very large fruit, and can reach the size of a grapefruit. Cultivated lemon groves in Amalfi Coast dates as far back as the 11st century. They are the secret behind the intense, sweet flavor of limoncello and the desserts prepared in the Amalfi coast’s pastry shops. “What make Amalfi lemon so good? What’s the secret?” I asked Vicenzo as we overlooked the breathtaking Mediterranean Sea view from Villa Maria. “Nothing is secret here,” said Vicenzo with a certain finality. I felt a lesson coming on. “Basically, the Mediterranean sun and sea air combine with volcanic soil to produce this pale yellow rind and an intense aroma which has an acidic, juicy pulp and very few seeds … The lemon trees were grown beneath typical pagliarelle, which were used to protect them from the wind and the possible hail. They are harvested several times during the year. But the best citrus fruits are those picked from March to July… And besides being picturesque,” he declared eventually, “lemon groves also play a fundamental role in the hydrogeological protection of the land.”
The best fritto misto I ever ate was served to me in the little seaside mountain-town of Ravello. I stopped there for lunch one day with my wife and daughters. It was served as a plateful of beautiful fried Mediterranean creatures (rougets, hake, squids, deep sea red prawns) that had just been pulled from the ocean that morning. The fish were very simply served, crispy, with sea salt and a fresh lemon.
We headed down to Citara, a small fishing village where I brought tuna fish preserved in olive oil and colatura di alici, a powerful anchovy condiment that is rather like the Almalfi equivalent of fish sauce. Vincenzo cheerfully explained that “the anchovies were caught in the spring, left in salted water for 24 hrs, and transferred into cabs where they are pressed between layers of salt. Liquid produced by the process of pressing and fermentation is filtered and placed in glass containers, and exposed to direct sunlight, before being bottled.” I realized that this ancient elixir is typically used as spaghetti sauce.
To travel through the Amalfi Coast is as close as one get to being in Paradise. From the characteristic terraces, built with dry stone walls, expands the intense scents of the lemon groves, the vineyards, the food, the wild curves, the narrow roads, the bright colors of bougainvillea which combined with the smell of salt air, the deep blue of the sea, and creates a unique sensory experience. This inspired deep emotions, pleasant memories and a strong desire to return, but I couldn’t quite take in, it’s too much to comprehend. There is nothing you can do but just sit down and enjoy a lemoncello and listen to the nighttime sounds, just feeling it all. I know now the meaning of the difference between “to truly live” and “to just exist”.
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