To see the Amalfi Coast for the first time is absolutely breath-taking; the colour of the sky and the sea seems that much bluer there than it does anywhere else in the world. The sun seems to set with such majesty over the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the sound of cathedral bells ringing through the hillside sounds like the voice of God himself saying “I told you so” as you stop to take in the surroundings. The Amalfi Coast is a Unesco World Heritage site for a reason: Unesco states that ‘the Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution.’ and the area draws thousands of tourists to its shores every year. The Amalfi Coast offers a glimpse into Italian history and culture that is very unique and very different from what you’ll find in the more metropolitan centres of Rome or Milan, but to get to the real heart of the culture, food and lifestyle of the Costiera Amalfitana it’s best to stray off the beaten path a bit.
In summer of this year I returned to one of my favourite places on the Amalfi Coast: Ravello. La città della musica (the city of music) sits nestled in the Lattari Mountains above the seaside towns of Amalfi and Minori and presents a calmer, less touristic experience for those wishing to take in the beauty of the Amalfi Coast without the junky souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants offering ‘tourist fare’. Ravello offers stunning views of the sea, terraced lemon and fig groves, nightly classical music concerts in the piazza and a local population that make up some of the friendliest people I have ever met.
When I spend time in Ravello I don’t stay in the town itself, rather I stay a good hike down one of the sets of rugged stairs that weave up and down the hillsides between fruit orchards and other private properties. I stay at a lemon grove run by a wonderful gentleman named Salvatore, his sons, and his gregarious housekeeper, Yulia. During the days I hike down the stairs to the seaside, poking around the markets in Minori and Maiori, and laying out on the beach reading books and sipping granita. In the evening I find my way back up the mountainside, either on foot or by bus, with a bag of groceries and a dinner menu planned. You see, one of the best things to do when I am in Ravello is cook and thankfully the suite where I stay has a full kitchen and a stellar view of the sea that makes cooking while on holiday an absolute joy. Everything that I could want to find, as far as local ingredients are concerned, can be found in the macellerie, pescherie and fruit and vegetable markets in Ravello, Minori and Maiori… and €20 will see you leave with 2 bags full of food as well as change in your pocket. Signor Salvatore and his sons also grow lemons on their property, but not just any type of lemon, this is the limone sfusato, a type of lemon that is grown only on the Amalfi Coast that boasts a size and flavour that is unrivalled the world over.
Cultivation of the limone sfusato began sometime after the 10th century AD when they were introduced to Italian agriculture by Arab farmers. Since then they have been grown and sold in Italy and foreign markets and have been recognized as an agricultural product of distinction (Indicazione Geographica Protetta) due to their quality and dependence on the region in which they are grown. One of the most popular products made from these lemons is Limoncello, a sweet lemon liqueur that goes down like water and finds itself on every dinner table, and in every homebound suitcase, during the height of tourist season. But what other culinary delights can be made with these lemons? Or lemons in general, for that matter?
The culinary use of lemons is often limited to garnishes, desserts or liqueurs. But this citrus fruit can do so much more than simply flavour water and liquor; it was eating and cooking in Ravello that taught me this. So, to highlight the crown jewel of agriculture in this region, and to celebrate summer on the Amalfi Coast, Tavola will be posting a week’s worth of recipes featuring lemons under the title of “A Week in Ravello”. These recipes were created using ingredients picked from the gardens, bought from the markets and pulled off the fishing boats by the beautiful people who work and live year-round in this region. If you have an opportunity to try these recipes don’t hesitate to use lemons that you can find at your local markets wherever you are in the world. But if you find that one day you can make the trip to the Amalfi Coast, be sure to try these recipes out using the real limone sfusato. Sometimes they’ll fall from a branch above when you’re walking the stairs through the orchards and you can collect them as you stroll, but you can also find them at the local markets if you’re not into ‘stair-foraging’ like I am. Take a walk down Via Roma in Ravello or Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Minori and you’ll find everything that you’ll need. And if you see Yulia along the way, tell her I say “buongiorno amica!” and that I am sorry that I left so much food behind in my kitchen this summer; my eyes were just too big for my stomach!
Quick-Links to the recipes can be found below: