Photo by Doug Psaltis
Clams at La Conca del Sogno a Recommone, Nerano, Italy
Chef Doug Psaltis of Chicago’s RPM Italian finds inspiration for some of his best dishes during scouting trips throughout Italy. Here, he shares highlights from his recent eating adventure.
“My friends and I had lunch at this hotel restaurant on the Amalfi Coast and the food was so good we came back the same day for dinner. The antipasti of smoked mozzarella with grilled lemon leaves was one of the most surprising dishes on this trip. Zuppa di pesce is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes and must be ordered 24 hours in advance.
We begged them to prepare it for us later that evening after having it at lunch. A classic fish stew where the freshness and quality of seafood really comes together, zuppa di pesce is as simplistic and pure a dish as possible. Pasta that is indigenous to the region, like the linguine alla colatura di alici—a simple dish of pasta with anchovy, pesto, walnuts and olives—was also a favorite from our meals here. Not only was the food fantastic, but the view from the open-air patio, high on a cliff facing the sea, was pretty perfect. The sky appeared to melt into the Mediterranean sea.”
“In between Positano and Capri, you arrive to a little alcove by boat and then a guide comes to pick you up and take you to La Conca del Sogno. Sitting at our table overlooking the sea, enjoying the amazing clams from the same waters, was absolutely incredible. The owner, Jury, is a good friend and always makes me feel like gold; you feel fantastic from the moment you arrive. He takes care of every guest: for example, he cuts pepperoncini tableside with tiny scissors to add some spice to your dish. To complement our seafood we had a bottle of the coldest, crispest rosé. We ate some of the best local fish anyone has ever had.
Often times in restaurants—especially in the U.S.—branzino is farm-raised and the flavor is mild and the fish is lean. The salt-crusted wild branzino we ate was caught just hours before it ended up on our plates. Eating branzino this fresh allows you to taste all of the subtle nuances that make branzino one of the most important Mediterranean fishes.
Another standout was freshly caught spiny lobster. It’s always a pleasure to try Mediterranean spiny lobster, with its amazing texture that’s balanced by great sweetness and a light iodine flavor that captures the minerality of the sea. We also enjoyed four different pastas, including the most incredible spaghetti alle vongole (pasta with clams).”
“You can’t leave Italy without heading to Naples for real pizza. Pizzeria Brandi is the place to go to taste original Margherita pizza.”
“We were on a mission to find great pizza and happened upon the most amazing seafood restaurant on a small side street in Naples. At Ristorante Dora, the highlight was the raw langoustines and raw shrimp cut in half and simply served with fresh lemon juice and olive oil.”
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