As I mentioned a few posts ago, during Christmas break I visited my place of birth; I didn’t stay long so I was only able to hang out in a few neighborhoods, but I am extremely happy to say that I found my Naples to be much more beautiful, clean and organized then when I lived there 20 years ago.
I know there are still many hard hit areas, especially in the suburbs, but hopefully they will soon be brought back to their ancient splendor. I was only able to visit Vomero, via Toledo (the old name for via Roma, which thank goodness went back to it) and the area around Piazza del Gesu: which have become almost completely pedestrian and many churches and monuments that have been closed forever are now miraculously open. <3
It had been a long time since I had been there and I must say I become emotional seeing those places where I spent my childhood (and adolescence!) come back to life; so different is a city without traffic and how important it is for an urban environment like that of Naples, made of winding little streets that all of a sudden open up to spectacular piazzas, to be free of cars, exhaust and the noise associated with them.
I could go on forever about this, but I will refrain because in this article I have to show you a very special place that I encountered thanks to my little brother.
This boy (or almost) was able to discover in Vomero a restaurant, a short distance from his place, that left a great impression on me, particularly for how the dishes were cooked and presented, but also because the staff was knowledgeable and welcoming. The fact that there was only 2 or 3 tables in all along with a laid back atmosphere and good music (perfectly set not to loud or soft) and to top it all off great attention to the ingredients.
I must confess during my visit I made a (little!) exception to eating only natural foods, and when I say little I mean very little. We went to the Sorriso Integrale where everyone was very nice and the food was certified organic, but the food honestly was a little cafeteria style. I only covered a few other places very superficially so I will discuss them the next time.
Upon entering Sartù you find yourself in front of table full of Neapolitan cook books in addition to others (this alone warms my heart). The menu was very reassuring to someone like me; it opens with a description that can only be enjoyed by someone who loves to see culture in food: “Our food is strongly tied to our land and our seasons” (…) we like to think of *tradition in motion*, and this is the spirit with which we create our menu” in addition “Sartù has its garden situated on the fertile slopes of the extinct volcano Roccamontina, nestled between the secular hazels and the chestnuts which dictate the timing of the menu.”
In the kitchen they rely on conventional ingredients very sparingly. The wine, although conventional, was only a small flaw because it was chosen with care. Beyond that I had very little to object too (and knowing me you would know to expect otherwise :-D ).
Maybe its because this natural garden is located in higher zones of Caserta between 200 and 700 meters, or because the meat comes from free-range black pigs or that the poultry comes from locally raised hens (in that area butchers still exist that sell the meat of animals that graze behind their shop), or because I know well (having seen it often) the important struggle a restaurateur must endure to stock up on small local farms instead of conventional distributors (or organic ones) that lay it all out, punctual and precise, or all the compromises that come with their choices, for all these reasons and more I highly encourage you to visit such a brave restaurant.
Carlo Capuano only opened a few years ago, but in a very short time has gained a great deal of experience. He said that his main intent was to merge his two passions: jazz music and most of all classical along with a fixation for all things good, like his garden from which all the vegetables come from that are used in his cooking and the other magnificent ingredients that come from the land in which he was born and raised.
Besides offering local natural food, another peculiar characteristic of his eatery is an absence of Wi-Fi and television, -something unusual for Naples- there is no cover (the area usually adds on 15% of the bill and 3 euros a person), because in his words “you can’t eat the service so you don’t pay for it”. Now I will tell you more about what we ate: the dishes will explain better then I could ever tell.
Of course we couldn’t bring ourselves to not try the extremely Neapolitan “genovese”, a curious name considering that in Liguria this dish doesn’t even exist. We are talking about a white ragout of muscles and veal cheek (almost always free-range that Carlo purchases directly from the Casertan farmers who having lots of space can allow the animals to graze) simmered at length with Ramata di Montoro onions, a delicacy of the campagna region, small production with big quality (the amazing Agnese Gambini spoke of it last spring in a beautiful IFood post).
For its dishes Sartù uses a dry IGP Gragnano pasta; we are still talking modern conventional grains here, but I am hoping that Carlo will soon want to look into ancient naturally cultivated grains (I did plant the seed!).
Like I have mentioned before I am passionate about Wedding soup, which for me is like the hallmark of the 26th of December, the day after Christmas. This soup (you can find a interpretation of it in an old recipe here on the blog) we imported it during the Spanish occupation, and it appears to be one of Naples most elaborate dishes.
I really enjoyed Sartùs version of it: the broth was dense and savory although lightly salted (in Alto Adige they said it would happen when the cook was in love :-D).
In the soup was broccoli leaves, heads, chicory, escarole, borage, cabbage, savoy cabbage and torzella cabbage (which apparently only grows near Acerrano and Nolano). If you are surprised over the variety of vegetables, you should know that before being called “pasta eaters” the Neapolitans were called “leaf eaters”, because around the city, particularly near Vomero, the land was very fertile and bountiful.
For meat there was mascariello (cheek), skin, ears and spare ribs all from black pigs, the nnoglia (a spicy sausage made with discarded trimmings, innards) local chicken, pasture-fed beef loin and pezzentelle (lung sausage). Its pointless to try to describe the broth which is created by it.
Sartù is a historic dish that was prepared for the Neapolitan aristocracy, and eventually became a Sunday delicacy for Neapolitan families. Apparently the name derives from the french expression “sour tout”, above everything, because indeed in it was really a little of everything. This recipe made it possible for the “Monzù ” (nickname for “monsieur”, the french cooks employed by the well to do Neapolitan families) to introduce rice to the people of Naples, which would arrive in large quantities from the ports and until then was considered food for the unwell (in fact it was nicknamed “stomach-cleanser/sciacquapanza” :-D).
The portion you see is the “red” version, with sauce, inspired by Raffaele Bracale (see the above picture) of Comm se magna a Natale. There is also a “white” version, that I personally prefer and according to Cavalcanti, was the original. The sauce is made of meat, porcini mushrooms, pork sweetbreads and local chicken, beef meatballs, Agerola provolone (pasture raised!) and…frozen peas. Slightly undesirable, but understandable, wanting to stay true to the original recipe, although out of season.
Zac-mini is already a natural-cuisine gourmet, and chose from the menu (always uprising me, my dear daughter) the “Baccalà in cassuola”, insipired by a historical recipe by Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, a sweet woman who passed away about 10 years ago and was considered the dean of Neapolitan cooking (see her “bible” in the restaurants collection, here below for further information).
This dish is prepared with the most tender part or the cod filet, the “mussilo”, first fried in sunflower oil and then prepared in the classic tomato “Neapolitan cassuola” style. It was loved by both the little one and her shameless parent/taster :-D
The most delectable however was the “twice cooked black pig”; a filet of braised black casertan pig stuffed with basil (do you believe these exact little plants were still growing on my brothers balcony?). The meat was first cooked sous vide, low and slow and then pan fried wrapped in bacon and served with a “crocché scomposto” (crispy potato croquette).
Crispy outside and soft and creamy inside. I would have preferred it over a bed of creamed, in season vegetables instead of peppers, but to tell the truth, considering the weather ( almost 20C) which we had been experiencing in Naples-It felt like September, we walked around town with light sweatshirts and felt warm-I suspect they might have came from Sartùs own garden.
I couldn’t skip the sweets of course. They are almost all made by the acclaimed pastry chef Giuseppe Ratto of Frattamaggiore (you can find some information on him here ), who at this point I would really like to meet. I don’t know where he gets his ingredients, but I will look into it as quickly as possible (who knows, I might go back to Naples for Easter!) :-D
The baby gourmet chose a take on Tiramisù (delicious!!); a very loose interpretation of classic tiramisu by introducing crispy peanuts. I swear I am not a degenerate mother (more like self-defeating), the waiter assured me there was very very little coffee and a little marscarpone! We also tasted the hazelnut mouse made with “Giffoni” IGP (purchased from a supplier that doesn’t use pesticides), which as you know are a Monti Picentini product of excellence.
Congratulations to a growing reality in the heart of the Vomero neighborhood of Naples, that is fighting to do what is right, rather then what is easy; I promise to go back and I will narrate their evolution. Drop in if you can, and maybe tell me your impressions, it would make me very happy!