Category Archives: Bakeries

Mamoosh pittas and the question of artisan food

Real pittas from Mamoosh

When making food by hand to sell direct to the public, one thing you will almost certainly argue about with yourself – and possibly with friends and family too – is pricing. Despite Britain being a place where we idolise chefs, buy recipe books in bulk, sit glued to food-themed TV, and like to fantasise about the artisan food producer life, most people still buy most of their food from supermarkets. And supermarkets are very much a product of the post-World War 2, post-rationing hunger for cheapness and plenty, quantity over quality.

Any artisan food producer has to compete with this.

Einat Chalmers of Mamoosh rolling pittas

Einat Chalmers runs Mamoosh1 out of small bakery within an industrial in Newhaven, on the East Sussex coast. Her main product is pitta2 bread. She sells four for £2. This seems like a bargain to me, but then I’m a middle-class stereotype who tries to eschew industrial food. People, even friends, criticised my prices when I sold Italian biscuits on the market, but my margins were very narrow, and the time it takes to handmake real food is a world away from the time it takes for a factory to spit out industrial food.

Scaling brioche buns by hand

Einat has some professional kit but is essentially making her pitta by hand: dividing the dough, shaping the balls, feeding a small dough roller, laying them on trays to prove, then dropping them onto her new addition: a proper pitta oven. Then removing them by hand too. With a supermarket’s pitta, the dough is almost certainly not touched by hand at all as it moves through an automated production process in a factory, not a bakery.

And frankly supermarket pitta tastes like cardboard; a conclusion I reached years ago and one that’s affirmed every time I eat Einat’s bread. Never mind that many will find the result indigestible; not because they can’t eat wheat, but because industrial bread doughs simply aren’t proved for long enough.

Mamoosh brioche buns

Einat, who grew up in the north of Israel close to Lebanon, sells her delicious pitta on the markets in Lewes. They’re a key part of my family’s diet these days. My fussy son calls it “pocket bread” and it’s a good way to get him to eat something filling. Einat also makes brioche buns to supply The Pig and Jacket, who do pulled pork and hog roast, and croissants and Danish, which she sells at the smaller market in Newhaven. She says she turns out up to around 250 brioche buns and 900 pitta a week but is gradually expanding. The latter production is helped by that pitta oven.

Mamoosh croissants, pain au chocolate and Danish pastries proving

I’ve never seen one before but it’s a great bit of kit, gas elements heat a large rotating disc of cast iron from below, while other flames brown the pittas from above. Einat says she was encouraged to invest in one by her restaurateur father in Israel, and when I visited the bakery I got a great sense of its efficacy. It heats to about 450-500C (a temperature similar to that found in a wood-fired pizza oven) in about 10 minutes. About a dozen pittas can fit on the disc and the rotation takes about a minute. The results are great: pocketed but puffy and tender, an entirely different animal to the abovementioned cardboard pittas more familiar to British supermarket shoppers. They may cost about 50p for six, but to my mind that’s a false economy: not only are they poor quality in terms of ingredients and production process, they’re also barely edible for anyone who’s even vaguely discerning about the bread they eat.

Pitta oven

Einat, who trained as a chef at the French Culinary Institute and interned in bakeries in New York in the late 1990s, taught herself sourdough and pitta at home. She’s lived in Sussex with her Scottish husband for about 15 years and worked on and off for Brighton’s Real Patisserie before starting her pitta business. I think she’s really onto something. I urge anyone who’s in Lewes for the food markets to check out her pitta, they’re one of those foods that very tellingly highlights the difference between real, handmade products and industrial crap. One of those products that, in a mouthful, qualifies and justifies the price differences3.

Mamoosh pittas are available at the Friday morning food market, in the Lewes Market Tower, from Talicious falafel stall, or you can get them straight from Einat’s Mamoosh stall at the Lewes farmers market on the first and third Saturday of every month. I’m eating some now with some of my hummus as I hit “Publish”.

Pittas baking

Mamoosh pittas and other products are available (as of April 2017):
At the Lewes Farmers Market, morning of first and third Saturday of the month, the Precinct, High Street, Lewes BN7 2AN, where Einat has a stall.
At the Lewes Food Market, every Friday morning at the Market Tower, BN7 2NB.
At the Hillcrest Country Market, every Thursday morning, the Hillcrest Centre, Newhaven BN9 9LH.

Footnotes
1 Einat explains the name thus: “Mamoosh comes from the word mummy (mother), probably introduced by the Polish Jews and become part of the Hebrew slang. “e use it mainly as a slang for sweetie, darling, honey, dear.”

2 In English pitta or pita is borrowed from the modern Greek πίτα. As it’s a transliteration, presumably there are arguments for both spellings. Indeed, the Greek word can also be translated as pie or cake. Older etymology of the word is contested so can’t help.

3 This is a tangent but just to preemptively respond to any criticism that I’m writing simply from a naive middle-class position, here’s a little more food for thought. Many people say that only the better-off can eat what I call real foods, and the poorer are dependent on cheap industrial produce, often frozen or in the form of ready meals, from budget supermarkets etc. This is obviously a complex issue but a story I read in the i newspaper on 2 March seemed to confirm something I’ve long thought – if you base your diet on fresh veg, grains, pulses, don’t expect red meat with every meal and don’t throw away food (itself an enormous issue, and one of the things that will bring about the downfall of our society), you can eat more affordably.

The article quotes from a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), “the UK’s original free-market think-tank”, and its author says, “A diet of muesli, rice, white meat, fruit and vegetables is much cheaper than a diet of Coco Pops, ready meals, red meat, sugary drinks and fast food. The idea that poor nutrition is caused by the high cost of healthy food is simply wrong.” The IEA is not a body I know well, and it’s of neoliberal disposition and I’ve not read the original report, so I’m slightly wary of quoting from it.

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Sardinian holiday – snacks and sweets

Picnic with durum roll

Considering we only had about five days on this holiday, we did manage to do a pretty impressive amount of eating, drinking, sampling and culinary exploration.

I didn’t really know what to expect food-wise of not just Sardinia, which is culturally distinct from the mainland regions of Italy, but also the small port town of La Maddalena, on the island of the same name, off the northeast coast. But as I was very gratified to find some Sardinian craft beers, I was also very pleased to encounter some snacks and treats I’d never even heard of before.

La Maddalena is a town of about 20,000 people, yet it had at least half a dozen bakeries and pasticcierie. Compare that to a British town of a similar size – it might have one dreadful chain bakery stinking of powdered cheese and onion mix, and perhaps a fake bakery (where pre-made dough is simply baked off) inside a supermarket.

Needing picnics for our days at the beach, we went to the small market and stocked up on local salami and pecorino Sardo (various local variations on sheep’s milk cheese) then bought breads and biscuits from a bakery on Via Vittorio Emanuele, down by the port. Called La Panetteria del Porto. (Love the Street View here, with a dog wandering around in the middle of the road.)

Biscuits

It was a small, gloomy bakery with a padrona who seemed determined to sell us more than we asked for or needed. But hey, I’m a glutton for baked goods, so was an easy mark. There was a display cabinet packed with biscuits, sold by weight, and breads in niches against the back wall. We bought rolls – notably yellowy ones made with grano duro (durum wheat, semolina) and dark, grainy ones she simply called pane nero (black bread). Our picnics, tweaked slightly every day, were completed by Sardinian-grown melon.

Acciuleddi

From the biscuits, I chose the twisty ones – unfamiliar looking, unfamiliar sounding. These were acciuleddi – a word with that distinctive “dd”, which seems to be not just Sardinian, but even specifically gallurese, a language spoken in the north of Sardinia and the south of Corsica. Eating them, I discovered they’re not unlike frappe, the deep-fried sweet pasta I gorge on during Carnevale in Rome, but with the added bonus of being drizzled in honey. I will make some at home at some stage, as there are recipes available.

Ficareddi in window

Another biscuit-type treat we bought from another bakery, doesn’t seem to have any online traces. So it may not just be specific to this part of Sardinia, it may be a speciality of this one pasticceria, Abat Jour on the pedestrian-only Via Giuseppe Garibaldi. These were ficareddi – a kind of figgy macaron concoction with a peaked form. They’re made with ground almonds and liquore di mirto, the quintessential Sardinian digestivo made from the berries of common myrtle (Myrtus communis), a shrub we’d passed regularly on our walks in the macchia scrub.

Ficareddu bite

We also bought some bastone di cardinale (“cardinal’s staff” or “cardinal’s stick”), a kind of sweet salami made with dried and candied fruits and nuts. It’s a gift for our friend who looked after our cats and tomatoes so the padrona wrapped it up beautifully. Again – compare this with the experience you’d have in your local Greggs. It makes me weep for our impoverished food culture and culinary self-respect here in England.

Bastone di cardinale

The morning we were catching the ferry back to the mainland, we thought we’d better get a snack for the journey, so went to Paposceria L’ Isola che non c’é on Piazza XXIII Febbraio. No, I’d not heard of a paposceria either, and I get the impression I’m not the only one as they have a big sign outside explaining the meaning of the word paposcia. Basically, they’re another variation on the theme of snack flatbreads, related to pizza. The paposcia was the piece of dough used to test if a wood-fired oven was hot enough to start baking the bread. If the oven was ready, the paposcia would rise and bake well. “Per non sprecare nulla” – to not waste anything – it was then used to make a sandwich.

Paposcia

It’s not specifically Sardo, but neither is it something I’d ever encountered in Rome. Indeed, I’m not even sure where the word paposcia is from, possibly Puglia or Naples. It may well be a dialect version of babbuccia (babouche in French) and, like ciabatta, also means slipper, for obvious reasons.

It was only 11am when we went in, and L’isola che non c’é (“the island that isn’t”) was pretty quiet, but the guys were friendly and the mozzarella and tomato toasty served us well, sitting on deck in the sunshine as we made the short crossing back to Palau on mainland Sardinia.

 

(I’ve written two most posts about this holiday: first one and third one. I’ve also done a recipe for acciuleddi.)

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Carnevale, castagnole and cocci

Valzani frappe and castagnole

We discovered the delights of the Roman Carnevale season in January 2012. We’d had our first Christmas in Rome, then a few weeks afterwards we saw some unfamiliar new items appearing in our local pasticcerie and bakeries. These were frappe and castagnole, with the first being a kind of sweet pasta and the second a kind of sweet dough ball.

Passi classic castagnole

These treats are part of the celebrations of Carnevale, the Catholic festive season that takes place immediately before the decidedly more restrained period of Lent. Although Lent’s timing is defined by Easter, which is itself a moveable feast dated in relation to the equinox and moon phases, Italian Carnevale is celebrated during February, or for the four weeks before Lent. Though frappe and castagnole may first appear in mid-January.

During Carnevale, children dress up and throw around confetti (cordiandoli in Italian). It was lovely to see Piazza Testaccio, until 2012 site of the neighbourhood market, finally re-opened with the wonderful 1927 Fontana delle Amfore (Fountain of Amphorae) at the centre, and children in their Frozen (naturally) and Batman outfits playing, and cheerily threatening passers-by with handfuls of coriandoli. I love this method of keeping winter at bay:  seasonal speciality foods, lively ceremonial activities in public spaces.

The fountain was originally designed for here, then it was moved to the edge of Testaccio, at the end of Ponte Subliccio, in the 1930s. So it’s a kind of homecoming . Designed by architect Pietro Lombardi it’s very much in a modernist-fascist style, though two of its four bas-relief shields are blank, presumably purged of fascist iconography. If you spend time in Rome, it’s a fun game to try and spot the other eight district fountains designed by Lombardi.

Piazza Testaccio Fountain of Amphorae

Talking of amphorae, on this visit we were also lucky enough to be able to go up Monte Testaccio itself. This little hill, also known as Monte dei Cocci (with coccio meaning earthenware, or shard), which rises to 35m and looms over the neighbourhood, is actually a garbage dump. For around two hundred years, used olive oil amphorae, broken into shards, were neatly stacked here by the ancient Romans. There are more than 50 million amphorae, it’s estimated.

Monte Testaccio used to be a public park, but was already closed off when we arrived in 2011, deemed unsafe. So I was really excited to get a chance to finally go up there. It was fascinating to be walking on these artifacts, to be able to pick up handles used, almost two millennia ago, to lift the amphorae full of olive oil imported from the Roman empire and offloaded at Testaccio’s quay. So a big thanks to local sociologist Iren Ranaldi for the tour, and Rachel for sorting it out for us.

Monte Testaccio amphorae shards

For the two Carnevali we lived in Rome, I obsessed over frappe and castagnole slightly, eating as many as I could from different places. Last year, our first Carnevale back in England, I made my first frappe. They worked surprisingly well, and you can find the recipe here.

We’ve just had another visit to Rome, and although I had a stinking cold it didn’t stop me sampling more frappe and castagnole. We stayed in Rachel’s flat in Testaccio, which is above one bakery, Panificio Passi, so that was the best place to start. Along with the frappe they had several types of castagnole: classic, plain; rum-flavoured; alchermes-flavoured; baked; filled with custard; filled with ricotta, all sold by weight.

Passi rum castagnole

We had classic and custard, and while they were very good, the ones we had from another bakery a few blocks away were better. This was Pasticceria di Zio, whose classic castagnole were larger, with a slight crunch to their crust.

Zio castagnole

I’ve not made castagnole, but as I’m a big fan, and we can’t just go to our local bakery or pastry shop in smalltown England and stock up, I’m going to have a go at a recipe. That should be my next post, as I really ought to do it during Carnevale, or at least the month of February. Even if Lent starts next Wednesday, 18 February.

Amphora handle, Monte Testaccio, Rome

 

 

 

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A bike ride, “gluten-free” cake, X-Men and orchids. Lots of orchids

Bank of orchids near Lewes

One of the things that bugs me about the whole anti-gluten issue is that bakeries are induced to label products as “gluten free” even if they’re traditional types of cake or biscuit that have always been made without wheat flour. It’s not like these things have just been invented to cash in on a food fad / epidemic of wheat-related health issues. Think things like the classic sachertorte, its south Italian cousin torta caprese, various Sicilian almond paste delights. Never mind other things made up by celeb chefs more recently, like this lovely citrus polenta cake that’s based on a Nigel Slater recipe.

I adore cakes based on ground nuts or featuring alternatives to wheat flour, like polenta, which is maize, Zea mays, or what Americans call corn (when I was growing up we still used the word corn in the old English sense as a generic term for cereal grain). Maize, being a cereal plant and a member of the Poaceae (grass) family does contain proteins related to those that people have issues with in wheat, which specifically contains gliadin, one of the proteins that forms “gluten”. I also enjoy things made with other non-cereal flours like potato and buckwheat, which isn’t a Poaceae cereal or grain, it’s the seed of a member of the rhubarb, sorrel family and Japanese knotweed family, Polygonaceae. They can create all sorts of interesting textures and moistness. But sometimes you just need wheat.

More orchids

So anyway, today I took a quick jaunt on my bike from home in Lewes up to Uckfield, about nine miles away. Not exatly being overburdened with employment at the moment, I don’t have any excuses to not keep relatively fit. I was also toying with the idea of catching a matinee of X-Men Days of Future Past. As a former film critic, sometime comics journalist and increasingly reluctant comics collector (that stuff is just so heavy!), I was keen to see it, especially as the original comic storyline the film is loosely inspired by, first published in 1981 and created by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin, is an utter classic.

While in Uckfield, I checked out Hartfields Produce Store. It’s a cool little place with the right attitude – “a small independant produce store and cafe based in Uckfield. Our aim is to provide great, fresh food, locally sourced wherever possible and always full of flavour!” [Sic] As I love the aforementioned ground nut-based cakes I had to try their chocolate and almond torta, despite it carrying the now-essential sign declaring its gluten-free status.

I know this shouldn’t rile me, but I’m a baker, and wheat is the backbone of baking. I’m a firm believer that many people wouldn’t suffer their wheat-related issues if they ate properly fermented bread, and avoided any and all shit industrial wheat-based products, that are made in a rush without sufficient fermentation. I touched on the evils of the Chorleywood (so-called) Bread Process here, but also went into more detail about this subject here. So I won’t rehash here. Suffice to say, I don’t consider industrial wheat-based products fit for human consumption. And frankly, I wouldn’t feed white sliced “bread” to my pigs or chooks (if I had any).

Hartfields chocolate almond torta

Anyway, back to Hartfields. In total, my bike-ride apparently burned 697 calories – presumably kcals – according to Strava. I know nothing about the calories (ie kcals) in food, as I’ve always tried to have a sensible attitude to food and fitness, and not get hung up, but I’m guessing there were at least half the number of kcals I burned on the ride in the slice. But you know, that’s why I cycle and walk regularly – so I can enjoy cake. And this was great cake. Bravo Hartfields.

After the cake, I stopped by the cinema to discover it was a parents-and-babies matinee, so as I didn’t fancy earnest X-dialogue combined with potential squalling, and as it was a nice day, I headed home. Into a terrible headwind on the final five miles heading south down the Ouse river valley on the A26. But that’s fine – the whole stretch was utterly littered with orchids, with some patches of dozens, even hundreds. I’ll have to check with my brother, who’s the family expert on such things, but I believe they were common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), in varying shades of pale pink through to a darker almost-purple, some of them up to half a metre tall. Wonderful.

Orchid

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Hartfields Produce Store, 71 High Street, Uckfield TN22 1AP

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The Last of New Zealand

Brothers shelves

The past week or so we’ve had a great time catching up and hanging out with old friends. Hence a bit of slackness on the blog. Plus, well, I’m aware this has really become a beer blog the past few months, and I’m slightly sick of the sound of my own (typed) voice on this subject.

That said, we’ve finally left NZ, so I wanted to write up some final thoughts on NZ craft beer, and in some ways retract some of what I said earlier.

I won’t be talking about bread and cake, though I’ve really enjoyed the baked goods of Bread and Butter, a small chain of real bakers in Auckland. Great breads, and I came to crave their almond croissants the last few days I was in town.

Strident ales
I’ll say straight away that in our final days in NZ, we finally drank some beers that had a lot of assertive hoppy character, something I’d started to begin to think didn’t exist in the craft beer scene there. Specifically, we went to a few places in Auckland that I wish I’d known about when we’d been there five weeks earlier. These places were recommended by the very genial Simon Nicholas of Hop Federation, one of the last breweries we visited on the South Island.

Simon Nicholas at Hop Federation

Simon was the head brewer at Hallertau, the Auckland brewery whose beers we’d enjoyed at The Golden Dawn on Ponsonby Road. He had recently relocated to the South Island, buying up the former Monkey Wizard microbrewery in Riwaka, outside Motueka in Tasman.

This small operation was previously run as a hobby by an English dentist, so Simon was in the midst of transforming the place into a full-time serious operation, and was also in the midst of tinkering with the beers he was developing. It was a really pleasure to chat with him and enjoy the beers he kept saying he was still “mucking about with”. Frankly, they were all superb already, but I’ll be interested to go back when he’s satisfied with them. (Or, ideally, find a few bottles at a decent beer pub in Britain, like London’s Cask Pub & Kitchen.)

His Red IPA was his biggest success so far, and it was delicious. He called it a “bit of a muck about”, but this lovely dark amber beer is sharp and resiny smelling, and has a great balanced taste from dry hopping with Simcoe and Cascade hops and mellowing it with Gladfield malt from Canterbury.

Driving past Hop Federation, Riwaka

Hop shortage
He said he wanted to make it with exclusively NZ hops, but they just weren’t available – indeed, he explained despite the Motueka area’s fame for hop-growing (something that was affirmed in a mid-19th century painting we saw in the Nelson museum), half a decade or so ago many were pulled out and replaced with jazz apple orchards. Just when NZ hops were becoming even more in demand in the international craft brewing scene. Ooops.

“There’s a worldwide hop shortage for our hops – it’s a real shame,” he said. Furthermore, as hops are all centrally controlled in NZ, it’s not even possible to grow your own adjacent to your brewery.

Before leaving the South Island we visited Bays Brewery near Nelson Airport, which was more traditional than craft (for example, they pasteurise and filter, like McCashin’s; Simon wrinkled his nose at the very idea of this. Indeed, why make a product that’s carbonated by an organism then kill that organism?) and Golden Bear in Mapua.

Golden Bear, Mapua, NZ

The latter has an American brewer, so I was intrigued to chat with them, as US craft beer tastes seem very unlike those of NZ, but when we arrived on a beautiful summer evening, there was a gig and a lively crowd in their brewpub, so that wasn’t really on the cards. Their Seismic IPA wasn’t bad though.

Golden Bear beers

Though TBH, I enjoyed a bit of the Mussel Inn’s Captain Cooker manuka at the café just over the yard from the brewery more. That was one the few beers I mentioned on my old blog during our previous visit to NZ back in 2007.

Back in the big sprawl
So yes, Auckland. When we got back, we first had a few days staying at the Piha bach (Kiwi English for holiday home) of our friends Jude and Roger. I bought a few beers to take with me, and was tricked by yet more “faux craft” branding. This was Hancock & Co, whose branding emphasised a whole yarn dating back to the mid-19th century; in reality, the brand is actually new, created by an off-license chain and exploiting some NZ brewing heritage. (See here.)

This wasn’t a trap one could fall into at Brothers Beer though. This was the place recommended by Simon: a small brewery close to the town centre in a funky development called City Works Depot.

The brewery has been in operation for about a year, according to the slightly unfriendly girl serving, whose too-cool-for-school attitude contrasted with the friendliness of most of the brewery folk we met on our South Island road trip (3095km – god help me. There go the last tatters of my green credentials when combined with all these aviation crimes).

Tasting paddle at Brothers BeerShe warmed up a bit when we got chatting more about beer. We had a tastling padddle of five of their brews. Alongside their own beers – brewed, with a cloud of malty mashy odours, right there – they had some representation from other breweries, like Yeastie Boys (based in Wellington). The venue also has some slightly sagging shelves laden with bottles of genuine craft beer – so no Hancock’s, Boundary Road or Founders and plenty of Mike’s, Parrot Dog, Townsend’s, Invercargill Brewery and 8 Wired etc, and even some overseas stuff like Speakeasy, which we’d had in its native San Francisco.

Brothers’ beers proved something of a relief and a revelation. When we were in Auckland before, other than Hallertau at The Golden Dawn, we’d struggled to find any decent craft beer on tap. Here, though, was a brilliant selection – and not only that, some of them were fantastically dry and bitter, displacing our experiences of so many mild-mannered, she’ll-be-right malty lagers and under-hopped ostensible IPAs. Yay. Flipping yay.

So their El Dorado IPA (6.7%) came with a scent of ginger and lemon, and a big-bodied taste of hoppiness, and a dry mouthfeel. Their Aramis pale ale (5.3%) had a smell and taste that was both minerally and yeasty, reminiscent of Marmite, along with a bitter-sweet balance of hop and malts. Surprisingly, the one we liked best was their Gronholm Imperial Pils (8%). I’m really not a fan of lagers, pils and pilsners generally but this was a really complex beer. Fran said, its odour was of “something very green – peas? Smells amazing.” I got grapefruit and a real astringency akin to tea tree or eucalyptus essential oils. Fran also said it had a “Strong male sweat thing”, which might sound off-putting, but it really worked. Big, bitter and delicious.

No blimmin’ NZ draught mild brown lager here.

Though I’d still say their taps are pouring a little cold. And they need some hand pumps.

The latter we found at our next Auckland port of call, another recommendation from Simon: Vulture’s Lane, a pub on Vulcan Lane, just off the unprepossessing Queen Street in downtown Auckland. Why didn’t I find this place before?! Guidebooks and Google both failed me.

Chur at Vulture's Lane

They had a great selection, including yet more breweries I’d not even heard of before: like Hot Water Brewing Co, a new outfit in the Coromandel (close to the famed, freaky Hot Water Beach) and Behemoth Brewing Company. We had a golden ale from each, Golden Steamer Ale and Chur. I had to have the latter as the label was cool; it was delicious too, even, crisp and fresh, sweet, bit of hop, resin. A really nice, balanced summer ale.

Finally and farewell
My final few bottles of NZ beer before our departure were a Taranaki Pale Ale, from Mike’s, which Kelly at Green Man in Dunedin had mentioned as NZ’s only other organic brewery currently, and Scallywag Rich Amber Ale, from Schipper’s, in Auckland.

Scallywag

The latter I had to buy as it had another cool label that not only reflected the great dog company we’ve had on this trip (notably, in a bit of utterly coincidental alliteration, from Baxter, Bandit and Betty) but even listed all the hop varieties, malts and even the yeast used in the brew – what an excellent touch, for an excellent beer, a sweet, deep, rich, crisp ruddy brew that’s not unlike Hop Federation’s Red IPA.

Schipper's Scallyway label

Now we’ve gone I wish I’d had more time, and more prior knowledge, and someone to share the driving with.

Never mind.

We’re in Singapore now, enjoying the monsoon, and having a day off the booze to help with the jetlag. Though I do hope to get to Brewerkz and Red Dot (Reddot?) before we head on home to Blighty for Christmas.

Me at Scotts

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On granary row

Harbour Street Oamaru

As readers of this blog will know, I’m somewhat obsessed with humanity’s relationship with grain. So it was a great pleasure to discover a single street (more or less) in the old Tyne-Harbour Street historic district of Oamaru, a town on the southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island that had not just an excellent bakery, but also a shop selling NZ whisky, and, just across the way, a craft brewery.

We had arrived in Oamaru on a wet and miserable Wednesday night. Our hosts at the excellent Oamaru Creek B&B warned us that it might be hard to find much open on a Wednesday, but had told us about the brewery, Scotts, which had a tasting bar (and, like so many names, seems to have lost its possessive apostrophe).

Soggy ghost town
Dashing under the Christmas decorations, which in the 12-ish C temperatures and rain felt very much like a familiar south of England take on seasonal festivities, over the railway line, which goes all the way from Picton in the north to Invercargill in the south but steadfastly refuses to run any environmentally pragmatic passenger services, then past the steampunk museum, with its steam engine lurching skyward, we went down Harbour Street, with its handsome 19th century whitestone warehouses – and found Scotts… just closed.

Scotts brewery, Oamaru

They gave us a few tips about where to find their wares, but the wine bar they mentioned was closed and the nearby Criterion Hotel only carried one, Nineteen 05, a kolsch – a lager-like ale style that, not being a lager drinker, I’m not a big fan of. Otherwise, the Criterion had an Emerson’s ‘Bookbinder’, but Emerson’s is one of NZ’s many breweries (Macs, Speight’s, Monteith’s) that’s been bought out by Lion – that is Kirin, that is Mitsubishi. So really not very NZ any more at all.

On this mission (and always) I’m much more keen to drink beer from independently NZ owned, smaller breweries. Like the decidedly rustic Brew Moon in Amberley, just north of Christchurch, which we visited while driving south.

Brew Moon, Amberley

Kiwi cuisine
We did however, have a decent dinner in a new, nominally Italian restaurant round the corner on Itchen Street. Oamaru is a place of streets named after British rivers, but this one was perfect for me as I grew up playing by, on or in the Itchen, in Hampshire.

The restaurant, Cucina, presented its menu in approximately Italian meal-structure terms (antipasti, primi, secondi, as well as pizza), but they didn’t have any Italian staff and much of the food was basically Kiwi. NZ seems to have confidence problems with its cuisine. Many places call themselves “French” or “Italian” but with a few tweaks, they could assert their food as proudly, distinctly Kiwi. Especially as NZ has such varied climate zones and is surrounded by relatively rich seas, so much good produce is available here.

Here comes the sun
The following morning, the sun, and the summer, revived itself somewhat, and we returned to Harbour Street. At number 4, there’s Harbour Street Bakery (site – may not be working), a small artisan bakery run by Dutch expat Ed Balsink.

Master baker Ed Balsink at Harbour Street Bakery, Oamaru

Ed’s been in here around a decade, arriving at a point when bakers were among the skilled professions the NZ government was keen to encourage to immigrate. After a fairly frustrating sounding experience in a small town north of Auckland, he made his way south.

NZ, like the UK and US, is dominated by the industrialisation of the food chain, but people like Ed are exponents of and envoys for quality food made using traditional skills and no-nonsense ingredients. “Everything is available here,” Ed said. NZ grows a great selection of grains for flours (and brewing), and imports other stuff from Australia. He says his bosses up north just wouldn’t believe people would be interested in naturally fermented products, but that’s an argument his current success is disproving. Indeed, I’ve talked to other people who’ve faced similar prejudice and ignorance – like a north Devon publican who was told his clients only wanted industrial lager, but then they embraced his real ales, and his pub won awards.

Ed, who trained in a special Dutch school that focussed on baking, cheffing and waiting, and became a master baker, provides a great array of naturally leavened breads, breads made with fresh (aka cake, aka bakers’) yeast, in various European styles, as well as pastries and biscuits, including speculaas. This is a Dutch spiced almond biscuit, and Ed uses a 1742 recipe from Delft.

Speculaas at Harbour Street Bakery, Oamaru

It contains cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and “a special mix”, and comes from that medieval tradition when such spices were worth a literal fortune. Indeed, Ed said the Netherlands had “the first stock exchange in the world because of the spices” and mariners returning from Indonesia would be searched much like contemporary diamond miners.

It was great chatting with Ed, and I’ve just very much enjoyed one of his almond tarts and some of his multiseed sourdough.

Cake and coffee at Housekeepers, in the Loan and Mercantile, Oamaru

Southern hemisphere prohibition
Afterwards, we blundered into a whisky shop, New Zealand Whisky Company, down the street at number 14 in the 1882 Loan and Mercantile warehouse building, which also houses Housekeepers, a new café and design shop with some decent coffee and chocolate cake (“award-winning” apparently).Despite my love of beer and bread, I can’t really handle whisky, so am totally ignorant about it.

It’s an interesting place though – they have the last remaining stock, around 600 barrels, from the Willowbank Distilllery, in Dunedin, just down the coast from Oamaru. One of the world’s most southerly distilleries. It was bought out by the Canadian Seagrams in the 1980s, then later sold to Fosters (before that Austrailian brand itself became part of SABMiller). Fosters “mothballed the company in 2000, and sent the silent stills to Fiji to make rum!”

We learned a lot more about the history of boozing in this part of the world when we went back to Scotts – now open. Phil Scott, the director and head brewer, served us a taster of their three new beers. They have four currently (including a gluten-free beer), but are developing a new range, including a Vienna lager. Phil explained how they’d operated in Auckland for seven years but have moved back to his hometown, opened “last Sunday”, and are going to be fully licensed “hopefully by tomorrow”.

The brewery is something of a landmark for Oamaru, as it represents the first beer being brewed (openly) since 1905. The town was apparently the fastest-growing in the southern hemisphere, with four breweries (and sundry brothels), until an unfortunate election saw prohibitionists take power in Northern Otago. They killed the breweries and effectively put paid to the port as sailors really did have certain very specific requirements. Amazingly, the prohibition was only ended in the 1960s.

Phil Scott of Scotts Brewery, Oamaru

The three, very bright and direct, Scotts beers we tried were the kolsch Nineteen 05, which suits the Kiwi taste for cold, easy lagers but is top-fermented like an ale and doesn’t require lagering (cold maturation): “it’s grain to glass in a week and a half” Phil says, unlike the six-eight weeks for lager. Then the Boulder Pale Ale, which uses five malts and four hops, and is a mild balance between citrus, gooseberry fruitiness and a subtle maltiness. And finally the B10 Steam Porter, named after a local steam train. This is a sweet, fairly carbonated dark ale that’s much lighter than many porters.

All were served a bit cold, but Phil explains this is really just a requirement of the Kiwi taste for cold beer. Despite how much such beer-consumers are be depriving themselves of the full organoleptic smell and taste sensation!

Real Kiwi cuisine
Phil gave us some tips for other beer venues to visit, and we headed off down the coast, to the little seaside village of Moeraki, famous for a clutch of spherical boulders on its beach. And for Fleurs Place, another place that’s lost its apostrophe, but not its character. This is a great example of a place that does a uniquely NZ style of cuisine with a quiet pride.

Giant biscotto and creme brulee at Fleurs Place, Moeraki

They’re right beside the old jetty, and get their seafood fresh from a small cluster of boats that land their catch mere metres away every day. They also use local produce, such as asparagus from just down the road in Palmerston. They seemed to have a good local wine list, though their beer list was strangely at odds with the local, quality ethos, featuring no good local brews, only generic international tosh or Mitsubishi-owned formerly NZ brands. They really should start stocking Scotts, from 40km up the highway!

Our seafood tasting plate was stupendous – simply cooked, no nonsense, nice sauces, and couldn’t be fresher. The crème brulée and huge biscotto wasn’t half bad too. All in all a great day.

Now if only our hostel in Dunedin could include genuine WiFi I could finish this post a bit more damned easily. Honestly, internet in NZ really is like going back 10 years. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about that though, as when I first came to NZ in the 1980s it did indeed frequently conform to the old joke that said it resembled 1950s Britain. It doesn’t any more, at all, but the internet thing is frustrating, especially after the ease we’d experienced across most of the USA.

[It’s now the following morning, and we’re on the WiFi in the Octagon in the centre of Dunedin. It’s infuriating hit and miss, at times as slow as dial-up, but at least it’s genuinely free.]

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Filed under Bakeries, Breweries, New Zealand beer, Other food, Restaurants etc, Travelling

Go west, middle-aged man!

Done so much, seen so much, eaten so much, drunk so much since last post, hard to know where to start.

How about some of the amazing wildlife we’ve seen?

So, in vaguely chronological order: mule deer and a bald eagle, from the window of the California Zephyr, the train that took us on an amazing 25 hour journey from Denver, through the snowy Rockies and mud deserts of Utah, to Truckee; en route I enjoyed Pale Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, the Californian operation that’s one of the US’s biggest craft brewers.

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A red-tailed hawk skimming low over our heads in a frosty meadow in south Tahoe; we saw bear prints in the woods nearby, before arriving back at our friend Cameron’s street to see a black bear and her cub just over the street. In Tahoe, I drank Moose Drool from Montana.
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Then Great Basin’s Icky IPA, named after Nevada’s official state fossil the ichthyosaur (delicious, but served too cold as usual, so I had to warm it in the sun); “Distinct not extinct”.
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We also visited The Brewery at Lake Tahoe brewpub and sampling all nine of their delicious wares.
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I also ate a serious cinnamon bun from Sugar Pine Bakery to give me a sugary-carb hit before we went and lost money on the blackjack (aka 21) tables in a casino over the Nevada state line and got our money’s worth from a House of the Dead III machine.

Lake to sea
After a few fabulous days in Tahoe, we continued our westward journey, towards the California coast. As Cameron drove us towards her hometown of Carmel, we saw our first coyotes. I know these are pretty common in the western US, and considered a nuisance by many, but Brits like me get excited about such large fauna as we killed off such impressive animals as bears, wolves and lynx centuries ago. Plus, well, I love foxes, and coyotes are their big canine cousins: real survivors.

In Carmel we saw hundreds of cormorants and pelicans (again, common there but pretty exotic for us), as well as my first ever (sea) otters, all during a walk on the glorious Point Lobos. The latter were especially engaging – six or so, all snoozing in the kelp beds, floating on their backs and holding hands.

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In Carmel, I drank sundry beers, including Laguinitas Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale, which was strong (8.8%) and pleasingly, crisply bitter; Brother Thelonius from North Coast Brewing, a strong (9.4%) dark ale, reminiscent of slightly charred toffee apples; and Devotion Ale from The Lost Abbey, a sweet blonde; amongst others.
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We also tried to visit Post No Bills in Sand City, but were too early. Phooey, thwarted!

Big Surring
Somewhere we did visit, however, was Big Sur. This is a really special area that reminded me a bit of one of my fave places: the north of New Zealand’s South Island. Both have a rugged beauty, partially shaped by humanity but mostly defined by ocean and forest. On a hike in Andrew Molera State Park we saw more red-tailed hawks as well as another iconic American raptor, the turkey vulture.

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Beforehand, I’d fuelled up with the biggest, most amorphous almond croissant ever, from Big Sur Bakery. It was mighty good with a filling that was more crunchy than the usual almond paste.

Afterwards we had lunch at Nepenthe, a restaurant in a location once fleetingly owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth that has incredible views but food that needs a bit of an injection of energy.

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They had some great beers though, including the wonderfully named Eye of the Hawk from Mendocino brewing, another strong (8%) ale, this time coppery and warmly malty.

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Later on, we even fitted in a quick visit to Big Sur Taphouse, in the same stretch as the bakery.
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Pictures on the walls and a flag were Italian, but we drank local beers before buying some bottles from the amazing selection in the general store next door. Jeez, I wish British corner shops had such enthusiasm with their beer stock.

Oh, and I know I’m straying even further from my remit, but an honorable mention to Lula’s Chocolates for their Dark California Toffee: toffee, coated in dark choc, sprinkled with almonds. Best chocolate we had, and we we’ve been sampling a lot.

A bigger city
We’re now back in the big city, San Francisco, having said goodbye to Cameron, our ever-generous California host, on Wednesday night. We drove up via Santa Cruz, having a quick stop at the likeable Companion Bakeshop (handsome piles of breads, cookie far too earnest and 1980s-Cranks, tomato and onion tartlet underseasoned and soggy bottomed).

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As Cameron and I met at the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome, it was fitting that our final dinner together was at Chez Panisse, the restaurant founded by Alice Waters, who also set up the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the Academy.

I must admit the food couldn’t quite live up to the hype (things rarely do), but I did have an excellent beer as an aperitivo: Proportional Response from The Rare Barrel. This brewery – also in Berkeley, like the restaurant – specialises in oak-aged sour beers. I usually loathe oakiness in wine, but this stuff was great – smoothly sharp, acidly mellow.

Having seen a few photos recently in which my 40-something-not-getting-enough-exercise-belly is coming along nicely (tall skinny man with a beergut – never a good look), I managed to go a day with our bread, cakes or ale yesterday (almost – had a cookie), but we did have a great walk around the city.

I’m loving California, but I do struggle with a car-oriented lifestyle; I just love to walk around and SF is a perfect place to do that. Cameron’s mum had kindly given us tickets for the de Young Museum’s David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition. The show was largely about Hockney returning to his native Yorkshire after 25 years living in California and as such provided a perfect connection between dear, soggy, verdant old England and this magnificent state.

http://hockney.famsf.org/sites/default/files/styles/big_preview/public/preview/08A01_cropped.jpg?itok=cfHMSYWU

We’ve got a few more days in SF now, before heading to NZ. I meant to get up early this morning and go to the much-praised Tartine, but I suspect we’re too late now as I’ve been doing this blog, having the usual fight juggling three devices and trying to sort all the pics and links.

We’ll see what the next few days hold. Sadly, I was way too late to get on a tour at Anchor Steam Brewery (thwarted again). Shame really, as I’m really keen to ask a US craft brewer about the whole issue of serving their brews at fridge temperature (4C, or 39F) compared to “cellar temperature” (8-10C, 46-50F).

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Filed under Ale, beer, American beer, Bakeries, Bars, pubs etc, Discussion, Misc, Restaurants etc, Travelling

Ugly bread, pastries, lunch at L’Asino d’Oro, outer space and saucy suppli

Last loaf

The storms – apparently called Cyclone Penelope ­– arrived last night, rumbling over Roma and shaking our palazzo. I love being indoors, in bed, on such nights. Frequently in Rome, the stormy weather has the decency to blow over by the morning. Not so this morning though, when it was still raining buckets, piove a catinelle (where a catinella is a basin; I love the image of rain pouring down as if it’s overflowing celestial basins).

It looks like the Autumnal rain is settling in until we leave on Wednesday. In a way that’s just perfect – it’s re-acclimatising us to British weather. But it does look like yesterday was our last day that was dry enough for a long, casual, umbrella-less wander around town.

We started the day with a slice of bread – from the final loaf I’ll be baking in Rome. This was a bit of a disaster, but it was fun. It was a “using up leftover stuff before we leave loaf”. In this case meant a lot of seeds: specifically buckwheat, sunflower and poppy; and a some not-entirely ideal flour: 0 grano tenero (okay, fine), rice and amido di mais. The latter is what we’d call cornflour in the UK, meaning corn (maize) starch, so more a thickening agent than a bread ingredient. Hi ho. It felt like a good dough when I added the seeds, but went strange after that.

Adding seeds

As Fran pointed out, the resulting loaf looked like a giant brutti ma buoni  (“ugly but good”) cookie. It was pretty solid and, er, I might have forgotten to add any salt. But that’s fine: a lot of traditional bread from Tuscany and Umbria doesn’t contain salt, and as such is good for strongly flavoured bruschette. Not sure the seedy stuff will work as bruschette, but it’s good with good old Marmite.

We headed out down the hill, through Trastevere, past the enjoyable window displays of vintage pasticceria Valzani. This included their selection of “tea biscuits”:

Valzani tea biscuits

Then slices of pangiallo romano, which literally means “yellow bread” and is a type of hard Roman  Christmas cake, made with honey, nuts and dried fruit; and panpepato (aka pampepato), a similar cake that originates from central Italy and, as well as containing dried fruits, candied fruit and nuts also contains spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and even chocolate.

Pangiallo, panpepato at Valzani

Then the Roman version of the Campania sfogliatella, which look kinda squashed compared to the more refined Neopolitan sfogliatella riccia. Indeed, compared to say French patisserie, Roman patisserie often has this seemingly crude finish – but I like that, it’s less poncey. Alongside was a tray of cannoli siciliani, then a tray of maritozzi, Rome’s epic cream buns, which I made over here.

Valzani sfogliatelle romane, cannoli, maritozzi

After meeting a friend in the street, who was discussing the possibility of opening a café, we headed over Ponte Sisto into Regola, rione VII. Past this fab old sign for a biscuit shop that, sadly, isn’t a biscuit shop any more.

Biscotteria sign, Via dei Pettinari, Rome

We stopped at I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza (“Grandma Vincenza’s Sweets”), a Sicilian pasticceria chain that opened a branch here about a year or so ago.

Brioche, ciambelle, Nonna Vincenza

It’s a bit cutesy, but the doughnut-type thing (“È una tipa di ciambella”) we had – that wasn’t the more common ring-shape of ciambelle, but more a knot – was good.

Ciambella, Nonna Vincenza

I got some almond paste cookies that were pretty good too.

Biscotti, Nonna Vincenza

We chilled out on the pastry indulgences after that, even managing to walk by the justifiably renowned, somewhat pricey Roscioli bakery without buying anything.

Roscioli

We wanted to save space for lunch at L’Asino d’Oro in Monti, one of our two favourite Rome restaurants. Our other fave is Cesare al Casaletto, which we’d vowed to go to at least once or twice more before leaving, but had been confounded by forgetting which day was their riposa settimanale (weekly rest day), then it being fully booked, and then by discovering that they were closed for our final 10 days in Rome. Nooooo! Fortunately, L’Asino d’Oro hit the spot.

Asino D'Oro

This is a superb restaurant, where chef Lucio Sforza (who, Renaissance scholars, may or may not be part of that family) uses seasonal, local, quality ingredients and every weekday does a pranzetto for (currently) €13. This set “little lunch” changes every day and is a serious contender for the best value, best quality lunch available in Rome. Thirteen flippin’ euros for bread, antipasto, primo, secondo, glass of wine and small bottle of water! And it’s always been excellent, every time I’ve been, though I prefer Friday, as that’s Rome’s main fish-eating day.

We had a bruschetta with bean purée, the best broccoli soup I’ve ever had, pasta with a ragù of cuttlefish, and a fillet of scorfano (scorpion fish). We then decided to order some dessert (which isn’t included in the menu) and a glass of Marco Carpineti’s delicious Ludum Passito dessert wine. Just cos.

Passito and zuppa inglese, L'Asino d'Oro

I had a zuppa inglese, which is basically Italian trifle. Although the name can be translated as “English soup”, I like the slightly deeper meaning of zuppa as a reference to bread dunked in broth, from the verb inzuppare, to soak, to immerse. In the case of zuppa inglese, there’s sponge cake soaked in alcohol and custard. Going to miss these lunches at The Golden Ass (or The Golden Donkey if you have that troubling American-English relationship with that word). Veramente un buon rapporto prezzo-qualità!

Cafe 2Periodico, Monti

Afterwards we had tea in a favoured nearby café in Monti, 2Periodico, watching the world go by before we continued on our way… to the movies. What?! You could say. Why sit in a cinema when Rome is only your city for a few days more? Well, I used to be a film journalist, and just adore the big screen and the darkened room. Plus, I fear a culpa d’aria got me so I fancied planting my donkey for a few hours, getting away from the tourist zombie hordes clogging up the streets.

Normally I cannot abide, and veto, 3D films, but the own lingua originale option was Gravity in 3D. And even with shonky 3D, in a cinema not designed specifically for 3D, it was an extraordinary experience. I’ve not felt that pushing-yourself-back-into-the-seat tension in a film for years.

I Suppli, Trastevere

On the way home, we stopped in Via San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere, buying some handmade chocolates from Dolce Idea to take home and a suppli from the small, seemingly nameless hole-in-the-wall pizzeria opposite to scoff straight away. It might just be called “I Suppli” as it has the word in green neon above the door. And rightfully so, as their suppli are great – the tomato risotto mix is very saucy, meaning they’re moister than many versions. Their structural integrity may suffer as a result but they’re so tasty.

So all in all a great day; eating and movies, two of my favourite things. I even managed an ale when I got home, so three of my favourite things.

Info
Pasticceria Valzani
Via del Moro 37b, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 580 3792 | valzani.it

I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza
Via Arco del Monte 98a/98b, Regola, 00186 Rome
+39 06 92 59 43 22 | dolcinonnavincenza.it | arcodelmonte@dolcinonnavincenza.it

Roscioli (Forno)
Via dei Chiavari 34, Regola, 00186 Rome
+39 06 686 4045

L’Asino d’Oro
Via del Boschetto 73, Monti, 00184 Rome
+ 39 06 4891 3832

2Periodico Café
Via Leonina 77, Monti, 00184 Rome
+39 06 4890 6600

Dolce Idea
Via San Francesco a Ripa 27, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 5833 4043 | dolceidea.com | info@dolceidea.com

Nameless Pizzeria (“I Suppli”?)
Via San Francesco A Ripa 137, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 589 7110

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Filed under Bakeries, Biscuits, cookies, Cakes

Back to the scene of the crime: some beer and snacks in Naples

Naples street food

Last time we went to Naples we enjoyed the pastiera and didn’t so much enjoy the pickpocketing. This time round there was, thankfully, none of the latter. Though because of the earlier experience we didn’t take a camera, and I kept neglecting to take photographs with my (crappy replacement-for-stolen) phone. Hence this one isn’t very well illustrated. Sorry – I realise food blogging needs fancy photography but, well…. Boh. È già.

Street food
Naples is a great city if you like stodge. Sure, it has amazing restaurants too, but the most tangible food, the food you’ll probably notice first – especially if you’re visiting the centro storico – is the street food.

Along Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali are dozens of places selling, basically, deep-fried stodge. Who says Glaswegians invented deep-fried pizza? Apparently, there’s been stodgy, fried street-food in this ancient Greek then Roman town for millennia.

We tried a bread-crumbed, deep-fried pasta patty, a crochetta (potato croquette, with bits of mystery meat), and a sausage (with provolone in it) wrapped in dough and… deep-fried (possibly called “wurstel in camicia” – “vienna sausage in a shirt”). I love stodge and deep-fried food, but even I felt a bit wobbly after these items. (I would have been even wobblier if I’d been forced to try the tripe and lemon juice we saw for sale from a cart down by Castel dell’Ovo on the seafront.)

Naples street food

Ale
Later on, I fancied some beer (ofc). I’d tried looking up real beer places in Napoli, but I couldn’t really find any in the centro storico. Then we wandered past La Stanza del Gusto on Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli. It’s basically in Piazza Bellini, which is a great spot for an evening drink, amid the dilapidated, graffitied, litter-strewn grandeur. Most of the other bars there, however, only serve industrial beers, which gave La Stanza the edge for us as it had a good selection of international real beer.

I always prefer to eat and drink local, though it’s especially nice to be able to do this with beer. When we asked for something Italian, and local, the helpful guy went behind the bar as if he was digging into a special stash and gave us a slightly strange sales pitch. Fran had a Lemonale, which he referred to as a bit “gay” (so not exactly PC).

Lemonale and Trentatre at La Stanza del Gusto, Naples

This is a top fermented beer from Birra Karma brewery, which is based in Alvignano, 45km north of Napoli. It’s a 5.5% ABV beer that’s made with water, malted barley, rye, organic honey, Fair Trade cane sugar, hops, spices and yeast: but no actual lemon. Despite this, it was very citrusy, a little sweet, with a smooth, even body and some coriander. Karma’s own site says it’s in the style of Belgian blanche. Very refreshing.

I had a Trentatré (33) Ambrate from AF Birra/Aeffe – another local Campania brewery, this time based near Salerno. Aeffe’s site describes it as a “Scottisch Ale” while the good old Guida alle birre d’Italian 2013 says it’s 6% ABV and made with Maris Otter barley malt, and refers to it being a beer “inspired by the English tradition”. Italians really aren’t very good when it comes to the whole English-British thing, with many using the former as a synonym for the latter (I’m constantly telling a highly educated historian friend there was no “English army” in WW2, it’s the “British army”).

Anyway, Trentatré  Ambrate has a rich amber colour, with a nicely balanced, deep, slightly fruity flavour of malts and bitter hops. Just to continue his un-PC strain of jovial chat, the waiter said this was a better beer to “picchiare la moglie” (ie, he was calling it “wife-beater” – a name used in England for Stella Artois, for some reason).

Just to get the most out of our aperitivo, we tried Karma’s own amber ale, called Amber Doll. This wasn’t quite as full-bodied as the Trentatré  and had a distinctly coppery flavour, with touches of chestnut.

Karma brewery's Amber Doll

Pizza
The following day, we met some friends. They live in Rome, but have local family, and they took us for a pizza for lunch. This was at Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, which is located by the old gate Porta San Gennaro on Via Foria, a large road to the north of the centro storico and one of the many places one can see the city’s famed modern art installations that look just like massive piles of garbage. They’re uncannily realistic.

The pizzeria itself is one of the many where you’ll see a sign saying “Vera Pizza Napoletana” – Real Neopolitan Pizza – with a picture of the city’s famed folk figure Pulcinella. This guy, with his clown-like white garb and black mask, is the predecessor of Britain’s children’s entertainment psychopath Mr Punch, with his proclivity for killing (his wife, their baby, the arresting police officer). Encouraging you to eat pizza is certainly a more benign activity. The signs are organised by the AVPN, a not-for-profit founded in Naples in 1984.

Vera Pizza Napoletana sign

Our friends said there were only really three genuinely Neopolitan pizzas on the menu: notably the Margherita, which legend says was created for Margherita of Savoy, queen consort of Italy’s King Umberto I, during a visit to Naples in 1889. (Here’s the full, historical story.) Another was a calzone made with ricotta and prosciutto, which Fran had. She says “It was delicious and surprisingly light.”

Not so light, apparently, is the deep-fried version, which our friends warned us off – and indeed it looked massive, and coronary-inducing, when some other punters ordered them. I had another calzone, but this time with provolone, black olives and scarola (that is Cichorium endivia, curly endive, a form of chicory). Very nice it was too – with the olives providing a sharpness to contrast with the cheese and wilted greens.

Calzone at Cessano, Naples

Pastry
The following morning, we tried just one more local speciality before we moved on down the coast to get a bit of sun and reprieve from the urban madness. This involved going to Giovanni Scaturchio, a famed historical (“since 1905”) pasticceria (pastry shop) in the head of the centro storico, on Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.

Our friends insisted we have sfogliatelle. These pastries come in a few forms, though the most famous in Naples is the sfogliatella riccia, a name that literally means “curly many-leaves/layers”. And indeed the pastry is not unlike say filo, in that it’s been rolled and stretched very thinly, before being layered and rolled, and filled with a mixture of ricotta, almond paste and candied peel. We had one riccia and one made with pasta frolla – shortcrust pastry. The latter, at first glance, looks more like a brioche bun, but when eaten is clearly pastry not enriched bread dough, and is also filled with ricotta and peel.

We were so busy talking about it all, then trying to get the waiter to bring a knife, then cutting them up, that by the time I thought about taking a photo there wasn’t much left. So instead, here’s the picture from Scaturchio’s site:

Sfogliatelle from Pasticceria Giovanni Scaturchio

If you’re only in Naples for a few days, and fancy trying a distinctive local snack, I’d really recommend a good sfogliatella, or two. Slightly more refined than the deep-fried pizza sold on the street stalls. I’m saving that treat for next time we run the gauntlet of this astonishing city.

Info
La Stanza del Gusto, Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 100, 80138 Naples, Italy
+39 081 401 578 | lastanzadelgusto.com

Birra Karma brewery
+39 0823 869 117 | info@birrakarma.com | birrakarma.com

AF Birra/Aeffe brewery
+39 081 516 2434 | info@afbirra.com | afbirra.com

Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, Via Porta San Gennaro 2, 80138 Naples, Italy‎
+39 081 456 421

Pasticceria Giovanni Scaturchio, Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 19, 80134 Naples, Italy
+39 081 551 7031 | info@scaturchio.it | scaturchio.it

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Filed under Ale, beer, Bakeries, Misc, Pizza

Maritozzi at Regoli Pasticceria, Rome

Pasticceria Regoli, Rome

We – me, Rachel, and Luca, 22 months – went on a field trip this morning. To do research. Honest. Serious research. Which involved eating serious cream cakes. Specifically maritozzi con la panna (maritozzi “with cream”). Specfically at Pasticceria Regoli.

This is what I wrote about maritozzi some time in 2012:

“Typical to Lazio, or even more specifically, Rome, this is a vaguely more exotic cousin to a British cream bun, in that it’s a bun made with a sweet yeasted dough, which it split after its baked and cooled and filled with cream. Go on, Google both and the pics will look remarkably similar. The only major difference is that the maritozzo dough may contain raisins or sultanas, candied peel and pine nuts.

Pasticceria Regoli, Rome

According to Italian Wikipedia they (or an older sweet bun) were given to people getting married and the name relates to that – possibly in Romanesco. (In standard Italian marito means husband.)”

I can clarify that a little more now, after a visit to Regoli, and a few hours to come down off the semi-delirium induced by consuming about a litre of whipped cream slathered on a sweet bun and a hot journey across Rome. Regoli is a renowned pasticceria and came highly recommended by Rachel and her knowledgeable foodie contacts.

We headed across town on the number 8 tram. It’s too hot to walk in Rome now without getting horrendously sweaty, and the tram is a far more civilised way to travel than the bus. Regoli is in Esquilino neighbourhood, roughly between the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II, location of the intriguing but easy-to-miss-among-the-snoozing-drunks Porta Alchemical. Oh, and MAS, the most bonkers shop in Rome. But that’s another story.

Panella window display

It’s just around the corner from Panella bakery, which has some impressive bread sculptures in the window, but that’s another story too. (Panella’s website – beware un-turn-offable audio spam.)

Regoli (“dal 1916”) itself is a modest-looking establishment, its window display its wares. And those wares – including the baked goods inside – consist entirely of pastries and biscuits, with a choice of perhaps a few dozen. Now, I find this reassuring for any establishment – a degree of focus. Do just a few things, and do them well.

Serious maritozzi at Regoli, Rome

I must admit I found Regoli’s maritozzi con la panna slightly intimidating. Whereas many of the maritozzi seen in Rome are a finger bun with a modest split along the top filled with smoothed-off whipped cream, Regoli’s version were split in two, folded outwards and totally covered in a thick layer of whipped cream. By weight, I’d imagine each bun was equal parts dough and cream. I like cream, but, well, I couldn’t even imagine how to eat it, at least not in a civilised manner.

Rachel didn’t seem to have any reservations though, and leapt in to make the purchase. Luca didn’t have any reservations either and dived into all the creamy goodness face-first.

Luca dives in

I struggled with my wife’s DSLR in one hand and the massive treat in the other. Cream escaped. It wasn’t pretty. But boy was it tasty. Sure, it was very like a British cream bun, but it just felt like such a treat, such an epic indulgence, guzzling all that cream.

We chatted a bit with the staff, and it does sound their maritozzi are made with a fairly standard enriched bread dough. They also sold maritozzi quaresimali – Lenten buns. Even though it’s July. These differ in that they don’t involve whipped cream, but instead the dough contains dried fruit (sultanas or raisins), candied peel (probably cedroCitrus medica), zest and even pine nuts. As such, they’re not dissimilar to something like a hot cross bun, but in a finger roll form. Regoli’s combination of dried fruit and citrus flavours give them a delicious tang.

maritozzi quaresimali, Regoli, Rome

So all in all, a good field trip. Hard work though. Despite how much of a glutton I am, I don’t think I could handle a Regoli maritozzo con la panna more than a few times a year, given the truly epic amount of whipped cream involved!

My maritozzi con la panna recipe can be found here.

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Filed under Bakeries, Cakes, Cakes (yeasted)