We set out from Napoli on the ferry to Sorrento around 8 a.m. Jawed it up with some French tourists in la belle langue, on our way across the bay to Sorrento. Sorrento’s looming cliffs yawning out at us, we dismissed the tourist guides on the ferry that suggested a cab and we hiked it up. It was hot in Sorrento, really hot, nigh half-way to boiling at 45C. When we finally found our secluded hotel, nestled in a secret kind of garden, round the back way, we switched for beach gear and tore down towards the beach, juggling ice cream cones between bites of arancini. It was sweltering on the truckload of gravel that was the public beach. We laid out our towels over the blanket of cigarette butts and I made my way through the haze of tobacco smoke to my 2 hour sunburn in the water, where the heat was finally bearable.
The first night’s repast of lemon leaf fish and fettucini a la vongole – tourist-fare crap at tourist-fare prices – was rendered pleasant only because we chanced to pick a frothy lambrusco (a sparkling red wine we later learned is best served with pizza), bursting in flavour and refreshment. The service was awful, the waiter grimacing out a smile as he abandoned the charming impolitesse of Mediterranean service for poorly-effected, saccharine North American-style service.
That night the AC in our room broke and the ragged party crowds of tourists raged deep outside our open window, into the sauna of the night.
The next day, beaten and tired, we found 2 reasons to go to Sorrento. The first was our day trip to Capri, where the beaches are cleaner and the salad was, perhaps not surprisingly, the best Caprese I’ve had to date. The second was in Sorrento.
Determined that the locals must have some food they can stomach, where the service is comfortably cold and the pasta piping hot, we set out past the typical tourist area and found a little cantina. All the locals were eating this rich meaty pasta whose aromas filled the back corner of the little square in which it sat with a heady smell. The service was counter-only, the beefy pasta was not on menu, and the server looked angry. This was definitely the place for us. We snagged 2 plates of the pasta, smothered in ragu, by stammering something that, to be generous, may have sounded like: “voglio mangiare la pasta che lui magiare … !?” To be generous… To be fair, it was probably a hammed up series of grunts and some wild finger pointing. But we got our pasta. This pasta. It was the best god-damned pasta I’ve ever eaten: simple, rich, and meaty. I practically skipped back to the hotel with gelato in hand.
That night was worse than the night before. 1 a.m. I decided to join the Yahoos and got a bit licked on Moretti, as some Australian chick yammered on about how fantastic Sorrento was. I may have slouched like a rough beast towards the train station the next day; I may have been cantankerous and asleep for the next 15 hours. But by God do I remember that pasta, and now I’ll pass it on to you.
1 tbsp olive oil on a medium heat
8 shallots to the pan
2 ribs of celery
1 carrot, brunoised, finely diced
2 roasted red peppers, chopped
5 cloves of garlic
1.5 lbs of veal tail
2 fresh bay leaves
2 cups of red wine
1/2 cup of passata (fresh tomato sauce)
Fire the shallots until they start to go transluscent and toss in the garlic, cooking until they both go a bit golden. Fry in the other veggies and the meat, stirring for a few minutes. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Reduce, uncovered on a low heat. The veggies will dissolve after a good 45-60 minutes, into the sauce, thickening it. Finish with the passata, keep warm.
2 cups rigatoni (I think I really used 225 grams of rigatoni)
Cook your pasta separately, removing it from the heat when it’s still a bit tough (al dente). There are different philosophies on how to mix the sauce with the pasta. You can cook the pasta in the sauce and incorporate the flavours. I mix the sauce and the pasta in a separate bowl, which ensures the pasta’s texture is preserved and that you can taste the pasta as a separate element of the dish, rather than having all of the flavours blended. Dress with a good sea salt and a nice drizzle of olive oil.
Fresh parmesan curls on top, fresh parsley, crushed black pepper.