Friday, January 13, 2012

Amalfi Lemons & Lunch at San Pietro di Positano

The Amalfi lemon is widely regarded by cooks as the prince among lemons, rivalled only by its Sicilian cousin. Grown on the hills of Campania in Italy, in particular around Sorrento and Amalfi, it's at its best in the summer months, which was when I was last there with my family two years ago.

The enormous Amalfi lemon which is larger than a grapefruit!

The skins of the Amalfi lemon are rich in oil and brightly colored, making them ideal for creating the Amalfi coast's famous limoncello liqueur, or making a heavenly dish of pasta tossed with Amalfi lemon zest, parsley, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil. Its bitter pith is thick, perfectly designed for home-made lemon marmalade, and its flesh, pale and juicy, with a delicious fruitiness that softens its natural sourness. It's the sort of lemon that tempts you to squeeze its perfumed nectar to make a pitcher of homemade lemonade — Amalfi-style. 

A view of Positano and the mountains from its tiny harbour

There are numerous farmhouses on the Amalfi Coast today that grow this type of lemon, known as sfusato amalfitano, prized as one of the best variety in the world. Ultimately, the Amalfi lemon tempts everyone by its beauty, as I found when we stopped by a fruit stand on our way into Positano for a special lunch at The San Pietro. 

The fruit stand on the winding Amalfi Coast drive, where I first saw the enormous local lemons

Noticing how impressed I was with the Amalfi lemons, our driver, who grows these lemons in his garden, presented a basket of these sun kissed beauties to me at the end of the day, in a gesture of supreme kindness.

A traditional shoemaker on the cobbel-stoned slopes of Positano

The only way to wander through Positano is to be dropped off at the top of the hill and explore the vertically-challenged town on foot. Full of gorgeous ceramics shops like my favourite — Ceramica Assunta at 97 Via C. Columbo, small boutiques and clothing shops, there's also traditional craftsmen that spend their days toiling much the same way as previous generations. At La Botteguccia da Giovanni, on the sloped cobblestone lanes of Positano, a traditional craftsman sits each day, ready to make a custom pair of traditional Amalfi sandals while you wait. A family run business since 1917, Gio is the latest generation making any shoe you like, using buttery-soft leather and detailed with any adornment that takes your fancy. Twenty minutes and 50 euros later, I was the proud owner of an exquisite pair of jewelled azure blue sandals. Just the thing to wear to lunch at the San Pietro.

Custom made sandals by my new friend, Gio the shoemaker 

The Hotel San Pietro can justifiably be called an architectural tour de force — a tribute to the vision and determination of its creator, Carlo Cinque. Perched on a cliff falling sheer to the sea, every room looks out over the gorgeous Bay of Positano. In total harmony with nature, the San Pietro is surrounded by scented gardens and the spectacular scenery of the Amalfi coast, its atmosphere is so special that it seems to be in an ethereal dimension.

Approaching the San Pietro by water taxi

View towards Positano and Capri from the most beautiful terrace in the world

One of great hotels in the world, the San Pietro Hotel, well-known for it's quiet elegance, luxurious style and enduring popularity with the international elite, it's also equally renowned for the Michelin starred restaurant run by Chef Alois Vanlangenaeker. At the San Pietro of Positano he prepares local dishes with a personal creative vision such as paccheri with limpets, scuncilli with calamari and Ischia-style rabbit with glazed vegetables. 

Chef Alois Vanlangenaeker

One of the region's local specialties its the local Mozzarella di Buffalo, and although it wasn't on the menu the day we had lunch, the chef offered to prepare his signature Caprese Salad for each of us at our table. The mozzarella and tomatoes were so large, much like the sfusato amalfitano, that it arrived simply as a stacked salad — one enormous round slice of each topped with fresh basil and San Pietro homemade olive oil. It was the most deliciously fresh and full flavoured Insalata Caprese we had all ever enjoyed, and very gracious of Chef Vanlangenaeker to have indulged our whim. Grazie. It was a stellar beginning to a memorable lunch that also marked a very special occasion — my parents 50th anniversary!

Tortelli stuffed with buffalo ricotta and marjoram in a tomato bread sauce

Filet of Veal with sautéed local vegetables

Amalfi lemon budino with homemade gelato

Chocolate Millefeiulle

Amalfi Frutti di Bosco - Fruits of the Forest - with tiny meringue