Capri: Blue Waters and Lemon Trees
Right at the top of my ever-growing post-COVID bucket list is the return to the Isle of Capri. It has always been a choice of well-heeled international tourists and discriminating Italians. An iconic celebrity destination since the 40s and 50s, it is a glorious balance of idyllic scenery, spectacular coastline, designer shopping and fabulous homegrown flavors.
Its cuisine is dominated by a plethora of fresh seafood and vegetables that are at their height now, during the summer months. This week’s menu highlights some of Capri’s most well-loved dishes paired with the region’s renowned Falanghina white wine.
A Capri dinner would not be complete without a sip of its lemony nectar – limoncello – distilled right here in Washington, DC and some of the best I have ever tasted.
Positano bread salad – “Fior di Latte”, tomato, arugula, tuna, basil, toasted focaccia
Linguine al Limone da Paolino
Linguine with fresh lemon, cream, parmesan and basil
Salmone alla Mediterranea
Roasted salmon filet with tomato, olives and capers
Flourless chocolate almond cake
Chef's Travel Notes
Right at the top of my ever-growing post-COVID bucket list is a return to the Isle of Capri. It has long been a choice of well-heeled international travelers and discriminating Italians. First, the island was inhabited by the Greeks and then the Roman emperors enjoyed it as a favorite vacation spot. The island has a mythical charm and has inspired poets (and lovers) throughout the ages. It is said Homer was referencing the Faraglioni rock formations off Capri’s coast as the place Ulysses narrowly escapes the temptations of the Sirens’ songs in the Odyssey.
As time passed, it was invaded by pirates and then overtaken by the French, Spanish and British. Capri, as a haven for vacationers, began in the 1800s when the Blue Grotto was rediscovered, though initially people were afraid it was haunted. Then in the 1940s and 50s it began attracting movie stars, royals and the rich and famous (I highly recommend watching the 1960 movie with Clark Gable and Sophia Loren called, It Started in Naples.) The Marina Grande is perpetually filled with some of the world’s most expensive yachts. Glamorous celebrities such as Sophia Loren, Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy Onassis helped to create a certain allure, carried on today by the likes of Beyoncé, the Kardashians and fashion designer, Valentino.
Probably the best way to enjoy Capri is on a boat, as the beaches can get very crowded in the summer. Sail to an isolated cove and dive off the edge or even snorkel in the crystal-clear emerald water. I’ll never forget the exhilaration of swimming underwater in the Tyrrhenian Sea for the first time. Of course, if you do only one thing while in Capri you must see the Blue Grotto, “La Grotta Azzurra.” The phenomenal color is created by light streaming through holes in the underwater caverns producing an effect so vibrantly blue the water appears to glow.
Capri is located on the south side of the Gulf of Naples in the Campania region. It is a short 45-minute, 50-mile hydrofoil ride. The Port of Naples is the culinary capital of Southern Italy, making Capri, with its plethora of fresh seafood and vegetables, a great place for foodies. Our menu this week starts with a dish native to Capri – Caponata Caprese. In other parts of Italy, caponata usually refers to a dish with eggplant similar to ratatouille, but here it is a glorious combination of caprese salad and panzanella with an added twist of tuna and arugula. It is traditionally made with the base of friselle, a rock-hard bread that looks like a bagel, not easily found here. Here we have substituted our toasted focaccia. Mozzarella, either from water buffalo milk (bufala) or cow’s milk (fior di latte) is the star of the dish. The famous cheese’s name is derived from the Italian word, mozzare – to tear – which is what the cheesemaker does as he manipulates and shapes it.
Linguine al Limone da Paolino is one of Capri’s iconic pasta dishes made famous by Ristorante Da Paolino located among more than 100 heavily laden lemon trees. It is one of those dishes where you quickly prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking. It is a light fragrant pasta bursting with flavor from the addition of lemon rind, light cream, parmesan, and basil.
Salmone alla Mediterranea is a preparation popular throughout the region, though usually prepared with fish indigenous to its surrounding waters. “Pesce all’acqua pazza” or “fish in crazy water,” refers to the tradition of fishermen cooking their fresh catch in sea water. We prepare ours with San Marzano tomatoes (also indigenous to the Campania region), olives and capers.
Torta Caprese is Capri’s premier dessert made with melted dark chocolate and almond flour with a dusting of powdered sugar. Capri is known for its almond trees so you will see almond flour frequently used in place of wheat flour in many of their desserts.
Our wine this week, Falanghina Beneventano, Le Origini, is made from the falanghina grape predominantly grown in the porous volcanic soils around Mount Vesuvius. Its medium intensity with crisp minerality and pretty floral notes makes it a perfect pairing with our Capri menu.
No meal consumed on Capri or in the entire region of Campania for that matter, would be complete without a sip of limoncello or “limunciel” as the locals call it. There is some debate as to the origin of this citrus elixir, though the name was trademarked by the grandson of a well-known innkeeper on the island who served limoncello made from the fruit of her own trees. For many years, we would make limoncello both in Italy and here in DC, that is until I discovered Don Ciccio e Figli, right here in our backyard. Francesco Amodeo, grandson of Don Ciccio, uses original family recipes to make some of the best limoncello I have ever tasted.
Even though Italy is beginning to reopen and accept foreign travelers again, many of us still must be satisfied with our memories of perfect moments spent on an unforgettable Italian vacation. Though we can eat like we are there, we’ll have to re-imagine the idyllic scenery, incredible views and glorious sunsets of Capri for a little while longer.
Alla prossima volta,
- For a delightful glimpse into Capri in the 1950s, watch “It Started in Naples”. It is a charming romantic comedy, staring Sophia Loren and Clark Gable, highlighting the cultural differences between a rich American man and a sultry Italian beauty with the ever-present spectacular backdrop of this beautiful island.