Behind the kitchen door of Conca del Sogno – Amalfi Coast
I have always wondered what was “cooking” behind the kitchen door of a great restaurant. This time I had the privilege (and what a privilege) to witness some of the most delicious recipes – and secrets – of the Southern Italian cuisine.
You all might wonder how come I have this access to the kitchen of one of the best restaurants in Amalfi Coast – Conca del Sogno. Well, this is because my husband’s grandfather was one of the first customers of the Tizzani family, the owners of this wonderful restaurant, so they know my husband’s family since they started this business. My husband always tells me his grandfather Enzo used to be quite a personality. Whenever “nonno” Enzo visited Conca del Sogno, he would sneak into the kitchen to see what the chef and the cooks where preparing. One of the things I regret from not meeting my husband before, is not having the opportunity to meet his grandfather. Mr. Vincenzo not only was a great person, but had an incredible sense of humor, and my husband always says we would have gotten along so well – I would have become his grandfather’s perfect joking around pal.
So to honor nonno Enzo’s memory, and to follow his tradition, I went inside Conca del Sogno’s kitchen to get some wonderful recipes.
I will begin with a simple…
Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and basil
The following are approximate quantities:
100 grams of spaghetti
about 1 cup of ripe cherry tomatoes cut into 4 halves each
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
some fresh basil leaves (torn with hands into pieces)
salt to taste
In a pot – over medium high heat – add extra olive oil. After 1 minute, add crushed garlic, and some basil leaves, and cook for about 1-2 minutes. Add cherry tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium. Cook until juice from tomatoes infuses well into extra virgin olive oil. Notice how the color of olive oil changes with pictures. To get a homogeneous sauce, the secret to this recipe is slow cooking. Since it was hard to keep track of time in a busy kitchen, it is difficult to give an exact amount of time. Therefore, my advice is to keep an eye on the sauce until you get the same sauce consistency of the far right picture on the second row (click on the pictures for a better view).
This is the pasta cooking station. It has two rectangular pots (or fountains) with three pasta colanders (or baskets) each – meaning that you can cook up to 6 different pasta formats at a time. The water boils continuously at a steady temperature, and it is already salted with coarse salt.
While cooking pasta, one of the cooks told me: ” Pasta should be cooked al dente, and we like it almost raw”! Wow!!!! He added: ” I remove pasta from boiling 1 or 2 minutes before it’s done since I then transfer it into the pot containing the sauce to continue the cooking process”. Another Wow!!!
Adding pasta to tomato sauce.
The blending process is a very crucial step when preparing this dish. Since the cooks remove pasta from the boiling pot before it is completely cooked, they finish cooking it by blending it with the sauce. One of the secrets of this sauce is to add some pasta cooking water. Below, the step by step process. Notice how the color of pasta changes through the different photos; this took about 3 minutes, until tomato sauce had clung well to spaghetti (click on the pictures for a better view).
Before proceeding, a fascinating view of the kitchen and the excellent, hard-working cooking crew.
Plating the dish. Behind the tomato pasta, you can see a stunning zucchini pasta dish (but this one is the restaurant’s secret recipe not to be shared!!)
Eccola!! (Here it is!)
No tricks, no top-secret restaurant ingredients, or magic potions. Just fresh, high quality ingredients, with a slow and wise traditional cooking method – just as Italian grandmas used to make.