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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale

From May 4-17, Il Fornaio celebrates the food of Campania. One of the better known regions of Italy--home to Naples, Sorrento, Salerno, the island of Capri, and the Amalfi Coast--Campania enjoys a warm climate and a long growing season. Mario Lombardo designed the regional menu, pulling favorites from his mother's kitchen and the dishes his father prepared as a chef in Campagnia at O'Parrucchiano-La Favorita.

At Il Fornaio's Santa Monica restaurant (1551 Ocean Avenue across from the Santa Monica Pier; 310/451-7800), we enjoyed another tasting as we continue our exploration of Italy through its regional cuisines.

As befits a coastal region, the Campania menu features seafood. There were mussels with breadcrumbs (Tegamino e Cozze), linguine with clams (Linguine cu e Vongole), risotto with shrimp, mussels, and clams (Risotto e Amalfi), and seabass baked in parchment paper with shrimp, mussels, and clams (Spigula Dinto o Cuoppo).

Our starter was the cannelini bean soup (Menesta Schitana). The beans thickened and sweetened the broth, which was complimented by barely cooked fresh tomatoes and crisp pieces of pancetta. With the soup we were served the Fiano di Avellino, D'Antiche Terre (2007) a dry white with strong fruit notes. At first it seemed counter-intuitive to have wine with soup (who does that?), but they worked well with one another.

The second appetizer was a beautifully plated selection of heirloom tomatoes (Pummarole e Capri) with first-of-the-season Pineapple and Brandywine tomatoes, topped with soft cubes of mozzarella di bufala. With the Pummarole, we had the Greco di Tufo, D'Antiche Terre (2007), a white wine with a touch of sweetness to leven the acid of the tomatoes.

For our pasta course, we had crepes filled with ground beef (Cannelloni e Pascale), mixed with a trifecta of cheeses--ricotta, mozzarella, paremesan--and seasoned with fresh basil. Resting on top was a coating of tomato sauce and melted fresh mozzarella. When my Jewish mother cooked comfort food, dumplings were usually involved, which always made me very happy. I have to imagine that cannelloni have a similar effect on the children of Campania.

The menu offered a meat course of veal (Scaluppine a Caprese), a mixed grill of lamb, game hen, and sausage (Carne Mista 'Ncoppa a Griclia), or seabass in parchment paper (Spigula Dinto o Cuoppo). We decided to try the Scaluppine.

Thin slices of veal were sauced with lightly cooked chopped tomatoes and melted fresh mozzarella, accompanied by fresh English peas sauteed with pancetta and roasted baby Yukon Gold potatoes. A richly flavored Aglianico, Terredora (2007) was served with the veal. One of our friends described the aroma as "almost like you're drinking it inside a wine cask." Deliciously musky, the Aglianico was perfectly paired with the veal.

Well-known as a citrus growing region, for our Campanian dessert we had half-glasses of chilled limoncello and a serving of light-as-air lemon sponge cake with lemon pastry cream inside (Delizia a Limone). All too often lemon's tartness is counterbalanced with a heavy addition of sugar. Not so with the limoncello and sponge cake. Sweetness softened lemon's edge but didn't overwhelm its flavor.

One of these days we'll take a long postponed trip to Italy, but until then we look forward to Il Fornaio's monthly Festa Regionale.

For more posts about Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale check out:
Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
A Tasting at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica--Trentino-Alto Adige
A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio--Calabria
Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale
Il Fornaio Heads North to Lombardia
Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica
Friuli-Venezia Giulia at Il Fornaio