After cruising the Mediterranean for nine nights our ship docked in Naples for the day. I was excited to be back in Italy. But it was the last stop of the cruise and my husband didn't share my excitement about seeing the city. In fact he was almost tempted to stay on the ship for the day.
Not content with this plan, I convinced him we should at least get out and about for lunch. After all, I pointed out to him, Naples makes the best pizzas in Italy. Or so I’d been told.
As we made our way out of the port towards the city we came across the open top buses. Personally, I’m not a fan of the open top bus – I prefer to wander with a map and find my own way around – but my husband does enjoy it. So we struck a bargain that we’d spend the day in Naples but take the open top bus tour.
It turned out to be the right decision. The ticket we bought gave us entrance to two tours – the coast as well as the old town. We decided to start with the coast.
As our bus navigated the streets of the city my husband and I marvelled at the magnificent architecture. Street after street of incredible buildings. And the colours! It was unlike anything I’d seen before in Italy.
As we climbed into the hills above Naples there were incredible views to be had of the city and the Gulf of Naples – and, of course, the famous Mt Vesuvius. Breathtaking.
By the time we returned from the coastal tour and switched buses to tour the old town a decision was made that it was time for pizza. We waited until passing a restaurant we liked the look of and then jumped off the bus at the next stop.
If I could give one piece of advice when ordering a pizza in Italy it would be this – keep it simple. Crispy wood-fired crusts, tomato sauce that Italians do so well and delicious mozzarella – that’s what you want to taste. After saying all that I’ll confess I did choose to have aubergine on mine (or melanzane as it is known in Italian) because it’s one of my favourite things to eat and goes so well with the tomatoes and mozzarella. My husband and I came away happy.
The next day our cruise came to an end and the ship docked in Civitavecchia Port (about 80 kms northwest of Rome) early in the morning. Our flight wasn’t until much later so we decided to spend the day in Rome – such a hardship.
There was only one must-do thing I had on my list for the day and it was to return to the restaurant where we had eaten when in Rome the year before. I’m happy to report that the pasta I ordered was just as delicious the second time around – consistency is everything in the restaurant game.
The name of this fabulous place is Ristorante Baccano on Via delle Muratte – a hop, skip and a jump from the Trevi Fountain.
After leaving Rome we returned to London and I was able to catch up with a very dear friend over lunch. As we chatted about my holiday she remarked, as I did, that Italians really know how to get it right. In particular, we mulled over their tomato sauces and wondered why they always taste so incredible. I told my friend it was probably something to do with butter.
A couple of weeks ago this same friend emailed me a recipe for a tomato sauce that she had received from a friend of hers who lives in Italy.
It turns out I was right. Butter.
I was excited – surely this tomato sauce recipe would help me to recreate the incredible pasta I’d eaten in Rome. Well, I’m not an Italian chef so not quite – but I like to think I got pretty close. I just had to share so here goes . . .
Italian Tomato Sauce with Linguine
500g tinned Italian tomatoes
75g unsalted butter
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half
175g linguine, cooked to packet instructions and drained
125g bacon, chopped
Grated Pecorino cheese
To make the tomato sauce, place the tomatoes in a saucepan with the butter, onion and salt (if you have it use freshly ground sea salt). Cook the tomatoes uncovered at a very slow but steady simmer for 45 minutes. Stir from time to time, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a wooden spoon.
After 45 minutes of slow simmering the tomatoes will have reduced and thickened into a lovely sauce. Taste to check the seasoning. You will probably need more salt – salt really is essential to get that rounded flavour. Discard the onion.
Now you absolutely could simply toss this divine sauce through pasta and dinner is done. But I decided to add some sautéed bacon. You can sauté the bacon separately in a pan while the tomatoes are cooking and stir through the sauce before you toss with pasta. A good grind of pepper is nice too.
A quick thing to note – I found this tomato sauce would comfortably serve three when I cooked it but you could easily double it to feed more people.
Once you’ve served into pasta bowls grate over some fresh Pecorino cheese. Take it to the table and on your first mouthful close your eyes and imagine you’re in Italy.
And to Helen – thank you!
Published by Tracey O'Brien