View of Marina Grande CAPRI with Sorrento in the distance, from Anacapri
Provolone, for many Italian-Americans it’s their favorite cheese. Case in point, its mine, my favorite cheese, as is with my sister Barbara, we both love it. The love of Provolone is more prevalent with Italians who are over forty years of age. The younger generation is more apt to go for Burata, something that didn’t exist in America previous to the past 15 years or so. Growing up in a 60’s 1970’s Italian-American household there were a few Italian Cheeses that most everyone ate and used in cooking their favorite dishes, put on antipasto platters and in sandwiches. There was Ricotta that went into making Lasagna and Manicotti or Stuffed Shells, Cheesecake, Cannoli, and other items. You normally didn’t eat Ricotta on it’s own as you might Mozzarella or Provolone, the ricotta was usually in cooked dishes, however I always loved taking a couple tablespoons, eating it fresh out of the container, all smooth and creamy. Yum!
For many years Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano were the most popular cheeses as they were grated over pasta and used in various recipes. Mozzarella came in third in popularity in Italian-America. Mozzarella is most famous for being a topping of millions upon millions of Pizzas, or in the popular Insalata Caprese, a thing of simplistic beauty and taste. A Caprese Salad looks lovely and fresh and just like an Italian Flag, the colors are the same, the Red of the fresh Tomatoes, the creamy white Fresh Mozzarella, and bright green fresh Basil comprises the classic Insalata Caprese, which of course is drizzled with a little bit of Italian Olive Oil to complete this wonderful dish, that’s simple, yet perfect, and based on the best top quality fresh ingredients. All this being said, using the Mozzarella in this way wasn’t the most popular way of getting this cheese in an Italian household. Mozzarella in Italian-America is most popular when it is cooked (melted) into a multitude of Italian dishes like; Lasagna, Manicotti, Stuffed Shells, on Chicken and Veal Parmigiano, in Baked Ziti and on Pizza. Yes we would have a Caprese Salad now and then, but more often if we were eating fresh uncooked Mozzarella it was usually on a sandwich or in the ever popular Antipasto-Misto platter of which the ingredients would vary according to who was making it, but most often it would consist of Salami, fresh Mozzarella and or Provolone, Roast Peppers, Olives, and fresh Celery.
Provolone, always my favorite cheese when I was growing. It was my sister Barbara’s favorite as well and whenever we went to Barcelona’s Restaurant we always ordered a plate of Provolone along with Mussels Marinara, Baked Clams, and all our other favorites. Yes, Mozzarella was fine, but for my sister Barbara and I it just couldn’t keep up with the big bold flavor of Provolone.
Girl Making My PANINO
I used to love walking into Belevedere Salumeria around the street from our house. The place had large torpedo-like Provolone (weighing 40-50 lbs.) hanging from the ceiling, along with Sopresseta, Prosciutto, and various types of Salumi. The smells dominated by the Provolone when you walked through the door were intoxicating. My friends and I, when we had a couple extra bucks we would treat ourselves and run over to Belevedere Italian Deli and get an awesome sandwich of Gabagool (Capicola), Salami, and Provolone, one of the world’s great sandwiches. Oh my God it’s making me hungry just thinking of it! I want one now!
So along with those boyhood memories of eating a piece of sharp Provolone off the antipasto platter or on one of those great Belvedere Sandwiches, I now have some more fond memories of Provolone Cheese. They come from my latest trip to Italy. I was down on the Amalfi Coast for the first time in a few years, and got a nice panino at a Salumeria one day. I was looking in the refrigerated glass case of Salumi and Cheese looking over their products. I decided on and ordered a panino made with Sopresseta and Provola Afumicata (Smoke Provolone). The counterman made my sandwich and when I ate that baby, boy the combination was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t believe it. I never had this combination before and I just loved it. Simple, just some Sweet Sopresseta and Smoked Provola, the combination was out of this world. It was simple, but each wonderful ingredient of perfectly cured Sopresseta Salami and wonderful Smoke Provolone on a nice Italian Roll, it just made for a great tasting sandwich. What more can I say? I ended up eating about 6 of those sandwiches from various salumerias on Capri, in Sorrento, and on the Amalfi Coast on that trip. I’d get a sandwich or an Arancini to hold me over between meals, if I was going to the beach or taking a boat ride from Amalfi to Capri, or whatever. The sandwiches were all so very tasty and an unexpected pleasure that I hadn’t expected at all. So now after eating all those tasty Panini I now I go to Faicco’s Pork Store around the block and buy some nice Sweet Sopresseta, Smoked Provola and get a loaf of Italian Bread, and I’m all set, right back there on Capri, eating my special Panino di Provola Affumicata e Sopresseta. This brings me back to Capri, Amalfi, and memories of a trip. A trip of beauty, tasty food, and recollections, the beauty of Capri and the Amalfi Coast, eating Vongole, Pasta, Arancini, and Provolone. I tell you folks, “it just doesn’t get much better than that.”
Panino di Proval Affumicata e Sopresseta, Minori
Now talking of these things, the Sopresseta, Provola, Capri Sorrento, and Napoli, I’ve got to bring up one more pleasure of that trip, the Aperol Spritz and Summer on the Amalfi Coast. It’s not that I’d never had an Aperol Spritz before. No, the first time I had one was way back in 1995 in Venice, the place where the Aperol Spritz was invented. I was on my exploratory trip of Venetian Wine Bars (Bacari) when I had my first Spritz. One evening I was walking around doing the Venetian Wine Bar tour. While walking on the Strada Nuova in Canareggio I dashed into a Bacaro I had spotted. I made my way up to the bar and surveyed the scene a moment before ordering. As I stood there I notice people drinking this particular drink. I asked the barman what they were drinking and he told me that it was a Spritz, “Prosecco with Aperol and soda.” OK, I said, “I’ll take one.” The barmen made me one in no-time flat, and that was my first Spritz, and I’ve had a number of them since then. Now getting back to that Summer 2015 on Costiera Amalfitana and the Aperol Spritz, they were everywhere, glasses of Aperol Spritz one after the other, bar after bar, caffe after caffe, table after table, everywhere you looked people were drinking this refreshing cocktail, the locals and tourists alike. Well I’d come back from the beach on my way back to my hotel, and as usual when on the Amalfi Coast when done at the beach for the day, I head to a nice bar or caffe for an Espresso, a glass of local White Wine, a Campari, or some other cocktail. Now all of a sudden it seemed that the Spritz had moved into high gear. The drink was quite popular, and as I’ve said, it was everywhere and everyone was drinking them. So I headed to the Piazza Umberto one day after a day at the beach (Faraglioni) as I usually do. There’s a few very popular caffe’s there, and it’s just a matter of picking one to spend your time at. I chose one of my favorites, the Bar Tiberius. I took a seat at a table outside and waited for the waiter to come over. The waiter came and I ordered an Aperol Spritz. He came back a few minutes later with a refreshing looking Spritz and a little bowl of peanuts for me to munch. Yes, it was good. My Aperol Spritz, Capri, the Piazza Umberto and all that goes with it, like a scene in a movie, set on the beautiful Isle of Capri. And you’re in it. Now that’s something.
So, I ended up drinking a good number of Aperol Spritz’s on that trip. I had them in Capri, Positano, in Sorrento, and at caffé in the piazza in Ravello. It’s a great drink that’s light and refreshing and a great way to start any evening, slow and easy, that’s the Aperol Spritz, it eases you into the evening with its lightness and refreshing taste. Enjoy one some time, I do.
So there you have it, the Provolone of my youth with those great Provolone & Gabagool Sandwiches at the Italian Deli Belveder, the Aperol Spritz, Capri, Napoli, Sorrento, and my Provola Panini on The Amalfi Coast. That’s Italy, Italian-America, Italian Food and memories of this blissful never-ending journey of Italian Food, the culture, people, places, and events. It’s all quite wonderful. Don’t you agree?
Excerpted from Daniel Bellino ‘s forthcoming book MANGIA ITALIANO, slated for a 2016 Release?