Sunday, October 31, 2010

in Matera

Hi folks,

Just a quick post to let you know of my whereabouts. I'm in Matera, in the province of Basilicata. Its a Unesco World Heritage site. Really need dwellings in caves called Sassi.

I have a few posts, but no chance to upload photos so I think I'll just wait. Tomorrow, I head to Taranto, which is in Puglia (home of AMAZING food and wine). I've decided to spend more time there as it is flat and warmer than Abruzzo and Molise.

Overall, I am doing well although my body has taken a beating with the riding. The riding has been more dificult than last trip, and this is not because of my fitness. Rather, its a combo of things. 1) my bike is steel and has smaller tires. This makes it slower going relative to my last tour, which I rode with an aluminum frame bike with bigger (circumference) tires. 2) I am carrying more things due to colder weather. 3) Its been all up and down along the coast! 4) Its rained a fair amount. The tough riding makes me hungry and I have a rather insatiable apettite... which is good in Italy.



Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Tyrrhenian Coast... to the toe

Ahh, the rain has stopped and I've had two solid days of riding. All the riding has been along the Tyrrhenian Coast, which you could think of as the top of the foot of the boot. Now, I'm in Reggio di Calabria - at the toe. Its the final town before you cross over to Sicily, which I will not be doing on this trip (but plan to in the future ;). 
The last two days of riding have been tough... 143 km yesterday and 113 km today, and it was mostly up or down... there is very little flat terrain along this coastline. 
Today, I will write about my ride on the 27th (I have now reached that point in the vacation where I no longer know the day of the week)... ohh, and the pizza afterwards. 
The ride began in Cosenza (emphasize the Z). It was a overcast morning, but the sun was beginning to peak through. Cosenza is at about 230 m in elevation. To get back to the coast, I needed to climb up to 1111 m, and then descend down to sea level. So, I knew I had a big morning. Soon after hitting the road, I came across the sign below.... I wasn't sure if I should take this as a good or bad foretelling of the day.
What does this mean? (sorry, I cannot rotate photos)
It was a big climb. For those of you in Northern Arizona reading this, I would compare it to the climb from Cottonwood, through Jerome, and over Mingus Mtn. It was similar in distance and elevation gain. It was a great start to the day and I had the road completely to myself except for a few stray dogs (anyone know about rabies control in Italy).
Into the Calabrian hillside.
After the climb and hairpin'd descent, I hit the coast. From here, I had about 100 km to cover to make it to Tropea. It was 11 o'clock. Time to cruise. I did my best and made it to Tropea around 3:45. I was pretty ridiculously tired. The coastal riding here is very hilly, and after a big climb in the morning, the continuous rolling hills really takes its toll. But, I had arrived, and Tropea looked like another really great coastal town. Its built up on a cliff. I couldn't get a good look at the whole scope of it, but if you click here, you can see the view as captured from the sea. I took a long, hot shower and heading out for some food. I caught a photo of Stromboli out in the distance in the fading evening light.
That's Stromboli out in the distance... its a volcano, not just a sandwich.
For dinner, I was craving pizza... and it'd been at least 3 days since I'd had any. I found a small pizzeria and made sure it was "forno al legna" (wood-fired oven). The owners seemed very friendly and the oven was HUGE and built into the restaurant, so I went in. I ordered the Capriocciosa (mozz, prosciutto, olives).  It just sounded good. The pizza arrived in about 15 minutes, longer than the usual wait for wood-fired pizza.
The Capriocciosa at Vecchio Forno in Tropea, Italy.
I would not call this Neapolitan pizza (and just for the record, neither did they). LOTS of cheese, little cornicione, and the underskirt had no char (see below). BTW, if you want to look like a crazy, take a picture of the bottom of your pizza. This pizza was more American than Neapolitan. Quite greasy and a relatively thick (and kind of soggy) crust. BUT, I was damn hungry and a little grease was probably good for me after the day's effort. I ate the whole thing and wanted more.
The underskirt of the Capriocciosa.
After I finished, I struck up a conversation with the pizzaiolo. I mentioned I was un pizzaiolo di Flagstaff, Arizona. He got really excited about this and continued to tell his family (who, with him, run the pizzeria). I asked if I could get a photo of the oven as I admired its construction. No no, "ls fotografia con Flagstaff pizzaiolo e nostro forno." I didn't argue with them.
"Flagstaff pizzaiolo e nostro forno."
I have so much more I plan to post in the next few days (hopefully), so stay tuned!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Amalfi coast

Today, I rode the Amalfi coast. Its definitely some of the best coastal riding I've ever done. Absolutely beautiful and the road hugs 300 meter cliffs for about 30 km of it. Wow! The riding reminded me of the Cinque Terre, where I visited during my last tour.The day ended in a torrential downpour and I need to reassess tomorrow as more is expected. I may hang in Salerno on more day.
From Termini... at the tip of the Amalfi Peninsula.

Anyway, on with the ride. I got up around 7:30. Breakfast was free at the hostel (Ostello di Sirene), but this did not excite me. I knew it would be most likely a croissant and un caffe. Not exactly fuel for a big ride. Well, that's exactly what it was. I desperately wanted to run to my room to grab my peanut butter to slather on the croissant... but I didn't. Dumb. The first 15 km of my ride was straight uphill to Termini (the end of the Amalfi peninsula). I totally bonked just before the top. I scarfed down one of my last clif bars and took a rest to take in the amazing view. Take a look at a map of the peninsula. Basically, my ride today was completely along the perimeter of the peninsula and Termini was the turning point. So, from its high elevation, I was able to see ocean all around and some beautiful views of Capri. The next 5 km was rolling up and down and then a solid 10 km down to Positano. Now the riding was along a thin road with about a 200-300 m clif to my right diving down into perfectly blue waters.

It was Sunday so there were a lot of Italian cyclist out. I love when we cross paths. They are so warm. Ciao!! with big smiles. I think they respect that I am not the average tourist and of course there is that mutual love of being on a bike. The road was also littered with Ducati's. These guys are assholes... clearly accelerating by me to annoy and get a jump out of me. Guess they had something to prove that they could only do with a big engine between their legs :)
I stopped in Amalfi to have some food and then enjoyed the final 20 km into Salerno. I had 3 km to go and the rains came hard. Drenched, hungry. Stopped in a bar (all coffee shops are called bars) to have un caffe and un bicchiere d'aqcua gassata. The beautiful Italian woman must have thought (and clearly seen) that I was tired, cold, and hungry because she brought me some pastries while I was writing. Another one of those countless experiences I have (think Caputo Molino) where Italians have taken me in like one of their own.
My face lit up with a big smile as I looked up in astonishment.. GRAZIE!!
Amalfi coast... excellent coastal bluffs and riding.
(A)more Amalfi

visit to Pompeii and first day of riding

Yesterday was my first day on the bike. I rode from Naples to Sorrento about 59 km. It was a great day, and my visit to Pompeii was the highlight yesterday.
I need my peel and dough... this photo is going on the wall!

I was glad to begin the cycling and have my escape from Naples on a Saturday. The traffic in the city is rather horrible. Saturday morning brought relatively clear streets and good weather. I set out around 8:30. The first 15 km was all on cobblestone road, however. It was jolting and a bit painful. It did allow me to identify any loose screws on the bike, which I quickly tightened up. After about 35 km, I came to the Pompeii. The ruins are just a small detour from "new Pompeii." I was a bit worried I would not be able to enter the ruins for fear of not finding a good place to lock my bike and store my panniers. However, I was pleased to hear that they hold your luggage for free and there was lots of high-visibility spots to lock the bike to outside the entrance. So, I bought my ticket (11 euro, which is the low season price and a steal, in my opinion) and off I went. I had a goal of finding as many of the famed 33 wood-fired ovens that they have found. I quickly realized that this place was much larger than I had thought. The preservation was really amazing. I was blown away by the expanse and features that were preserved. Oh, and I found lots of ovens! About a dozen. It was so neat to see the same design that I had used on my oven at Pompeii. I would've killed for my peel and some dough. I have some great photos that I wish I could share now. I'll be sure to do so once I find a computer that allows me to download photos. I spent about 2 and a half hours walking the ruins and I didn't even see half of it. I would have walked more, but I needed lunch! Back on the bike the final 20 km or so was quite enjoyable. It was fairly mixed riding with some nice narrow roads leading into Sorrento (famed for being the home of the Sirens in Greek mythology). A few sprinkles greeted me upon arriving in Sorrento. Sorrento is also famous for its lemoncillo and man, was it everywhere! I easily found my hostel, unpacked, grabbed un caffe and un bicchiere d'aqcua gassata, and wrote in my journal. Afterwards, I spent about 2 hours walking the town. It was fairly touristy with lots of Brits and Americans. I kept to myself for the most part.
They might not know much about Geology, but they did build a nice dome in this oven.

My stomach was a growling and I decided NOT to have pizza for the first time for dinner. It'd been 3 nights in a row. I actually could have eaten pizza, but just chose a panini instead. Also, I visited a local enoteca (wine shop) and found a good-priced half-bottle of Greco di Tufo. Its a local white wine (made with Greco grapes) near the town of Tufo. It has DOCG status, which is basically a way that the quality and content of the wine is insured/controlled. It was a great way to toast my first day of riding! I made it an early evening as I was excited about what tomorrow would bring along the Amalfi coast.
I think one thing I really appreciate about Italy is there passion and pride for their local produce and specialties. In fact, its often hard to find items that aren't local. For example, every cheese or produce shop I go into I look for Raschera cheese. Its one I discovered on my last tour in the town of San Bilbo in the Piedmont (although it is not from the Piedmont, actually). I loved it and haven't had it since (can't find it in the US either). Here in Campania, they love their mozzarella di buffalo (mozz made with buffalo milk). It really is a treat and dominates the cheese aisle/shelf/basket. Its fairly cheap too, which I think is because of the competition and availability but perhaps also its a way to keep other cheeses out. Anyway, this is completely foreign to us in the US. "Whatya' mean I can't get bananas in Alaska?" We'd have none of that and I think that is just silly. I'll get off my pedestal now.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pizzeria Starita

Another night in Naples, and another pizza to be eaten. Tonight, I ventured north into the Mater Dei neighborhood to visit Starita, which was recommended by my generous hosts as Molino Caputo.
The Quattro Stagioni at Starita

I ordered the Vino Veneto Bianco Frizzante... the local white wine, which is served frizzante (slightly effervescent) and also the Quattro Stagioni to eat (the pizza is divided into four sections, each representing one of the four seasons). This is one of those classic pizzas we hear about but I had yet to try it outside of my own house.  It is to be topped with four different ingredients on each quadrant of the pizza - mushrooms, ham/prosciutto, olives, and artichokes. This is the classic quattro stagioni. Unfortunately, I think they did not have artichokes, so I had a mozz + tomato for the 4th season. The pie was really good. The crust was perfect although my butter knife did not cut through it as easily as at da Michele. Nonetheless, the crust was excellent in flavor, loft, and char-speckling. I was quite pleased by the end of the meal... and full. I ate about 95% of the pie and would have eaten more, but they threw anchiove on with the olives and it was just too salty for me.
After the meal I was walking down the road and spotted a delivery vespa sitting outside Pizzeria Centenaria. There are so many vespas in this town, and these guys rigged their vespa for delivery. I loved it... a great idea, and maybe one for pizzicletta (sub a bike for a vespa).
The vespa-delivering pizza mobile at Centenaria.

my visit to Molino Caputo

Man, this is just getting better and better. Read and weep folks, my visit to Molino Caputo.
When I was planning my trip during the last few months, I sent an email to the Molino Caputo company, asking if I would be able to visit when I was in Naples. The email encouraged me to contact them upon my arrival, although there was no commitment.
Yesterday, I called and asked if I could come by. They sounded tepid about the visit... "we don't do tours for just anyone." Well, I made my case and they agreed. I was to show up at 10 AM this morning, sharp. I arrived a bit early. Actually, I wasn't sure I was in the right place. The building is very nondescript. There is no "Molino Caputo" sign outside. However, by chance, the bay doors opened when I arrived for a delivery of grain. I peaked in, and sure enough, there was bags of flour back there... bingo!
Before heading in, I grabbed un caffe at the bar down the street.
I entered and met Antimo Caputo and his uncle. I introduced myself and told him my plans for pizzicletta.  I received some questionable glances and the inevitable question, "How old are you?"
The tour began in the lab. Here, they test all the grain they receive from all over the world.... the US, France, Russia, Ukraine, Estonia... the list goes on. I felt like I was back at NAU... sort of. The first photo above is the raw grain from the different countries. They grind each batch and make dough and then test it for elasticity and extensibility, as well as how much water the flour can absorb. I thought this discussion was very cool because these are all factors that I consider when making dough. I determine these factors by feel, but they use machines that slowly pull the dough apart and measure the two factors above. I also asked questions about the importance of grain size, which rather impressed them and they gave me a fairly long explanation. Basically, the size of the grain will determine how quickly or slowly the dough will rise. Too fast and the dough is too extensible and will rip. Too slow and it can become to elastic and will act to much like a rubber band, always returning to its original shape (rather than a nice round, flat disk).

Next, we visited the mill. This was awesome. They showed me the 22-consecutive stages they employ to turn the grain into the flour. This is a delicate phase and by doing so many stages, they are able to preserve the protein from the raw grain. If you would grind down in one or a few stages, it would obliterate protein in the grain. Next, the ground flour is shot back to the top of the mill and separated from the husk or the bran. I captured a video of these shaker machines doing the separating. Pretty cool (and loud).
Now down one level to the packaging. Here they bag up the flour. During this part of the tour, I learned what the difference was between the "red" and "blue" label flour. The blue pizzeria flour (which is what I use) is more delicate and is ground finer. The red is more coarse and is meant to be used if you plan to make a lot of dough for use over many days. The red is better for warmer climates where the blue dough might over-ferment. I was happy to hear I've been using the correct flour for my pies in Flagstaff.
After packaging, the flour is loaded onto trucks and taken out for delivery. When I asked if business was good, they emphatically said "yes" and attributed much of it to the Neapolitan-boom in the US.

We ended the tour back in the office where we talked more about pizza, the business, my cycling trip and the origins of pizzicletta (home oven, cycling, etc). I stated how I was here because I wanted to know the origins of the food that I use and serve and the story behind that food. They were kind of blown away and really dug it. It was one of those moments when you look someone in the eye and you really connect.
Finally, there were big smiles on their faces and they stated "you are now our ambassador, please tell the world what we do here." I could tell there was much pride in their work. It convinced me that I will continue to use Molino flour. To top it off, Antimo said, "wait one moment," left, and returned a few minutes later with an awesome gift bag with hats, apron, stone tile... I felt quite honored.
But I had one more question... "Where do you go in Naples for pizza?" Recall, I still have one night left here! They stated a couple of places (Pizzeria La Notizia and Starita). The former is owned by Enzo Coccia, whom I've read a great deal about on Slice. The latter makes a fried pizza, that is apparently quite good. Sounds pretty crazy, but I think these guys know a thing or two about pizza. Both pizzerias are a ways away on the west or north side of town. I need to do some research about the travel before deciding where to go tonight. Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pizzeria Sorbillo

Two pizzerias in one day. Ahh, quite a good day, and surprisingly I restrained myself enough that I don't feel stuffed or as if I've overeaten. Perhaps that speaks to the quality of the ingredients or it could be my relaxed state of mind or I simply have eaten less. I'm not sure, but it feels good.
Sorbillo was a lot different than da Michele. The decor was more refined and there was a lot of staff roaming the restaurant. The menu was expansive, with about 20 pizza options (ten-fold as many as da Michele). In these ways, it was surprising that they are compared so often.
I decided to branch out a bit and ordered, not a margharita, but their Raimondo (mozz, cherry tomato, prosciutto crudo, and arugula) and a local wine (IGT aglianico). Aglianico is grown most widely in Campania (the province that Napoli is in). The wine is very acidic and has lots of tannins. Its not for the timid wine drinker. One thing I enjoy about Italian restaurants is that they offer 1/2 bottles... and they are typically very low in price. I find a bottle is way too much to drink but one glass is not enough. Ordering two glasses is typically more in price than 1/2 bottle, and about equivalent in volume. So, the half bottle is a good medium.
The Raimento at Sorbillo
Anyway... the wine and pizza was ordered and so I took in my surroundings. The place was nicely decorated but almost too sterile. Perhaps that was the cleaner-odor that was emanating from the restroom downstairs... either way, it didn't add to the experience. The oven was also pristine looking, as if it just rolled out of a factory. Sorbillo was also closed when I came in and opened at 7 PM. So, it seemed to me that they didn't just flow with the day, but set themselves up for a lunch rush and a dinner rush, which I believe is different at da Michele. OK, enough with the bashing. The staff was awesome and very responsive (and single?... yes, that crossed my mind)... and the pizza.
Yes, another great pizza. Again, uncut and about 14". Not as wet as the other pies I've had, but that was likely due to the toppings (i.e. cherry tomato rather than tomato sauce). I enjoyed seeing a little more green on my pie and the arugula was nice and peppery. The prosciutto was smoky and better than most I've had in Flagstaff. The mozz was not melted all the way through, however. The crust was excellent, but not as impressive as da Michele. The crust needed a bit more work to cut, and at Sorbillo, I was given a serraded knife (at da Michele I was given your standard bread knife). The flavor was right on, nonetheless. Perhaps another 15 seconds in the oven would have elevated this pie to a higher level for me. This might have made the cheese melt and the crust cut easier. Also the leopard-pattern char was less on this pie. Personally, I think if they replaced the mozz with mascarpone, the pizza would have been much better because it would have added more moisture and a bit of a flavor contrast with the salty prosciutto.
Nonetheless, the pie was so good that I ate about 90% of it (wild, I know). Seated next to me, a small Asian woman took down a whole pie in about 10 minutes!! I was impressed.
One final note about eating pizza in Naples. I've observed that Neapolitans eat pizza both with fork-and-knife (typically how they start), but at both restaurants, the locals seem to abandon the utensils and get to their hereditary roots, using only their hands. But when that cave-man instinct kicks in, I've noticed they always fold their slice, much like a New Yorker. Maybe trivial, but kind-of interesting and maybe a reason to never tell anyone how to eat their pizza, just lettem' enjoy it.
Tomorrow I meet with Sr. Caputo himself (ancestor of the Caputo family). Caputo flour is ground very fine and made specifically for pizza. Its all I use.

da Michele

Don't you love when chance brings something amazing. Today in the late morning, I ventured out to find a bike shop to pump up my tires to a high pressure (hand-held pumps don't suffice) and I ended up biking around the old-town of Naples. As I took a little break, I looked up, and lo and behold... da Michele! and there was no line. It was noon. The stars had aligned.
Again, the place was mundane looking... no large signage, bright lights, or anything informing you that this was one of the best pizzerias in the world... although there was an advertisement for Eat, Pray, Love outside on a 8X11 piece of paper.

pizzicletta meets da Michele
I took a quick photo of my bike parked outside, locked it to itself, and set it next to the door (think PnT would like that one?). There was a seat just at the exit of the restaurant so it was easy for me to keep an eye on the bike (it wasn't locked to a pole or anything, just the front wheel). In fact, the guys working the floor at the restaurant looked out for it too.

Ordering was easy... either margherita, marinara, or also margherita with extra cheese. I chose the margherita and a aqcua gassata. For the next 15 minutes, I enjoyed watching the pizzaioli work their magic. There were about 4 guys back there. One forming dough into disks, one topping, and two working the peels. They were very efficient, never getting in each others way, and making jokes along the way. Looked like fun.

My pie arrived and I immediately shifted my focus. Again, the pie was about 14" in diameter... not perfectly round, but round for the most part. It had a nice leopard-spot char around the cornicione, dabbles of mozz, and a couple basil leaves. I think most of the folks who have had my pizza would want more cheese and basil. I'd like to say I am a traditionalist, and I believe I am very much a diehard traditionalist when it comes to dough, but perhaps my toppings are not as simple as true Neapolitans. Recall, they only serve TWO, that's right, TWO kinds of pizza here. So, basically, all da Michele's food costs are for 1) flour, 2) salt, 3) tomato, 4) mozzarella, 5) basil and 6) olive oil. I think anyone in the restaurant business would appreciate the beauty of this simplicity. BTW, I forgot to mention that da Michele has been open since 1870 with the same menu and that they believe in using "no junk" in the "sacred temple of pizza." Recall folks, they are talking about pizza here, although it may sound like a commitment to a higher calling (which I suppose it is).
Now back to the pizza. As per usual in this part of the world, it was served uncut and with a knife and fork. I had the couple seating with me take a photo, and then dug in (I think I remembered to say "grazie" I'm not sure... pardon my manners, I was focused). The crust was so tender that the standard butter knife I was given felt like a ginsu cutting through hot butter. The flavor and texture of the crust was also excellent. I love when you eat char but it doesn't taste burnt because the leopard-print spots are so miniscually thin that you just get a bit of the burnt flavor. That's always a goal of mine and when you can say it looks burnt but tastes amazing it kind-of blows people away. da Michele had that type of char. Va bene!
The cheese stood out more so than other mozz I've had, very creamy and with more flavor... no rubbery feel at all. As I've described good neapolitan pizza before, this one was like "fresh ingredients on good bread." The flavor of the cheese, tomato (not nearly as sweet as last night), and olive oil was so good and fresh, it seemed to just melt in my mouth.
and the total for this fabulous meal... € 4.5. Never have I found a better place to be on a budget and a quest for good food.
Its hard to believe, but I think I'll be going to Pizzeria Sorbillo tonight. The rumor is that that da Michele and Sorbillo duel it out for the best pies in Naples... and therefore, probably some of the best pizza in the world. Gotta say I feel like a king having both in one day.
And just for fun, here is the quote out of Eat, Pray, Love about da Michele:
So Sofie and I have come to Pizzeria da Michele, and these pies we have just ordered — one for each of us — are making us lose our minds. I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair. Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she's having a metaphysical crisis about it, she's begging me, "Why do they even bother trying to make pizza in Stockholm? Why did we even bother eating food at all in Stockholm?"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My first Neapolitan pizza...

Hi Folks,
I have arrived... Napoli (Naples)! Holy cow, this place is a madhouse. Loud and dirty, vespas everywhere, debauchery around every corner... its all that I expected from Naples, or so I was told, so if the pizza-tales are as true as the dark side of the city, I am in for a real treat (or something twisted like that).
All my flights were on time and my bike arrived without any major scars besides a few scratches on my Pay n Take sticker. Oh well, I brought an extra. As expected, hauling my bike suitcase to my hostel (6 Small Rooms) was SUCH A PAIN IN THE ASS. It did not help that the hostel was on a obscure side street and took me about 1.5 hours to find. Oh well, I am here, the bike is built, and I have pizza and gelato in my belly.
Built and ready to ride on the streets of Italy.

So onto the pizza. I was thoroughly exhausted after the search for the hostel and then spending an hour setting up my bike. Also, I am not yet familiar with the streets here, and anyone who has been in Italian towns know how easily you can get lost. I was hoping to make my way to Via Tribunali (a famous Neapolitan street with good pizzeria and also the name of a Neapolitan pizzeria in Seattle), but exhaustion and hunger overcame me before I could find it.
No fear, in Naples, you pass a wood fired pizzeria as often as one passes Starbucks in Manhattan.  All the guides I have read state that the visual appearance of a restaurant is not a reflection of the food. The local restaurants would rather spend money on ingredients than decor, or so I am told.
My first Neapolitan DOP Margherita. About 14" in diameter. 
I did my best, I promise... just could not finish it.
True to form, Vesi was drab but the pizza was great. I ordered the Margherita DOP (4.5 euro... that is pretty cheap, considering it was about 14 inches in diameter!). Anyway, the crust was not as lofty as I like but the flavor was great. The pizza was true to neapolitan style, which means its really wet and was served uncut. I was given a fork and knife... that is right, I have arrived in the pizza aficionado paradise. The DOP tomatoes on the pizza were sweeter than anything I have had at home, which may be due to freshness of the canned stuff I use?? something to think about.
I am embarrassed to say that I could only eat 3/4 of the pie. Kind of sad to say but I was just too full.
Of course, I had to check out the oven, so I inquired. It looked exactly like a Ferrara oven, so I asked in my broken Italian if it was. They said it was and invited me back to take a photo. Got some photos and some love from the staff. Great hospitality! I was going to write more but this is turning into a stream-of-consciousness as I am fully exhausted. I am going to bed. Until the next pie!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cibo, Phoenix

Cool atmosphere at Cibo
I had internet and a computer at the hotel tonight, so I figured I might as well post about the first pies of the trip.
My mom and I visited Cibo, in Phoenix. While not in Italy, I have to say that it was really amazing. I was very impressed with the atmosphere and the pies. Tomorrow morning is my flight to Italy and this was a perfect meal to get me excited about all the deliciousness that awaits me.
The restaurant is in an old house which adds a touch of comfort to the dining experience. We actually sat outside in the front yard next to a gnarly looking tree that had some really cool grape-vine christmas lights (a good gift for the wino in your life). A white cat greeted us and curled near our feet for much of the meal.

Happy to be having the first pie of the trip.
My mom ordered a glass of pinot grigio (her favorite) while I chose the primitivo from Puglia. I'll be in Puglia for a about a week on this trip so I figured I should start to get used to the palate of the region. Primitivo (referred to as zinfandel in the US) is one of the most widely produced grapes in the world and the same goes for Italy. Typically, its made into a wine that has high acidity and alcohol content. The glass at Cibo matched those characteristics.
The Rustica at Cibo
For pizza, my mom ordered the Vegetariana (tomato, mozz, mushroom, artichoke, zucchini, roasted red pepper), while I ordered the Rustica (mozz, prosciutto, arugula, shaved parm). The crust had an amazing leopard-spotted crust. The cornicione was as lofty as I like but the flavor was excellent. A lightness to the dough texture that was equalled by a slight nuttiness in the flavor.
I managed to polish off my pie easily and nearly ate half my mom's! Guess I'm getting ready for all those miles on the bike. After a few bites I also realized how amazing and relaxing it is to SIT AND EAT PIZZA. I estimate that I've made about 250 pizzas this summer at my house during many parties and events. Nearly every one of those nights involved me eating a bite here or there and sometimes not eating any pizza at all. I'm not at all complaining because I feel in my element when working the peel, but how refreshing it was to sit and enjoy a glass of wine, pizza, and conversation with my mom.

After dinner, I told the staff of my trip and I asked to check out the oven. Unfortunately, the  head pizzaiolo was not in but the guys in the kitchen were very accomodating.
Backstage at Cibo.
The oven was imported from Italy. Its a modular oven (ie the dome is made of 3 or 4 large ceramic pieces rather than individual bricks). Modular ovens are a little more sturdy but I think they lack some of the artistry that come from brick ovens. But hey, the pies were great so I don't want to be too critical of the oven choice.
Well, off to bed... big day tomorrow.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bella Vacanza

To kick off my trip, I decided to have one big pizza party at my house. It was my friends last chance to get pizza before the 34 day hiatus and I also viewed it as one way to say thanks to all my friends who have energized me and fed this passion for pizza and learning more.

The menu was some of the regulars that I have honed to near perfection over this summer. Here is the list:

Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil

Margherita Via Emilia-Romana
Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil, Parmesan

Picante Prosciutto
Tomato, Mozzarella, Serrano Pepper, Prosciutto Di Parma

Prosciutto Pie
Mascarpone, Prosciutto Di Parma, Arugula, Lemon

Potato, Garlic, Blue Cheese, Rosemary

Roasted Brussels Sprout
Brussels sprout, Goat Cheese, Red onion, Pistachios

Fennel Sausage
Mozzarella, Fennel Sausage, Olive, Black Pepper

The hail stopped... time to get to work.
The forecast was calling for the chance of showers. What an understatement! Hail and rain greeted my guests. Thankfully, we had a lot of appetizers to hold us over. Once the rain stopped, I made 22 pies in about 45 minutes. The crowd stayed warm and well-fed inside. Unfortunately, I was too busy to take any photos but maybe some of the guests did? If you did and you have them, feel free to email them to me and I will add them to the post.

Late in the evening all that was left was me and the ladies. Not a bad night!
Tonight, to continue the pizza-theme, I'll be going to Cibo in Phoenix. Its a wood-fired pizzeria that I've yet to make it to. I'll give you the details and hopefully some photos in the next post, which will probably be from Italy! 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pre-Trip Planning

I've been itching to return to Italy since my first trip in 2007. Although I didn't need anymore motivation to go, the experience and time I've spent sharing pizza from my wood-fired oven, has added fuel to the fire. As such, I'm returning to Italy with some specific objectives related to pizza and wood-fired ovens but also to have another trip of a lifetime. Over this summer, the anticipation has been building and I've been preparing my wallet, body, and mind for the trip.

First off, there are a lot of logistics to consider. I am traveling by what is called "self-sustained credit-card style." Basically, I carry only what I need to get from one town to the next + a change of clothes + my wallet. I stay in hostels or small hotels and I don't have to lug around any camping equipment. This allows me to cover a lot of distance and also have a warm bed and hot shower where I end my day. My full itinerary with my daily biking distance, route, night accommodations, and daily highlights are posted at my Italy 2010 webpage.

I did a two day training ride to the Grand Canyon over my birthday
Traveling credit-card style is a little more expensive than camping so that is a consideration I had to take into account when planning the extent of the trip as well as my ability to save up for the trip.
Finally, I'll be biking about 2000 miles over the course of the trip. My longest day will be 120 miles. That's a lot of miles so I needed to prepare my body for this too. Over this summer, I've been doing a lot of riding. I had an overnight trip to the canyon from my house in Flagstaff (160 miles round trip) and the Mormon Lake Loop south of Flagstaff has been a weekly ritual for me. With all the riding, my body feels ready!

I spend about 2 hours carefully packing my bike. Its ready to go!
With one week away from my departure, I've started the packing. I have a really great bike suitcase made by Bike Pro USA out of Phoenix. When packed correctly, it protects my bike during the inevitable banging it will take during the flight. I learned this the hard way. I was short on time packing the bike on my return flight in 2007 and my bike had a couple nicks.