As anyone knows, when you’re on holiday dinner is truly the main event. The meal you fantasize about in the weeks leading up to your trip, budget carefully for and research excessively. After a hotel breakfast and on-the-hoof lunch, this is when you’ll crack open a bottle of wine, help yourself to the bread basket, order a starter (or two), and decide on the most delicious, most indulgent thing on the menu. After all, whether you’re exploring your temporary home at length or just lounging by the pool, holidays have a way of stoking the appetite.
One of the things I like best about small Italian towns is the traditional quirky layouts. The main piazza and cobbled street are always lovely, but it’s the bewildering network of back alleys, with stone steps that lead up and down and turn back on themselves, that really sets the scene. You’re never quite sure whether the impossibly narrow, twisting alley you’re walking along is in fact a public street, or whether another turn will land you in the middle of someone’s living room. But this unknowable quality is part of the charm, and in my experience, the most rewarding restaurants often lie at the end of these rainbows.
On our first evening in Amalfi, Andrew and I followed one of these mysterious alleys to a wonderful dinner. In a tiny piazza tucked between the Duomo and a smaller church, we dined on bruschette, smoked and grilled local cheese, homemade pasta and fresh seafood. Bakery-fresh bread, charmingly served from a paper bag, was perfect for mopping up sauces and absorbing the wine in our stomachs.
Subsequent dinners were just as rewarding. From the perfectly cooked sea bass at a rooftop restaurant on Amalfi’s main street to the cheese-stuffed, deep-fried anchovies we had as a starter at our hotel, it was gastronomic pleasure at every turn. A single disappointing dinner in a neighbouring town couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for Amalfitana cuisine, and even that had its rewards. (Dining next to a church while the choir practices inside? Almost worth the dull gnocchi and watered-down wine.)
One of my all-time favourite Italian dishes is handmade pasta with local mixed seafood. On the Amalfi coast, that pasta is more often than not scialatielli, a long, thick-ish noodle similar to fettuccine or linguine. Prepared with cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and a mix of shrimp, clams, mussels and squid, it’s as close as you’re likely to get to holiday perfection. I only ate that specific dish once this time around, but Andrew enjoyed it four (!) times.
We didn’t once have dessert in a restaurant, but there’s a good reason for that. Andrew and I have a very simple, very straightforward rule when in Italy: you must eat gelato every single day. It can be respite from the afternoon heat or a post-dinner treat, but the rule is finite. Missed a day? Well, I hope you still have room after all that food, because today you’ve got to have two to make up for it.