Day 2 in Verona, and the culinary delights do not disappoint.  I had a wonderful adventure yesterday, but will have to wait until I return home before I can tell you about that one…if things turn out….those of you who may have any idea  – don’t bust me – you never know if any customs agents read this blog…

Apparently the wild mushroom season has not been fantastic this year, compared to last – due to early rains and then a long hot spell in August and September.  The grapes won out but the poor fungi’s suffered a little.  So, instead of returning to the scene of the most incredible mushroom meal I had while here last year, my gracious hosts take me to a seafood restaurant in the lovely city centre of Verona.  Down a quiet little street, a world away from the touristy Juliette’s House and the bustling Piazza Della Erbe – we open the door to a place that simply looks like nothing from the street – but instantly delights as you cross the threshold – we have arrived at the amazing La Sacrestia.

Antonio, the owner, who hails from Naples, recently magically renovated an old church, and opened a place that feels like his home.  The glassed in kitchen is pristine, and efficient – housed where the altar would have been (I think only angels work in his kitchen!).  There remains a church-ish fresco high on the wall.  A few tables fill the main floor, with a few more upstairs – for those seeking a little privacy.  Antonio is 74, with combed back grey hair and funky red glasses.  Apparently he is the father of 12 children.  You just know by looking at him he lives an incredibly full life.  His voice is like something from the godfather – part whisper, all Italian.  Dressed in a white t and jeans – he looks like he rolled out of bed just in time to prepare something delicious for you.  He kisses absolutely everyone when they arrive, and when they leave full and blissfully satisfied.

There is a very small menu – but nobody looks at it.  Word is Antonio drives to the fish market in Milan three times per week to secure only the freshest catch for his little 30 seat resto.  Verona is half way between Venice and Milan – and although Venice is on the coast, Milan is the fish market of choice for those in the know.

There is much discussing in Italian with Antonio, and his lovely wife, and apparently it is settled what we will have – at least for the first two courses – then we will see…

We start with Cernia (Grouper) marinated in lemon and olive oil.  The ultimate in simplicity – but unequivocally  fabulous.  The don’t have the melanzane tonight – maybe it did not past muster at the market – so instead Antonio brings us  mussels in broth – with olive oil poached tomatoes – and crisp croutons that are sopping up all the goodness on the plate.

Linguini alla vongole is perfect.  The pasta is very al dente, the clams petite, juicy and loaded with flavour.  The golden broth flecked with garlic and flat leaf parsley is slurpacious.  I do not want this dish to end.  Ever.

At the table next to us – a famous Verona football coach is seated with his entourage.  I can’t help but notice that after they had dessert, AND grappa, Antonio feels compelled to bring them just one more dish.  He catches me eyeing it longingly and brings a bowl over.  It’s just that kind of place.  It’s oozing with cheesy goodness – completely nothing to look at – but the flavour is amazing.  We ask him the name of the dish.  In Italian he declares the obvious  “It’s Pasta con patate et provolone!”  Of course – we have that all the time.  Not.  It is like macaroni and cheese from the gods – fitting seeing as we are in a church.  I could eat the entire bowl – and keep going back for more.  I am trying to be polite.  Trying.My hosts asks if we should ask for one more surprise dish. We wave down Antonio and ask for, well….whatever he recommends.  He looks at us and then declares we were going to have Spigola (Sea bass).  How will he prepare it?  “I don’t know – I am going to walk into the kitchen, look at it, and decide what needs to be done.”  Apparently the Spigola needed to be bathed in olive oil, Vesuvio water, and tomato.  This dish is so fresh –I could swear I am sitting by the sea.

Cooking lesson from Antonio
Cooking lesson from Antonio

Antonio comes to sit with us – he likes to visit with his guests, in between cooking and creating.  He carefully explains for me how to make the pasta con patate et provolone.  He is patient – waiting as Enrico translates for me and I type away.  “Tell her I led the team of chefs that served the meals at the G8 Summit in Naples in 1994 – Clinton, Berlusconi, all of them….”  I wonder if he made the con patates dish?  It would have made everyone feel at home – less tense.

The desserts are from the Amalfi coast – apparently not only the most beautiful place in Italy, according to Antonio’s wife – but the best place for desserts.  I don’t mean the recipes are from Amalfi, I mean the actual desserts are brought in from Amalfi.  We share a lemon mousse, and a ricotta cheesecake with pear and crust on both top and bottom.  Divine.

I’d like to go back again tomorrow night – just to see what Antonio feels like whipping up.  After all, I did not get to try the Napoli pizza.  After Antonio kisses us goodbye – he calls out “Tell her that if she finds a good place for a nice 30 seat restaurant in Toronto – call me – I can open there.”  Any suggestions for me?

Here are Antonio’s instructions for Pasta con patate et provolone.  He told us the recipe is from Naples and dates back to the middle ages.  Don’t expect quantities or anything.  There appeared to be a lot more details shared in Italian, but this is what I got – and I plan on making it when I get back home.

Antonio’s Pasta Con Patate et Provolone

  • Saute garlic, celery and onion in oil (I think lots, and best quality extra virgin are simply assumed)
  • Add cubed Parma ham
  • Add cubed potatoes, and then brown
  • Add water to the pan and slow cook for 40 minutes
  • Add any short pasta you have and cook in this “broth”, until al dente
  • When pasta is cooked, remove from heat and add (lots) of smoked provolone and Reggiano  – till stringy and oozing with cheesy love  (I am “paraphrasing” his hand gestures and the tone in his voice – it sounded and looked like he was describing cheesy love)
  • Inhale (that’s my advice) 

Don’t even think about going anywhere near Verona without visiting Antonio – he would be terribly upset if you did, and you would miss out on the meal of a lifetime.  It simply does not get any better.

Pasta con Patate et Provolone - when I finally remembered to take a picture
Pasta con Patate et Provolone - when I finally remembered to take a picture