48 hours in Rome

Jonny Baron flew off to the Italian capital with four of our esteemed friends – Max Gnoyke from Full Of Flavour, James Metcalfe from Chesters by the River and Mark and Susie Mewburn from Dacre Lakeside Park – to show them the dark art of ‘perfecting pizzas’ and to see just how good our Italian connection is.

We were collected from the airport by Simon and Daniel (Gino’s boys), who were our hosts and our Italian buyers too. We arrived at Gino’s hotel and restaurant Centosedici which is on the beautiful coast of Terracina, where we warmly welcomed by Gino and all his staff. Rooms were sorted then it was dinner time at 10.30pm – when in Rome, as they say.

The next day was spent in the kitchen with Gino’s chefs making some classic Italian dishes, including Melanzane Parmigiana, Spaghetti Carbonara, with pork cheek and lardo (a type of salami made by curing strips of fatback with rosemary and other herbs and spices) and local fish specialities.

We then moved on to pizza dough, made using local flour. The dough is rested for 24 hours before it’s ready to use. All their pizzas are cooked using a classic wood burning stove, which hits 400 degrees plus! The pizzas only take about a minute and a half to cook in that heat. Later that evening, with stove primed and dough at the ready, James from Chesters took charge  in the kitchen and served all the  pizzas that were ordered in the restaurant, which was great to see – top effort Jim and they tasted great too!

On day two our first call was to the local, famous gelateria to see ice cream being made by Mr Popo. We tasted the Raspberry Ripple and Nutella as they came out of the machine – simply stunning.

We then moved on to see our tinned tomato supplier, PAC – our main source of chopped and whole tinned tomatoes and passata. At the local market we came across local produce of artichokes, fennel, peppers, courgettes, monks beard, mauve aubergines, leafy lemon and all sorts of citrus fruits.

After lunch we went up the hillside to the Molini flour mill to see his 00 graded flour and semolina in production. Then we made our way back to the harbour to be greeted by the returning fishing boats and their catches, before we went to the fish market to see what was being sold; gurnard, monkish, sea bream, tuna, squid and cuttlefish were in abundance. Back to the hotel for our final dinner which we knew was going to be a fish affair – beautiful fresh fish caught that day – before an early departure the next morning.

Gino and his family’s hospitality was yet again top notch and we were made to feel very welcome. I think it’s safe to say that everyone enjoyed the experience and came away with some great thoughts, ideas and recipes.

April 2014