In 2013 I had the privilege of visiting the town of Ravello, the most peaceful resort on the Neapolitan Riviera. Unlike Tuscany, there’s nothing “rustic” about Ravello. The lemon and blossom scented air (I can close my eyes and still smell it) betrays the town’s restrained glamour; Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy , Gore Vidal, Humphrey Bogart and Tennessee Williams all holidayed here. The best thing? The height of Ravello and the colour of the sea. The water of the Bay of Salerno is an intense and extraordinary blue that is somewhere between turquoise and azure. Tucked away from the maddening crowds of seaside Amalfi, you feel as though you are in an eagle’s nest. The terraces and elegant gardens, are all vey serene, and offer vertigo-inducing glimpses of the Mediterranean miles below.
This was the inspiration for my “RAVELLO ON ROSSEAU” dinner party last summer. The elevated vista from our Muskoka boathouse deck somehow managed to capture that tranquility I’d experienced in Ravello. I have always believed that the best parties begin with the invitation so accordingly I asked my florist, Periwinkle Flowers, to bundle an elegant arrangement and enclosed a printed invitation hand delivered to my invited guests. At the same time, I contacted Mamma Agata Cooking School in Ravello asking her to personally inscribe and overnight to me five of her cookbooks, to be presented to my guests upon their arrival.
When the town of Ravello celebrates the feast of its patron saint,the festivities include an unforgettable fireworks display. While my husband and three boys weren’t invited to the meal portion of my party, their participation was in the lighting of the pyrotechnics after dinner, to delight and entertain my guests, Ravello style.
I attended Mamma Agata’s infamous cooking school during our trip to Ravello. I won’t betray secrets but suffice it to say I concur with Martha Stewart, who claimed that the Double Zero Flour initiatives she collected at Mamma Agata’s school changed her life. Christine Bibb, a red seal certified chef with classical french culinary training, agreed to choreograph the meal. Together we determined that melding some of Mamma Agata’s classic dishes along with Christine’s imaginative offerings and a Muskoka flavour would best represent “RAVELLO ON ROSSEAU”. At the same time the brilliant sommelier at the Summerhill LCBO assisted with our wine pairings. Our menu was as follows:
Lemon shrimp wrapped with basil and prosciutto
Crisped polenta disk with aioli and oven dried cherry tomato
(Pairing: Proseco, Aperol Spritz)
First course: Plated
Burratta (flown in from Italy) with olive oil, aged balsamic, seared asparagus
(Wine pairing: Proseco)
Main course: Family Style (with fresh baked rosemary focaccia)
Cavatappi with Mamma Agata’s tomato sauce
Mamma Agata’s Lemon chicken
Cedar planked Muskoka lake trout, caper sauce
Seared green beans
(Wine pairing: Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2014 & Ripassa Valpolicella Ripassa 2012 & )
Basil lime sorbet
Mamma Agata’s lemon cake
Ontario wild blueberries
Getting there: Private car from Naples.
We stayed at the Hotel Caruso, an 11th Century Palace. Our days began with breakfast al fresco on the balcony of our hotel, soaking up the vista. We’d venture down the hill for seashore time and lunch in the quaint town of Minori or the other side which is Amalfi. Afternoons were spent back at the hotel taking selfies and plunging in the most scenic infinity pool before dressing for dinner.There was always an evening concert staged in the grounds of Villa Rufolo (said to have provided Wagner with inspiration).
Mamma Agata’s Cooking School is a full day of learning and indulging. Guests are asked not to eat breakfast before arrival (thats how much you eat!). Pierce Brosnan, Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson are all alumni, but Mamma used to cook for both Jackie O and Bogie (both who were crazy for her lemon cake!).
Jacqueline Kennedy and Gore Vidal were once regulars at Cumpà Cosimo. Netta Bottone is the colorful patroness, who sometimes still cooks and always checks in with her guests to chat. (No website)
When Greta Garbo wanted to be left alone, she would retreat to the Villa Cimbrone. The Terrace of Infinity is the place for music, champagne and strawberries one hour before sunset.
Sal De Riso aka Salvatorre, is a tv star, diplomat and a multi award-winning pastry, gelato and dessert chef. He’s prepared specialty desserts and cakes for the Pope. His pasticceria (pastry shop) is located in the delightful square, Piazza Cantilena, in Minori. It’s a mere 4000 steps (that’s stairs) down the hill from Ravello, taking about an hour in comfortable shoes. Our quads ached but it was worth the walk. We took a taxi back up after devouring his decadent creations.