On the Island of Elba: Anchovies to Octopus… and Not Only
On one of our meanders on the island of Elba, we followed twisting roads skirting wooded mountains, ending up in the tiny port town of Rio Marina on the eastern side of the island.
It was lunchtime. No better time to arrive in Rio Marina: we’d heard rave reviews about Trattoria/Pizzeria Mambo, across from the port where boats rocked at anchor.
The owner’s smiling daughter, Claudia, resolved my curiosity on the choice of the name “Mambo” before seating us. “When I was a little girl, it was the name of a pizzeria in one of my favorite cartoons…so when Papa’ opened in 1987 and asked me for the suggestion of a name, there could only be one answer…”
We met papa’ Claudio as soon as we were seated: he brought us a basket of the breads and focaccia he bakes in his wood-burning oven (“where I also roast the fish we serve,” he told us).
We chatted with Claudio about his passione for the baking of pizzas, breads and focacce. The dough counts, he affirmed, but so do the ingredients of the topping: “for example, our capers here are not as tasty as those tiny Sicilian ones growing on the island of Pantelleria.”
Claudio talked pizza and fish with us on the restaurant patio, sitting in front of the small shed with blue wooden doors where his father once kept his fishing equipment. His father had worked the land by day, fished at night and sold the fish in the early morning at the port. One of his boats is in a place of honor on the Mambo patio.
These days, Claudio buys the fish for his trattoria/pizzeria from the fishermen selling off their boats in the port. We knew the seafood would be tasty here but Claudio’s “pizza enthusiasm” had me curious: I asked him if i could order a “baby pizza” for an antipasto as a full pizza would be too much as I’d ordered the day’s specialty: pasta with octopus. He agreed with a smile, asking me if I’d try his specialty: pizza topped with fresh tomatoes, mountain origano, Pantelleria capers and slices of garlic. Si, of course.
But daughter Claudia served up far more than one type of pizza:
……and Claudio had sent out slices for Pino, too, but he could only manage a couple of tiny bites. He had chosen a Claudio seafood antipasto special, anchovy carpaccio. An enticement to the eye as well as the palate, the halved fresh anchovies on a bed of arugula were topped with rounds of baby tomatoes, Pantelleria capers, a squeeze of lemon, and drizzled with olive oil.
While Pino relished his anchovies, I enjoyed the pasta al polpo – and mamma mia, what magic Claudio works with octopus, too:
I should have known from the sign outside the restaurant:
The octopus pasta and Claudio’s pizza tastes had been a full meal for me but Pino carried on with la frittura mista – as soon as Claudio had told him that he could include red mullet in the fried fish dish:
After that fish feast, just an espresso. We’d thought. And then Violetta offered us a taste of the Mambo liquore. Made by Claudio of Elba mountain wild herbs, Violetta told us the ingredients are a secret. We didn’t learn the ingredients but we bought a bottle of the liquore in any case: a taste of Elba to take home.
Pino nursed that liquore and read the daily paper but how to resist that sea across the street? I couldn’t – and went for a swim before we headed out of Rio Marina.
When I headed back after a swim, I found a “legend” in the kitchen: Marika, the 80-year-old mother of Claudio. He’d learned seafood cooking from her and had told us about her culinary skills, adding “now and then we serve a dish she makes with stoccafisso (dried mackerel) – and Mamma comes in to make it. Only she can do this dish.”
She was just starting on her famous mackerel stew for the evening dinner.
But we had to get back to Marina in Campo – and who had room for dinner?
Next trip to the island of Elba, perhaps………
A stop for a meal in Rio Marina will be on our agenda.
Read more here about the magical island of Elba
Read about seafood goodness in the port city of Piombino (enroute to Elba)
Read about our second time in Piombino for good-eating
Read about – and see – the joys of Elba
Read about last year’s summer vacation on an island (in Latium, not in Tuscany)