Ventotene: Family Culinary Traditions Live On
Pino’s first trip to the tiny island (3 km x 700 m) of Ventotene this August and my fifth but we’re in synch on island eating: Ristorante da Verde on Piazza Castello is this island’s best eating spot, for “rapporto qualita’/prezzo”, as Pino puts it. Not easy to translate but here’s the idea: fair relationship between price and goods purchased. Or to put it another way: the red mullet Pino seeks out is cooked superbly at this ristorante and the price is right. To Mimmo’s credit: he and cousin Silvestro Verde are in the kitchen and have been for years, though the Verde family is not running this ristorante now. Zaza – as elderly founder Giuseppe Verde is affectionately called – drops in now and then for an espresso and a chat. I asked him one morning, “What were your specialties when you were in the kitchen here years ago?” “Quelli che Silvestro cucina ancora,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye: son Silvestro continues on at the burners, cooking up the dishes he learned from his father.
And a trio of young people is at the helm, renting from the Verde family and managing the restaurant. Francesca often waits tables along with red-haired Serena (Silvestro’s niece) and her partners Giuseppe and Carlo take turns at the coffee bar inside. Hours are long as their day starts when customers come in for morning espresso and cornetti. Habitue’ clients often pass the morning at the tables under the lacework trellis of dangling vines, sipping espressi and reading books or newspapers or writing island notes on computers – until lunch. Here.
After lunch, to the island coves for swimming in breath-taking aquamarine waters. But not for co-owners Francesca, Giuseppe and Carlo. “Time for a sleep,” smiles Francesca, “before heading back here at 5 pm to get ready for the dinner customers and dinnertime ends around eleven.” She added ruefully, “I last had time for a swim in June – three times.” She hopes for swims in September when the island will draw fewer people.
After vacationers spend the afternoons snorkeling in coves of turquoise water or taking boat rides around the island, many head to Ristorante Da Verde for dinner. Our favorite dishes here? Pino often opts for soute’ di cozze – or mussels steamed with black pepper, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and a touch of olive oil. After Pino’s feasted on the mussels shells, I’ll take a mussel shell for scooping up the juices of these savory mussels. We both give top votes to their spaghetti con vongole and today’s linguine allo scoglio (“as from seaside cliffs”) was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate: clams, mussels and shrimp joined with ripe local tomatoes. The crab-and-asparagus stuffed ravioli, penne pasta with swordfish, arugula and island capers and stewed octopus are other draws. And in the cool of the evenings, you’ll want to try the lentil soup of the famed Ventotene lentils (cultivated by Giuseppe Verde, Serena’s brother, who waited tables here as a teen during the first years I came to Ventotene).
The side dishes are not less palate-worthy than first courses and main courses. Melanzane al funghetto (egpplants sauteed in tomatoes with garlic and parsley) are a Pino favorite and I rarely have a lunch without scarola ammaretata or “married escarole.” Married to what? The escarole is steamed in olive oil with local capers, tiny currants and pinenuts. What a savory marriage. And what a prefect ending to my birthday lunch here at Ristorante Da Verde. (Who needed cake?)
Today is our last day on the island, this time around. Pino asked Mimmo hopefully this morning if there might be red mullet for lunch. “Mullet?”, replied Mimmo, “not likely as we can get mullet from the local fisherman about ogni morte di Papa” (“about as often as a Pope dies”).
A surprise for Pino at lunchtime: just enough mullet for one dish. For him. But Pope Francis lives on.
Read more on good Ventotene eating
Read about Ventotene, the “literary island”
Read more about the island of Ventotene
Read more on Ventotene goodness
Read about – and see – Ventotene’s splendid sea
Read about Ventotene’s many enticements
Read about – and see! – pizza goodness (and not only) on Ventotene
Read about Ventotene’s bakery
Read about good eating at the “scooter truck”
Read about “palate poetry” on Ventotene