I worship chef Peppe Guida. His restaurant, Osteria di Nonna Rosa, highly rated by the guides, is named for his mother—everyone calls her Nonna Rosa even if she’s not their grandma. She’s his culinary muse.
The menu reflects and yet tweaks tradition, focusing intensely on superior local ingredients—cheese, salumi, seafood, spectacular citrus, pasta, homemade bread. I want to eat everything. Peppe is the pasta whisperer, and takes dry pasta (he prefers Pastificio dei Campi) to heights few achieve. Spaghettini with lemon water and provolone is worth a voyage. The wine list is well priced, ample, strong on Campania but sommelier Gigi Casciello can turn wine nerds like me onto unknown jewels not listed.
But my favorite place to dine is at Villa Rosa, the family’s B&B, a farm above Vico Equense. The road is the size of a driveway, not easy to navigate; someone will pick you up if necessary, probably Lella, Peppe’s super wife or possibly their friend Salvatore. The kitchen is professional, used by Peppe’s son Francesco to make panettone before Christmas, by Nonna Rosa to make pastiera before Easter, and by Florin, Peppe’s right hand man, to make preserves with fruit and vegetables from the farm. Breakfast, usually a weak moment in the Italian diet, is ample, savory and sweet, all homemade, served by Rossella, Peppe’s daughter, and worth every calorie. Peppe, assisted by Florin, offers a culinary experience that begins after breakfast, in the organic garden, to pick produce for a cooking lesson lunch. Volcanic soil, saline sea air and a view of the bay of Naples, Vesuvius looming in the background, all contribute to the quality of the produce. And there are 15 different kinds of citrus including chinotto, myrtle-leafed orange! I’ve had my fill of cooking lessons but always learn something that becomes part of my repertoire at home. Like the pizza di pane recipe below. Peppe’s pasta performance is a thrill and will probably change your approach to dry pasta. The recipes are for the dishes that Nonna Rosa cooks at home, simple and delicious. Dine at one long table outside, under a pergola next to the wood-burning oven, when the weather is mild. The view melts my heart. Take a jar of preserves home, a perfect culinary souvenir of the day.
Pizza di Pane
Stale bread slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Tomato sauce, a few canned tomatoes or some squashed cherry tomatoes
Yesterday’s mozzarella, scamorza or any cheese you’d like to melt, sliced thin
Salt and pepper, oregano or fresh basil if you like
Dip bread slices in water. Drizzle enough extra virgin to cover the bottom of a skillet. Place bread slices over the extra virgin, completely covering the oil. Top lightly with tomato sauce (or the tomato product of your choice) and cheese, season with salt and pepper and optional oregano or basil.
Place over medium heat and cook until water has evaporated and bread sizzles. Peek underneath to make sure bread has browned. Cover skillet for a few minutes if cheese hasn’t melted enough. Serve immediately.