“What you read in L’isola di Arturo. . . is the truth,” says Gabriele Muro, chef of Adeleaide, a restaurant at Rome’s Hotel Vilòn. Born in Procida – Capital of Culture 2022 – now Roman by adoption, tells of his childhood spent in the middle of the sea, in that Eden immortalised by Elsa Morante. ” My grandmother”, he says, “lived in this old building where there is a very long garden before you get to the descent to the sea. That house,” he continued, “is parallel to Elsa’s gardens. ” There he spent most of his childhood, Gabriele, in that house overlooking the gulf of the bay of Procida: “when I went down to the Chiaia beach, my grandmother’s beach, I felt in paradise. Even now,” he continues, “my favourite place is still that garden with the lemon and almond trees, a terrace overlooking the sea from which you can see Vesuvius and Capri in the distance.”
Procida: sea and places to discover
As often happens in the islands, also in Procida the occupations of the inhabitants are closely linked to the sea: most are fishermen or seafarers, and anyway fishing is a passion of many. ” My father, who worked on boats, also did spearfishing. “ Gabriel? ” No, not me. Never caught a fish. I’ve always had a great love for the sea, but as a bather. And even now when I go back to Procida, those 4 or 5 times a year, I live it as if I were a tourist: I like the sea and the tranquility, that’s why I prefer the months before and after summer: in May, when the water is still cold but the island is starting to wake up; or in September, when you see that the sea becomes darker and more agitated. I like being by the sea and walking, I walk around the island and stop in the places I like best. “
We asked him to be our guide and take us to the places he remembers, the most beautiful and suggestive places where you can get lost: “I love all the corners of the island, I find beauty everywhere, I like to walk on the Chiaia belvedere, or go to Corricella in the evening after dinner, around 10 o’clock. Then there’s the bridge that connects Procida to Vivara, a little green island where we used to go on excursions when we were little, and Terra Murata, the highest part of the island that overlooks the Gulf of Naples, and if you go there in the morning at dawn you can see Vesuvius very well.”
Gabriele Muro, Procida and fish culture
“I had an uncle who was a fisherman, as soon as he came back from fishing, early in the morning, he would put everything on his cart, which over the years he replaced with a van, my grandmother would take what she liked and I, before going to school, would watch them. That’s how I got to know fish, thanks to him”. His passion for cooking emerged from an early age, and while his brothers followed in his father’s footsteps, he took a different path, attending the hotel school in Ischia: “I went there by ferry every day”. The first experiences in restaurants date back to that period, during the long Procidan summer: “We started to go to the beach around May, after school, then it continued for a long time; all of us kids were working hard to find a summer job, some at the beach and some in restaurants. I preferred the kitchen, one summer I even found myself side by side with Marco Ambrosino LINK. These”, he adds, “are real seafood restaurants, in the noblest sense of the word”.
Cicarelle, anchovies and shells
That’s where he started working, starting with the ever-present cicarelle, scorpion fish and then blue fish: mackerel, flag fish, anchovies: “at Corricella, the fishermen would give us a few boxes of anchovies, a fish that I hated cleaning because when it’s very fresh, the meat is all stuck to the bone, so it was hard work for us”. Shells deserve a separate chapter: sea snails, rock mussels, sea urchins “even those who, like me, didn’t fish, made shells”, he says: “maybe he would pick some up with friends, and then go home to make pasta and then continue the day. That way,” he comments, “it tastes completely different. Now it is not so easy to find mussels near the rocks, probably a consequence of climate change.
Gabriele Muro and the favorite places of Procida
A lot of tradition, in the restaurants of Procida, with the carousel of products that identify the island: seafood, cicarelle, curly or other fish; “even if someone younger now proposes something different, I am tied to the more classic places, because when I go to Procida I experience it as a tourist. Then I love going to the Conchiglia, on the beach of Chiaia”, a restaurant all made of wood just a few meters from the sea. A family of restaurateurs and fishermen run it, to get there you have to go down 180 steps, “but the best way to get there is from the Corricella: if you want they will pick you up with the boat and take you to the restaurant. If you go for dinner, cross the bay at sunset – it’s one of the most beautiful things you can do“. For the return trip, same options: the long stairway or the boat ride. ” Then there is the Lampara: it has one of the most romantic views in the world, from there you can see the whole port of Corricella, in the upper part of where they filmed Il Postino. The last time I went,” he continues, “I was lucky enough to have the nicest table. “
How the island changes
“They say the Procidans are closed. It’s not like that: we are simple, on the contrary, we are a people of travellers, accustomed to traveling the world, but we are also accustomed to seeing people passing through.” In recent years, then, something is also changing in the way of seeing the island, the tourist potential is recognised, “just think that before the children all went to the Nautical Institute which is on the island, now there are many more who choose tourism as a source of income and life, they have opened many small accommodation facilities and restaurants more than before. ” And the year from the Capital of Culture will give a big boost to this new life. But the small size, according to Muro, keeps the island safe from excessive commercial exploitation: “It’s true that now there are more restaurants than before, but the port of Corricella will always be that, it’s always a fantastic place. ”
What to eat in Procida The typical gastronomy starts in the morning, when coffee is accompanied by tongue: “we don’t use croissants but these sweets made with two discs of puff pastry filled with cream. It is my breakfast when I am in Procida”. Then there are the jams: “the bitter orange one is made in all the houses of Procida, my grandmother used to prepare a cake with short pastry and frangipane cream with almonds from the garden”. The very symbol of Procida is the lemon bread salad, a corollary to the seafood cuisine: stuffed squid, marinated anchovies, conger eels, octopus and tuna in oil “another thing that everyone makes at home here, it’s a far cry from what you buy”. The spaghetti with anchovies and green peppers, on the other hand, tells of an economy of exchange: “they used to mix fish and vegetables because the houses in Corricella, the fishermen’s houses, had no land and so they bartered fish with vegetables with those who lived inland”.
Procida by Gabriele Muro, in Rome
Then there is the fujuto fish, the soup of tomato and bread, a typical dish born from the art of arranging oneself “it is said that the women at home began to put on the seasoning of the fish – oil, garlic, tomato, parsley – if then the fishermen husbands returned home empty-handed, for lack of anything else they added The fishermen’s breakfast was made of bread and salted anchovies, something that everyone always had at home, even in times of leanness: “they were fished at the beginning of the season and preserved.” These are two dishes that Muro presents in the menu Sull’isola di Gabriele inspired by Procida, along with spaghetti with naked cicarella, “usually you make a red ragù, I do it in white, with shelled canocchie and a bisque with cicarella and tomato, very intense” and then the Scorfano che scherza sott’acqua, which contains a dedication to Elsa Morante – who writes “Ah, I would not ask to be a seagull or a dolphin; I would be content to be a redfish, which is the ugliest fish in the sea, only to find myself there, joking in that water” – a dish that brings together some of the typical products Local: redfish, artichokes, sea urchins and seaweed sauce. As typical is also the lemon that closes the menu.
La Conchiglia – Procida (NA) – via Pizzaco, 10 – 081 8967602 – https://www.laconchigliaprocida.it
La Lampara – Procida (NA) – via Marina di Corricella, 88 – 081 8960609 – http://www.hotelcorricella.it/it.html
Adelaide – Vilòn Luxury Hotel – Roma – via dell’Arancio 69 – 06 878187 – www.hotelvilon.com
By Antonella De santis