Giuliano Donantonio

Ristorante Pineta 1903
Corso Reginna 53, Maiori

Pineta 1903 has been an Amalfi coast institution for over a century. When Carlo de Filippo decided to completely overhaul the restaurant, he was careful to remain faithful to the philosophy that always defined it, based on respect for ingredients and their producers and biodiversity in all its forms. Chef Giuliano Donantonio supports small-scale producers by using Presidia products on a daily basis and always follows the seasonal rhythms of nature.

Farmer-fishers with one foot in the vineyard and the other in a boat

Birboni (fettuccine) made with Italian “Senatore Cappelli” durum wheat from the Caudina Valley with double Vesuvius piennolo tomato (Ark of Taste), anchovies, Cacioricotta del Cilento cheese (Slow Food Presidium) and chlorophyll of oil aromatized with ajowan (migrant product)

By Chef Giuliano Donatantonio, a member of the Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance, of Ristorante Pineta 1903, Maiori (Salerno)

Serves 4
500 g birboni (durum wheat fettuccine)
200 g piennolo tomatoes, halved
200 g Cilento yellow tomatoes, halved
200 g fresh anchovy fillets, chopped
150 g Cacioricotta del Cilento cheese, grated
1 Ufita garlic clove, chopped
20 ajowan seeds
6 tbsp Ortice Benevantano extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
parsley to taste
3 ice cubes
wild herbs, to decorate

A good few days in advance, toast ajowan seeds in a non-stick skillet, crush them and infuse them in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for at least seven days before filtering.

Cook birboni in a generous amount of boiling salted water for about 20 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, gently fry garlic in 4 tablespoons of oil and add two types of tomato. Cook for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, boil parsley for 2 minutes, strain, immerse in cold water, squeeze dry and add to the oil aromatized with the ajowan seeds, together with 2 ice cubes. Blend the mixture to obtain chlorophyll of aromatized parsley.  

Drain birboni and toss in a skillet for 2 minutes with tomatoes, then add anchovies.

Transfer birboni to a dinner plate, sprinkle with grated Cacioricotta, anoint with parsley clorophyll and decorate with wild herbs.

History

The jovial, rustic sinuosity of the birboni, whose intricate geometries caress the sweet, juicy yellow and red flesh of the Vesuvius tomatoes with impalpably amorous emotion, the eloquent savory of the anchovy, the antique flavor of the Cilento sheep’s cheese, like a frugal murmur, and the shy, soothing presence of the chlorophyll, flavored with the “exotic” ajowan (known as the “Bishop’s spice” and redolent of caraway, cumin and dill) – all combine to serve up a “historic and chromatic” feast for the eyes and the palate. These simple elements converse lovingly without one prevailing over another. Encompassing a local area and its finest fare in one dish, innovating without sacrificing ingredients and sating the appetite without showing off are simply a question of love, respect, experience and knowledge.  

With this dish I proudly present a piece of gastronomic history and offer a real testimony of how poverty, hunger and famine have given rise to the finest pages in the story of our local area. Here the choicest ingredients dance in unison to the rhythm of “geographical taste,” each maintaining its own intimate identity with the bright, iridescent colors that represent the essence and hedonistic power of the Mediterranean as a cradle of diverse “savvy and savor”. The dish is virtually the outcome of the meeting and collision of cultures with commercial needs (flourishing trade with the African coast) and motivation. Here I have attempted to revive the era of the sacralization of the convivium and the almost liturgical ritualization of the albeit frugal meal in which a symbology of the combinatorial art of ingredients oscillated between necessity and hope. That was a geographical and historical phase in which food and ideas fully represented the embodiment of its ethos and consequently of the table, a place of ideas and meetings, thus shaping identities.

It was a world of bold artisans who, for centuries, expended their every effort with the sole aim of capturing every energy possible  –  from hydro to wind, from organic to thermo  – to create trade,  consolidate their history and help each other in this distinctly inclement area, where the geological and weather conditions were harsh and austere, and which was constantly subject to “exotic” cultural influences. A people of sailor-farmers with one foot in the boat and the other in the vineyard, ready to make the most of nature and their centuries-old experience. The culture of “coastal folk” is the fruit of diverse strands of knowledge, knitted down the centuries by alliances and encounters against a background of alternating famine and abundance. 

Welcome to the land of my birth, a magical place inhabited by men of courage who, with their labor and imagination, have sought to transform the pangs of hunger and anxiety for food shortages into potential opportunities for pleasure. And it is precisely here that birboni were born, a delicacy available at a ridiculously low, hence advantageous price for less well-off families, who sauced the pasta with whatever the land and sea had to offer: hence olive oil, chilis, salted anchovies, toasted breadcrumbs and colatura (anchovy essence). Wholemeal wheat gave the birboni their rough appearance and a firm texture that resisted overcooking and combined well with the few ingredients used in the sauce.

This kind of pasta, also known as ‘e currente (or birbune or stroncatura), was made with leftover semolina and bran and owes its name (birboni means “scoundrels) to the fact that in Amalfi, Minori and Maiori it was sold under the counter, almost clandestinely. Very fibrous and coarse “its effect on the tongue was that of when you have a hair in your mouth, of an electric shock even”. It is said that bits of soil had to be literally “swept” out of the flour and that the pasta was thus banned for reasons of hygiene. For many years it was possible to buy it only in a few local corner shops, almost as if it were contraband.

The legal production of birboni was the brainwave of Giuliano Donantonio of the Slow Food Chef’s Alliance, based on the research of the great gastronomist Antonio Grosso, and the mastery of self-styled agro-baker Francesco Cioffi. The three managed to persuade the farmers of the Valle Caudina, the stewards of heirloom grain varieties, to increase their production of these grains slightly to make the project possible. They then found a mill prepared to stone-grind the grains (largely neglected because they are hard to work with). The project, whose aim is to recover an old tradition, reflects the desire and the idea of a return to the past and the keeping alive of gastronomic memory are the only way of preserving identity.

Slowness rehabilitates the education and feeling of community belonging, actualizing it with meeting and exchange and giving and participation. Good food producers – the ones whose umbilical cord with the soil has yet to be cut – possess a knowledge that cannot be learnt at school and cannot be calculated with mathematical formulas, but is the result of symbiotic relationship with all creation.