Shipscook’s Italian Job – Salerno and Paestum

At last, I finally get around to writing up the last part of our Italian holiday.

After  brutally early start we eventually arrived on the outskirts of the cathedral city of Salerno. The scenery on the coastal drive from Sorrento had been very pretty, but as we approached the Salerno things were looking a bit grim, lots of quays with stacks of containers and massive ships betrayed the city’s main industry. It got a bit more interesting once we were in the centre and out of the coach. A brief walk through the narrow streets from the sea front, took us to the medieval cathedral or duomo.

The cathedral was founded in 1076 by Robert Guiscard the Norman mercenary who was appointed Duke of Apulia and Calabria by Pope Nicholas II.

Bell Tower Salerno Cathedral

From the outside the most striking feature is the 56 metre high,12th century bell tower which was built in the Arabic-Norman style. Inside, the cathedral was restored to something like it’s original medieval condition in the 1930s. Above the altar there is this rather beautiful domed ceiling.

Painted Ceiling above the altar

The duomo is regarded as one of the initial symbols of the Italian Renaissance because it is where Pope Gregory VII, who rejected German domination of the Holy Roman Empire is interred. Another famous burial is claimed for the crypt. Restored by Domenico Fontana in the 17th century this groin vaulted hall is said to be the last resting place of St Matthew.

Cathedral Crypt

Keeping St Matthew company is the column that was allegedly used as an executioner’s block when the Roman Emperor Diocletion decided to chop Matthew’s head off!

We carried on to Paestum by the coast road. The long narrow beach here is very popular with local people. In September 1943 this was where the British and American forces landed in Operation Avalanche. For some bizarre reason our guide told us that Ernest Hemingway came ashore with the Americans, but I’m pretty sure that ‘Papa’ was patrolling the Caribbean in his boat, Pilar, searching for U-Boats at the time.

Temple of Athena

Paestum (admission €6) was founded by Greek settlers in the 7th century BC and is one of the best preserved Greco-Roman sites in Italy. There are three major buildings on the site, generally known as the Temples of Hera and Athena and the Palace of Justice, although the discovery of an altar to the front of the Palace of Justice has shown it to also be a temple. the discovery of early Christian tombs cut into the floor of the Temple of Athena indicates that these buildings were probably converted into churches before the city was abandoned to malarial swamps in the early medieval period.

Temple of Hera

Paestum is a very large site and there are also some remains of later Roman buildings like the Forum and Amphitheatre.


Smaller items from Paestum are in a museum (admission €4) just across the road from the site. aside from pottery and metal items there are some rather lovely tomb paintings like this one of a symposium or drinking party.

Syposium or Piss Up - Tomb Painting, Paestum

Fully cultured out we boarded the bus for our final destination, Caseificio Barlotti, an ice cream parlour on a Buffalo farm.

Water Buffalo

The water buffalo is believed to have been introduced to the Campania region of Italy by the Normans, who first encountered them in Sicily, where they had been introduced by the Arabs. Buffalo milk is very creamy and is used to make the best Mozzarella cheese. It also makes phenomenally good ice cream definitely worth the €2 we paid for a cornet.

Water Buffalo Calves

Curiously, despite their similarity to domestic cattle, water buffalo are too genetically different to hybridise with them, unlike the bison which produces a zubron (European bison/cow cross) or a beefalo (American bison/cow cross)

Our trip was booked through Thomson and cost a whopping £32.50 for basically being driven around in a bus with a guide. No admission fees were included and a set lunch of pasta with more rotgut wine was an extra €13.

Shipscook’s Homemade Pizza

Not bad for a first attempt

Believe it or not I had never done the full Monty with a homemade pizza, sure I had made the topping for a shop bought base before, but this was something new.

So first the base. Having seen Jamie Oliver do it this way, I emptied 500grams of strong flour onto a board, created a well in the middle and gradually spooned in about 325mls of warm water with 10 grams of yeast dissolved into it, mixing as I went.

Right don’t do this at home it creates an awful bloody mess, and I don’t have a bunch of people to clear up after me like Jamie does. Do it in a big bowl and don’t forget to add some salt to the dough.  Eventually I had a lump of dough, which I covered with a wet cloth and left to prove for however long it took to make the pizza sauce. Apparently this should be about ten minutes. but who’s counting?

So the sauce. Olive oil in pan plus a chopped red onion, chopped home grown chilli, four cloves smashed garlic, a slug of Worcester Sauce, grind of black pepper and what was left of a Sainsbury’s basic pack of tomatoes chopped up small after I had taken some slices of one of the big tomatoes for the topping. I fried this down till everything was nice and soft, then chucked in a can of chopped tomatoes and reduced the liquid by about a third.

Once this was ready I took my dough and gave it a good kneading, before squashing it down into my floured grill tray. Then I spread the topping over it followed by a liberal scattering of home grown basil leaves, some tomato slices, small chorizo slices, grated Cheddar, sliced Parmesan and some ripped up buffalo Mozarella.  It then went into a hot oven for about 12 minutes.

Anyway out it came and it looked great, the base stuck a bit to the pan, probably because I had squashed it down a bit too hard (lesson for the future), but it tasted brilliant. Is it the end for shop bought bases? Well in the words of Gordon Ramsey “They can f@*k off out of my kitchen.”

Here’s a Mozzarella buffalo we saw on a farm near Salerno.

Mozzarella Bufffalo - Salerno