From Portugal to Morocco, the Mediterranean has provided many aport of call for food lovers drawn to its flavourful, varied and healthy cuisines.
Among all the region's culinary destinations, though, the exotic isle of Capri has slipped by virtually unnoticed. Which is a shame, for few people can cook sap-It with as much panache as the Caprese.
Winter is cold, damp and dreary on this rocky island on the edge ofthe lay of Naples. But from May to October, Capri comes to life, bursting with brightly coloured bougainvillea, scented with wild herbs and overrunby heeds of well-heeled tourists who need to be fed-and expect to be fed well.
The local chefs rise to the challenge, despite the difficulties of producing food on a sun-blasted chunk of limestone that has no natural springs and is expensive 40-kilometre trek from the mainland.
Cooks here, like those throughout the rest of Italy's barren and mostly impoverished south, have become adept at making the most of what geaws locally and doing without pricey imports.
It is cooking "diella simplicita," says Serafina Alberino, chef and owner of the Buca di Bacco (Baccu's Wine Cellar), just off the main square in Capri Town.
For more than 20 years, Alberino's family has welcorned guests to the tiny buca; for 100 years before that, is was a tavern that hosted everyone from the Romantic poets to Clark Gable.
"Basically, it's very simple because we use basil, garlic, olive oil, no mayonnaise or cream, andas you all sorts of vegetables," Alberino says.
Zucchini and eggplant grow inprofusion here, as do themmost remarkable tweet, juicy tomatoes. Trees bend under the weighs of plump, spicy figs and sweet lemons so big and heavy with juice you need two hands to hold one.
Fragile herbs that we coax carefully into life la Calgary oregano, marjoram, basil, rosemary, lavender-grow likeweeds under Moditerranean sun.
And while there is still some game on the island the "capre," the wild goals for which Capri is named, are long gone, but there are still a few birds and rabbits lobe had - most meat, dairy and poultry must be brought in from Naples at extravagant cost.
So, the locals turn to the sea, where they harvest flavourful fish such a pezzogne
and orata, as well as squid, tiny clams and a variety of spiny, unidentifiable shellfish, which are then tossed with pasta or risotto.
At Materita Restaurant in Anacapri, Capri's other town, chef Peranio Gianluca prepares orata (also known as gilt-head bream), grilled whole,then honed at the table, where the waiter creates a simple sauce of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic and parsley.
Like the other chefs on the island, Gianluca makes the most of Capri's most bounteous crop-zucchini -inheavenly, if unusual, dish of home made pasta tossed with tiny clams and zucchini flowers.
For gardeners struggling so cope with an overabundance of the productive green squash, Capri is an inspiration. You can find zucchini sauteed, grilled, baked, marinated, battered and fried; its flowers mode into fritters or stuffed with cheese and deep-fried; the fruit tossed in a myriad of ways with pasta and cheese.
And then there are the antipasto bars. Unlike antipasto in Italy's northern regions, where it is usually a small selection of cold cuts and cheeses, the antipasto bass of Capri offer dozens of items, many of them somevariation on eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes.
Alberino's antipasto bar is a monument to culinary creativity. For her, "della simplicità" doesn't mean boring or easy-her most famous dish is quail stuffed with baron and sausage.
Her antipasto comprises a bewildering society of marinated and fried vegetables, seafood, cheese, cold cuts and more, including a delectable eggplant fritter stuffed with ham and cheese.
But the biggest antipasto barhas to be at Paolino's near Marina Grande, which offers at least 50 planers, maybe more, of everything from fresh buffalo mozzarella to eggplant done at least to different ways, marinated anchovies, baby octopus, spicy wee scallops no bigger than the tip of your baby finger, roasted tomatoes with fresh marjora and even, oddly, smoked salmon (for the cruise ship clientele,no doubt).
Paolino's is laidout romantically, aromatically lemon grove, the fruit firmly wired inplace soit cannot fall on, an unsuspecting diner's
head-and a good tiny supermarket lemons, but enormous bruisers, that would send their victims to hospital. Those lemons appear in everything here, from sauces to icy granitas, refreshing "spremuta" (freshly squeezed drinks) and limoncello, powerful liqueur that is impossible to escape as the hospitable Caprese presa it upon you at every turn.
At I Faraglioni, named after the island's second most famous attraction Rest to the Blue Grotto, Antonio Russo times a break from serving rabies and explains how to make limoncello: Take a litre of alcohol such as vodka, Russo says, and put in the peels of six lemons, "Alice five days, you time one litre aqua (water) and 500 grams sugar and you put on top, you pot everything in, and in week it is clear and then you put it in the bottle."
And then, of course, you drink.
Or, you could stick to the local wine, winch is light, slightly acidic, perfect for hot summer days and cool nights on an island with no natural water supply, although 30 pram ago, pipes were built to bring water from the mainland.
"That was a good thing," says Romana Angiola, our guide from the tourist board."Orwe would only he drinking wine."
There am classic Caprese dishes, ofcourse, on this island that has been influenced by everyone from the Greeks to the Phoenicians, the Saracens, Romans and right up to today's celebrity culture.
There is the island's most famous dish, insalate caprese, tomato and fresh mozzarella salad. There is the torta caprese, chocolate and almond cake, and seafood, fig tarts and lemon granita, and more.
But Copri cuisine is famous for one thing obove all.
As Alberino says: "We distinguish ourselves for our hospitality and kindness".

RECIPES:
Follow the Caprese's lead and get fresh

CAPRESE SALAD
This salad is so easy, it really doesn't need a recipe. Basically, take some ripe tomatoes and slice them about 1/4 in. (0.5 cm) thick. Then, take some fresh mozzarella and slice it, too, about 1/4 in. (0.5 cm) thick. Layer tomatoes and cheese in an attractive pattern. Tear fresh basil leaves and scatter them on top, then drizzle with extravirgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshground pepper to taste. A splash of balsamic vinegar is lovely, too, though not authentic.
But like anything very simple, a good caprese salad is tricky to pull off.
First of all, the tomatoes have to be perfectly ripe and sweet, ideally fresh from your garden, still warm with the rays of the sun. Failing that, organic tomatoes or hothouse tomatoes on the vine make an acceptable substitute, but never, ever those palefleshed, cardboardflavoured supermarket tomatoes.
Then, the mozzarella must be fresh never the prepackaged rubbery stuff used for pizzas and ideally should be made from the milk of the water buffalo, not cows' milk.
Also, the basil must be fresh, crisp and of excellent quality. And, finally, the olive oil should be sweet and fruity, the best quality you can afford. Same goes for the balsamic vinegar, if you use it.
Peranio Gianluca, chef of Materita Restaurant in Anacapri, serves scialatielli, a fresh, homemade pasta traditional to Capri. It is cut into two by 1/2inch (5 by 1cm) flat, rectangular pieces. You can substitute fresh storebought pastas or a good quality dried pasta, such as farfalle. Serves four.

MATERITA'S SCIALATIELLI
WITH CLAMS, ZUCCHINI FLOWERS
AND FRESH TOMATOES
When it comes to tomatoes, only the freshest, sweetest ones will do for the Caprese.
1/4 cup (250 mL) of olive oil, or enough to cover the bottom of a saute pan i to 2 cloves garlic chopped fine 30 zucchini flowers.
1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) parsley,
chopped fine
8 small tomatoes, diced
24 fresh clams still in the shell,
scrubbed very clean
fresh scialatielli pasta, recipe
follows
While the water is boiling for the pasta, saute garlic in oil over medium heat until soft, but not browned. Turn down heat and stir in zucchini flowers, parsley and tomatoes. Then, add clams, cover and cook until they are opened.
Boil the scialatielli, strain and mix with the sauce in the pan, add more parsley. Garnish with more zucchini flowers if you wish.
SCIALATIELLI DOUGH
4 cups (1 L) cake flour
2 eggs
1 cup (250 mL whole milk
1/4 cup (50 mL) freshly grated
pecorino cheese
Mound flour, then make a well in the centre. Crack eggs into the well and pour milk over. Using a fork, stir egg mixture slowly into flour.
Add grated cheese and, working with your hands, bring dough together and knead eight to 10 minutes to form a smooth dough. Cover in plastic wrap; allow to rest 15 minutes.
Setup a pastarolling machine and cut off a piece of pasta dough the size of a tennis ball. Roll pasta through the rollers on the widest setting, then fold into thirds and run it through again on the same setting.
Repeat three times. Run pasta through the next two thinner settings. It should be quite thick.
Lay sheet of pasta on a floured cutting board. Cut crosswise into 1/2inch
(1cm) strips, then cut lengthwise into 2inch (5 cm) pieces. Cover cut noodles with a kitchen towel. Roll and cut remaining pasta.
Bring 6 quarts (6 L) of salted water to a boil. Drop pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente, about three minutes.

Materita's chef, Peranio Gianluca, shares his version of the classic dessert of Capri, a dense but simple chocolate cake.
TORTA CAPRESE
1'/z cups (375 mL) almonds, ground very fine
1 cup (250 mL granulated sugar
3/4 cup (175 mL unsalted butter
7 oz. (2009) semisweet chocolate, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup (75 mL allpurpose flour

6eggs, separated
confectioners sugar to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 350° F (180°C). Grease and flour a nineinch (1.5L) round baking pan.
In a double boiler, melt chocolate and cool slightly.
In a large mixer, cream together butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Mix in egg yolks, one at a time, then the finely ground almonds and flour, then the melted chocolate.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until they form soft, glossy peaks. Slowly and gently fold egg whites into chocolate mixture until thoroughly mixed.
Pour into prepared pan and bake in centre of oven for 45 minutes, or until centre is firm when pressed with a fingertip.
Cool and sprinkle decoratively with confectioner's sugar.