MY PRIVATE ITALY: IN NAPLES, EAT LIKE A NEAPOLITAN

Thursday, 13 August 2020 08:14 Written by Serena Vocella
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"Vedi Napoli e poi muori" (“See Naples and then die”) is a Goethe’s famous expression that reflects the beauty of this city. I’ve seen Naples many times, I am still alive and I keep going back.

The city is beautiful not only for its history and monuments, but mostly for the warmth of Neapolitan people that are able to enjoy all the small pleasures of life. One of them is food and Neapolitan cuisine is possibly the most famous and imitated in the world. I'm in love with it and I never leave the city without my belly completely full!
Naples is the unquestioned queen of pizza, which was born in 1889 thanks to a Neapolitan cook, Raffaele Esposito, who dedicated this recipe to Queen Margherita of Savoia by naming it "Pizza Margherita", which should have represented the new Italian tricolor flag: basil (green), mozzarella (white) and tomatoes (red). I remember the first pizza I ate there, it was amazing because the pizza was absolutely delicious and there was a singer singing a "serenata" (like a love song in Neapolitan dialect) from his balcony, so the atmosphere was so romantic and cozy. Since pizza was invented, it has been exported, copied, usurped, savored, stuffed in every possible way, eaten with cutlery or with hands, but in all cases, wherever I find pizza, it reminds me of Naples.
My favourite is the "pizza a portafoglio", that is folded on itself: when I eat it I always get dirty with the tomato sauce that comes out from everywhere! There is also “pizza fritta” (fried pizza), which is a closed dough in the shape of a crescent stuffed with whatever you like and fried in hot oil.
There are also special versions for the holidays. During Easter time you can have “la pizza chiena” (“chiena” is neapolitan dialect and means “full”), pastry filled with ricotta, ham and salami. For Christmas, instead, you cannot miss “la pizza di scarole” (pizza with escarole), a baked focaccia filled with smooth escarole, capers, anchovies and black olives.

The best part of street food for me is the variety of fries and, especially, the “cuoppo fritto” (in this case it means “fried cone” but the word “cuoppo” referred to a person means that he is a “mean person”). It is served in the streets as a finger-cone and usually cointains salted “zeppoline” (that are “paste cresciute” with salt, irregular spherical savory pancakes made of flour batter, water and natural yeast), “panzerotti” made of potatoes and often filled with cheese and ham, “pizzelle 'and sciurilli” (paste cresciute with pumpkin flowers), “sciurilli fritti” (always battered and fried pumpkin flowers), “scagliuozz” (fried polenta triangles), “palle di riso” (rice balls), “frittata di maccheroni” (the “macaroni omelette”). Personally, I love the version with fish: “cuoppo di mare”, with fried fish, squid and rings, as well as different battered vegetables such as courgettes and aubergines.

“'O per' eo muss” (pig's foot and muzzle) is another typical kind of street food considered a ritual: at any time of the day or night you can have it together with some fries and a nice cold beer. The story of this recipe is from “Bourbon Era” where in Naples "les entrailles" were the entrails of the animals and were thrown off the real balconies to poor people. Quickly they became “zendraglie” in the local language. The so-called “Carnacuttaro” divided the entrails into three parts: the tripe, the sautéed, which is a strong tomato soup with offal cuttings and finally, “‘o per‘ e o muss”, which contains parts of cartilage, breasts, matrix (uterus), both of bovine and pig. “'O per' e 'o muss” is boiled for hours and can be stored just for a very short time in a cool place (because of the perishable nature of the soft parts). They are served with plenty of lemon, lupine, olives, chilli pepper and salt, directly from a real bone horn.
Another "snack" that I always had as aperitivo is the "panino napoletano" or "pagnottiello" in Neapolitan dialect (for the aperitivo they usually do trays with all this varieties of small paninis). It is a soft savory pie stuffed with salami, ham, eggs and cheeses. Also this sandwich has popular and ancient origins: it was invented by the housewives who wanted to use the leftovers from the previous day combined with the ingredients and bread available at home.

I am a pasta addict, so in Naples I always have it: “the genevose sauce” is based on a mirepoix of carrots, celery and onions, sautéed with meat, muscle and beef stew. Afterwards, red wine, onions and water are added and cooked for at least five or six hours over a low heat.
The classic “Neapolitan ragu” is a sort of sacred dish on Sundays and differs from other national recipes because of the cooking time and ingredients: “the locena” (the part of the beef that is located between the brisket and the collarbone) is used in “brasciuole” stuffed with cheese, parsley, garlic, raisins and tied with string; gurnard (pork thigh) and “tracchiulelle” (ribs). The meat is not minced but is cut into large pieces and must be cooked together with the tomato sauce over a very low heat for at least six hours, even if the average is seven / nine hours. During the process it is essential to slowly boil the sauce thanks to a strategical use of stove and lid.
Neapolitans do not throw anything away, even the pasta left-overs, and this recipe is one of my favorites with pasta! The funny thing is that I discovered the "frittata di maccheroni" (macaroni omelette) in America because my Neapolitan roommate cooked it every week and she was very proud to export this delicious traditional dish over the ocean. It is like an omelette with spaghetti, eggs, parmesan and caciocavallo, but also provola, scamorza, salami and ham. It is ideal for a picnic or under your beach-umbrella, infact it’s even better when served cold!

As the city is by the sea, the fish in Naples is always fresh, so I always have “spaghetti con le vongole” (spaghetti with clams) or “impepata di cozze” (peppered mussels). The clams are a typical seafood from the Gulf of Naples and to cook them properly you need just a few ingredients like garlic, oil and parsley. The “impepata di cozze” is an appetizer which was originally invented in the kiosks in front of the port. Mussels are cooked in a pot, seasoned with olive oil, garlic, parsley and plenty of black pepper.

Neapolitans love to cook something special during holidays: at Easter, the best example is “the casatiello”, whose shape would represent Jesus’ crown of thorns. It is a savory pie prepared on the Holy Saturday before Easter and recycled at least until Monday: it is a hymn to the resurrection, but also to difficult digestion (I remember having some problems myself)! In fact, the recipe is not light at all as the dough is based on lard enriched with provolone and Neapolitan salami.
Another important Easter dessert is “Pastiera”. In fact a cheerful nursery rhyme says: “Pasqua senza pastiera niente vale: è ‘a Vigilia senz’albero ‘e Natale, è comm ‘o Ferragosto senza sole” (Easter is worth nothing without pastiera, like Christmas Eve without a tree or Ferragosto – middle of August - without sun). In the Pastiera you can find many ingredients: the base is pastry filled with ricotta, orange blossom water, boiled wheat, orange peel and spices.

Other unmissable sweets of the Neapolitan tradition are “the sfogliatella”, “the babà” and "the graffe napoletane". “The sfogliatella” is the souvenir I always bring home from my trip in Naples because my parents love them. There are two versions: puff pastry vs short pastry. The only part on which all Neapolitans agree on is the ricotta, semolina, egg and sugar filling enriched with candied fruit, spices and orange blossom water. Legend says “the sfogliatella” was born in the province of Salerno in the convent of Santa Rosa, by the hands of a nun. In 1818 the recipe arrived in Naples thanks to the pastry chef Pasquale Pintauro, to whom we owe the invention of the crispy pastry alternative. Differently, Babà is a dessert “adopted” from Poland as a variation of the “Gugelhupf”, invented by King Stanislaus Leszczynski. The exile in France and the combined marriages between the royals of Europe are the reasons why the babà came to Naples. Here they gradually substituted rhum with limoncello, and it acquired a second B in the pronunciation (babba), becoming one of the most iconic symbols of the local gastronomy. You should be careful on how many babbà you eat if you don't want to find yourself a bit tipsy! "Si‘ nu babbà" means "you are a treasure” in Neapolitan.

The "graffe napoletane" (neapolitan staples) are sugar-coated fried donuts with a flour and potato base. These donuts come from the period of Austrian domination and are a revisitation of the german Krapfen. Typical of Neapolitan cuisine, they are usually prepared during the Carnival period even if they are available throughout the year.
Naples is really a city to discover through its food because of the mix of ingredients that this land can offer and the passion of its people, who know how to combine them and welcome everyone into their beautiful tradition. A trip to Naples is definitely a culinary journey and, trust me, you will need at least one week to discover all this delicious food! Maybe you will get some extra kilos, but who cares, relax and be happy, you’re in Naples.

Read 559 times Last modified on Thursday, 13 August 2020 08:51

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