Then I remembered I had about 4 kilos of fresh peas to shuck. I also remembered something somebody like Dr. Weil or Lao Tzu or Dr. Phil or Dr. Seuss once said about keeping your hands busy with something productive when anxiety strikes. And while I was unsure of the provenance of this sage advice, I am pretty sure that the intended activity was not freebasing aspirin and furiously typing outlandish word combinations into 21st century search engines. Fucking envelope. Fucking post office. Fucking peas. I shucked and contemplated. It almost felt as if I were reciting a novena, peas in place of the rosary.Read More
I wanted a caipirinha and feijoada and Ipiranga and Sao Joao. But then again, I was in Napoli. I had Aglianico and ragù and all of these crazy people running around town fretting about laundry, public transport strikes and the upcoming soccer match against Real Madrid. I continued singing Águas de Março. If I couldn’t have feijoada than I would make pasta fasule. My Paulistano past and my Napolitano present didn’t seem so dissonant after all.Read More
Braciole, a dish of braised meat rolls, is typically served on Sundays. It is essentially two dishes in one with the residual red sauce tossed in rigatoni or penne to serve as a primo and the meat rolls served as a secondo. It bears noting that in the North, braciole is a grilled pork chop. In Napoli, braciole universally refers to a thin cutlet of beef stuffed with garlic, parsley, pine nuts, raisins, pancetta and Parmesan and then slowly braised in a tomato sauce. I have seen this dish stuffed with breadcrumbs in the United States, which I consider both foolish and sacrilege but to each his own.Read More
Minestra Maritata gave rise to what Americans call “Italian Wedding Soup.” This soup is not in fact served at weddings. Maritata means married in Italian and refers to the married flavors of rich meat broth and bitter wintergreens. This is dish is typical of Napoli’s characteristic coquina povera (poor man’s cuisine) and is often served on the Christmas Day. I served it a week late because as mentioned, I had no electricity for the Christmas holiday. You will notice that I add little meatballs or polpettine. In Naples this is uncommon, however in Agerola it is preferred. Serve as you wish.Read More
Consisting of cornichon, red peppers, capers, olives and cauliflower, insalata di rinforzo is made for Christmas Eve dinner and then served again for the New Years feast, as Neapolitan believe the flavors become “reinforced” the longer they marinate. Baccalà (cod) is a classic Christmas dish because as we know, Neapolitans have a bit of a thing for fish around the Christmas season.Read More
Spaghetti alle vongole is a Neapolitan staple and Christmas classic. It is for that reason I set out to make this dish after my recent visit to Porta Nolana. There are two critical decisions once must make when preparing the dish: whether or not to shell half of the clams and whether or not to serve “macchiato” or “stained” with tomatoes. I really happen to like the aesthetic vibrancy of the added tomatoes. It is a matter of personal preference. As with every time I prepare spaghetti alle vongole, I enjoyed this dish with a glass of greco di tufo wine and lots of bread. Perhaps the most delicious ritual in these parts is the performance of the time-honored ritual of scarpetta, mopping up residual sauce with a little shoe of bread. There is no better dish for scarpetta than spaghetti alle vongole. And there is no better way to conclude a bella jurnata a Napule.Read More
The uniquely American impulse to believe in the inherit survivability of democracy is not something we take for granted here in Europe. Trump’s election is sinister for a lot of reasons that I have already mentioned, and perhaps the most troubling aspect of his presidency is what it will mean for global democracy and more specifically the sustainability of the single most important institutional development of the 20th century: the European Union. Democracy is neither foregone conclusion nor inevitability in Western Europe. In fact it is nothing short of a miracle that peace, stability and civil society have persisted in a region that has been consistently plagued by violence, sectarianism and ideological extremism. And while the American Experiment is likely alive and well, I would argue that Trump’s election coupled with the Brexit vote and the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis could very likely end the great European Experiment that is the European Union and its Schengen bloc.Read More
There are a lot of great recipe genesis stories. Everybody seems to know the old tale of the Earl of Sandwich, so obsessed with his cribbage game that he ordered his servants to bring him a conveniently portable meal. And thus was born the now ubiquitous sandwich. There is also the fondly recounted story of the chocolate chip cookie. Apparently some intrepid cook in Massachusetts lazily threw chocolate bits into traditional cookie batter hoping the chocolate would evenly melt to create a chocolate cookie. The bits remained in tact and now we have the beloved chocolate chip cookie. Yet another story of accidental invention in the kitchen is my personal favorite, the Tarte Tatin!Read More
This week I have decided to become a paragon of efficiency. Usually these bouts of manic organization last roughly 24 hours and then I burn out in the bathtub where I can be found reading gossip magazines and drinking crappy chardonnay. It has thusly come as a shock to me that I am now on day three. If there were a Container Store nearby, I would have visited no less than 67 times by now. Alas, all I have is some crackpot everything store off our main piazza that sells things like clothes pins and canning jars when what I really want is an overpriced, aspirational closet organization system that makes me feel as if I have FINALLY MADE IT IN LIFE! Then I remember—I don’t even have a walk-in closet. #whitegirlproblemsRead More
When I first arrived in Agerola, Giuseppe liked to go around telling people that I was a “great cook,” which in retrospect was just about the most ridiculous thing he could say about me. I remember a man I worked with in Washington who once told me, referring to his wife, “Oh Hillary is a great cook.” This same man later invited me over for dinner, probably so that he could later gloat that Hillary was indeed a great cook!!!!
For some reason beyond my current comprehension, I actually accepted this man’s invitation to sample Hillary’s great cooking. Upon arriving at their home (yes, you guessed it, they lived in suburban Virginia), I quickly learned that this Hillary lady was a ‘HUGE’ fan of Food Network chef Melissa d’Arabian. Unsurprisingly our night’s feast featured a full menu exactingly prepared according to Ms. d’Arabian’s much touted testament to parsimony: Ten Dollar Dinners. I don’t even recall what we ate that night. It was uninspired, but not exactly bad. I am sure that Hillary prepared everything according to Ms. d’Arabian’s precise instructions. What I do know is that the pièce de résistance of the evening was pot de crème and that Hillary spent the entire evening proudly trilling the words ‘pot de crème’ as if she were a modern day Charles de Gaulle (or a current day Stéphane Bern). It’s just fucking custard I thought to myself. I was never invited back for another ten dollar dinner, and I’m not complaining. They served Cupcake Chardonnay, which was probably out of budget.Read More
I have come to a shocking conclusion: I sound like Dr. Phil. whenever I speak the local dialect. It is not that I am proffering sage advice to my small town Neapolitan compatriots. That rickety yola sailed off into stormy waters long ago when I realized these yokels prefer the counsel of more salubrious individuals, like Berlusconi or Don Corleone. No, I am starting to sound like a Dr. Phyllis because I have adopted a new disturbing habit of speaking in ridiculous American clichés that prominently feature animals, and usually animals behaving badly. I imagine Dr. Phil confidently pontificating to a group of incestuous Arkansans getting ready to start the Atkins diet and finally quit the meth—You can’t wrastle a gator with out breakin’ into a back sweat. Or some other similarly vacant zoological aphorism that masquerades as wisdom. I laugh. I don’t speak that way. The electrically dulcet tones of my voice sound more like E.E. Cummings making love with Emily Dickinson.Read More
This year I spent yet another uneventful Fourth of July in Agerola, which now makes it the third consecutive year that I have been outside America for the holiday. As it were, in addition to being the heralded anniversary of America’s independence from Britain, the Fourth of July also marks my independence from America or rather the date on which I left my native country to ridiculously establish my life as an “ex-patriot” in Italy. Two years ago, I was en route to Napoli, Italia. And as it seems that my invitation to Taylor Swift’s Fourth of July party was lost in the mail, I have spent the day reflecting, somewhat nostalgically, on just what sort of mad woman I must have been to leave a perfectly nice life in Washington, DC to live in Agerola, crazy-town, Napoli, Italia.Read More
The law of diminishing marginal returns reigns supreme every year around the time of zucchini season in my little nook of Italia. We all start out thrilled by the endless possibilities. We make zucchini and baby shrimp scialatielli pasta, parmigiana of eggplant, stuffed eggplant, marinated eggplant. Then around mid-July, we want nothing more to do with the offensive little squash.
The zucchini started arriving in my garden about a week ago, which means that the next few weeks will likely feature a rush to pickle, preserve and EAT as many zucchini as I can possibly stomach before they all start turning into massive gourds unfit to feed even the family pig. I usually start off the season with a rush of excitement, and this year is no different. The units of pleasure I derive from picking zucchini from my very own garden will continue to grow for approximately the next 17 days, and thusly I rather jauntily scurry from my garden to my kitchen to my table, a veritable if not slightly sanctimonious Alice Waters.Read More
The frittata isn’t fancy—though the word has a nice ratatata ring to it. There is also nothing particularly creative about the humble frittata. It is simply a dish made at the last minute for a hungry family, or carried to the beach for a convenient picnic. In my case, it is usually a “meal” consumed in a frenzy after returning home from a long day at the beach, and a several hours on a public bus. Lately, I have been adding arugula because it grows wild like a weed in our garden, and given all of the time spent in beaches and busses, I can’t be bothered to grocery shop. We have literally been reduced to eating garden weeds and breakfast for dinner due to my housewifely negligence.. This week has been no different.Read More
"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate"- DANTE
Renovating a house is trying in the best of circumstances. Renovating a house in the South of Italy is chaos, not even controlled chaos, just chaos. Tiles go missing. Parts of wall fall from the ceiling. Artisans come and go according to their own indecipherable schedules. Occasionally doors get left open and stray dogs wander into the house, albeit it with more regularity than the local craftsmen. All of this means that I have unwittingly become part project manager, part zookeeper. Or as my by old boss used to trill when I worked in the federal government, "It's like herding cats around here." More depressingly, when I tell friends I am renovating an old house on the Amalfi Coast, they often imagine Under the Tuscan Sun. My situation is more akin to another book that loosely takes place in Italy: Dante’s Inferno. I occasionally imagine dipping local craftsman into vats of cement, meting out my punishment Dante style.Read More
It goes with out saying that I have taken a year hiatus from writing about food. While I have been away from the kitchen, I managed to get married, renovate a house, curse the day I moved to Italy and swear I was becoming a vegan, just to piss off the nutty people in the even nuttier town that I currently call home. Yet here I am, still in Agerola, Napoli, Italia. I battle it out with the locals, lament the lack of infrastructure and on my worst days, just wish I could go to the Whole Foods and freebase a sample tub guacamole chased with an overpriced bottle of asparagus water. But then there are days like today, when I look outside at my garden and realize, whatever, I might as well go pick some fava beans.Read More
I seem to have developed the curious local habit of never leaving the house without a busta—plastic bag. After ridding our house of hundreds of hoarded plastic bags, I now can’t seem to get enough of them, and there is chiefly one reason for that— food foraging. It pains me to admit that I am now not only a bag lady, but also a forager. Food foraging has become a somewhat twee, overly precious pastime in the much of the world thanks to the rise of René Redzepi and the reign of hipsters
Like many pesky habits, my food foraging developed so gradually, that I failed to realize what was happening. In Washington, my good friend Kareem and I liked to nance around Logan Circle with kitchen sheers, furtively snipping rosemary out of other peoples gardens. We weren’t serious ‘foragers.’ We just couldn’t bear to purchase overpriced herbs at the Whole Foods so we pounced around our urban jungle gossiping about who we saw at the gym and what we would make for dinner, all the while snipping rosemary from public parks and private gardens.
And then I moved to Italy.Read More
It is not often my mother-in-law praises my cooking. Generally she is of the school of thought that I use too much olive oil and not enough pig fat, my pasta is too al dente, and my use of black pepper too ribald. Yesterday was a rare exception and I continue to savor the simple words of praise (?), “Cristina…this dish is not so terrible after all…..”
Of course the dish was not so terrible because I followed mamma’s recipe precisely and occasionally let her take over when she guffawed, “oh, just let me do it.” We were making Savory Pastiera, a noodle cake of sorts that is so thoroughly Agerolese it could be emblazoned on the city seal and offered the town key.Read More
No Easter is complete in Naples without Pastiera. Custard-like in texture, and filled with grain and citrus aromatics, Pastiera is a dessert tart of legends. Eggs, a universal symbol of rebirth, prominently feature in this classic dish, which make it an indispensable part of Easter throughout much of Campania.
Making Pastiera is an event in itself. The true recipe calls for ‘grano duro’ or farro that is soaked in several changes of water for at least 24 hours. Many take the easier route and buy pre-cooked grain, which is convenient, but lacks a certain ritualistic authenticity.Read More
We don’t eat meat during holy week in our house (or at least if we do, we do it in secret where mamma can’t see us). Yesterday, Giuseppe made the mistake of scarfing down a piece of salami and we are all paying the piper now. We are also technically not supposed to work during holy week, but with a house under construction, we have no choice but to bend the rules a little bit. It is entirely possible our names are written on naughty list somewhere.
So with hungry mouths to feed and penance to pay, we eat the classic spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) every afternoon the week before Easter.Read More