Scarole e Fagioli

I could walk for days in Napoli.  Down the Pedementina stairs, past the Pignasecca market through the centro storico, under the streets and even out the city gates.  As I walk, I smell the town.  It is easy to detect who is making stuffed peppers or Genovese or friarielli.  Sometimes I wonder if I hang around below a barred apartment window for long enough whether an ancient nonna in house slippers and curlers might invite me for luncheon.  Mercifully, I still retain a few shreds of dignity and have thusly not allowed this to happen.  YET.

New Years in Naples and the Amalfi Coast

There are some things you should know before spending New Years Eve in Naples or the Amalfi Coast.  First, Neapolitans like to throw things--- lots of breakable things. When the clock strikes midnight toilets, teacups and everything in between are ritualistically thrown out of windows into heaps and heaps of shattered glass, porcelain and general flying shrapnel.  Second, on New Years Eve we wear red underpants.  And third, be prepared for a wild ride because in a town where breaking champagne magnums and then sporting red lingerie is par for the course, anything—AND I MEAN ANYTHING can happen.  The Amalfi Coast is only slightly tamer than Naples.  But it is still raucous, rollicking and fabulous in ways only the South of Italy can be at party times.  For your reading leisure (and preparation), I have listed the top five New Years traditions in Naples and the Amalfi Coast below. 

Christmas Cooking in Naples

The Christmas meal in Naples and the province of Campania is a three-day marathon of eating.  There is no way out of it.  If you are invited to the home of a Neapolitan friend just beware—the antipasti is exactly that, just the first dish in a long series of many.  Christmas Eve is all about Fish.  The meal starts around 8PM and lasts late into the night.  Some families attend midnight mass and many children receive their gifts at midnight.  Baby Jesus also arrives in his nativity manger at this time.

 

Christmas Day is for Minestra Maritata, a slow cooked broth with winter greens.  Finally December 26th is St. Stephens Day.  For most families, this means leftovers.  While you may not be in Italy for the holidays this year, you can certainly cook like a Neapolitan with this recipe guide. 

Baccalà Fritta

Christmas Eve in Naples is all about fish and lots of it.  While this whole concept of seven fish seems to be distinctly and Italian American thing, we do eat fish in its myriad forms on Christmas Eve.  The logic for this being that we should be abstaining from meat to recall the birth of Jesus.  Obviously gavaging ourselves with 15 kilos of seafood should really do the trick. 

The most common dishes on Christmas Eve often include antipasti of marinated and fried fish, kelp fritter and maybe just a touch of good mozzarella (Although not all on the same plate. Fish + Cheese = BAD in Italy).  For primi we often have Spaghetti all Vongole (Spaghetti with Clams) or Risotto al Pescatore (Seafood Risotto).  

For main dishes or secondi, we enjoy fish both baked and fried.  Generally we bake Orata, Brazino or Spigola (Sea Bass) aqua pazza style with tomatoes, parsley, garlic and olive oil.  And then comes the fried fish.  After soaking salt cod for days, we pat, flour and deep fry.

Struffoli

I have a new hat. It is prominent, synthetic and furry.  Last week when I ventured to Ravello for a concert I felt rather chilled so I bought this arguably monstrous capper.  It has the overall effect of making me look like a cross between Anna Karenina and the Baal Shem Tov.  There are a few reasons I like to where this cap. 

Five Unforgettable Views on the Gulf of Sorrento

There’s a reason one of Italy’s most famous songs is called Turna a Sorriento—Return to Sorrento.  The contrast between jagged mountains of Sorrento and her sparkling seas below is simply irresistible. So much so that it causes one to euphorically burst into song. Walking along the promenades of Sorrento, the trails of Sant’Agata and the marinas of Massa Lubrense make one appreciate the juxtaposition of mare and monti here.  There is something bewitching about this region.  Perhaps that’s why legend suggests this is where the sirens attempted to ensnare Ulysses with their dulcet voices.  This is siren country.  This is Sorrento.  These are our favorite views. 

Torrone dei Morti

On November 2nd, we make Torrone dei Morti, a kind of dark chocolate fudge throughout the region of Campania.  According to old legend, this chocolate treat makes an unbearable day of remembering our departed slightly more tolerable.  It is shaped into one long rectangle that is reminiscent of a bone, a dead body or a coffin.  Today young lovers exchange Torrone on November 2nd as one might exchange chocolate hearts on Valentines Day. 

There are also hazelnuts in this chocolate fudge.  Some people say the crunch of the hazelnuts is reminiscent of bones.  I don’t know how I feel about this textural metaphor, but whatever works.  I suppose the point is mainly to treat death with practiced nonchalance so that we ritualistically unafraid.  Neapolitans are comically fatalistic.  They also love sweets.  It is only natural that Torrone would result.    I enjoy making Torrone because in a strange way it reminds me of all that chocolate I once ate with Antonietta. 

Five Essential Walks in Naples

Every walk in Napoli is new. There are religious curios encrusted into old tuffo walls, charismatic shrines to the football star Maradona and a lot of wildly indecent graffiti.  Today for example, I noticed this sloppily spray painted inspirational quote on the back of Federico II’s Political Science Faculty “Don’t let a perfectly good day ruin your life of shit!”  Thanks Napoli. I won’t!

Walking in Napoli requires a sense of curiosity and humor.  Turn off your phone.  Forget about Google Maps. Stroll, smell a simmering tomato sauce, listen to children screaming at their nonnas that they don’t want pasta and beans for lunch…. All in day’s walk.

Zuppa di Castagne e Fagioli

Gym behavior in Naples is really not unlike gorilla behavior in the wild.  The old ladies in cat pajamas are the gorilla gals that pick nits out of some old man monkey’s scalp.  She probably eats the same nits when no one’s looking… don’t be judging these nit snackers or cat pajama wearers. They mean well, plus their doctor told them to do it. The middle-aged ball sack stranglers are barely bipedal and like to smack their own asses and grunt a lot.  Give them a smart phone at your own risk. The painted ladies roll around in grassy patches with come hither stares and jiggling breasts.  I guess that means Peppe is the monkey that throws poop?

Pollo alla Cacciatore

Anxious to impress her with my culinary prowess, I blabbered about browning the meat first and slowly braising it in tomatoes.  She silently nodded her head and declared, “why don’t you do the cacciatore your way and I do it my way and we’ll see what the family thinks.” In a swift move, she had thrown down the only gauntlet a bored, angry housewife in a place with no there, there knew how to throw.  We were having a chicken off. And the fifteen members of the family would be our judges. 

Zucca Grigliata

And it’s a good thing Thanksgiving is still several weeks off because I have all the more time to play with pumpkin--- savory style and in the Italian manner.  Pumpkin risotto, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin with borlotti beans and my favorite ----simple grilled pumpkin.  So get out your machetes basic bitches, because we’re about to get carving

Parmigiana Bianca di Zucchine

This morning on a trip to the market, I bought 2 kilos of zucchini for 2 euro.  Batch by fucking batch, I grilled those zucchini and thought about that day at Georgetown years ago.  It is hard not to feel nostalgic for the days in which the most interesting thing about myself that I could think of was that I liked sushi.  And yet I sigh with the satisfaction. I am in Napoli, grilling zucchini and making lunch. 

New Website

You may have noticed that Sauced & Found has a new website.  Thanks to a team of designers far more technologically savvy than me (Half & Twice Studio in Madrid), the website is now a professional repository of pithy information rather than the ramshackle out post of solipsistic musing and mourning it once was.  Obviously, all of this is a good thing.  We have a color palette and a logo now! Wow – caspita!

Spezzatino con Piselli

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. 

Pasta e Fagioli

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. 

Braciole Napoletane

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.

Minestra Maritata

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.

Inslata di Rinforzo

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.

Spaghetti alle Vongole

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.