A Guide to Christmas Fish in Naples

Christmas Eve is a fish lovers dream across the South of Italy.  In the days leading up to the holiday, fish markets across Naples work over time to keep up with demand.  There are many nouveau preparations of old favorites.  But classics are classics for a reason.  Below is a by no means exhaustive guide to Neapolitan Christmas fish and their simple preparations!

The Advent in Naples

Italy is ostensibly Catholic.  We check liturgical calendars before leaving the house to determine what saint day it is and whether we need to wish a friend a congratulatory ‘auguri’ on any given day. Everyday is someone’s saint day after all, and some people even get to have more than one. Each day has a saint and each saint has a sweet.  And while one can quibble as to how devout your average Italian is, the Advent season is without a doubt nationally celebrated occasion.  But what is the Advent and what does it mean to the everyday Italian?

How to Cook Pasta

I did not know the first thing about making pasta.  In the not so distant past, I often boiled pasta to oblivion and then left it in the cooling water before draining it in a colander because I was simply too busy doing something else- something important like watching Netflix or reading US Weekly magazine.  Many often think of pasta as a kind of last resort meal alternative to ordering take-out.  Boil water, throw in pasta and then throw whatever is in fridge together and eat- preferably standing up while simultaneously clicking away on phone, watching Netflix and posting solipsistic photos on Instagram.  Pasta really can be that easy to make.  And it definitely is a viable and potentially healthful alternative to freebasing Uber Eats.  It also can be incredibly elegant and infinitely more satisfying when following a few essential chronological cooking tips towards making the perfect plate of pasta. 

Five Christmas Traditions in Naples

 The holiday season is a magical time in Southern Italy.  Confectionaries and nativity scenes beseech even the grinches among us to join in all the merriment.  At the very least we don’t have to listen to Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer and Feliz Navidad no less than 2,000 times until the Rose Bowl.  Although in Italy you can also expect to here John Lennon belting And So Merry Christmas in the middle of July.  In honor of the holiday season, below are five indispensible Neapolitan Christmas traditions. If you can’t make it here for Christmas, you can think of us as you enjoy another slog of Eggnog-which by the way- try explaining that one to the average Neapolitan!

Top Five Gelaterias in Napoli

 

While the sfogliatella pastry and pastiera pie may be the undisputed kings of Neapolitan dolce, gelato will always remaining an admirable favorite.  With warm weather still going strong as we launch into fall, the gelato shops of Napoli remain humming with activity.  And what better way to spend a Neapolitan Sunday afternoon than with a constitutional stroll with a constitutional cone in hand.  Below are Sauced & Found’s selections for the top five gelaterias in Napoli. 

When life gives you lemons—make Limoncello !

It’s a calm summer night on a terrace overlooking the Gulf of Sorrento.  You have eaten a lot—too much really.  Bruschetta, smoked provolone, oregano studded olives, bubbling eggplant parmesan, Gragnano pasta shells stuffed with salted cod and wild parsley and baked to a crisp gratin. Those were only the first two courses.  The main course of Branzino stewed acqua pazza style in Vesuvian tomatoes and garlic puts you over the edge.  Then dessert arrives- a crostata of plump boozy apricots and vibrant mint leaves.  You are stuffed, finished, finito- but somehow your stomach defies its limits and the laws of gravity.  You eat that sublime slice of tart. Just as you are wishing you wore those stretchy pants, out of the corner of your eye you spot a tray approaching. Chilled ceramic glasses and a bottle of electric yellow nectar materialize. Dinner is not over yet.  The digestive has arrived. And it is limoncello. 

Top Ten Pizzerias in Naples

Let’s get one thing straight ragazzi- pizza is just one of the MANY iconic dishes that Naples offers. Still no trip to Bella Napoli is complete without it.  The original Neapolitan pizzas are the simple Marinara of San Marzano tomato sauce, oregano and garlic or the Margherita of tomato sauce, mozzarella or fiori di latte cheese and basil.  The secret to enjoying a good pizza is to keep it simple.  And for the love of God, don’t drive the pizzaioli of Naples crazy by trying to customize your f*cking order.  Order what is one the menu and basta!

Five Best Thermal Spas of Ischia

Since when the Greeks arrived on Ischia about 3,000 years ago, the Island has been highly prized for her volcanic waters.  The Romans created thermal baths in grottos here cleverly pumping bubbling naturally hot water into cavernous rock saunas.  After both world wars, veterans came to Ischia seeking rest and relaxation.  Today, the island’s famous thermal baths feature fresh and saltwater pools as well as water and mud treatments of every type imaginable.  That is not to mention access to the best water therapy there is- the beach! Below you will find my top five thermal parks on Ischia.

How to Get to the Amalfi Coast (and not go completely crazy…)

Let me tell you a little story about my first journey to the Amalfi Coast.  My friend met me in Rome.  Easy enough. We stayed two nights.  Did our thing- Spanish Steps, Vatican, Trastevere.  Drank too much Frascati, woke up one morning hungover and it was time to take the train to Naples and continue onward to the Amalfi Coast.  Feeling plucky, we decided to take the Freccia Rossa high speed train. We had tramezzini sandwiches and little bottles of prosecco to wag a hair out of the dog or whatever it is they say about drinking more alcohol to cure drinking too much of it. In spite of the fact that we seemed to be approaching our upcoming holiday with the same mental fortitude as a harem of spring breakers in Panama City, I was feeling pretty good about how the day was going.  

Ribollita

Tuscan and Neapolitan cuisine are natural cousins.  Both hark back to days of poverty in their use humble, oft-discarded ingredients.  Both feature beans prominently. Both do weird things with offal, although that is true for nearly every Italian region.  Nowhere is the cucina povera link more apparent then with the peasant dish of ribollita.  Literally meaning, re-boiled, ribollita utilizes a mish-mash of ingredients that may have found their fates in rubbish bins were in not for the ingenuity of Tuscan home cooks in leaner times. The most compelling use of an otherwise discarded food would of course be stale bread.  Every region in Italy has its own take on stale bread usage.  This Tuscan version is among the most famous abroad.  Strangely a bastard cousin of ribollita is often called Tuscan White Bean Soup on generic restaurant menus in the United States  The resulting dish is a flaccid and less nutritious version of the original and oddly includes entirely too much pancetta.  Ribollita it is not. 

Top Ten Cafés in Naples

You have to try hard not to drink good coffee in Naples.  Every neighborhood bar is a window into the vivacity of that sliver of Neapolitan territory.  The first thing I do every morning after rolling out of bed and making myself look generally presentable (locals might argue that lululemon pants and crocs do not qualify as presentable Napoli- and who am I to quibble) is head to the bar across the street from my house.  I go for the company. The invasive inquiries into my personal life. The exchange of hyper local recipes and even more hyper local gossip.  This is the bar where I start my day.  Twelve hours later, I will also end my day here with a spritz or a gingerino and a complex discussion of what was for lunch and what will be for dinner and how I will spend my Easter and whether I will make or buy my pastiera. It may only be February, and yet this is the idle chatter heard in Neapolitan bars everyday across the city.  To know Napoli is to know her bars.  Below are the most iconic. 

How to Order Coffee in Italy

There is a generous degree of debate regarding who has the best coffee in Italy.  Neapolitans will unfailingly boast that ours is the best coffee in the world.  I agree with that assessment.  But I am also biased.  As a rule, the coffee of the South is earthier and more full bodied.  As you move up the boot, coffee brands change.  In Naples Kimbo is King.  In Rome you find a lot of Lavazza.  Trieste is home to Illy.  The brand you use at home says a lot about your allegiances so never give a Neapolitan a gift of Illy coffee.  This will be unapologetically offensive.  I did this once so I should know.  After learning that I was supposed to take coffee and sugar to a dead relative’s family to commemorate a death-o-versary, I took Illy, thinking it posh.  Let’s just say I made them all forget the somber occasion of the day.

In defense of ITALIAN Food: Ten Commandments

When I lived in America, I always secretly harbored this idea that dried pasta was intrinsically inferior to fresh pasta.  Maybe it was the Calvinist in me that maintained anything that requires more work is naturally better.  I also perhaps romantically believed that all Italians made all things by hand- and by extension that all Italian food was the same.  In the 1990s, regional Italian food was largely non-existent in the United States.  Even New York, bastion of Italian-American cookery was largely void of regional Italian cuisine.  Fine dining chefs served exotic dishes like vitello tonnato (which I never really liked or understood) on the same menus that offered ribollita.  The former is from the Piedmont and has some suspicious origins in French Savoy; the latter is a fine example of Tuscan Cucina Povera.  Call me a zealot, but those two dishes should never be on the same menu together.  It is offensively blasphemous.  Unless maybe you are Massimo Bottura and are doing something whimsically ironic.

Top Ten Foods of the Amalfi Coast (Actually 11!)

Let’s get one thing straight.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  You could eat for years on the Amalfi Coast and still have not tried every plate the region has to offer.  Many of the same dishes are found in the the Gulf of Sorrento, Capri and the Phlegrean Islands. I have tried to limit this top ten list to foods that are strictly native to this wondrous stretch of coast and have stories linked to specific towns.  Sfogliatella, for example, was invented in the Amalfi Coast town of Conca dei Marini.  Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan), on the other hand is ubiquitous throughout all of Southern Italy and is a true staple of the Southern Mediterranean summer diet. To understand the foods typical to the Amalfi Coast, one must observe the region’s topography.  

Ten Best Beaches on the Amalfi Coast (Actually 11!)

Rossellini was correct.  The people here are crazy.  They also know how to live.  And the beaches prove it.  After years living on the Amalfi Coast, I have learned a few things about beach going here to make things a little less crazy.

First, there is a different between a private and public beach.  Stablimenti or beach clubs require you to pay anywhere from 5-10 Euro for a beach chair on their part of beach.  Spiggie libere, or free beaches allow you to spread out your towel, picnic and do as your heart’s content.  Often the people on the free beaches can be a bit on the vulgar side.  These beaches attract large families from the provinces who seem to colonize with umbrellas, picnic tables, sports equipment.  You would think they were prepared to head west on the Oregon Trail with all of the equipment they have.  Unsurprisingly, I don’t particularly enjoy these beaches.  From time to time, I may spread out a towel and enjoy a panino on a free beach.  However, if you are on vacation on the Amalfi Coast- be civilized and treat yourself to a lettino.  Otherwise you may end up with an errant beach ball to the head and screechy nonna telling you to move your beach towel over because you are in her spot! There is not such thing as a free beach when a nonna from the provincial hinerlands of Pagani is bellowing at you...

Polpette al Sugo (Meatballs in Sauce)

About two weeks ago, I moved to Siena to complete a project.  Living in Tuscany as an American transplant from Napoli confuses me and nearly every Tuscan I encounter.  The single strangest source of confusion, antipathy even, is my accent.  I had never realized how forcefully I spoke Italian- truncating words and peppering nearly every request, observation and enquiry with hyperbolic exclamations. Even more troubling, I had never fully grasped the extent to which I mixed Neapolitan with Italian, particularly when shopping at open air markets, of which there seem to be few in these Tuscan parts. 

On my first day wandering around the hilltop town I anxiously sought a decent espresso.  I had been to Siena before but it was early in my tenure as a resident of Italy- at a time when my neophyte palate still struggled to ferret out the great from the merely good.  Within roughly twenty minutes of my latest arrival in Siena, I swiftly deduced that coffee here is terrible.  Burnt, flaccid with no character, no texture, no depth, no verve. The same could be said for the Sienese people on further reflection. 

Scarole e Fagioli (Escarole and White Beans)

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.