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.

Baccalà Fritto

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.  

Truth is the Son of Time

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.   

Plum Tart Tatin

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!

Fagiolini Pugliesi

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. #whitegirlproblems

Parmigiana di Melanzane

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.

Coniglio all'ischitana

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.

Scialatielli con Gamberi e Zucchine

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.