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.
On winter mornings, I walk through the Parco Floridiana. There are old ladies in tracksuits who shuffle jog in brisk circles around the small island of shrubbery that sits in the middle of the park. I do not jog. I walk. In a fur coat that leaves pitiful puffs of faux fur in my wake.
The park sits just beyond the central artery of Vomero and while not exactly Central Park, it is a welcome cat sanctuary. There are fat cats everywhere. Old ladies serve them leftover risotto and baked pasta on plastic plates under park benches. I find it only mildly troubling that the cats of Vomero quite possibly eat better than I do. But I have that dignity to keep in tact after all.
The cats of the Floridiana follow me most mornings. I know better than to feed them. Also if they are accustomed to eating Filomena’s ragù and Concettina’s lasagna, these kitties would likely upturn their whiskered noses at the pitiful excuse for cat food I was offering them. I often talk to the cats and ever so occasionally I will pet one. When I chat with them, I wonder if they notice my accent. Will they make assumptions about my strange Portuguese inflected Italian and presume that I am Ukrainian? I am not the least concerned that I am worried about a feline’s opinion.
At the outer limit of the park, there is a small moss covered pond filled with turtles. They swim. They sleep. They sun bathe. Observing them in their not so natural habitat fills me with unspeakable joy. People have told me the turtle pond is cruelly over populated and I am sure they are correct. Yet I find myself powerfully attracted the innocent amusement derived from gazing at turtles in a public park. There was once a time when feeding bread crusts to ducks was the highlight of my day. Now I have turtles and cats. In a public park. That I walk through in a fur coat and pink platform walking shoes. So much for those short lived shreds of dignity. I will be sure to alert you when I get my hair permed and my eyebrows tattooed.
I like to shop at the Antignano market after my morning walk. This morning I stopped at the dried goods store and bought cannellini beans, dehydrated pineapple, figs and apricots. The owner, recognizing me, offered me a plastic cup of sugared coffee. All of this by 8:30AM, I thought with a congratulatory air. This is what my friend, Kareem and I used to call a very lesbian morning.
We have both always possessed an undeniably powerful admiration for lesbians. Lesbians pickle things, refinish old furniture, wake up early and take silence retreats. The better version of myself is lesbian. On my good days, I am a morning minstrel making muesli. But I also often allow days to pass before restocking the household toilet paper supply, weeks to pass before flossing my teeth and months to pass before repairing a broken Ikea dresser drawer.
Lesbians would never allow such decadence to occur on their watches. At least that’s what I tell myself as I contemplate what Naples would be like if an incorruptible branch of the Scandinavian lesbian mafia launched operations here. Surely they would have the streets power steamed and the metro system working in no time. I imagine they would also install a robust high-speed public fiber optic Wi-Fi network and self-cleaning public toilets with calming aromatherapy. Someone needs to get these ladies down to Naples.
In the meantime, Naples is stuck with me. And since I woke up early this morning, I’ll have my cannellini beans simmering and ready for luncheon in Neapolitan minute. Hmmmm, I wonder what the cats are having for lunch…… I think I smell Filomena’s ragù.
Scarole e Fagioli (Escarole and Cannellini Beans)
Serves six as s primo; four as a main
1lb cannellini Beans
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 peeled garlic cloves, slightly smashed
1 dried hot pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt (to taste)
White pepper (to taste)
1 lb Escarole, soaked, cleaned, patted dry and roughly chopped into strips
Soak cannellini beans for at least 6 hours or over night
Place cannellini beans in large stock and cover with ample water
Bring to a boil, skim foam, reduce to simmer and cook for three hours
When cannellini beans cook through (they will be tender, not mushy), off heat. You can complete through this step ahead off time and store beans in their cooking liquid in a hermetically sealed container in refrigerator
Add olive oil to Dutch oven over a medium heat
Add garlic and dried pepper and swirl to release aroma for about five seconds
Remove bayleaf from beans and discard
Add beans and cooking liquid to Dutch Oven
Stir to coat in olive oil mixture
Add oregano and , salt, pepper and escarole and stir to mix
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes
Garnish with olive oil and serve immediately with toasted crostini