All in Dolci


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. 

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. 

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!

Pastiera di Pasqua (Easter Tart)

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.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

March 19th is the day of Saint Giuseppe. It is special in our house because it is my fiancé, Giuseppe’s Saint Day.  As with most Saint Day’s in Italy, there is a special sweet treat that we eat to commemorate the day. On March 19th throughout all of Naples, we make the traditional Zeppole of Saint Giuseppe.  Zeppole are donut like in texture and appearance and for Saint Giuseppe’s day, we fill these little donuts with pastry cream and top them with Amarena sour cherries.