Napoli, or Naples is my final destination before flying back to the States after two wonderful weeks in beautiful Italy. Located on the incredibly beautiful Bay of Naples and beneath Mount Vesuvius, this is a very large city, in fact it is the third largest city in Italy. The narrow streets are very crowded and bustling with activity; everyone seems to be in a manic hurry here. Driving a car here is literally insane! But like many places in Italy, there is a lot to see and admire, and so little time before I fly home!
The people of Naples live with the continual threat of Vesuvius and memories of the catastrophic destruction of the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, thus giving them a reputation for living life to the fullest and with a much greater sense of gusto. The people engage in a religious custom twice a year at the city’s Duomo where they view the blood of Saint Gennaro miraculously liquifying in its vial which provides safety and protection from another eruption from the volcano.
Someday I hope to visit Naples during the Christmas season! Neapolitans are known for their magnificent hand-crafted ‘il presepe’ (cribs) or nativity scenes. This custom has now extended to including scenes beyond the Nativity to life around Naples itself. Via San Gregorio Armeno is filled with displays and artisan workshops selling Nativity scenes. The famous Giussepe Ferrigno has a work shop where some of his elaborate ‘il presepe’ can be seen.
The FOOD of Naples and Campania
As in any part of Italy, Neapolitans are passionate and quite opinionated about their cuisine. The food of Campania is as exuberant as its natives. Even though the heartier food of Northern Italy is so well known for its prosciutto, parmigiana, and balsamico ingredients, what is known as ‘Mediterranean Cuisine’, and that which is much healthier for us, is from the Southern part of Italy, including the food of Naples and Campania. The cooking of this region aims to preserve the flavors of the local fresh ingredients as well as their fragrance, thereby maintaining a focus on simplicity rather than sophistication. Southern Italian food is considered to be the ‘soul of Italy’.
The cuisine is more spicy and reliant on the sun-kissed vegetables available year-round, including superb artichokes and aubergine (eggplant), courgettes (zucchini) sun-dried pomodori (tomatoes). Bumper crops of dried red chili peppers, garlic, herbs, olives, olive oil and salty capers are also harvested. Campania is famous for its fruit orchards that produce some of the best lemons and oranges, figs, peaches and apricots, and also grapes from numerous vineyards. Almonds and hazelnuts of the highest quality hale from this region. Pasta is more often dried in this southern part of Italy versus the fresh pasta of the North, although cooks do use fresh pasta as well. And it is in Campania where the tomato was first introduced to Italy and used in it’s cuisine.
San Marzano tomatoes’ enhanced rich flavor and deep red color result from flourishing in the rich, fertile volcanic soil of Campania. Additionally, the ideal growing climate exists in Southern Italy that includes plenty of sunshine with idyllic warm days and cooler evenings.
Seafood and sea-salt are stand-out ingredients in the kitchen. The sea is a highlight of the food from which it generously offers an endless array of pristine seafood harvested from anchovies to clams, mussels and squid, and even octopus! Traditionally there is a shorter supply of meat in this region, so it goes without saying that less meat is consumed that has greater reliance on lamb and seafood.
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!
The natives of Naples claim that their city is the original home to authentic pizza! The world’s first pizzeria opened its doors in Naples and still remains in business today. Using the simplest of ingredients, Pizza Margherita is a triumph of Neapolitan cuisine! Becoming more popular now in the States, the humble ingredients of fresh San Marzano pomodori (tomatoes), fresh aromatic basil and mozzarella (di bufala) on char-marked dough is all that is required to make this highly-praised and delicious pizza. The colors of red, white, and green represent the official colors of the Italian flag. Fresh, and bubbly-hot straight out of ancient wood-fired ovens, this is the ultimate!
classic Neapolitan Margherita Pizza
(photo credit: dailymail uk)
Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca
(photo credit: girlichef blog, click for recipe)
Spaghetti all Puttanesca
literally means ‘whore’s spaghetti’ in Italian! This is a hot, spicy, tangy, salty and very fragrant pasta dish made from typical local ingredients: fresh tomatoes, olives, chili peppers, garlic, and capers, all sauteed in olive oil and presented with a sprinkling of fresh Italian parsley. My mother loves this wonderful pasta dish!
Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan)
This is one Italian classic dish that has disagreement among several regions in Italy as to it’s origin. As with all traditional recipes, there are numerous claims to the definitive method of preparation. Because this region is so renowned for its fresh eggplant that is available throughout the year, I’m going to agree with the Neapolitan saying: “A parmigiana e’ mulignane ca se fa a’ Napule è semp’a meglio!” (The eggplant Parmesan that is made in Naples is always the best!). The authentic method for creating this dish includes all of the region’s noted flavors with layers of ‘aubergine’ (eggplant )with Provola and Parmigiana cheeses, San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic and fresh basil!
Bistecca or Carne alla Pizzaiola (Meat in Pizza Style)
One of the favorite, pillar, everyday Neapolitan dishes. Pizzaiola is made from inexpensive cuts of meat that are seared and then cooked long enough to be tenderized in a spicy tomato-based sauce of peppers, capers, garlic, basil, oregano, and olive oil. As with all Italian recipes, numerous versions abound! Some cooks might add olives or anchovies and even some wine for a more lusty flavor and fragrance! Many Italian cooks, such as in my family, always prepare a ‘soffritto’ for this and other recipes which is a simple combination of sautéed onions, celery and carrots . . . we also add garlic.
Neapolitans certainly are known for their preference for sweets! The desserts of this region focus on citrus and pastry and here are just a few of the region’s favorites:
Paper-thin layers of beautifully baked clam-shaped pastry pockets filled with an oozing, buttery filling of creamy ricotta cheese, sugar, cinnamon, and little bits of candied citrus. Along with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar on top, Sfogliatelle comprise a regional dessert specialty. Being very labor intensive, these sweet pastries are a Neapolitan treat not to be missed and enjoyed while sipping a good cup of Italian coffee!
Tradition dictates that these pastries are to be served on St. Joseph’s Day on March 18th. Because my family is of Northern Italian descent, we were not raised with any awareness of this holy day tradition at all! It was only until I had met an Italian-American from Southern Italian heritage that I learned of how and why this feast is celebrated! Every year small to very large tables of food are presented as a form of an ‘altar’ to honor St. Joseph who people prayed ardently to him in order to bring them out of a horrible drought. When it finally came to an end, this wonderful and delicious tradition of thankfulness began.
This Neapolitan sweet is commonly served at Christmas and Easter. Always served warm, these little balls of deep fried dough are drizzled with honey and decorated with ‘diavulilli’ (colored sprinkles) and sometimes with cinnamon-sugar or bits of orange rind. Struffoli balls are cleverly stacked on top of each to resemble a Christmas tree.
In no way is this list comprehensive of the foods of Naples and Campania! This is just a brief mention of some of the more well-known traditional dishes of the region. If you would like to comment and let me know of anything that you feel should be mentioned, please let me know and I will be more than happy to edit this post upon my return from Italy.