“Napule è mille culure, Napule è mille paure… Napule è ‘na carta sporca, che nisciuno se ne importa…”

 “Naples is a thousand colours, Naples is a thousand fears… Naples is a piece of rubbish, that no-one cares about”. Pino Daniele’s melancholy ode to his beloved Naples captures the reason why most people eschew it for the dolce vita of Rome, serene romance of Venice or chocolate-box perfection of Florence when planning an Italian citybreak. The tragic death of eponymous Greek siren Parthenope, in the bay, characterises the city’s infamous combination of beauty and danger: Naples is a raw, sultry femme-fatale, to Florence’s pristine, blanched prettiness. But this seductive UNESCO World Heritage site wakes you up, and assaults your senses with its outdoor theatre: it is not to be missed.

The fertile volcanic soils and abundant agriculture gives us bounty like sweet piennolo cherry tomatoes from Vesuvius, San Marzano tomatoes, peppery friarielli, and aromatic, fat Amalfi lemons. It’s also the spiritual home of dried pasta, dating back to the 16th century when Neapolitans had to devise a way to store grain during times of famine: the sunny, windy climate being perfect drying conditions. Today, Neapolitans are known as “mangiamaccheroni” (macaroni eaters) by other Italians for their insatiable appetite for pasta, and their cuisine has been dispersed globally because of mass post-unification emigration.

Arriving in Piazza Garibaldi is far from an auspicious welcome – more reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno than Goethe’s paradise – but dodge the hawkers and hurry through the Camorra hinterlands of Forcella to Da Michele, one of the most celebrated pizzerias in Naples.

Neapolitans don’t do orderly queues so you’ll likely find a throng of locals outside at midday. Take a numbered ticket and await your turn. The clientele is a mixed bag of locals and bewildered tourists, thanks to being popularised in the film Eat, Love, Pray. No matter, the pizzas are still supreme. The choice is simply a Marinara or a Margherita (there are two sizes and a double mozzarella option). These are gloriously thin, floppy-centred pizzas: almost impossible to eat by hand, though the cornicione crust is perhaps softer than elsewhere.

If you can’t be bothered to queue, try Trianon opposite. It’s been around since 1923 and is much bigger.

La Notizia has a stellar reputationand is in a posher part of town. Run by Enzo Cocchia, it has an extensive menu ranging from traditional pizzas to calzone stuffed with cigoli (crispy pieces left behind from rendering pork fat) or even truffles. Finish off with a Nutella saltimbocca.

Back in the old town, head to Via Tribunali, one of the oldest streets slicing Naples in two; hence the name Spaccanapoli. This is the Naples of legend – laundry strewn between tenements, gents idling in doorways, guagliune tearing through on scooters, their guttural, raspy dialect reverberating in small alleyways. Feast on visual delights such as Caravaggio’s ‘Seven Acts of Mercy’ or the faded San Lorenzo Maggiore church sitting atop Roman ruins. Fishmongers spew out on to the street, with plastic trays filled to the brim with stripy lupini (clams). Giant scarlet sausages studded with rich pork fat hang in windows, and bowls of the freshest, pillowy mozzarella di bufala sit beside pear-shaped scamorza.

At the end of Via Tribunali, the oldest pizzeria in Naples Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, juxtaposes the youthful La Stanza del Gusto.  Here chef Mario Avallone innovates on traditional Campanian cuisine with dishes such as salt cod in tempura, and roast buffalo with beetroots in a colourful, eclectic interior. There’s also a cheesebar and fine selection of salumi if you simply fancy snacking.

Neapolitans excel at patisserie, and two places are renowned for local specialities. On Piazza San Domenico Maggiore is Scaturchio, the oldest pastry shop in Naples (opened 1905). Try baba – a rum-soaked cake, often filled with fruit, Nutella or cream, or zeppole di San Giuseppe – these glorious fried or baked choux rings, traditionally eaten on 19th March (St Joseph’s day), are topped with lemon pastry cream and cherries.

For the best sfogliatelle in Naples, head to Pintauro on Via Toledo, where they’re served warm from the oven.  These beautiful confections stuffed with sweet ricotta, candied citrus, and a pinch of cinnamon come either riccia (with a crispy, twisted shell) or frolla (a softer, shortcrust shell).

For savoury treats, Bar Luise (just opposite Galleria Umberto or in swanky Chiaia) makes sfogliatelle stuffed with a typical Neapolitan combination of sausage and friarielli. Or try gattò di patate and escarole pie.

Take the funicular up to the Vomero to Friggitoria Vomero to sample an array of fried snacks such as crocché (potato fritters with ham or cheese), panzerotti (filled pastries) or ciurilli (zucchini flowers).

Finish with a coffee and people watching at the elegant Art Nouveau Gambrinus and the best gelato from Gay Odin.

For a more glamorous sojourn, I recommend spending the night on Capri for dinner under a canopy of lemon trees at Da Paolino. Loved by locals and celebrities alike (Tony Bennett was there on my last visit), the antipasti buffet is an enormous cornucopia of Neapolitan specialities. Also try the ravioli caprese.

Capri is best enjoyed once the daytrippers have departed, but two excellent lunch options away from the crowds include Le Grottelle, on a terrace overlooking the sea by the Natural Arch, where the spaghetti with baby squid are particularly good; or La Savardina, up towards the Villa Jovis, where you can eat fabulous linguine al limone and local fish, pezzogna, under orange trees. Stay at Hotel Luna overlooking the fariglioni, or the chic Capri Palace with its 2* Olivo restaurant.

Don’t believe the rumours about Naples and its ubiquitous tales of petty crime and decay. Naples is like any other European city in its blend of urban life. Unlike any other European city or any other place in the world, Naples has pizza – the ”noblest, most genial and most noteworthy of Naples’ institutions”[1]. Pino should have sung about the food instead.

 

 

[1] Pietro Mascagni

Baby goat with peas and eggs (and a cooking renaissance)

Since, by a cruel turn of circumstance, I came to be living alone, I’ve lost much of the pleasure I used to derive from cooking. Food had always meant more to me than just nourishment ever since I witnessed the sheer happiness that my father drew from cooking for me once he had retired. He’d bug me at work, asking what I fancied for dinner. Invariably I couldn’t decide so he’d sometimes make a few things. Yep, I was totally spoilt, but he loved doing it, and slowly it rubbed off on me.

The joy gained from feeding someone you love, and sharing a meal with them, can be truly infectious and lift the spirits. Conversely, cooking for one leaves me feeling thoroughly flat. I’ve also lost an enormous amount of confidence, such that following recipes and inevitably being constrained by the requisite precision that cooking a new dish or unfamiliar cuisine demands can seem too daunting at times. Cookery books languish on my shelves untouched, unloved, and pristine.

I’ve therefore wound up cooking a limited and repetitive, yet comfortingly familiar, diet of pasta and other simple meals. And indeed, whilst the possibilities for variety with pasta are endless, I invariably make the same two or three sauces that habit, and lack of forethought, dictates.

I originally started the blog with the intention of compelling myself to broaden my knowledge and repertoire of Italian food: in particular, that of Campania, and its principal city Naples, where my father was from. However, since my inaugural post about pizza, I’ve struggled to find the inspiration to continue. Nevertheless, following some rather delightful feedback via Twitter from a couple of well-regarded food folk concerning that post, I feel newly encouraged to put pen to paper.

It seems pertinent, then, given my current torpor, to also use the blog as a means to drag myself out of this food rut that I’ve sunk into, and try some new, Neapolitan dishes at home.

With an impending trip back to the Fatherland, it seemed fitting to test out a dish that I ate on my first ever visit there, aged seven: ‘Capretto con piselli e uova’. That’s kid goat* with peas and egg. Neapolitans typically eat this on Easter Sunday.  I hope you like it.

 Capretto con piselli e uova

Serves 2

250-300g diced kid goat, trimmed of fat  (I used leg although best end may be better for tenderness)
Olive oil
½ an onion – sliced in half-moon slices (my preference, you can chop if preferred)
A handful or two of frozen peas (in Naples they use jarred peas, however, I find these can look a bit sludgy)
1 egg
1 glass of white wine
A generous grating of pecorino or parmesan
A squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper

Liberally cover the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil and gently fry the onion until soft, but not coloured. Next, add the goat to the pan, and cook over a medium heat until browned, turning frequently.

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Season with salt and pour in the wine. Lower the flame and let the meat cook gently, uncovered, until the wine has bubbled away and reduced to a lightly syrupy consistency. You may need to add a little water from time to time to ensure that there is always some liquid to the dish. This process should take around 30 minutes, but use your judgement.

Stir in the peas, still frozen, and cook for a further five to ten minutes, until they are cooked through but still bright green. Try not to crush them.

In the meantime, beat the egg and combine with the grated cheese. Once the goat and peas are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the eggy-cheese mixture. The eggs should cook into a creamy emulsion using the residual heat from the meat.

Season with a healthy squeeze of lemon, some salt and pepper to taste, and if you like, a sprinkling of chopped parsley for added colour. I realise the photo below is rubbish, but I’ve got to start somewhere…

photo

This would also be wonderful with some beautiful baby artichokes or freshly podded broad beans; especially now that Spring will soon be here. And of course, you can substitute the kid goat for lamb should you wish.

*A footnote about kid goat

Kid goat is eaten widely in Italy, though not so much over here and it’s a great shame for both ethical and nutritional reasons. Baby goats tend to be raised as a by-product of the dairy industry, rather than being bred for meat (the female goats must give birth regularly in order to lactate). Inevitably, this means, as with male dairy calves, that baby billy goats are sent to slaughter since they can’t be used in the dairy industry.

Cabrito, founded by chef James Whetlor and farmer Jack Jennings, is hoping to change this by supplying quality goat meat to restaurants. They don’t breed goats for meat; rather they raise those born as a by-product of the dairy industry, and only take goats from farms with high welfare standards. Currently, Cabrito is supplying restaurants such as Quo Vadis, St John, 10 Greek Street and Bocca di Lupo. You can also purchase their meat from Flock & Herd ** butchers in Peckham, which is where I got mine.

In terms of nutrition (see below), goat is an excellent health choice, containing less fat than chicken, and more iron than beef. It’s also very high in potassium, which is good for balancing out the negative effects of salt in our diet.

Meat (100g cooked)

Fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Calories (kcal)

Iron (mg)

Potassium (mg)

Comments

Goat

3.0

0.9

143

3.7

405

Veal

7.6

3.0

172

1.0

337

Beef

10.5

4.1

219

2.0

355

Sirloin, trimmed

Chicken

6.6

1.8

167

1.2

229

Roasted, meat only

Source: USDA “National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference” Release 25, September 2012

** I’m not sure Flock & Herd still stocks goat meat, but you can now buy the goat meat from The Ginger Pig and The Quality Chop House.