ciao darling ~ la dolce vita


Campania - Food and Wines - Food

The true Neopolitan has a sober character, because he is poor, and eating is a kind of diversion, a colorful spectacle. The city has serious problems, but its citizens seem to ignore them, and take pleasure in the sun, the scenery, and the cooking which can take pride in the invention of three of the most tasty things to eat: pizza, tomato sauce and macaroni.

In the working-class districts of Naples the streets seem to consist of one long outdoor restaurant. If not a restaurant, full of food shops whose merchandise seems to take up half the street.

Enormous forms of white cheese, beef quarters hanging in the sun with flies buzzing around, ice-cream stands, lemon stands adorned with a Madonna and flower trimmings, coconut vendors, all hawking their wares. In Naples, and the towns of Campania, life takes place in the streets.

This tradition has roots in the past: until 1800 all kinds of foot were eaten outdoors including macaroni, pizza, boiled polpi from the rocks, served in a cup with their steaming fragrant broth.

There were more macaroni stands, and people still remember the macaroni vendor, usually a robust jovial young man, who scooped out the fragrant pasta from a huge cauldron and deftly filled plates. For a few pennies more they served the macaroni with tomato sauce.

Naples' real masterpiece of cuisine is pizza. Is there anybody who does not love pizza? You eat it in happy company, and it looks good, too, as big as the sun, tomato-red and basil-green, with lakes of mozzarella here and there to give it shine.

Even kings love pizza - Queen Maria Carolina, the moody and autocratic wife of Ferdinando I king of Naples, ordered a wooden oven to be built in their property of Capodimonte where the royal family often summered.

During the hot August evenings the queen had numerous pizzas baked for the joy and amusement of her entire court.

Her husband, King Ferdinando I, had his own way of amusing himself. He would go fishing in the (then) abundant waters near the hill of Posilippo.

Once ashore, he would set out his catch and match his wits with his subjects who bargained with him. J. Garani, in his book "Secret memoiries and criticism of the court" published in Paris in 1793 wrote: "Ferdinando gave credit to no one, and being the one occasion where his subjects could approach him, the scene became very funny as the selling started.

The king tried to sell at the highest possible price, grabbing the fish with his hands and showing it still guizzante. The Neopolitans treat the king with a great deal of familiarity and even insult him with hallucinating vulgarity. The king has a lot of fun with their insults and often laughed wildly.

After the sale he goes and tells the queen all about his fishing and they money he earned. The sum is then distributed to poor people."

With the fruits of the sea the Neopolitans prepared a series of refined dishes such as "zuppa di vongole" (clam soup) or "spaghetti con le vongole in salsa bianca" (spaghetti with clams in white sauce) or "cozze in culla" which are simply tomatoes cut in half, the pulp scooped out, and filled with cozze.

A mixture of capers, chopped parsley, oregano and bread crumbs were sprinkled on top before baking to a golden hue in the oven.

But the fundamental food beginning from 650 has always been pasta. Another basic Neopolitan dish eaten at home is "minestra marinata", a soup with married the two main ingredients: pork fat and boiled greens.

The richness of the soup depends on the economic possibilities of the family, and was the basic daily meal until the arrival of pasta.

There is also a solid tradition of a more refined cuisine for the nobility, after all, this was once the kingdom of Naples. The master of the kitchen of the noble palaces was the "monzu`" derived from the French "monsieur", a combination of cook - artist, revered and respected by all.

He was responsible for the preparation of elaborate and rich dishes such as the imposing timballi of pasta or rice, the minestra marinata pizze of vegetables and desserts with unusual combinations of ingredients. This cuisine required hours and hours of preparation, for example, a simply ragu` or sauce used for enriching the pasta took seven hours to prepare.

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