More tales of food for you from Napoli. About now, you're probably saying, "All she did there was eat!" Well, you're almost right. Between bites, I actually did walk around much of the city (so much so I still have a blister on the ball of my foot) and saw some of Napoli's churches, museums and castles.
Many of my evenings in Napoli, and a few afternoons, were spent with, Bonnie and Steve, the couple behind Napoli Unplugged. They write about all things Neapolitan on their site, and share beautiful photos of the city on their photoblog. Their site and writing shows their love for Naples, which they have called home for about 5 years. During my visit to Naples last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting them. We met for dinner, and then Bonnie took me on her stroll of the Centro Storico. This trip we spent more time together, a lot of it eating (and drinking Campania wines) at some of their favorite places in their neighborhood, the swanky Chiaia district of Naples.
After many of my walks in and around the Chiaia district, I would meet up with Bonnie and Steve. During our meals, they would share tidbits and stories from their life in Naples. Steve, who has a dry and sarcastic wit, also shared many of his views on some of the food rules in Italy (sometimes he even created his own). Their stories and Steve's rules had me laughing through all of my meals.
This post is mainly about the Neapolitan cuisine I ate with Steve and Bonnie, but I've added little snippets from what I'm calling, Steve's Food Rules for Italy:
The restaurant: Umberto Ristorante and Pizzeria. It has a casual feel instead of a more formal one that the term ristorante implies. You see the pizzaioli and the big pizza oven as soon as you walk in the door. The large seating area and red tablecloths , however, do set a more formal tone.
Antipasti included melanzane alla parmigiana and typical fried treats of, mozzarella in carozze (fried mozzarella sandwiches, arancini (fried rice balls), and crocche (fried mashed potatoes). The mozzarella was sinfully spectacular with cheese oozing out of its crispy bread "carriage." The crocche potatoes included ham and parsley, also good. I had their pizza Margherita and tried some of the lasagna Napoletana (Lasagne made with Neapolitan ragu and little meatballs added to the layers of cheese). For dessert, Bonnie and Steve opted for Sicilian Torta Setteveli, and I for the Neapolitan Ricotta e Pera (sweetened ricotta, whipped cream and poached pears sandwiched between two slices of pan di spagna cake). I don't remember a meal in Naples that didn't end with a digestivo, almost always limoncello.
Onto our first of Steve's Food Rules for Italy #1: "Real men don't drink limoncello!"
Yes, Steve insists that limoncello is only for the ladies and "real men drink grappa," or in his case aged grappa. It's so strong that after a sniff of it, I'm sure my blood alcohol level shot way past .10! I don't know about this rule, as I've seen plenty of men sipping on a shot glass of limoncello. However, when the waiter tried to confirm that we wanted 3 limoncelli for the table, Steve quickly corrected him. The waiter and Steve shared some conspiratory laugh in a way that added a only little plausibility to Steve's rule.
Osteria Don Maccarone: The next night, I dined alone at the osteria recommended by Bonnie and Steve. It was a rainy Sunday evening and the Napoli soccer team was playing against Parma. I was practically the only person outside that night, and I was the only person in the small 8 table osteria.
At first, I thought maybe I should have stayed at the hotel and watched the soccer match. As I was soon to find out, it was completely unnecessary. Everytime Napoli scored, one of the cooks would run out into the street and yell, "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL" so loud and so many times that I think they heard him in Parma. While he was yelling, others in the neighborhood were doing the same, and also blaring horns and other various noisemakers from their windows. Napoli won that night 3-1.
I had zucchini alla parmigiana and spaghetti con le vongole. I loved the zucchini so much, I'm making it tonight. It's simply fried zucchini slices layered with trace amounts of fior di latte (cow's milk mozzarella) and parmigiano cheese. It is baked until the cheese melts and the top becomes golden and crunchy. The spaghetti con le vongole was also good, and I liked the addition of cherry tomatoes, which added color, acidity & a little sweetness to the dish.
As I was the only one in the restaurant, I quickly made friends with the waiter, Pippo, who is also one of the owners. He invited me back on Tuesday for pasta e fagioli con le cozze (pasta and beans with mussels) and promised to have a pastiera (Neapolitan Easter dessert) without the candied citrus (I had mentioned that I don't like candied citrus).
Bonnie and I went back for lunch. I really liked the soupiness of the pasta e fagioli with cozze, and especially loved the mussels. Bonnie is more of purist in this area, and likes the fagioli to outweigh the pasta, creating a less soupy dish and a denser sauce that has been thickened from the starch in the beans.
Steve's Food Rules in Italy #2, "Men can't drink cappucino after 10:00am." Well, since we were women, we could still end our meal with a cappucino, right? I actually thought that rule applied to all genders, but, hey, it's Steve's rule. In any case, we ended with Pippo's house specialty digestivo of 7 herbs. A family secret, he wouldn't tell me which herbs were in it, but it was almost as potent as the grappa.
Although the prices for this place are definitely in a range for "osterie" (our lunch bill was a little over 20 euros for two), the food is more sophisticated and creative than typical osteria fare. And, Pippo is the quintessential Italian waiter - jovial, jokester, showman. He invited us back another day to sample lasagna Napoletana. Bonnie also said that the pasta alla genovese is good, but I ran out of time in Naples......next trip.
Antica Latteria: My last meal with Bonnie and Steve was at the Antica Latteria, around the corner from where they live. It's right across the street from Umberto's. It's a small trattoria with only a few more tables than Don Maccarone. We started off with a creamy ball of buffalo milk mozzarella and fried treats. The mozzarella and all of the fried treats were exceptional; there were crocche (these fried potatoes were filled with cheese, my favorites of all I had tasted), arancini, fried broccoli, and little fried meatballs. I had spaghetti con le cozze (mussels) and liked the spicy kick from the addition of peperoncino to the sauce. I ended with a slice of pastiera and limoncello.
Steve's Food Rules in Italy #3: "You are allowed to order a dish in Naples, even if it's not Neapolitan."
I think I was driving Steve crazy with my quick dismissal of non-Neapolitan dishes at each restaurant and pasticceria. Even though I do agree with this rule, my dismissal wasn't because I thought they wouldn't be good. It was because I wanted to sample as many Neapolitan dishes as I could during my short stay in Naples, especially those I hadn't already tried. If I lived there, I wouldn't be as determined to eat Neapolitan every night. When one is there for only a short time, though, I believe you should try the regional/local cuisine over, say a carbonara.
As you can see, sample I did. Thanks again to Napoli Unplugged for sharing their favorite neighborhood eateries with me!
Umberto Ristorante & Pizzeria - Via Alabardieri 30/31
Osteria Don Maccarone - Via Gradoni Di Chiaia 12
Antica Latteria - Vico Alabardieri 30