A Tale of Two Italophiles When one hears the word Naples or Napoli, most think immediately of two things: the world’s best pizza and having one’s purse snatched by sexy Italian guys on a motor scooter (I hope in that order). But as my dear friend and colleague Faith Willinger says: People are afraid that when they come to Naples their money or purses will be stolen but in fact what will be stolen is their hearts. I must tell you a little about Faith. She has been living in Florence for longer than I’ve known her which was before either of us had written a cookbook. She raised her son Max there, married a terrific Italian named Masumo (Max in Italian), and has long been the voice of Italy in America. In fact, the Italians credit her for bringing together awareness of the various regional cuisines within Italy itself. Of course she was one of the founding members of the Slow Food Society and despite the fact that (I think wisely) she still doesn’t drive, she manages to appear at every conference I’ve ever attended there. One look at Faith and all is revealed—the face of a woman in love—with life, with food, and most of all with the people of Italy. Her eyes twinkle with humor, curiosity, andthe well-being of one living where she should be and doing what she should. The congenitally open and welcoming Italians warm to her and reveal all their culinary secrets without hesitation. I also must tell you a little about another dearest friend—Marlena Spieler for it was she who invited me to this press trip to Naples. Marlena is another expat who grew up in Sacramento, Ca. and has been living for many years with her Scottish husband Allan outside of London. Marlena travels all over Europe writing about food and was given a special award in Naples for all she has done to promote the region. Marlenais the most prolific food writer I know (try googling her name!). She has published over 20 cookbooks, writes a regular column for the S.F. Chronical, recently for the New York Times, and many other publications. There is no one I know more loving, giving, and joyful than Marlena and this is reflected perfectly in her unique and personal writing style. To read her is to love her. So, as you can imagine, hanging out with her for 5 glorious days in Naples and the Island of Ichia was a shear delight, filled with history, art, delicious food, delightful people, and hilarious adventures. We had been invited by the Naples Chamber of Commerce to cover the event whose name was loosely based on the 1950’s Gina Lolbrigida movie “Pane, Amore, e Fantasia” (Bread, Love, and Imagination). My article on the event will be appearing in Food Arts Magazine but the rest of the trip and photos will be here on the blog.
First the pizza. According to a delight book L’Arte della Pizza (The Art of Pizza) by the equally delightful Gaetano Esposito (which he enthusiastically offered me during the event—someone must have whispered in his ear that I was a visiting baker from the U.S.) it was mentioned in Homer’s Illiad that the Greeks “ate the tables,” and it was hypothesized that these ‘tables’ were probably the pizzas on which they put food! Si, the pizza in Napoli is everything you could imagine pizza should be—a crisp medium thin crust with slightly smoky edge from the wood fired oven, topped with the fantastic tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil surrounding the all-too nearby-active volcano Mt. Vesuvius. But what pleased me most of all the amazing things tasted was the buffalo mozzarella. NEVER in the U.S or anywhere else for that matter, have I tasted such mozzarella, even when freshly made. It made other mozzarella seem more like plastic. The rich milky mellowness of it is near indescribable and I managed to have a few slices with every meal, however, on the pizza it found its perfect home (and in my mouth of course). Faith’s favorite Neopolitan pizza place is Mattozzi but unfortunately, though we had many wonderful other dishes including the ubiqitous pasta and potatoes with smoked mozzarella called scamorza, as we were to have pizza at another location, we never tried the pizza there. The baby chockless artichokes, each stuffed with one clove of new garlic, a sprig of parsley, bathed in olive oil to keep moist, and roasted in the wood-fired oven practically made me forget about the pizza we weren’t having. But what we were having was a lot more unique, such as we had pasta Genovese which has two times the weight of onions to beef. Alfonso Mattozzi is 5th generation owner and his adorable grandson Alfonso is 6th. I will share many photos of our trip to the nearby island of Ischia in the next posting but for now I must skip to the most hilarious adventure of our final day in Naples, at the end of the trip. Marlena and I both had fallen in love with the Neapolitan version of the delicously bitter brocolli rabe called friarelli. As Marlena likes to bring food she discovers on her various jaunts to friends all over the world (she brought me the most deliciously buttery shortbread from Scottland, lasagna she had made for lunch the day of departure, and a beef and porcini stew) she couldn’t ressist packing a big bag of friarelli to take home to her husband for dinner. She asked the merchant at the market in Ischia if it could last til the next day and was assured that it would. We returned to the hotel, stashed our baggage in our rooms, and dashed out to do some shopping before dinner. On our return to the four star hotel we both noticed a horrid smell on our floor. What could it possible be we wondered. I reported that the only time I smelled anything that aweful was when I brought back a plant from Toronto—a member of the cactus family that blooms only once a year and that lovely bloom ironically and oddly has the smell of carion (dead flesh). We immediately went down to the lobby to report this to the concierge who insisted that we accompany him back to the offending site. His nose led him straight to Marlena’s room as to her horror and embarassment she began to suspect the friarelli. ECCO!(close translation is voila in French and in English, something like there you have it was all the concierge needed to say and to his credit he said it with the utmost of politeness. Oh yes—no doubt about it—but Marlena, not one to give up easily, hypothesized that it was because it had been enclosed in a plastic bag with no rom to breathe, and considered the possibility of washing it in the bathtub and then wrapping it in some of her clothes and packing it in the suitcaase! I warned her that the upshot would be that once arriving at Heathrow, the dogs would head right to her suitcase and she’d have to throw out the fruierella, and no doubt everything else in the suitcase—probably the suitcase as well. So resigned, she asked the concierge to kindly dispose of it and we spent the rest of the day and evening laughing hysterically every time we thought about it. (It made me think of durien. There are regulations in Singapore that prevent anyone from bringing the stinky fruit into a hotel. There are those who adore the scent and taste and others who detest it.) Fruierelli, as is its cousin brocolli, is high in anti-oxidants but this fruierelli served another healthful purpose. Nothing is as healing for the body and soul as a good belly laugh.