Sunday, 23 August 2015

A guide to eating in Naples – not pizza

Meaning “new city”, Napoli (Naples) is the capital of the Campania region of Italy (found on the ‘front ankle’ of the boot – that’s all the geography you’re getting). After reading my post re where to find the “best pizza in Naples” you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is all Neapolitan cuisine has to offer – but, of course, there’s much more to it than that.

Over the ten days I recently spent in the city, my mission was simple – ‘to seek out traditional Osterie (small, inexpensive restaurants), Locande (inns) and Trattorie (typically less formal than a restaurant but more so than an osteria) to sample the best of the regional specialties.’


Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – Sorrento style gnocchi (tomato & mozzarella) 
Antica Osteria da Tonino (Via S. Teresa a Chiaia, 47)


Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – Sorrento style gnocchi (tomato & mozzarella) 
Locanda N'Tretella *Michelin Bib Gourmand* (Salita S. Anna di Palazzo 25)

One such speciality is Gnocchi alla Sorrentina. Hailing from Sorrento (more famous for its Limoncello making lemons), the pillowy dumplings with the holy trinity of tomato, basil and mozzarella (mozzarella, provolone, ricotta cheeses all originate in the area) are an example of the perfect simplicity of many of the region’s finest dishes.


Ziti al ragù Ziti with tomatoes and meat sauce
Hosteria Toledo (Vico Giardinetto, 78)


Paccheri di grangano alla pescatore Paccheri with seafood
L'Europeo Di Mattozzi (Via Campodisola 4-8)

Pasta was not invented in Naples (some sources say the Etruscans; others cite the Chinese or Arabs) but Gragnano, a small town south of Pompeii, is generally credited with producing the best. Along with the long Ziti tubes, one of the most popular shapes of pasta served locally is Paccheri – short, fat tubes taking their name from "pacca” (an affectionate back slap, greeting). Neapolitan’s like their pasta cooked "al dente".


Paccheri con ricciola e melanzane 
Paccheri with amberjack & aubergine
Trattoria la Campagnola (Via dei Tribunali, 47)


Paccheri allardiati – Paccheri with bacon fat, tomatoes & pecorino 
Osteria la Chitarra (Rampe S. Giovanni Maggiore, 1b)

Despite its probable origins in Sicily, spaghetti is also popular, although you’re unlikely to eat Bolognaise sauce here – Spaghetti alla puttanesca aka “Whore’s pasta” (with tomatoes, olives, garlic, capers & anchovies) and Spaghetti alle vongole (with clams) are two of the most common and delicious types you’ll find. The shellfish and anchovies are plentiful in the bustling fish markets.


Spaghetti alle vongole Spaghetti with clams
L'Europeo Di Mattozzi (Via Campodisola 4-8)


There are a lot of “pasta with” dishes too… pasta e patate (with potatoes), pasta e piselli (with peas), pasta e ceci (with chickpeas), pasta e lenticchie (with lentils), and the one I was most keen to try thanks to its immortalisation by Dean Martin in the lyrics to “That’s AmorePasta e fagioli/fasule (pasta with beans) – "When the stars make you drool, just like pasta fazool, that's amore."


Pasta e fagioli (Pasta fazool) – pasta with beans
Hosteria Toledo (Vico Giardinetto, 78)


Carne alla Genovese   Beef with Genovase sauce
Hosteria Toledo (Vico Giardinetto, 78)

Campania’s long coastline provides an abundance of seafood, paired with vegetables and grains from the fertile volcanic land, historically meat does not play a particularly significant role in the Neapolitan diet. However, with its sweet yet deeply savoury taste (coming from an abundance of onions cooked slowly over many hours), one of Naples’s most celebrated dishes is Carne alla Genovese. Although meaning ‘in the style of Genoa’, the sauce is rarely found outside Naples where it has been a staple for centuries.


Polpettoncini al forno al ragù Baked provolone filled meatballs with ragù
Trattoria la Campagnola (Via dei Tribunali, 47)


Braciola di vitello al ragù Braised veal rolls in tomato sauce
Antica Osteria da Tonino (Via S. Teresa a Chiaia, 47)

Characteristically featuring larger chunks of meat than in other parts of Italy, Ragù alla Napoletana is a meaty sauce typically reserved for special occasions. The ragù in the delightful, family run Antica Osteria da Tonino was marvelous – in their Braciola di vitello al ragù a veal chop is flattened and topped with a mixture including pine nuts, raisins, parsley and garlic before being rolled, baked and smothered with ragù.


Salsiccia e frjarielli – Sausage with broccoli rabe
La Taverna Del Buongustaio (Via Basilio Puoti, 8)

Locals also enjoy Salsiccia e frjarielli. Seasoned with fennel, the sausages pair particularly well with the bitter frjarielli (rapini / broccoli rabe) – one of the reasons the Neapolitans have earned the somewhat derogatory nickname ‘mangiafoglie’ (leaf eaters).


Scarole con Olive di Gaeta – Chicory with black olives from Gaeta
L'Europeo Di Mattozzi (Via Campodisola 4-8)


Scarole, olive e capperi – Chicory with olives & capers
Antica Osteria da Tonino (Via S. Teresa a Chiaia, 47)

Making good use of more leafy vegetables and exquisite black olives from the town of Gaeta were the side dishes Scarole con Olive di Gaeta from the excellent L'Europeo Di Mattozzi and Scarole, Olive e Capperi at the charming Antica Osteria da Tonino.


Spaghetti con pomodorini del Vesuvio
Spaghetti with tomatoes from Vesuvius
La Vecchia Cantina (Vico S. Nicola Alla Carità, 13-14)


Risotto alla Napoletana – Risotto with tomatoes
Osteria la Chitarra (Rampe S. Giovanni Maggiore, 1b)

Before I get to the wonderful seafood coming from the Tyrrhenian Sea, other delicious vegetable dishes worth a mention were a delightfully simple Spaghetti con pomodorini del Vesuvio and a Risotto alla Napoletana – both made with the most fantastic tasting tomatoes grown nearby on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.


Zucchine alla scapece – Fried courgette with vinegar & mint
Hosteria Toledo (Vico Giardinetto, 78)

A side dish that I enjoyed on a number of occasions was Zucchine alla scapece – a recipe I had not come across before but will regularly reproduce at home, pairing courgettes with vinegar and mint.


Alici marinate anchovies with garlic, oregano & vinegar
L'Europeo Di Mattozzi (Via Campodisola 4-8)


Alici marinate
Fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar, garlic, oregano, parsley & chilli
La Vecchia Cantina (Vico S. Nicola Alla Carità, 13-14)

For me, the best of the local seafood are the alici (anchovies) – I love these little fellas and enjoyed so many throughout my trip on pizzas, fried (fritte), in pasta dishes and, my favorites, simply marinated (marinate).


Alici frite fried anchovies
Antica Osteria da Tonino (Via S. Teresa a Chiaia, 47)


Sautè di vongole Sautéed clams
Trattoria la Campagnola (Via dei Tribunali, 47)

Simplicity is the key to Italian cookery and dishes do not get more scrumptiously simple than Sautè di vongole – the ones from the busy (touristy) Trattoria la Campagnola (Via dei Tribunali, 47) were certainly worth the long wait in the queue; superb with the delightfully local, crusty bread, pane cafone.


Spigola alla brace Grilled sea bass
Trattoria da Nennella (Vico Lungo Teatro Nuovo, 103-105)


Riso alla insalata con tonno Rice salad with tuna
Trattoria da Nennella (Vico Lungo Teatro Nuovo, 103-105)

If you’d rather avoid the touristy places (as I generally do), Trattoria da Nennella is worth checking out, just a small walk up the narrow side streets of Via Toledo – the food there may not be as good as some other places but it’s dead cheap and the banter between the brothers who work front of house is legendary.


Calamaro alla griglia Grilled squid
Hosteria Toledo (Vico Giardinetto, 78)


Risotto alla pescatore Seafood risotto
Hosteria Toledo (Vico Giardinetto, 78)

Another place, not necessarily serving the best food (in part perhaps down to their large menu) but which the friendly, family atmosphere more than makes up for is Hosteria Toledo.


Tocchetti di baccalà Fried salt fish
Hosteria Toledo (Vico Giardinetto, 78)


Gamberoni al vino blanco   Prawns in garlic & white wine
Osteria la Chitarra (Rampe S. Giovanni Maggiore, 1b)

One of the more charming places we visited was Osteria la Chitarra – a delightful little place run by a husband (kitchen) and wife (front of house) team serving a refreshingly short menu – their Paccheri allardiati, glistending with bacon fat was sensational. A point to note, next door, Taverna dell'Arte (Rampe S. Giovanni Maggiore, 1a) was the only place in Naples that we had a truly disappointing experience in terms of food quality and service.


Zeppoline di mare Fried sea kelp
La Vecchia Cantina (Vico S. Nicola Alla Carità, 13-14)


Carpaccio de baccalà affumicado Carpaccio of smoked cod
La Vecchia Cantina (Vico S. Nicola Alla Carità, 13-14)

Another charmer, certainly worth a visit was La Vecchia Cantina. Located just near to the bustling food market along Via Pignasecca, on my visit, mum was in the kitchen as her young son served… home cooking “just like mamma used to make makes”.


Scagliozzi / Melanzane / Ricotta fritta / Alghe e zeppole / Arancini bianchi
Polenta / Aubergine / Ricotta / Seaweed / Arancini (ham & smoked cheese)
Friggitoria Fiorenzano alla Pignasecca (Via Pignasecca 48)


Fioiri de zucca / Palle di riso 
Fried courgette flowers / Fried rice balls
Friggitoria Fiorenzano alla Pignasecca (Via Pignasecca 48)

Via Pignasecca is one of the best streets in Naples to sample “street food” – Friggitoria Fiorenzano serves a plethora of fried goodies. My favourite were the Fioiri de zucca (fried courgette flowers).


Trippa con limone e sale Tripe with lemon and salt
Tripperia Fiorenzano (Via Pignasecca 48)


Trippa con limone e sale Tripe with lemon and salt
Le Zendraglie Tripperia (Via Pignasecca, 14)

Next door, you’ll find Tripperia Fiorenzano, which along with Le Zendraglie Tripperia, is one of two tripe stalls on Via Pignasecca. For just a couple of Euros you can get a tray of joyous piede di maiale (pig foot), muso di vitello (veal snout), utero di mucca  (cow uterus), retto (rectum) and, of course, the quattro stomaci del vitello (four stomachs) – delicious with a good squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of salt.


Arancini di riso alla Napoletana Fried rice ball with meat sauce
Scaturchio (Piazza S. Domenico Maggiore, 19)


Pizze fritte Fried Pizza (ricotta, provelone, tomato, basil, pepper, cicoli)
La Masardona (Via Capaccio Guilo Cesare, 27)

Continuing with the street food. Although more typical of Sicilian cuisine, the stuffed rice balls, Arancini, are also frequently found in Naples. One local delight that’s certainly not to be missed is Pizze Fritte. The busy Di Matteo (Via dei Tribunali, 94) is famous for them but La Masardona reputedly does the best – they certainly get my vote.


Sfogliatella Shell shaped pastry
Scaturchio (Piazza S. Domenico Maggiore, 19)


Babà Rum soaked cake

Scaturchio (Piazza S. Domenico Maggiore, 19)


To end, Scaturchio on the Piazza San Domenico Maggiore is a great place for an espresso, some people watching and to enjoy two of Napoli’s finest sweet treats – the rum soaked Babà and the flaky shell-shaped pastry, Sfogliatella, filled with ricotta sweetened with sugar, cinnamon and candied fruits. 



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