In 1866, Carlo Collodi, the Florentine author of Pinocchio, in one of his books apparently described pizza, Naples’ contribution to world cuisine, as ‘a patchwork of greasy filth that harmonizes perfectly with the appearance of the person selling it.’
But there is much, much more about Neapolitan cuisine than just the lazy pizza (and southern Italian) stereotype. Below are some lovely dishes traditionally eaten in Naples on Christmas Eve, inspired by this list (with recipes) on Napoli Unplugged. Cena della Vigilia di Natale is a leaner meal, without meat or fat, eaten before midnight Mass.
Spaghetti alla Vongole. ‘Small, tasty and impossibly elegant… nothing is as glam as a clam’ says Nigel Slater. Easy to cook, a classic dish with the only difficult decision to make – with or without tomatoes?
Baccalà Fritto. A dish of battered and breaded salted cod, fried in olive oil. I ate this at a party last week and the cod was light and moist with a unexpectedly subtle taste. Since rinsing the salted cod can be time consuming, you can buy Baccalà ready-to-cook here on the markets.
Capitone Fritto. Down at a nearby lake, we have watched the fishermen landing baskets of slithering eels. Among the reported reasons for eating them is that eels, which resemble snakes which in turn symbolise evil, are eaten to exorcize malice. Chopped into lumps, battered and fried, it has a meaty taste.
Insalata di Rinforzo. Literally ‘Reinforced Salad’, it is believed to be reinvigorating. But you will have to love the taste of pickled vegetables to enjoy this classic Naples dish.
Mostaccioli. Biscotti shaped like a diamond and covered with a chocolate glaze. The name Mostaccioli comes from the peasant’s habit to use wine must in order to develop a more intense and sweet flavour.
Struffoli. A dish of small, deep fried balls of dough about the size of marbles. Crunchy on the outside and light inside, struffoli are mixed with honey and other sweet ingredients.
Roccocò. A round buscuit with almonds and spices, nutty and very, very tough. Roccocò derives from the Italian “roccia” (rock) and can be softened in a glass of sweet wine.
All very delicious. Merry Christmas!