Sfogliatelle: a delicious Naples treat

Buongiorno!  I can’t think of anything more Neapolitan to eat for breakfast with an expresso than a Sfogliatelle.

Sold from 1818 from a pasticceria on Via Toledo, this delicious little shell is best eaten warm.  It combines the crunch of the many layered, sugar dusted pastry, the smoothness of the ricotta, the sweetness of the candied fruit and a hint of vanilla and cinnamon.  They are also satisfyingly hard to pronounce, with the first letters making a ‘shh’ sound in the Naples dialect and with a silent ‘gli’ in the middle, leading to confused looks when ordering one (or many).

In this article Perfect Pasteries from Naples in Intelligent Life, the author visits a bakery founded in 1930 near the station making sfogliatelle with its original recipe. The owner says:

‘Nothing has changed….we use the same secret family recipe and the same suppliers as 90 years ago, and our ingredients are locally produced to our specifications. Even our kitchen staff are all descendants of the original team.’

For those wanting a crack at making them, look at the recipe here by WordPress blogger Chef in Disguise.

‘The sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners’..

Aeropainting, or aeropittura, was called ‘the daughter of Fascist aviation and Italian futurism‘ by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, front man of the avant garde futurist movement which emphasised everything that was fast, young, modern, vigorous and violent.  Propelled by Italy’s military preeminence in aviation, aeropittura shifted the Futurist gaze skywards, offering startling and disconcerting perspectives to the viewer and glorifying fast, sleek, polished aerial machines and their pilots.

In the example above, Aerial Battle over the Gulf of Naples or Infernal Battle over the Paradise of the Gulf, Gerardo Dottori imagines a violent dog fight high above an idyllic, peaceful and sunlit Naples set against a dark cloud of dust thrown up by an erupting Vesuvius.

‘The sea raised its great wings, coal black smoke arose from Vesuvius into the blue sky…’, Naples, 1834

The future fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, then aged 29, visited Naples in February 1834 and was at hand to witness one of Vesuvius’ regular eruptions of the period.  With a group of fellow Danes, he rather rashly set off by donkey to climb the volcano as the eruption reached its climax.

As he neared the top, he later described in his diary that:

We caught a sudden glimpse of the moon right over the crater. Coal-black smoke swirled upward; then a ball of fire and gigantic, glowing boulders rolled down onto the plain that we had to cross to get to the lava flow… There was no path at all; we had to walk and crawl between huge pieces of lava… With every eruption the moon was entirely hidden by the pitch-black smoke…

After a while we could feel the heat coming up from underneath us. In order to see the new lava flow we had to cross one that had been flowing the night before; only the outermost crust was black and hard, and red fire was burning in the cracks. We stepped out onto it; it burned our feet through the soles of our shoes. If the crust had broken, we would have sunk into a sea of fire.

Then we saw the monstrous stream of fire pouring slowly, thick and red like porridge, down the mountains. The sulphur fumes were so strong; the fire was burning our feet, so that after two minutes we had to go back. All around we saw fissures of fire. There was a whooshing sound coming from the crater, like when all at once a flock of birds starts up from a forest.

As this fascinating article says, the whole episode was ‘perhaps a manifestation of youthful vanity for a band of twenty-something men — an exercise to conquer danger for no good reason, except the vainglory of living to tell about it‘.  Or was the hazardous undertaking rather ‘for the sake of beauty, driven by a longing to get as close as humanly possible to nature’s source, to that fiery frontier of life and death, of beauty and suffering, from which true awe springs‘.

Andersen certainly loved the beauty, the light, the warmth and the sensuality of Naples, illuminated by blazing Vesuvius, describing it as a ‘Paradise’ where everyone lived in ‘intoxicated obliviousness of self’.  He called the city ‘the great pulse of the world’ and returned later in his life.

Sketch of Vesuvius in 1834 by Hans Christian Andersen.

Happy Birthday Italy!

The ‘Festa della Repubblica’ is the Italian national holiday celebrated on the second day of June. It commemorates the referendum of 1946 when, by universal suffrage, the Italian population was called to decide on which form of government (monarchy or republic) should replace Fascism after the Second World War.

After 85 years of monarchy, and with 12,717,923 votes for and 10,719,284 votes against, Italy became a Republic, and the monarchs of the House of Savoy were deposed and exiled. This is one of the most important Italian national holidays which, like July 14th in France (Storming of the Bastille) and July 4th in the USA (Independence Day), celebrate the birth of the nation.

Picture is of the Italian Frecce Tricolori doing their impressive stuff.  More background on the Festa here.

Tanti auguri!