Tag Archives: Naples

Migliaccio for Carnevale in Italy

ItalyThis Tuesday is Mardi Gras, the end of Carnival, known as Martedì grasso and Carnevale in Italian. Fried foods are often the most traditional choice for Carnival around the world, stemming from an attempt to use up all the decadent sugar and oil before the austere time of Lent. Fried foods are also popular in Italy, including the omnipresent Chiacchiere, but in Naples they have their own, slightly different culinary tradition. Migliaccio is the typical Carnival cake in Naples, and is a relatively light, crustless cake made with ricotta and semolina, flavored with lemon. If you are in Naples you can sample Migliaccio at many bakeries including the stalwart Gambrinus. If you are not lucky enough to be in Italy, here are recipes from Manu’s Menu (pictured below), Foodellers, and Gourmet Traveller. There are many variations of Migliaccio, and it is popular in communities in Italy and the diaspora. We even found a version from Memorie di Angelina that doesn’t include ricotta.

Migliaccio

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Farm Fresh in Naples: Agriturismo Tre Piccioni

Tre Piccioni
Via Tre Piccioni, 73
Pozzuoli, Italy

ItalyWe love going to countries and experiencing a wholly new restaurant genre. The kilo restaurant was one of our favorites in Brazil; but in Italy we first encountered the Agriturismo. Agriturismos are restaurants run by local farmers. Typically open only on weekends, their owners prepare fresh, ingredient-forward meals based on whatever is in season at the farm. You just sit back, tell the owner how many there will be in your party, and see what you get served.

Our friends Maya and Chris, temporary expats from the US, lived near agriturismo Tre Piccioni (“Three Pigeons”), in the town of Pozzuoli, just west of Naples proper. Definitely off the beaten tourist path, you can only get there by car, and if you blink you might miss it. Maya and Chris were also good friends with the amiable proprietor, Paolo. Paolo’s menu changes constantly, though it seems he puts it on the website as well. Maya and Chris warned us to come with a full appetite: Paolo typically serves an antipasto, a primo and segundo piatto, a dessert, coffee and a carafe of house wine – all for the very reasonable price of 20 euros a head.

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When we arrived we were heartily greeted by Paolo, who promptly given a  carafe of house wine, fresh bread and a fresh ball of mozzarella. The mozzarella was a show stopper, and we could have eaten 2 or 3 more. For our antipasti we were served sliced prosciutto, eggplant parmigiana, fried zucchini and chickpea flour fritters (crocche); a nice little taste of some of the street food we also enjoyed in Sicily.

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For our primi, we actually were served 2 pasta dishes for the table. First was gnocchi alla Sorrentina. This consisted of tiny gnocchi (much smaller than we had seen elsewhere) covered in a red sauce and sprinkled with cheese and a hint of fresh basil. We also enjoyed a pasta with broccoli sauce – a new dish we had never tried before. The pastas came out family-style on a big plate, but don’t worry, there was MORE than enough for everyone. However, we are still kicking ourselves for letting the waiter take away the gnocchi plate while there were still gnocchi to be consumed.

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For our mains we were served a hearty plate of pork cutlets and sausages, with a side of somewhat limp fries that we mostly picked over. There was also an unusual side salad seasoned only with salt, and accented with lime juice. Perhaps a little too much salt for L’s taste, but M enjoyed the simplicity. Either way, good to have some veggies!

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For dessert we had a light raspberry panna cotta, which was extremely tasty, though it almost pushed us over to the point of bursting. The meal was finished up with a glass of homemade limoncello (very strong), and tiny cups of espresso (what else?). We were so stuffed we couldn’t believe it! All this for 20 euros apiece. If we lived nearby there’d barely be reason to cook at home, since everything was nice and fresh, and just like eating at a friend’s house. Now let’s work on bringing some of these agriturismi to the US!

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Neapolitan pizza at Spacca Napoli

Spacca Napoli
1769 W Sunnyside Ave
Chicago, IL

ItalyWe’re pretty picky about our pizza, and pretty sure that going to Naples has made us even pickier about Neapolitan style pizza in particular. However, when the pizza craving hits, it hits hard. And fortunately there are some truly great places to get Neapolitan pizzas in Chicago. Spacca Napoli is one of those places. When we learned that one of the owners had trained to be a pizzamaker in Naples and had an Italian brick oven, we were definitely sold.

Spacca Napoli has a nice selection of pizzas, divided into “Rosse” (with red sauce) and “Bianche” (without) including the two essential Neapolitan styles, Marinara and Margherita. At  $9.50 and $12.50 respectively, the pizzas were more expensive than in Naples, but still very reasonable. We selected two pizza on our visit, a red pizza and white pizza, without the typical marinara sauce. The white pizza, Bianco Nero ($16.00) had Pecorino cheese with black truffles, Fior di Latte mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, and finished with white truffle oil. M ordered his favorite combination from Napoli, the Diavola ($16.00) which was topped with mozzarella di bufala, spicy salami, red pepper flakes and basil.

Spacca Pizza

The crust of the pizza was excellent: both chewy and light, and not soggy at all in the middle (our pet peeve). We also appreciated the generous hand with the toppings, and the availability of buffalo mozzarella. The pizza was great, but don’t let that be the end of your meal. Spacca Napoli also has gelato ($4.50) in a variety of flavors: cream, hazelnut, cappuccino, chocolate, pistachio and raspberry. We ordered a scoop of chocolate, even though we had polished off both of our pizzas. We highly enjoyed our pizzas at Spacca Napoli – we think we have found our go-to Neapolitan pizza place in Chicago.

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Pastry Post-Doc in Italy: Neapolitan Pastiera for Easter

ItalyThough some Southern Italian delicacies have made their ways to the American shores: Rum Baba, Cannoli, among others, we had not encountered Pastiera (also known as Pastiera di Grano) until our trip to Naples. Pastiera is especially associated with Easter (though we also found it in Pasticcerias in November). Pastiera was developed in modern times by a Neapolitan convent, but also has an older history related to pagan Springtime festivals (hence the inclusion of wheat and egg). Pastiera is composed of a pastry shell with a ricotta, wheat and egg filling, which may also be flavored with citrus or spices. Pastiera is unique – and in order to make it you need to prepare a special wheat mixture (unless you have access to prepared soaked wheat – which this recipe includes). While in Naples we saw large Pastiera pies even being sold in tins – perfect for every Easter table.

Pastiera in Naples

A slice of pastiera in Naples by Yuichi Sakuraba

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Naples Pizza Quest: Da Michele

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
Via Cesare Sersale, 1,
80139 Naples

We had a great time at I Decamuni, but our pizza quest could not stop there. We pushed forward to what we heard was the best (and busiest) pizzeria in Naples, Da Michele. It is also one of the most famous owing to a certain recent Hollywood movie appearance (we won’t mention which one) and simple word of mouth over the years since its opening in 1870. We heard that there would be lines snaking in front of Da Michele long before the 11 AM opening times, and that we should be prepared for hordes and hours of waiting. Steeled for a potentially harrowing experience, we arrived at Da Michele at 11 AM on a Monday, surprised to find only ONE other table filled. By the time we left, there were still a few tables open, and no line. So take the warnings with a grain of salt (at least in low tourist season, on a Monday).

Interior of Da Michele

We beat the crowds.

Da Michele is a simple place – the tables are spartan and the menus are taped to the wall. The menu at Da Michele is extremely limited – only 2 pizzas on offer:  Margherita and a Marinara. The marinara is simply marinara sauce and garlic. How’s that for simplicity? We ordered a Margherita with doppia (double) mozzarella (5€), which we figured was a good bet as well as a “normal sized” marinara pizza (4€). Each pizza came in either “normal” or “medium” sizes, and the Marinara also came in “maxi.” The doppia mozzarella Margherita did not have a size assigned – but we assume it is a normal size. Even at their smallest, the Da Michele pizzas are large enough to cover an entire dinner plate.

DaMichele pizza master

Da Michele pizza master at work.

So we placed our orders and sat in anticipation for the pizzas. One thing that is constantly impressive is the speed at which the pizzas fly out. Da Michele was a well-oiled machine, with an old gentleman at the pizza dough helm, quietly and meticulously forming and topping the pizzas. You could tell he had been doing this for decades. Our pizzas went into the roaring ovens and a few minutes later they were done. And what pizza! The crust was light and fluffy, but with some bite, and some nice char. Moreover, the crust held up well to all of the toppings. The cheese on the doppia pizza was generously applied and fresh as can be. We also heartily enjoyed the marinara pizza, which seemed to be more than the sum of its parts. The sauce on each pizza was fresh and tomato-y and not overly sweet   Warning: there are many cloves of garlic on the Marinara pizza, so this is one for garlic lovers only.

DaMichele mariana and margherita pizzas

The main event.

It seemed only minutes had passed between when we ordered and when we finished, although we did our best to savor each pizza. Could you eat a better meal for 9€?  L enjoyed the doppia mozzarella pizza the best out of all of the pizzas in Naples, especially owing to the heavenly crust quality, and while M enjoyed the pizzas at Da Michele, his heart went with the more exotic toppings at Decumani. We are already nostalgic for all of the great pizza we enjoyed in Naples. For the pizza purist, we highly recommend Da Michele, but if you want a little more topping variety (and less chance of a line) Decumani is a formidable choice.

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Pastry Post-Doc in Italy: Rum Baba – Babà from Naples

The Rum Babà is one of the iconic desserts of Naples. A Babà is a small yeast cake absolutely soaked in a Rum syrup. If made right, the cake should practically be swimming it it. So definitely not a treat for the faint of heart! Unlike Sfogliatelle, Babà are a French import (which was originally a riff off of babka cakes), and were transported to Naples by French chefs. Renowned chef Alain Ducasse even has a signature Rum Baba dessert (recipe here). But don’t tell a Neapolitan that! Even the most humble shop in Naples will have a little pile of these liquor-soaked brioche-esque goodies along with other cafe offerings. Typical Neapolitan Babà are shaped like popovers – and come in individual portions – though you can get fancy and make a Babà cake to serve many people. Babà are usually served plain, but as you can see below, you might also encounter mini or cream-filled varieties. For an even more Neapolitan experience – how about a Babà soaked in Limoncello?

Varieties of Rum Baba (and friends) in Naples

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Italy: La Taverna dei Sapori – Mariella’s Brunch

La Taverna dei Sapori – aka Mariella’s
Corso Garibaldi,215
Monte di Procida (Naples), Italy

Sunday brunch is not a traditional occurrence in Italy since the typical Italian breakfast usually consists of coffee and a pastry (which is really our normal breakfast as well). However, a very smart proprietress, Mariella Fratelli (the restaurant is usually just known by patrons as “Mariella’s”), decided to capitalize on the brunch nostalgia of American expats and started a Sunday brunch of her own in the Naples area. She definitely has done something right: Mariella’s has gained a major following among expats hankering for brunch. However this is not a replica of an American bunch, but rather an Italian-style brunch! The brunch was all-you-can-eat for 12€, and we definitely got our money’s worth of Italian comfort foods.

We were the first to arrive, so we had the pick of the tables. Being a few days before Halloween  we were surprised and pleased to see the place decked out in orange and black. One thing we greatly enjoyed was that the food was all prepared in a normal fashion on plates, with new plates being constantly supplied. None of that steam-table business – which is good because we normally hate warmed-over brunch buffets. The spread was quite impressive with veggies, cakes, fritattas, and cheeses. There were no less than five fritattas on offer, with a variety of cheese, vegetable and meat fillings (and even a fritatta full of spaghetti). We gravitated instantly to the fresh mozzarella di bufala and the fresh ricotta.  We were also impressed by the large array of fresh roasted vegetables – including peppers and eggplant – not necessarily what you think of for brunch, but completely delicious and healthy.

We also appreciated the chocolate and fruit tarts on offer, including the chocolatey Torta Caprese. We remember eating a slice of Torta Caprese for breakfast everyday when we were in Siracusa. Perhaps not the most well-rounded breakfast, but oh so good! There were also a few nods to American tastes, with muffins, fruit yogurts and brownies.  For drinks, there was also a jug of fresh blood orange juice and cappuccinos were also on offer. As the brunch wore on, the place gradually became filled with Americans. We definitely enjoyed our little Italian brunch, and kudos to Mariella for hitting on a concept that works!

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Pastry Post Doc: Torrone dei Morti in Naples

The arrival of torrone, the delicious honey and nougat confection, means the holiday season is coming in Spain and Italy. We have had torrone many times before, but we have never seen the kind of torrone we recently encountered in Naples, which was sold by the slice, covered in chocolate, and at first glance, even looked like ice cream cake. Turns out this is “Torrone dei Morti” or “Torrone morbido”- “dead torrone” which is a traditional All Saints’ Day dessert with a base of cocoa. Neapolitan pastry shops were filled with this version of torrone at the end of October, in any number of nut, chocolate and fruit varieties. Our favorite was the gianduja, or hazelnut and chocolate blend, as seen below. Getting a slice of torrone will run you less than 1€ a slice, so you have every incentive to try many varieties. When we were in Naples we didn’t realize that this version of torrone was season-specific, so we don’t know if it will be on display at other times of the year. We hope it is! We looked for a recipe in English – and we finally found one – but Google Translate can help you out with some of the Italian versions.

Cross-Section of Gianduja Torrone in Napoli

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Naples Pizza Quest: I Decumani

Antica Pizzeria “I Decumani”
Via Tribunali 58
Naples, Italy

We came to Naples for its pizza, plain and simple. US places claiming authentic Neapolitan pizza are a dime a dozen, so we were extremely excited to try the real deal where it originated.  In America, Neapolitan pizza is usually a pretty fancy affair, with each pizza costing upwards of $18. However not so in Naples. Pizza is literally everywhere, and pizza even in the best spots will not run you more than 7€ (less than $10). Naturally, we did our research beforehand so we would only end up at the top locations.

Locals who know where to get a good pizza in Napoli.

One spot that kept pinging our radar was Decumani. Decumani is located on Via Tribunali, in the heart of historic Napoli. If you find yourself strolling down Tribunali, you really cannot go wrong: there are several famous pizzerias on this road, so after some initial indecision we decided to use our old rule of thumb: go to the crowded place. Arriving at 2 PM, usually a little late for the lunch crowd, the place was still hopping, and after a few minutes of awkward waiting in the corner, we were lucky enough to secure a seat. The menu is surprisingly extensive for a Neapolitan pizzeria: a wide variety of pizzas and fried appetizers, but we were floored by the prices. A classic Margherita pizza with basil and fresh mozzarella? 3.50€. Want to splurge and get some more adventurous toppings? It’s impossible to spend more than 7€ on a whole pie, with most pizzas under 5. The prices were so surprising to some, in fact, that one patron actually argued that his bill was – at 70€ for feeding his entire group of 10 people – too low. This is a very good problem to have.

Margherita Pizza. The best $5 you will ever spend.

We know what you’re thinking: so cheap, they must be small. Never mind that the high prices in the US come from the import taxes on importing your bufala and tomatoes from the shady side of Mount Vesuvius – the local places here save considerably by being able to practically walk the ingredients to the kitchen. No, these are not small pies, as you can see above. But they’re also not overpowering or too filling. The crust is thin but supportive, perfectly chewy while acting as a place for the blended marinara, bufala, and basil on top. The sauce is fresh and tastes like actual tomatoes: not to sweet, not too salty, and oh so good. The mozzarella is excellent, and as you can see generously applied. M, keeping up his love of cured pig meats and spicy food, decided to go for another classic pizza, the Diavola – essentially a margherita topped with spicy salame (4.50€.)

Close-up of the spicy cheese tomato-y goodness.

Together, L and M sat in I Decumani for about an hour, slowly savoring every bite of our pizzas. M very carefully paid special attention to his salame: cooked to perfection, it was the perfect complement (for him, anyway) to the margherita L was devouring across the table. All in all, for the unbelievable price of 11€, we were totally blown away by our Naples pizza experience. We’ll never be able to have Neapolitan pizza in the US again. But Chicago deep dish, we still love you!

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Pastry Post-Doc: Classic Neapolitan Sfogliatelle

The impossibly flaky Sfogliatelle pastry is ubiquitous in Naples, and a cappuccino and a sfogliatelle quickly became my typical breakfast in Naples. Sfogliatelle is a shell-shaped fried pastry characterized by its many flaky layers (“Sfogliatelle” means many leaves or layers). A typical filling is a cream made from ricotta, semolina, eggs and citrus. While in Naples, I managed to sample ricotta versions as well as a ricotta/almond hybrid, and one with a filling of only preserved oranges. Sfogliatelle are rumored to have originated in a convent on the Amalfi coast, and later traveled to Naples. Unlike some other Italian pastries, sfogliatelle have not made their way into Chicago bakeries the way cannolis or rum baba have. However, a cousin of the sfogliatelle, the “lobster tail,” is popular in New York City Italian-American bakeries, where the ricotta filling is substituted for whipped cream.

I also especially appreciate sfogliatelle because I know there is no way I could try to make them on my own. Perhaps this is why I never got the pricey cupcake trend: anyone can make a cupcake, but certainly not everyone could make a sfogliatelle. So for my 1€ I will take sfogliatelle anytime. Due to the labor-intensive nature of making the dough layers, I am very impressed by those who attempt it on their own.  For now though, I think I will stick to seeking it out in one of Chicago’s Italian Bakeries – Palermo Bakery lists it as a specialty, LTH forum discusses other Chicago bakeries with sfogliatelle on offer.

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Buongiorno, Napoli

Buona Sera, Portugal – Buongiorno, Napoli! The eaters are headed to Naples for a little trip this weekend, along with day trips (really just very long layovers…) to Venice and Bologna. We are excited to continue our foodie adventure in Italy, and Naples seems like a real foodie haven.  L is looking forward to street food and Sfogliatelle in Naples, and we are both excited to sample as much pizza in Naples as humanly possible. Aside from pizza, M is most excited to eat Bolognese sauce in Bologna (it may even be a bucket list item). We’ll return next week with a report of our Italian food adventures.

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