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The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Campania: Part IV

Updated on March 29, 2009

The variety of Neapolitan pasta is so massive that it could warrant a book just to itself. These days, the urban Neapolitan cuisine is much more centered around durum wheat semolina pastas of primarily industrial production, as compared to homemade pastas, which are much more widespread the inland areas of Campania. The tradition of mass production of pasta in Naples goes back at least to the sixteenth century, when it was first realized by an intrepid entrepreneur in Gragnano that the area presented absolutely ideal conditions for the drying and storage of pasta. One of the primary concerns in Naples as pertains to pasta is the critical time for cooking the pasta, which should be very al dente and not one second overcooked, in particular if the pasta is destined to be subsequently sauced up in the skillet.

I will never forget the look on my parents' eyes the very first time they sat at a Canadian diner and ordered spaghetti. To their sensibilities, the pasta had been overcooked by several weeks! They couldn't get over what slimy overdone pasty slop North Americans thought spaghetti actually was!

Among the most common varieties are the more classic long forms such as spaghetti, linguine and bucatini, and the typical Neapolitan shorter formats, such as paccheri and ziti, which traditionally are broken by hand before being cooked and served with meat ragu sauce . For the preparation of pasta with vegetables, the preferred local choice is mixed pasta (pasta ammescata). This was once sold at lower price because it is nothing more than the broken remnants of the other formats, but it is now sold as a format in itself. Just like the Neapolitans, to figure out a way to get the "silly foreigners" to pay full price for pasta scraps! Breaking from the mold of durum wheat semolina pastas are the gnocchi, which are usually hand made with flour and potatoes.

The variety of recipes for pasta in Neapolitan cuisine is vast almost beyond measure and includes both very simple dishes, like pasta with tomato and basil, or a basic aglio e uoglio (garlic and oil) all the way to extremely elaborate preparations, including the ragu sauce that may, in the more traditional method of preparation, take five or six hours of simmering.

Neapolitan cuisine, true to its poverty stricken tradition, often combines pasta with legumes. Popular are pasta with beans (the famous pasta e fasuli... "when you look at the moon, looks like pasta e fasool, that's amore"), pasta with chickpeas, pasta with lentils, and pasta with peas. These traditional pairings continue with pasta with potatoes, pasta with cauliflower, and even pasta with pumpkin. Most of these pastas are quite alien to the "foreign" taste, with the starch - starch pairing of pasta and potatoes being exceptionally distasteful.

The traditional humor of the Neapolitan populace finds its way into the naming of its pasta dishes as well. Spaghetti, dressed with a sauce of the local San Marzano tomatoes, Gaeta olives and capers are called spaghetti alla Puttanesca, or the Whore's Spaghetti; while spaghetti served with a sauce of tomatoes with garlic, olive oil and parsley are defined Spaghetti with Fuijute (Run Away) Clams, where the shellfish are present only in the imagination of the hungry, wishful diner.

Continued in Campania Part V

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