The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Campania: Part V
The dishes crafted from the superlative fresh vegetables of the Campana plain, such as eggplant parmigiana and stuffed peppers, acquire a heartiness and savory essence which is unduplicated in any other region of Italy where essentially the same recipes are prepared. Among the most popular types of vegetables consumed at the Neapolitan table are various types of legumes; smooth or curly endive; various varieties of broccoli; cabbage; and two rather unusual vegetables: puntarelle which are young tender chicory shoots, and friarielli, which are the leafy precursors and the original ancestor of modern cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli.
Zucchini are widely used, the larger examples are prepared as a scapece, which means they are cut up, fried and seasoned with wine vinegar, garlic and mint. The male flowers of zucchini can be prepared fried in batter and thus are called sciurilli. In addition to the normal large peppers, both yellow and red, are the typical local green sweet peppers, which are usually preparing by frying them. The artichokes which are considered most valuable and thus highly prized are the so-called Mammarella type: large, round and with a strong purple tinge on the ends of the leaves. They are almost always prepared simply boiled. The art of eating an artichoke is hardly what neophytes would imagine, and most emphatically does not involve a knife or fork. As I have explained in my Artichokes - The Best Vegetable You've Never Eaten Hub
Holding the dipped leaf by the top end, (and being careful with that little thorn) place the leaf halfway past your teeth. Gently bite down on the leaf and then slowly pull it out. The inside of your teeth will scrape off the heavenly-tasting artichoke pulp.
What is to most "foreigners" a form of culinary culture shock is how Neapolitans serve their vegetables. In almost every instance, the vegetables are cooked (overcooked by American standards), sauced, and then left to sit for hours until they are at complete room temperature. The advantage of this method is that the acidy condiments such as vinegar and lemon are allowed their ample opportunity to soak their intense flavors into the vegetables, but the disadvantage is that you often crave a nice, hot vegetable, piping from the stove... well... you're not going to find that in Naples! the only exception to this rule seem to be the thickly battered and deep fried veggies which seem to be sold on every street corner of every town in Campania. These battered veggies are always enjoyed straight out of the fryer and into your mouth. Watch out for those nasty tongue and palate burns from the hot oil!
A product which has earned its absolutely central role in Neapolitan cuisine is the dairy product, whose local history is clearly documented from ancient times. The most important of these products is the spun curd paste which renders fiordilatte, provola and mozzarella cheeses. The mozzarella di bufala, in particular, is historically cited for the first time under the name mozzarella in 1570 but surely has far more ancient origins. Some historians believe that in the era when the great general Scipio Africanus (who saved the Roman Empire from the Carthagian Hannibal and his elephants) was exiled to a small villa on the shores of a seaside salt lagoon north of Naples, the local inhabitants were already plying the trade of turning yak milk into mozzarella. Keep in mind that mozzarella di bufala is not buffalo cheese! It's made from a yak, which is a totally different animal!
Continued in Campania Part VI
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