holidays

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EASTER TRADITIONS

Published March 30, 2013 by Tony

MEMORIES OF A TIME
THE CASATIELLO

Easter time.
In addition to doing my best wishes to you all, I take this opportunity to tell you some memories that in these days come to my mind.
At that time I was a toddler and often on Friday our grandmother picked me up to let me spend a few days at her home.
The grandmother “mmaculatina“, as people called her (Immaculate, God rest her soul), in those days did not go to work, and aware I liked being with her, came to our house to take me, and sometimes took my sister too. She loved her grandchildren, and on that time I was the youngest grandson, and although she was living with our grandfather, between work and commitments she spent little time at home. It had been years that the granddad was already retired, having made the postman became sick with bronchitis and arthritis, and alone spent all his days at home. He had his own bed with a bedside table on which a glass of wine and his radio never had to be missing. A man of few words who spent his days walking slowly in the house, sitting on the bed, sipping wine, smoking and listening to 1920: My grandma when youngopera on the radio.

It was an old building where, on different floors, a long balcony gave access to homes, inside the building those balconies turned all around the perimeter of the apartment blocks. The houses were not very large, entering directly to the first room, usually the living room, where the granddad had created his personal corner. On the right there was a small kitchen with a small window that looked out on the perimetral balcony, and where there was a very small bathroom formed simply from toilet and a sink. Beyond the living room was my grandma’s bedroom, that had a small balcony overlooking the street below. We slept in the same double-bed with grandma and I still remember her laughter when she told relatives how I sometimes fell asleep touching her breast and resting my head on his chest. I loved my grandmother and it was only the need in maternal instincts of a kid who, like me, had evidently not received enough cuddles from his mum. The grandma “Immacolatina” was good, cheerful and friendly, as well as a holy woman and had dedicated her life to work in the factory where she had become the “teacher,” as called her there, to wit the supervisor. Her relationship with the granddad were not excellent, having been from long more a nurse than a wife, and she was glad to have us at home to chat and pass the time.

As usual, Friday is the day when all Neapolitans dedicated to the preparation of the “casatiello“, also called “tortano“, the typical Neapolitan rustic pie (Neapolitan Lard Bread). And the grandma prepared it Friday afternoon to let it rise all day and then in the night took it at the bakery for baking. In those years it was customary to let casatiello bake by bakers because not everyone had a powerful ovens as bakeries where the cooking was done in an optimal way. There was no area or neighborhood that did not have some baker nearby. Anyone who would have walked in the alleys of Naples, during Friday and Holy Saturday, felt the almost stagnant scent of “casatielli” which were cooked at homes or by bakers. How can we forget that smell?
Odor that became all one with those feast days Grandma & Iand represented them as well. For this in Naples, even today, Easter is to say casatiello and vice versa.

At that time, due to the enormous work to be done between Thursday and Saturday, bakers worked continuously day and night. For this you could go to one of them at any time of the day or night, and deliver your casatiello or withdraw it.
The baker from whom my grandma went, was a few blocks from the house, the huge old wooden front door was always open for the occasion, placed on the ground and stacked up one above the other, hundreds of aluminum “ruoto” (round baking pan). They were the casatielli waiting for bakery.
Truly spectacular!
At that time, not everybody had the pan with the hole in the middle, which gives casatiello the classic donut shape, and so, most of the containers had a wineglass or a cup (glass or metal) at the center, around which the pasta was then grown encasing it.

Crossed the entrance hall, people arrived at the courtyard where on both the sides were stacked firewood for the ovens, shovels, sacks, buckets and other objects. In addition to the smell of casatielli, so strong here to become pungent, you also felt the scent of flour that you found everywhere, on the ground, on walls, on objects, everything was whitewashed with a pinch of flour!
Entered in the furnaces room, the heat became almost unbearable. Everywhere there were shelves made by long wooden boards, one above the other, on which side by side the casatielli already cooked were placed.
Here, the casatiello was not more as white as those encountered at the entrance, but the color of the rind of bread in its various gold shades.  A variety of sizes and shapes, those with the eggs above visible under two small strips of pasta in the shape of X, those without eggs or those where the eggs were just popping out below the golden crust. You could not but be enchanted to see those scenes, and especially for a kid like me.

People came and went, with those who were giving their casatiello and those who were going to pick up it, and all workers each with its own task. On that occasion there were more people at work and one of them went to the grandma and after taking two plates of aluminum from a huge basket, gave one to her and attacked the other with thin wire to the container’s handle. The baker asked if the casatiello had already risen and then placed it onto the others waiting for cooking. Probably, somewhere else there were those which were in need of further rise before being baked.

On those aluminum plates was imprinted a number which from then on would have marked our “casatiello.” After cooking the casatielli were placed on those planks in a coarse numerical order, according to the number that had been tied close, so to trace it when the owner would come back for it. In fact, to take the casatiello you had to give back your plate, and the baker began to turn around the wooden shelves to look for it. Hundreds and hundreds casatielli. You paid, wrapped the container in a cloth, and went back home happy with your casatiello ready to be eaten.
Things of other times, when everything was simpler and folksy!

casatiello

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Season feelings

Published December 27, 2011 by Tony

REFLECTIONS

xmas_feeling


Usual, during Christmas everyone becomes good and the good persons take a chance to be overwhelmed by feelings and, on occasion, even having tears in their eyes.

Certainly, it’s often difficult to tell the truth or telling others what we think. Harsh, indeed!
I could give many examples but it is holidays time and at Christmas just the family is placed first.
And I think….. sometimes family members connection is so labile.

How many parents think to know everything about their children or, conversely, how many things  offspring keep secret to their parents!?
For those who do not live near, Christmas is also time of messages, phone calls, postcards, letters, but who does say or write the truth?
Of course, parents love their children, but it happens that children having had parents too obsessive and demanding, then tell lies to make them happy simply.

A father who, back at home from work each night, says to his son “I do it for you, because one day you can become somebody!“, he will have him up against the wall for sure. The child will grow, study and will go on his own way, and then, if he didn’t become that “somebody” that his father hoped, what will he say to his father, whne they hear on phone.
How’s my son, how are things going“;
It’s OK dad, don’t’ worry, I still am the sales director of that important company, things going good“, while he probably is just a clerk in a shop.
My dear how are you. Why not come and visit us”;
Mom I am sorry, but you know … commitments lead me to travel without peace but everything is fine, do not worry “; and, if anything, the guy who was said to be a famous artist is only a nomad who lives by his wits.
And she? The daughter who does always say to have a nice family and living a happily peacefully life. She will probably be a single mother or divorced with a thousand problems.  Things that happen.
Telling the truth is really hard!
If you have not done it immediately, the reality becomes a wall that separates and sometimes forever.
There are words that are too heavy, some damn things that our culture inhibit our brain.
Who does have the courage to say: mum I’m gay; daddy I’m a lesbian; mom, dad, I’m not the first school; are not taken to make the manager; I have not the skills to become “somebody” as you also hadn’t….. and so on

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HOLIDAYS TIME

Published July 30, 2011 by Tony

WHY  VISIT CAMPANIA?!

Campania presents all the remarkable sites which tourists will want to discover and make the most of during their stay here: from the islands in the Bay of Naples to the Sorrentine Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast, from Cilento to the Domitian Coast, as well as the interior, with the provinces of Benevento, Caserta and Avellino, together forming a truly unique region. The scenery is

breath-taking, much of it safeguarded within the parks and numerous nature reserves which characterize Campania, from the Matese to the Park of the Monti Picentini, from Vesuvius to the National Park of Cilento e Vallo of  Diano.

Wherever you go, you can sample genuine local dishes and wines prepared according to tradition; the monuments and archaeological parks bring you into contact with past civilizations which cast their spell on young people and on the not so young, as well as on the experts. Among the many “gems”, leaving aside the extraordinary Pompeii, we can mention Herculaneum, Stabia, Boscoreale and Oplontis with their ancient villas, the Phlegrean Fields with Rione Terra at Pozzuoli, the largest urban archaeological park in Europe, Miseno and the underwater city of Baia, and the archaeological park of Conza. And on down to internal zones of Cilento, where the archaeological park of Velia lies surrounded by a splendid national park. Some of these wonderful monuments are also open in the evenings, giving visitors an unforgettable experience as they traverse the

Temples of Paestum, the archaeological site of Pompeii or the Royal Palace of Caserta with

special effects as night falls. For those in search of peace and quiet, Campania is rich in SPA: its 29 mineral water springs put it fifth among the regions of Italy possessing spa centres. From Ischia to Telese and Contursi Terme, there is a wide range of facilities, all of the highest quality. All this is made possible by the conviction of the Regione Campania that the key to the development of Campania lies in the enhancement of its cultural, artistic and environmental resources; we are investing increasingly large amounts of European and local funding to achieve this end.

by Regione Campania, Regional Department of Culture and Tourism

 

<<This land is so happy, so delightful, so fortunate that it is obvious that it is nature’s favourite. This revitilizing air, the perpetually clear skies, the so fertile land, the sunny hills, the dark forests, the mountains lost among the clouds, the abundance of vineyards and grapevines… and so many lakes, the copiousness of the running waters and springs, so much sea and so many ports! A land open at all sides to commerce and that, as if to encourage man, reaches its arms out into the sea. >>

Plinius the Elder, Ist century B.C.

In the shadow the Vesuvius tourism’s roots run deep: on the imprints of great Greek columns refined aristocrats and roman emperors built their sumptuous villas and oasis all along the shoreline of the Gulf.

It is not a coincidence that at the beginning of this third millennium the peculiar magic of this

civilization continues to generate new sources of amazement: the recovery of age old monuments and traditions – folklore, gastronomy, genuine cultivation – that were thought irreparably lost, events and shows worthy of the great international circuit, new fodder for artistic and scientific research. The artistic treasure of Naples to visit are, in fact, to many to count: the historical centre, a patrimony under the tutelage of UNESCO, the palaces, churches, catacombs and underground passageways, the Archaeological Museum, the places of medieval and renaissance power amassed

around the Castel Nuovo and Royal Palace, the unforgettable waterfront from Castel dell’Ovo to Posillipo. The hilly area of Vomero offers masterfully restored buildings like the Capodimonte Royal Palace and the Certosa (monastery) of San Martino, museum collections amongst the most important in the world.

A trip through the twentieth century city takes you, among the notable emerging urban and architectural sights, to the rationalist Mostra d’Oltremare, with its park, sports complex and exhibition space, to Città della Scienza (Science City) nearby.

Science is also witness to the recovery of industrial archaeological complexes and the originality of a scientific tradition that renews itself.

Unusual and surprising is the exploration of the new homes of contemporary art: monumental structures like the PAN, Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, the MADRE, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina (Donnaregina Contemporary Arts Museum), and the unique artistry of the metro stations that evidence the original horizons of farseeing cultural politics.

Naples, in the final sum, remains, deep in its roots, even with all the difficulties and contradictions inherent to all big metropolitan cities, an extraordinary place to live, admire, and enjoy with all the senses: for the depth of the art and civilization that has indelibly marked its history; for the mild climate that accompanies day and night the shows, musical and theatrical events, exhibitions, fairs and religious gatherings; for the gourmand possibilities to search out the age old culinary tradition, the seafood and the unique typical products (buffalo mozzarella, pizza, Docg wine, varied and refined pastries) in all their local translations, or for finding fine hidden little shops where craftsmen still ply their wares.

<< There is no one that has not dreamt of seeing Naples.>>

Paul Edme de Musset, 1885

 

 

to be continued…..

 

Neapolitan Sweets

Published February 9, 2011 by Tony

Characteristic desserts


Usually, any country has its speciality, its local product or typical dish and in Italy the situation is no less so. Campania – and Naples in particular – even is famous in the world for some of these legendary products and it could be sufficient to mention pizza, mozzarella or babà, for example.

Many are the dishes and products peculiar to this region but this post is aimed at the sweets and so you will read more about other products in successive posts. Campanians start their day with sweets, end their meal with sweets (especially during holidays), and punctuate their day with sweets, is this weird for you? Most Neapolitans have breakfast with croissant or with “graffe” (a sort of fried doughnut) together coffee or cappuccino. Many Italian families buy pastries on Sunday or on some important holiday to eat at the end of the meal. In the late afternoon most young people have a snack with some (industrial) cake.

Naples has some typical dessert or sweets and most of them are connected with holiday or festival and for that it will be easier for me to list them according to the different holidays.

Christmas

Struffoli, Roccocò, Mustacciuoli, Raffiuoli, Susamielli, Pasta Reale, Sapienze, Divinoamore, Torrone.

Easter

Pastiera, Casatiello or Tortano.

Carnival

Chiacchiere (angel winds), Sanguinaccio, Migliaccio.

Saint Joseph or Father’s day

Zeppole

Then, there are some common pastry linked with no festivity as Babà, Sfogliatelle and Taralli.

But, let’s analyze one by one these products now. I’m sorry if put no recipe because products are too many and for the most important speciality it will be easy for you to find the recipe by Internet, in the case you need it.

Struffoli are a sort of fried doughnut balls, more or less a quarter-inch long and slightly crunchy, soaked in honey and covered in sugar-sprinkles and candid fruits. It is a so popular dessert that during Christmas time there is no family without a plate of Struffoli on the table.

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Roccocò or Rococò (referred to the plural) a sort of crunch cookie with almonds inside, round shaped with a hole inside. It’s a dry and tough biscuit that looks like a dark squashed doughnut with a dough made of almonds and candied fruit. Roccocò’s etymology comes from “roccia artificiale” (artificial rock), because this Christmas sweet, presented on every table in Campania from the Advent day and for the whole holiday season, is very hard and almost marble-like. The original recipe says that the traditional Roccocò has to be kneaded on a large working bench where in the middle of a big mound of flour will be put sugar, white pepper, cloves, candied fruit peels, half an orange ground peel, one or two drops of cinnamon essence, a drop of ammonia and finely roasted and ground almonds together with whole almond nuts. The base is worked for a long time, continually adding water, until the right consistency is reached. The dough then is divided into little rings, brushed with eggs and baked until they go brown. Rococò, as any dessert, is often consumed after a meal with liquors and in Campania the famous “Limoncello” is one.

Mostaccioli or Mustacciuoli are biscuits of different consistencies depending on the dough, which is made of honey, flour, water, yeast and spices. The dough is left to rest and then baked. In the end the mustaccioli are covered with white or black icing, obtained adding powdered cocoa to the white one. They have a rhombus shape and are called this way because their squared shapes resemble moustaches.

Raffiuoli or Italianized in Raffioli, are made from a dough similar to the sponge cake and covered with a white (or differently colored) frosting made of sugar (jam on an icing sugar base).  Raffioli are rarely produced at home and can be found in cake shops around Campania. They have round shape and are doughy. Its recipe is ancient and quite challenging: egg whites and yolk are whipped with sugar and then mixed with more sugar, half a lemon, a quarter of a spoon of ammonia water, half a pack of vanilla and stiffly beaten egg whites. It’s all put in a piping bag used to prepare pieces of pasta, which are 14 cm long each and are folded on greased and floured oven plates. After baking the pasta pieces enlarge and have to be taken out and left to cool. Then they’re covered in icing sugar and brushed with apricot jam. They’re covered with more icing sugar and left to dry again. The icing can be prepared a few days before gaining flavour. Before using it on the Raffioli it has to be soaked in hot water, sugar and a pinch of baking soda on a slow flame. After it boils for a few minutes, it’s taken out and poured in a round bowl and stirred until it becomes white and creamy.

Susamielli are sweet in the shape of “S” of Neapolitan cuisine typical of the period of Christmas.
Are prepared with flour, sugar, almonds and honey, and flavored with cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg. We typically buy along with other sweets, especially Rococo and Mustacciuoli.  In local slang “susamiello”, maybe for the biscuit’s hardness, is used to indicate a boring or heavy person. A variant of elliptical shape, are the so-called Wisdom that once were prepared by Clare nuns in the convent of Santa Maria della Sapienza in Sorrento. The Dominican nuns of the church of Sapienza during Masaniello’s rebellion tried to protect their monastery by offering sweets to the people and the soldiers. Susamielli are often sold with Raffiuoli, Mustaccioli and the most popular Rococò.

Pasta Reale really is the name of the basic dough (Royal pastry) used to prepare these desserts but we Neapolitans refers to the small and colored pastries usually bought in cake shops. They aren’t expressly made during Christmas time because we can find them at any time in the confectioner’s. Pasta Reale is a marzipan,  well-known in Sicily too, made by cooking a strong syrup of sugar and water and then adding freshly ground almonds. Almond extract enhances the taste. The mixture is kneaded till smooth (like bread dough) and then shaped to get different forms, usually circular, rhombus or fruits shaped then decorated or coloured. They looks like the famous “Cassata” with a white icing spread externally on.

Divino-Amore, referred to the plural, usually are pinkish elliptical rose water flavoured marzipan (Royal pastry) covered with an orange chocolate glaze. These pastries take the name from the homonymous monastery. Confectionery was a common occupation for nuns at least from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, in Naples as well as elsewhere. As a result, in Naples there arose a peculiar geography based on the fame and singularity of the pastries baked in each monastery. The divino amore (“God’s love”), was invented in the convent of Santa Maria Maddalena.

   Torrone (of Benevento), There’s different kinds of “Torrone di Benevento”: the white one with almonds, white “Torrone cupedia” with nuts, soft white Torrone with almonds and the crunchy Torroncino (small torrone) covered in chocolate. They all have common traits: they’re dry, sweet and friable. The classic Torrone from Benevento is made of simple ingredients: egg white, honey, nuts and almonds. Soft or hard, white or chocolate, with almonds or nuts, it’s a superb treat, almost royal. Art and tradition, past and present are mixed in harmony: the choice of the ingredients, work and cooking are made with the same dedication of old times gone. Traditional artisan methods and respect for the old recipes guarantee quality and genuiness.

Pastiera like Roccocò is the most popular and celebrated Neapolitan dessert and it cannot be completely appreciated unless it is prepared in the authentic manner, with a very delicate pastry crust and the wheat kernels which are at the core of its meaning. The origin of Pastiera is very old and it can be traced back to pagan cults when it was prepared to celebrate the spring arrival even. Someone affirms that the recipe, probably, derives from the breads made from milk and honey that were commonly eaten during the baptism ceremonies the night of Easter when Constatine was Emperor. The modern version of this cake was invented at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno, which at the time was located in Naples where a nun decided to make a cake using the ingredients that symbolized life and the resurrection. However, there is another ancient legend surrounding the creation of the Pastiera. Some believe that the siren Partenope would come out from the water of the Gulf of Naples every spring, delighting people with her lovely songs. Apparently on year, the people of Naples fell so in love with her songs that decided to offer her the most precious products of their land. Seven of the most beautiful girls of the area gave the beautiful siren flour, ricotta, eggs, wheat, orange flower water and spices, including cinnamon and sugar. Partenope, thrilled with her gifts, decided to return to her home under the sea and to offer her gifts to the Gods. To honor her beauty, the Gods mixed the ingredients together, creating a cake as delicious as the voice of the siren: the Pastiera napoletana. This centuries-old cake, is a dessert of short crust pastry (called pasta frolla) stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese, boiled wheat, eggs, spices and candied fruit. The short-crust pastry is crisp with a golden yellow colour, while its stuffing is a soft, despite its intense flavor and aroma change accordingly with the used spices. Pastiera appears in innumerable versions, each made according to a closely guarded family recipe. The major variations are in the amount of “acqua di arance” (orange’s water) or “Millefiori” (thousand flowers), a sort of non-alcoholic very fragrant essence, in the use of “crema pasticcera” (pastry cream), which some families include and others do not and in the amount of cinnamon powder.  You can recognize a Pastiera by the strips of pastry crisscrossed across the top of the cake like a fruit flan. The main and particular ingredient of the Pastiera is the grain (wheat) . It requires presoaked grain, which takes time to prepare (Neapolitan delicatessens now sell canned presoaked grain) that must be cooked with the milk over an extremely low flame for at least four hours, or until the grains come apart and the milk has been absorbed, so that the mixture is dense and creamy. It needs fresh ricotta stirred with sugar and yolks then adding the boiled grain, the orange water, the cinnamon, the candied fruit and vanilla. This creamy compound will be the filling. The pie crust is made with a mound of flour adding lard, sugar and yolks then handling the dough as little as possible till to obtain an uniform dough. It will be pressed and rolled out to line the pan, to fill then with the filling. The cake is traditionally served in a 8-10 inch diameter round metal pan with a two-inch rim; Neapolitan pastry shops sell the Pastiera in the pan and it is presented so at even the most elegant table. It is said that the Pastiera was the only thing that could cheer up Queen Maria Teresa of Hapsburg.  After her husband, Ferdinand II of Bourbon, the King of the two Sicilies, was able to convince her to taste a slice of Pastiera, the Queen, also known as the “queen who never smiles,” smiled in satisfaction. Pastiera is a miracle dish, like many others in Italian gastronomic culture, a dessert with its own allure due not to its goodness only but, to a subconscious love that is transmitted from generation to generation.

Casatiello is an Italian round bread filled with savoury meat (usually salami) and cheese (as provolone, roman, parmesan) and baked with whole eggs (as optional) with or without shell (if boiled), while the sweet version with candied fruit and nuts. Lard, yeast, salt and the flour are combined all together, adding as much water as necessary to get a rather soft dough but sticky and damp. It has then to raise in a lukewarm place. When the dough has leavened, is put on a pastry board and greased with lard kneading with the grated cheese (some small pieces too), pepper and the diced salame. Then the musky dough is shaped in a cylindrical form and put in a greased baking pan (10-12 in. diameter) with a hole in the middle to form a sort of ring. Here, it’s time to put the eggs on the top, a little bit stuck inside before baking. While cocking it has to become brown externally and dry inside. The salt Casatiello can’t be considered a sweet in fact, we eat it during the meals as a second course or as (high-calorie) snack! I mentioned it here, because is a very common and popular Easter dish also if many persons prepare it any time they want during the year.  It is full of symbolism as many Italian foods are, where meat represents animals which ritually were sacrificed in exchange for fertility while the cheese represents the milk of the lamb. Each bite gives an explosion of taste, starting from the soft bread flavored with lard and cheese till the meat pieces.

Chiacchiere is a fried cake prepared in the entire Campania region during the Mardi Gras period. They have a distinctive shape and consistency: tender and crispy, and are cut into irregular ribbons that are entwined in different ways. The dough is made of sugar, flour, water and eggs mixed to a drops of liqueur. After being entwined, the chiacchiere are fried and once carefully dried on absorbent paper, they are sprinkled with a lot of powdered sugar. Chiacchiere are prepared together with Sanguinaccio, a chocolate cream in which to dip and taste these sort of tasty biscuit.

Sanguinaccio is a cream made of chocolate and milk. Once, according to the original old recipe, pig’s blood had to be added too, no longer in use now for sanitary reasons. It is part of the old folkloristic recipes made at Mardi Gras and used to honor the killing of the pig, of which nothing is thrown away, not even blood. Ingredients are sugar, egg yolks (optional), flour, milk, dark chocolate and cocoa, which are all mixed together and cooked in pots where they have to boil slowly – stirred continuously – until the compound became creamy. Sanguinaccio is served cold, dressed with candied fruit and chocolate pralines, and usually with chiacchiere or soft biscuits like “savoiardi”.

Migliaccio is a typical winter cake made during the Mardi Gras season too, round in shape and 2 in. high. The dough is made out of semolina (flour from millet), ricotta, eggs, milk, sugar, salt, candied orange cubes, cinnamon, vanilla and orange aromas. The ingredients are mixed and cooked together in a copper or iron pan. After leaving the dough on the stove for an hour and stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, it’s fitted in a round pan and baked in the oven, until the surface becomes a pleasant golden yellow color.

Zeppole (of San Giuseppe)  is a typical dessert of Fathers day on the 19th of March, San Joseph feast.  A simple circular puff dough, with a cavity in the middle, baked or fried in boiling hot oil. The hollow is filled with cream (Confectioner´s Custard) and decorated with wild cherries in syrup and the pastry then dusted with powdered sugar. It is like a cream puff just a delicate ‘pâte à choux’. You don’t have to mix-up the fritters zeppoles, the savoury ones, also very popular in Naples (sold in friggitorie, fried food shops or peddlers’ stands – see my prior post here: https://italiots.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/panzarotti-zuppolelle/)with Zeppole of San Giuseppe. It is told that Zeppole born in the XVIII century in Naples, the former Capital of the then Southern Kingdom of the Two Sicily (the biggest among the Italian States), in one of the many convents, in which the nuns used to prepare delicious sweets. The nuns of Saint Basil, in the monastery of San Gregorio Armeno, were probably the inventors of a new sweet very similar to the modern zeppola. Some claim that the “new” Zeppole were made for the first time in another southern city, Bari, the Capital of the Region of Puglia, while someone else mention Sicily as the land where this dessert was invented.

Babà, the Italian one known worldwide as Neapolitan Babà is the universal symbol of Italian sweetness. Not by chance, “You’re a babà” is said to a person with a sweet character as well as one extremely skilled in performing thorny tasks. It is a rich small cake with a weird unusual shape, tall and a bit narrowed at one side like a mushroom, soaked in liquor (rum, as a rule), sometimes (optional) filled with whipped cream or custard. Since Babà is a very simple dessert based on a bread dough only, its secret is in the leavening that has to produce a very spongy and soft paste. There is a nice legend about this dessert’s birth. It is connected with the name of exiled king of Poland Stanisław Bogusław Leszczyński (1677 – 1766) whose daughter Maria Leszczyńska was French king Louis XV’s wife. Though the Polish sovereign was reputed a true Polish gentleman, he was said to be of ill temper and with good appetite. Once he was served a pastry, this one tasted too dry to him and in a burst he threw the dish with the sweet thing breaking a bottle of rum. The pastry fell into the rum; Stanisław tried it and found it excellent. As legend says, the new dessert evoked sweet eastern associations and the king called it baba – as the well-known Arabian character’s name, Ali Baba. Talking about the origin of the name, undoubtedly there are some analogies with the Russian Easter baba, babka in Polish, besides, about the pastry itself, a similar one was spread almost all over Europe – within the Germanic territory its name derived from kugel (ball), and within the baba in Byelorussia. Lastly, the name babà aside from giving exquisite allusions, becomes sweet in the pronounce for the close consonances and because formed from the first letters of the alphabet. Baba became a delicacy in France too where some years later changed in shape and composition and was called Babà Au Rhum. From Paris to Naples (Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) the step was short because Maria Carolina married with king Ferdinand of Naples and here the pronunciation brought the name to change in Babà or Babbà.  After a while, within a range of culinary experiments, the baba was among the fashionable culinary Neapolitan dishes and soon became a traditional dessert.  One of the last variation born in Capri and Sorrento where confectioners use Limoncello liqueur instead of rum but, in Naples nowadays it you can find Babà with cream, with Chantilly cream, with wild strawberry and chocolate.

Sfogliatelle. It is said that about 400 years ago a nun from the hermitage of Santa Rosa at Conca dei Marini, near Salerno, while was preparing a cake made a mistake with the dosage and she decided to experiment with a new creation. The Abbess was so happy for the new recipe that decided to dedicate it to Santa Rosa, founder of the order and prepare it every year on the 30th of August, the Saint’s religious celebration day.  “Santa Rosa” was made of many thin overlapping layers, in the shape of a hood with a filling of cream. In the 19th century the recipe came out of the monastery, with some variations: it was reduced in size, dried fruit was substituted with candied fruit and the cream with a cream made with ricotta. “Only the patience and free time of women locked in convents could allow for such work, stretching strips of dough several meters long and only a millimeter thick”. It became the specialty of a tavern in the center of the city and called Sfogliatella (flaky). The tavern became a specialized laboratory and the recipe spread all around the city in its two variations: “riccia” (ruffled) – the most known – and “frolla” (plain). “Riccia” refers to the shell-shaped version that most of you probably know, made with tissue-thin dough that is stretched and then rolled to create overlapping, irresistibly crisp layers. The “frolla” variation features soft, tender, flaky dough that literally melts in the mouth. Both pastries contain the same delicious filling, made from semolina, ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, and bits of candied citrus. Today in Naples Sfogliatella is made daily and offered while it’s still warm, fragrant and smells of orange flowers and icing sugar. It’s so famous that became part of a popular saying “Napule tre cose tene belle: ‘o mare, ‘o Vesuvio, e ‘e sfugliatelle” (Naples has three beautiful things: sea, Vesuvio and the sfogliatelle).

Taralli are a snack mainly and there even is some specific bakery producing and selling them. Like a sort of salt biscuit ring shaped, they are mostly dry and crunchy with entire roasted almonds inside. It’s a dough got adding lard and pepper and then baked giving back a tasty biscuit to be served with wine or beer.