When in Naples: Cook like a Neapolitan

Aqua Sale or fisherman's meal

Aqua Sale or fisherman's meal - Credit: Kerstin Rodgers

Naples is dirty, sweltering, chaotic, superstitious, expressive and boasts some of the best Italian food.

This is in part due to the sublime agricultural conditions of the region, Campania. The city itself is wedged between the black fertile soil of Vesuvius - one of the world's most dangerous volcanos - and the burning fields. Driving around and you can smell the sulphur.

On days when my iPhone weather app nudged 40°C, I visited local farmers. The hand-tended vine tomato, Piennolo del Vesuvio DOP – also known as the Christmas tomato because it stays fresh until then and beyond – is rarely watered, ruthlessly concentrating the brix, or sugar ratio.

The aubergines – large, firm and shiny, round or long, inky purple or streaked with stracciatelli – hang ponderously in rows from leafy plants. The sweet peppers are as a big as a centurion's foot and local herbs such as basil, oregano and myrtle permeate the listless air. Garlic cloves are the size of our bulbs, to be sliced into yellow slivers. The olive oil is bitterly peppery in a simple dressing with knobbly lemons, the zest of which I added to every dish as much as the sweetly acidic juice.

Here are some recipes from the region, perfect for our own heatwave.

Zeppoline With Seaweed (Serves 6)

Zeppoline

Zeppoline or fried dough balls flavoured with seaweed - Credit: Kerstin Rodgers

I ate this in a Neapolitan trattoria, Don Vincenzo (https://trattoriadonvincenzo.it). Even though I lost my appetite due to the heat, I could not stop myself wolfing down these fried pizza dough balls. They can be sweet or savoury. In this case, they were flavoured with local seaweed.

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Ingredients:

Deep fryer/deep frying pan
200ml tepid water
7mg fast action yeast or 15g fresh yeast
1 tsp sugar or honey
250g plain flour
1 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp Seaweed nori flakes or other types
Olive oil for frying

Method:

Mix the water and the yeast with the sugar and wait until it froths a little.
Add to the flour, mixing well until you have a wet dough. Add the salt and the seaweed.
Cover and leave to rise for two hours. It should double.
I've used olive oil for frying here but you can use vegetable, sunflower or groundnut oil. Either use a deep fryer or a deep frying pan. Heat the oil to 180ºC.
Use a teaspoon to scoop a heaped mound from the dough, drop it into the oil. The dough immediately expands to double the size. Fry until golden, continue until all the dough is used. Eat the zeppoline hot! Lovely dipped into the juices of a salad.

Aqua Sale, fisherman's meal (serves 4)

Aqua Sale or fisherman's meal

Aqua Sale or fisherman's meal - Credit: Kerstin Rodgers

Nicola Palma, the aromatic herb farmer from Campania, told me about the traditional fisherman's meal, which is simplicity itself and true 'cocina povera’. ‘You take dry bread, put it in a colander, put it in the sea, drain it, add tomatoes, oil, oregano, and this is a meal. Every family had a dried bread drawer.’ This is similar to Panzanera, made with basil and cucumber, as well as a Cretan rusk recipe made with 'Dakos’, which adds feta and olives. Nicola noted: ‘Italians and Greeks: one face, one race.’ As I wasn't near the sea or a fishing boat, I created sea water from the tap using some Cretan bread rusks I had in my pantry; they truly last for years. My last visit was five years ago!

Ingredients:

500ml water
4 tsps sea salt
4 dried bread rusks/any dried bread
6 good quality sweet tomatoes, cut in quarters
75ml olive oil
Handful fresh basil or oregano sprigs

Method:

Make the 'sea water' by adding salt to the water. Leave until dissolved.
Place the dried bread in a large bowl and scantily pour the water onto it. Don't drown the bread: just add enough to make it moist and soft. Leave for half an hour, and add more sea water if necessary.
Add the tomatoes and oil to the bread. You do not need to add salt but feel free to add herbs plus any other ingredients such as lemon juice, cucumber, feta or olives. It's a flexible, endlessly adaptable dish.

Ciambotta Giambotto or Cianfotto (serves 4)

Ciambotta is a Neapolitan version of ratatouille

Ciambotta is a Neapolitan version of ratatouille - Credit: Kerstin Rodgers

I was served this in the Del Corso pizzeria in the Roman town of Capaccio-Paestum by a young chef, Agostino Landi, who is pushing the boundaries of Italian cuisine, taking traditional dishes but adding new ingredients. Ciambotta is an Italian ratatouille. The main difference is that potatoes are added to the summer vegetables, making a more substantial meal. In some versions, all the vegetables are cooked separately and combined at the end with basil. It's up to you how you do it.

Tips: Use plenty of olive oil. Just have a bottle next to the pan and top up. I also salt the vegetables during cooking so it's hard to estimate exactly how much salt, but aubergines and potatoes need plenty of salt in the cooking. I prefer to salt during cooking rather than afterwards.

Ingredients:

Deep frying pan
1 large red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 large green pepper, deseeded and chopped
2 aubergines, 1 cm slices and cut into quarters or eighth, depending on circumference
2 large potatoes, peeled, chopped into 2 cm pieces
4 thick spring onions, white and green chopped into 2cm pieces (or 2 standard brown onions)
2 courgettes, cut lengthways in half then sliced into 1cm pieces
Dozen cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters or the equivalent amount in larger tomatoes
1 tbsp sea salt
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
Handful fresh basil leaves, torn, added at the end

In a deep frying pan, fry all the vegetables in order of the ingredients listed until soft and golden. Or fry them separately, then combine. Add the fresh basil at the end.

A trio of vegetarian dishes from Naples

A trio of vegetarian dishes from Naples - Credit: Kerstin Rodgers

From the kitchen of MsMarmiteLover.