The city of Pompeii was an ancient town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania. Pompeii and much of the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Researchers believe that the town was founded in the seventh or sixth century BC by the Oscans and was captured by the Romans in 80 BC. By the time of its destruction, 160 years later, its population was probably around 20,000 and the city had a complex water system, an amphitheatre, gymnasium and a port. The eruption was cataclysmic for the town. Details of the destruction originally came from a surviving letter by Pliny the Younger, who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle Pliny the Elder, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue stranded victims.
A multidisciplinary volcanological and bio-anthropological study of the eruption remains, merged with numerical simulations and experiments, indicate that at Vesuvius and the surrounding towns, heat was the main cause of death of people, who previously were thought to have died by ash suffocation. The results of the study, published in 2010, show that exposure to at least 250 °C (482 °F) hot surges at a distance of 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the vent was sufficient to cause instant death, even if people were sheltered within buildings. After thick layers of ash covered the two towns, they were abandoned and eventually their names and locations were forgotten.
The first time any part of them was unearthed was in 1599, when the digging of an underground channel to divert the river Sarno ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions. An architect, Domenico Fontana, was called in; he unearthed a few more frescoes, then covered them over again and nothing more came of the discovery. Fontana’s act of covering over the paintings has been seen as censorship due to the sexual content of the paintings that were not considered in good taste in the climate of the religious reformation of the time.
A broader and intentional rediscovery took place almost 150 years later by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. Charles of Bourbon took great interest in the findings, even after becoming king of Spain, because the display of antiquities reinforced the political and cultural power of Naples, when Naples was under Spanish rule. The artifacts provided a detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana ( a peaceful period during the Roman Empire). Giuseppe Fiorelli took charge of the excavations in 1863. During early excavations of the site, occasional voids in the ash layer had been found that contained human remains. It was Fiorelli who realized these were spaces left by the decomposed bodies and so devised the technique of injecting plaster into them to recreate the forms of Vesuvius’s victims. This technique is still in use today, with a clear resin now used instead of plaster because it is more durable and does not destroy the bones, allowing for further analysis.
The objects buried beneath Pompeii were well-preserved for almost two thousand years. The lack of air and moisture allowed for the objects to remain underground with little to no deterioration, which meant that, once excavated, the site had a wealth of sources and evidence for analysis, giving detail into the lives of the Pompeians. However, once exposed, Pompeii has been subject to both natural and man-made forces which have rapidly increased their rate of deterioration. Weathering, erosion, light exposure, water damage, poor methods of excavation and reconstruction, the introduction of plants and animals, tourism, vandalism and theft have all damaged the site in some way. Two-thirds of the city has been excavated, but the remnants of the city are rapidly deteriorating. Today, funding is mostly directed into conservation of the site; however, due to the expanse of Pompeii and the scale of its problems, this is inadequate in halting the slow decay of the site. An estimated US-$335 million is needed for all necessary work on Pompeii. A large number of artifacts from Pompeii are preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.
The ruins of the ancient Roman town of Ostia Antica about 18 miles southeast of Rome aren’t nearly as well-known as those of Pompeii. However, Ostia Antica has its own allure. Not only is it the second-best-kept ancient Roman city anywhere in the world (after Pompeii), but archeologists have also just discovered that there is far more of it than anyone ever knew. If the new discoveries are excavated, Ostia Antica will be far larger than the ruins of Pompeii and possibly provide an even better window into the past. The problem – there are no funds to do the digging and the site is adjacent to Rome’s busy Fiumicino airport runways, so it will likely stay buried.
Archeologists have already learned a lot from Ostia Antica, which was an important river port for goods traveling to and from ancient Rome. Historians have long thought that Ostia Antica’s border was the Tiber River, which winds through Rome and into the Mediterranean Sea. The discovery of the new section of the ruins, which was led by the British Universities of Southampton and Cambridge, extends the city to the other side of the Tiber, meaning the river actually ran through the town, which changes everything. “This city was not just seafaring but also an emporium,” Darius Arya, an American archaeologist based in Rome who founded The American Institute for Roman Culture said, “We’ll learn a lot more about the goods shipped to and stored in this massive, sprawling town en route to Rome. There will be much more evidence of the warehouse and storage mechanisms and the associations that ran them.”
Like many discoveries, the new part of Ostia Antica was found by accident. Last summer, archeologists discovered a Roman mausoleum and ancient dwelling while cleaning up a landfill on an adjacent dig. “They found a circular mausoleum covered with travertine blocks, built between the end of the first century B.C and the start of the first century A.D.”, Paola Germoni, Ostia’s superintendent, said when she presented the project. A wall structure was discovered under the park’s humus layer and the illegal dump site revealed a beautiful marble-covered pavement. The “secret” part of the ancient Roman port of Ostia Antica that was unearthed by British archaeologists showed that Ostia was larger than the Pompeii site. The team discovered a building twice the size of a football field, a boundary wall and large defensive towers under fields near the Rome airport – making the area 35 per cent larger than previously thought.
The findings change the way we think about how Rome’s port worked and how emperors kept one million Romans supplied with food. It shows Rome was importing significantly more food through the port than was thought. “It also sheds light on how important Ostia was to trade in the first 200 years of the millennium,” said Mariarosaria Barbera, superintendent of Rome’s archaeological heritage. Using handheld magnetic scanners and software to create images similar to aerial photographs, the team discovered three warehouses and the large building, that may have been a warehouse or a public building.
A slow decadence began in the late Roman era, around the time of Constantine I, with the town ceasing to be an active port and instead becoming a popular country retreat for rich aristocrats from Rome. The decaying conditions of the city were mentioned by St. Augustine when he passed there in the late 4th century. The poet Rutilius Namatianus also reported the lack of maintenance of the city in 414. With the end of the Roman Empire, Ostia fell slowly into decay and was finally abandoned in the 9th century due to the repeated invasions and sackings by Arab pirates.
Ostia’s small museum offers a look at some of the city’s finest statuary — tangled wrestlers, kissing cupids and playful gods, to name just a few. Most of the statues are second and third century A.D. The portrait busts are of real people — the kind you’d sit next to in the public baths. Surviving frescoes, while scant, give a feeling for how living quarters may have looked. One display in the museum showed how the original Ostia Road was constructed: heavy posts buried deep and cemented in as a base, then a layer of stones, more concrete and finally the paving stones. Much of what had remained of these well-built roads was dug up and used for construction elsewhere.
The Cuisine of Pompeii and Ostia Antica
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 bunch dandelions (about 3/4 pound), bottom quarter of stems removed, washed and shredded
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat and when the butter melts add the garlic and the dandelions. Cook until the dandelions wilt and the water evaporates, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Pasta with Fried Eggs
- 1/2 pound perciatelli (bucatini) or spaghetti
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated black pepper
- Finely chopped fresh parsley
Bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat, salt abundantly and add the pasta in handfuls. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn’t stick together, until al dente. Drain.
A few minutes before the pasta is done, melt the butter in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the butter stops bubbling and turns a light brown, crack the eggs into the pan and cook until the tops set.
Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and toss with the cheese and pepper. Divide the pasta into two bowls and slide an egg on top of each. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
Grilled Pork Chops over Soft Bread
- 6 pork chops with some fat on them (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
- 1/4 cup melted lard or olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Six 1-inch-thick slices good-quality Italian bread, crusts removed, and a little larger than the pork chops
- Rosemary sprigs for garnish
Prepare a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on high.
Brush the chops with some melted lard and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Grill, turning once and brushing several times with melted lard, for 10 minutes. Grill, turning and basting occasionally, until golden brown and the ring of fat is slightly crisp, about another 30 minutes. Place the bread on a platter and place the grilled chops on top. Sprinkle with more pepper, garnish with rosemary and let rest a few minutes before serving.
The National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, has one of the world’s best collections of Greek and Roman artifacts, including mosaics, sculptures, gems, glass and silver and a collection of Roman erotica from Pompeii. Many of the objects come from excavations at Pompeii, Herculaneum and nearby archaeological sites. The collection includes works of the highest quality produced in Greek, Roman and Renaissance times. It is the most important archaeological museum in Italy. Charles III of Spain founded the museum in the 1750s. The building he used for it had been erected as a cavalry barracks and later was the seat of the University of Naples until it became the site of the museum.
Some of the highlights include:
A major collection of ancient Roman bronzes from the Villa of the Papyri is housed at the museum and includes the Seated Hermes, a sprawling Drunken Satyr and a bust of Thespis.
Mosaics covering the period from two centuries BC until the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and mosaics that were parts of floors and walls in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae are displayed. Many of the mosaics include figures from Greek paintings. The most well-known are the mosaics from the House of the Faun in Pompeii. The museum’s collection also includes a number of important mosaics recovered from the ruins of several Vesuvian cities. This includes the Alexander Mosaic, dating circa 100 BC, and depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. Another important mosaic is of the gladiatorial fighter depicted in the mosaic found at the Villa of the Figured Capitals.
Secret Cabinet – This room was created in the early 1800’s to house the museum’s many sexual items. It was closed for many years but reopened in 2000. The Secret Cabinet (Gabbinete) or Secret Room is the name the Bourbon Monarchy gave the private rooms in which they held their fairly extensive collection, mostly derived from excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Access was limited to only persons of a mature age. After the revolution of 1848, the government of the monarchy proposed the destruction of these objects, fearful of the implications of their ownership, which would tarnish the monarchy’s reputation. The, then, director of the Royal Bourbon Museum had access to the collection terminated and the entrance door was sealed with three different locks, whose keys were held respectively by the Director of the Museum, the Museum Controller and the Palace Butler. This censorship occurred in 1851 when even nude Venus statues were locked up. The entrance was eventually walled up in the hope that the collection would vanish from memory.
In September 1860, when the forces of Garibaldi occupied Naples, he ordered that the collection be made available for the general public to view. Since the Royal Butler was no longer available, they broke into the collection and restored viewership. Censorship was again imposed during the era of the Kingdom of Italy and continued into the Fascist period, when visitors to the rooms needed the permission of the Minister of National Education in Rome. Censorship persisted through the postwar period up to 1967, abating only after 1971 when the Ministry was given new rules to regulate requests for visits and access to the section. Completely rebuilt a few years ago with all of the new criteria, the collection was finally opened to the public in April 2000. Visitors under the age of 14 can tour the exhibit only with an adult.
Frescoes come from the walls in Pompeii. Covering a period of about two centuries, the frescoes are excellent examples of Roman painting. They cover a variety of themes, including mythology, landscapes and scenes of daily life.
Temple of Isis is a special exhibit that holds wall paintings removed from the temple in Pompeii, as well as artifacts from the temple.
Pompeii Model was made in the 19th century and is a model of the city that helps the visitor visualize what it looked like before the eruption.
Sculptures of Greeks and Romans are housed in a large collection at the museum.
Coins and Metals are displayed in six rooms containing more than 200,000 coins and medals from Ancient Greece, Rome, medieval times and the Bourbon era.
Prehistory and Early History rooms cover objects related to the Bay of Naples from paleolithic times to Greek colonization in the 8th century BC. There’s a section on Etruscan occupation of the area.
The museum has the third largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in Italy, after the Vatican Museum and the Museo Egizio in Turin. It is made up primarily of works from two private collections, assembled by Cardinal Borgia in the second half of the 18th century and Picchianti in the first years of the 19th. In the recent rearrangement of the galleries the two collections have been exhibited separately, while in a connecting room other items are on display, including Egyptian artifacts from Pompeii and other Campanian sites. In its new layout the collection provides both an important record of Egyptian civilization from the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 B.C.) up to the Ptolemaic-Roman era.
Museo di Capodimonte is located in the Palace of Capodimonte, a grand Bourbon palazzo in Naples, Italy. The museum is the prime repository of Neapolitan painting and decorative art, with several important works from other Italian schools of painting and some important ancient Roman sculptures This museum has the largest collection in Italy aside from the Uffizi — and yet you don’t have to vie for space in front of its masterpieces. The Capodimonte contains pieces by Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Bellini, El Greco, Artemisia Gentileschi, even an Andy Warhol painting of Mt. Vesuvius erupting… among others.
The collection can trace its origins back to 1738, when King Charles VII of Naples and Sicily (later Charles III, king of Spain) decided to build a hunting lodge on the Capodimonte hill, but then decided that he would instead build a grand palace, partly because his existing residence, the Palace of Portici, was too small to accommodate his court and partly because he needed somewhere to house his Farnese art collection, which he had inherited from his mother, Elisabetta Farnese, the last descendant of the sovereign ducal family of Parma.
Over the years the palace was enlarged and filled with more art. In 1787, on the advice of Jacob Philipp Hackert, a laboratory for the restoration of paintings was created. After the palace passed in 1861 to the House of Savoy, further pieces were added to the art collections, appointing Domenico Morelli as consultant for new acquisitions. They also added an extensive collection of historic firearms and other weapons. In 1866, the boudoir of Maria Amalia of Saxony was transferred to Capodimonte from the Palace of Portici and in 1877 a Roman era marble floor was brought in from a Roman villa on Capri. After the end of the monarchy, the palace became a national museum in 1950.
The Cappella Sansevero (also known as the Capella Sansevero de’ Sangri or Pietatella) is a chapel north of the church of San Domenico Maggiore, in the historic center of Naples, Italy. Its origin dates to 1590 when John Francesco di Sangro, Duke of Torremaggiore, after recovering from a serious illness, had a private chapel built in what were then the gardens of the nearby Sansevero family residence, the Palazzo Sansevero. The building was converted into a family burial chapel by Alessandro di Sangro in 1613 (as inscribed on the marble plinth over the entrance to the chapel). The Prince of Sansevero also included Masonic symbols in its reconstruction. Until 1888 a passageway connected the Sansevero palace with the chapel.
The museum contains works of art by some of the leading Italian artists of the 18th century including sculptures of the late Baroque period. The chapel houses almost thirty works of art, among them sculptures made of a marble-like substance that, in whole or in part, was invented by Raimondo, who also participated in the design of the works of art in the chapel. The Veiled Truth was completed by Antonio Corradini in 1750 as a tomb monument dedicated to Cecilia Gaetani dell’Aquila d’Aragona, mother of Raimondo. A Christ Veiled under a Shroud (also called Veiled Christ) was completed in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino. It is a masterpiece of expression — even though there is a veil covering the face.
The ceiling, the Glory of Paradise, was painted by Francesco Maria Russo in 1749. The original floor (most of the present one dates from 1901) was in black and white (said to symbolize good/evil) in the design of a labyrinth.
In the basement there is a painting by the Roman artist, Giuseppe Pesce, Madonna con Bambino, dating from around 1750. It was painted using wax-based paints of Raimondo di Sangro’s own invention. The prince presented this painting to his friend Charles Bourbon, King of Naples.
There are also “anatomic models” of 18th century people whose skeletons, arteries and veins have all been preserved to this day. However, analysis of the “blood vessels” indicate they are constructed of beeswax, iron wire and silk.
Ask any Italian where the best pizza in Italy comes from and the answer will be — begrudgingly — the same: “Napoli.” Here’s where pizza was invented and, since the 19th century, the Neapolitans have raised it to a fine art.
Pizza is far from the only food Naples does well. Its fritti (fried offerings), seafood and pastas are top-notch, too. But the one thing you can’t miss are the baked goods. Thanks to Naples’ mixed heritage — from the 12th to 19th centuries, the French, Spanish, Austrians and Bourbons all claimed control at some point — its pastries have picked up the best of all foreign influences, such as baba, zeppola, sfogliatelle or around Easter time – the pastiera.
Naples-Style Pizza Dough
- 2 tablespoons sugar (⅞ oz.)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (½ oz.)
- ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 5½ cups “00” flour, (1 lb. 12 oz.)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt (¾ oz.)
Combine sugar, oil, yeast and 2 cups cold water in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook; let sit until foamy, 8-10 minutes. Mix flour and salt in a separate bowl.
With motor running, slowly add flour mixture; mix until a smooth dough forms, 8-10 minutes. Transfer dough to a greased baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature 1 hour.
Divide dough into 4 balls; transfer to a greased 9″ x 13″ dish; brush tops with oil. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 48 hours.
Salsa di Pomodoro Fresco
- 2 (28-oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes, packed in purée
- Kosher salt, to taste
Remove each whole tomato from the can and reserve 3 cups of the purée. Cut the tomatoes in half and, using your fingers, remove and discard the seeds (don’t rinse).
Place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until just crushed but not puréed. (Alternatively, crush the tomatoes by hand or pass them through a food mill.)
Transfer the tomato sauce to a bowl and stir in the reserved 3 cups of purée and salt.
- 1 recipe Naples-style pizza dough
- Fine semolina, for dusting
- 1 recipe Naples-style pizza sauce
- 1 lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 16 fresh basil leaves
- Olive oil
Place a pizza stone under the broiler; heat for 30 minutes.
Working with the 4 batches of dough, dust 1 ball dough with semolina. Using your fingertips, press dough into a 10″ circle about ¼” thick, leaving a 1″ crust around the edges.
Hold dough straight up, and with fingertips circling crust, slide fingers around crust in a circular motion as you would turn a steering wheel until dough in the center is stretched to about ⅛” thick; transfer to a semolina-dusted pizza peel.
Spread ½ cup sauce over dough and distribute a quarter each of the cheese and basil leaves; drizzle with oil. Slide pizza onto the stone; broil until the cheese melts and the crust is puffed and charred in spots, 3-4 minutes.
Lasagne alla Napoletena
Also known as carnival lasagna, a traditional southern recipe from Naples.
- 6 oz. (gr.170) lasagne (fresh homemade lasagne pasta, if possible)
- 8 oz. (gr.225) Italian sausage
- 4 oz. (gr.115) mozzarella cheese
- 8 oz. (gr.225) ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 10 oz. (gr.300) ripe tomatoes or whole canned, chopped
- 2 tablespoons (gr.30) butter
- 4 tablespoons (ml.60) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- Small bunch of basil, minced
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
In a saucepan heat the olive oil and brown the onion. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes at low heat. Add the minced basil.
Brown the Italian sausages in a skillet on all sides. Set aside to cool. After cooling, remove the casing and thinly slice the sausage.
Dice the mozzarella cheese. Slice the hard-boiled eggs.
In a mixing slightly beat the egg together with the Parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Heat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Oil the bottom of a lasagna pan and lay 3 noodles crosswise. Spread with some of the tomato sauce, some diced mozzarella, some ricotta, a few tablespoons of the eggs and cheese mixture, some slices of the hard-boiled eggs and some pieces of the Italian sausages. Repeat the layering procedure until all ingredients are used.
For the last layer cover with just the noodles and spread the top with softened butter. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and bake the lasagna for 20 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and let lasagna rest for 5 minutes. Cut and serve.
Neapolitan Zuppa di Pesce
The Neapolitan version will almost always include one or more kinds of mollusks such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, clams or mussels or both, and a variety fish with fins. The fish was usually the local catch, so many local varieties of fish, most of them small and some quite bony but flavorful, can be added to the pot. Larger fish can be cut into serving or even bite-sized pieces. The most typical fish of all is scorfano, called ‘scorpion fish’ in English. (Scorfano is also typical of the Tuscan cacciucco and some of the Adriatic brodetti.) Triglie—red mullet—is also a common addition. But any firm-fleshed fish that lends itself to simmering will do: monkfish, snapper, catfish, sole. Less typical of this kind of fish soup are sea scallops and shellfish but they are nice additions.
For the tomato base:
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 peperoncino (or a pinch of red pepper flakes)
- Olive oil
- A can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
- Salt and pepper
- A splash of white wine
- 1 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped
For the seafood (in the order they should be added to the pot):
- An assortment of mollusks, such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, cut into bite-sized pieces
- An assortment of firm-fleshed fish of your choice, such as monkfish cut into large chunks
- Shrimp, crayfish and/or sea scallops
- Clams and/or mussels
Sauté the garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the peperoncino. When the garlic is just barely beginning to brown; add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper (going light on the salt since the shellfish will be salty) and add some of the chopped parsley. Simmer for 10 minutes or so, or until the sauce begins to reduce. Add a splash of white wine.
Add the seafood starting with the varieties that take the longest to cook, then progressing to those that take less time. Begin with the mollusks, since they will take some time to cook. With baby cuttlefish, let them simmer about 10 minutes before adding any other fish. Octopus or mature squid (cut up into bite-sized pieces) will take much longer, usually about 30 minutes. Then add the fish and let that cook for another five minutes. Finally, add the clams and mussels and simmer them just until they open. Sprinkle with a bit more finely chopped parsley and serve immediately with crusty bread.
Ricotta Neapolitan Easter Pie (Pasteria)
- 1 qt whole milk
- 3/4 cup Arborio rice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1¼ cups granulated sugar
- Unsalted butter, for the pan
- All-purpose flour, for pan
- 3 lbs fresh ricotta cheese, drained 3 hours or preferably overnight
- 3 large whole eggs
- 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Boil milk in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in rice, cinnamon, salt and the vanilla bean. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 30 minutes or until rice is very tender and has absorbed all the liquid.
Remove pan from the heat. Stir in ¾ cups granulated sugar. Cover. Let cool, stirring occasionally. Discard vanilla bean.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch springform pan.
In a large bowl, mix the rice mixture, ricotta, whole eggs, egg yolks and remaining ½ cup sugar. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until golden on top and almost set in the center. Cover with foil if starting to brown too much.
Transfer pan to a cooling rack. When cake has completely cooled, run a knife around edge to loosen. Gently remove ring.
Transfer cake to a serving platter. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
- Life and death in Pompeii (bbc.co.uk)
Neapolitan cuisine has ancient historical roots that date back to the Greco-Roman period, which was enriched over the centuries by the influence of the different cultures that controlled Naples and its kingdoms, such as that of Aragon and France. Since Naples was the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, its cuisine took much from the culinary traditions of the region, balancing between dishes based on rural ingredients and seafood. The Spanish and French rule in Naples initiated the difference between the cuisine of the aristocrats and that of the poorer classes. The former was characterized by elaborate, more cosmopolitan dishes and a greater number of expensive ingredients, including meat.
Braciola (plural braciole) is the name given to thin slices of meat (typically pork, chicken, beef or swordfish) that are rolled as a roulade with cheese and bread crumbs. Interestingly, the word braciole derives from the word for charcoal, implying that it was originally cooked “alla brace”, that is, grilled and that it was a cut of meat with the bone.
What are known as braciole in the United States are named involtini in Italian. Each involtini are held together by a wooden toothpick and the dish is usually served in a sauce as a second course. When cooked in tomato sauce, the sauce itself is used to coat the pasta for the first course, giving a consistent taste to the whole meal. Involtini can be cooked along with meatballs and Italian sausage in a Neapolitan ragù or tomato sauce called “Sunday gravy” (northeastern United States). They can also be prepared without tomato sauce. There exist many variations on the recipe, including using different types of cheese and the addition of vegetables, such as eggplant. Braciole are not exclusively eaten as a main dish, but can also be served as a side dish at dinner or in a sandwich for lunch.
Potato Gnocchi with Peas, Prosciutto and Ricotta
- 1 lb potato gnocchi store bought or homemade
- For homemade see post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/
- 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
- 1/4 pound prosciutto, chopped
- 1 large shallot, finely diced
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup Lemon Ricotta, recipe follows
Boil the gnocchi in batches in plenty of salted water. The gnocchi are done about 2 minutes after they float to the surface; remove them with a slotted spoon. Reserve about 1/2 cup cooking water.
At the same time heat a large skillet with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat, add shallots and saute until translucent. Add prosciutto and cook until crisp. Add in the peas and toss gently to coat. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add boiled gnocchi to the pan and gently toss. Add butter and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Stir in the lemon ricotta and add some of the gnocchi water to thin the sauce, if needed.
- 1 cup good quality ricotta cheese
- 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
Place the ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl and add the lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Braised Beef Braciole Stuffed with Basil and Mozzarella
This is a home-style version of the Italian-American classic. The traditional dish uses small roulades of beef round, but in this recipe I use a whole flank steak because it is easier to stuff and roll one large cut of meat and flank steak has more flavor than round steak.
- One 2 lb. flank steak
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup grated mozzarella
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 12 large basil leaves, torn into pieces
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, cut into thin strips (about 1-1/2 cups)
- 1/2 cup red wine
- One 26-28-oz. container crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 8 oz. white mushrooms, quartered
Place the flank steak on a large cutting board. Using a chef’s knife, slice the steak lengthwise along one long side (without cutting all the way through the meat) and open it up like a book. Using a meat mallet, flatten the meat so it is about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle both sides of the meat with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
For the stuffing: put the mozzarella, Parmigiano, bread crumbs and basil in a food processor and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the stuffing evenly over the beef and roll it up lengthwise, jelly roll–style, with the stuffing inside. Secure with kitchen twine in five or six places.
Heat half the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering. Add the beef and cook until it browns and releases easily from the pan, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until browned, about 5 more minutes. Transfer meat to a large plate.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the onion to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the onion wilts completely and turns a light brown, about 8 minutes. Add the red wine and cook, stirring, until it is almost completely reduced, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil.
Reduce to a gentle simmer and add the meat and mushrooms to the sauce. Cover and cook, repositioning the meat occasionally, until the meat becomes tender and cuts easily with a paring knife, about 1-1/2 hours.
Set the meat on a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice and serve topped with the sauce. (Adapted from Big Buy Cooking)
Spicy Rapini with Garlic and Oregano
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), ends trimmed and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2-3 large garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 dried oregano, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper, crushed
- Salt to taste
Cook broccoli in boiling, salted water in a large saucepan 2 to 3 minutes or until just tender; drain. Rinse with cold water and and drain again. Coarsely chop.
Heat oil in the same saucepan. Add broccoli, garlic, crushed red pepper and oregano; cook stirring 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, to taste.
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 4 ounces Black Mission figs, thinly sliced ( 2/3 cup)
- 8 cups mixed Italian lettuce greens
- 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons torn mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons snipped chives
- 1 ounce fresh pecorino, shaved
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast until golden, about 10 minutes; let cool, then coarsely chop.
In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the figs, greens, parsley, mint, dill, chives, pecorino and walnuts and toss gently.
Italian Apple Cake
- 4 1/2 oz. (125 grams) butter
- 1 TB butter for greasing pan
- 3/4 cups (125 grams) sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 ¾ cup (250 grams) flour
- 1 heaping tablespoon baking powder (16 grams)
- 2/3 cup (125 ml) milk
- Grated rind of 2 lemons
- For the apples:
- 1 ½ lb. (700 grams) apples (Golden Delicious)
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- Confectioners sugar
Preheat oven to 350° F (180°C) and thoroughly butter and flour a 10” (25 cm) springform pan.
Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until soft, add the 3/4 cups sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and salt. Add the flour gradually, alternating with the milk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it with a spatula so it is even.
Peel, quarter and core the apples. Slice each quarter into 3-4 pieces, about 1/4 inch wide. Place the slices core side down on the batter. Start from the outside making one circle, then make a smaller inner circle of apple slices. The apples should be quite close together so that you barely see the batter. You may have a few apple slices that don’t fit. Sprinkle the surface of the apple cake with the 1 1/2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Place on a rack, remove the springform side and allow to cool. Sieve powdered sugar over the apple cake before serving. Serves 8-10.
- Gluten Free Potato Gnocchi with “Ricotta” Sauce (razzlefrazzleblog.com)
- Recipe: Homemade Potato Gnocchi (eatlikeagirl.com)
The recorded history of Naples begins in the 7th. century BC, when the nearby Greek colony of Cumae founded a new city called Parthenope. Precisely why the inhabitants of Cumae decided to expand is not known for certain, but the Cumaeans built Neapolis (the “New City”) adjacent to the old Parthenope. At about the same time, they prevented an invasion attempt by the Etruscans. The new city grew thanks to the influence of the powerful Greek city-state of Syracuse in Sicily and, at some point, the new and old cities on the Gulf of Naples merged to become a single inhabited area.
Naples became an ally of the Roman Republic against Carthage. The strong walls of Naples held off Hannibal’s attack. During the Samnite Wars the city, a bustling center of trade, was captured by the Samnites. However, the Romans soon took it from them and made Neapolis a Roman colony. Neapolis was respected by the Romans as a place of Hellenistic culture, where people maintained their Greek language and customs and where elegant villas, aqueducts, public baths, theaters and the Temple of Dioscures were built. A number of Roman emperors, including Claudius and Tiberius, maintained villas in or near Naples. It was during this period that Christianity came to Naples and the apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, are said to have preached here.
In the sixth century Naples was conquered by the Byzantines and it was one of the last territories to fall to the Normans in 1039. In 1266 Naples and the kingdom of Sicily were given by Pope Clement IV to Charles of Anjou, who moved the capital from Palermo to Naples. In 1284 the kingdom was split in two and stayed that way until 1816, when they would form the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In between, Naples had been under the rule of Spain, Austria and the Bourbons and, briefly, a Jacobin republic. Finally, in October 1860, it became part of the new Italy.
During World War II, Naples was more heavily bombed than any other Italian city. Although the Neapolitans did not rebel against Italian fascism, Naples was the first Italian city to rise up against German military occupation and achieved liberation by October 1, 1943. The symbol of the rebirth of Naples was the rebuilding of Santa Chiara which had been destroyed during an Allied air raid. Special funding from the Italian government helped the economy to improve somewhat, including the rejuvenation of the Piazza del Plebiscito and other city landmarks.
Naples is rich in historical, artistic and cultural traditions with its own distinct cuisine. Neapolitan cuisine was influenced by Arab, Norman, Spanish and French cultures since all ruled Naples at some point in time. What has resulted is a unique half-sophisticated, half-folk cuisine. Many Neapolitan recipes are elaborate, take time to prepare and use seasonal produce. New World food imports added potatoes, peppers, beans, coffee and, especially, tomatoes to the cuisine. The pizza originated here and is eaten, like so many other delicious local foods, out on the street.
Flattened flour cakes — early pizzas — were made out of wheat flour, olive oil, lard and herbs and garnished with cheese. As for a much later ingredient, the tomato: after the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Spaniards brought them to Europe. In southern Italy tomatoes were easy to cultivate. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.
Considered a peasant’s meal in Italy for centuries, modern pizza is attributed to Raffaele Esposito of Campania, Naples. In June 1889, Esposito baked a pizza in honor of visiting King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. The Italian flag inspired Esposito’s recipe and contained green (basil), white (mozzarella) and red (tomatoes). Moistened with splashes of extra virgin olive oil, it was named Pizza Margherita to flatter the Queen, and it set the standard for pizzas to come. Consequently, from 1889 on, Naples became the “pizza capital of the world”.
Naples isn’t only about the pizza. With delicious food that ranges from fried treats to decadent desserts, the food of Naples can satisfy any food lover. The fertile volcanic soil of Campania combines with a perfect climate to produce the best fruit and vegetables in Italy. Dishes like eggplant parmesan, stuffed peppers and pasta e fagioli have been around for hundreds of years. Rich sauces like Neapolitan Ragu have been used to create some of the best pasta dishes in Italy. Like most of Italy, though, pastas mixed with vegetables, instead of expensive meats and seafood, helped feed people during hard times.
Regular red and yellow peppers are widely used, and a local variety of small green peppers (not spicy), peperoncini verdi, are usually fried.
Salad is a side dish, especially seafood ones. Lettuce, and more often the incappucciata (a local variety of the iceberg lettuce but more crispy), is mixed with carrots, fennel, rucola and radishes, traditionally the long and spicy ones, which today are more and more rare; almost completely replaced by the round and sweeter ones.
Black olives used in Neapolitan cooking are always the ones from Gaeta.
Meat is not used as frequently in Neapolitan cooking as in the cuisine of Northern Italy. The most common kinds of meat used in Neapolitan cooking are:
- sausage or pork liver, rounded in a net of pork’s fat and a bay leaf
- trippa (tripe) and other more humble cuts of pork or beef, like pork’s foot and cow’s nose
- braciole, pork rolls stuffed with raisins, pine nuts and parsley, fixed with toothpicks and cooked in ragù
- lamb and goat are roasted, usually with potatoes and peas, typically around Easter
- rabbit and chicken, often cooked alla cacciatora or pan-fried with tomatoes
- beef or other red meat with tomatoes, cooked for a long time to tenderize an inexpensive piece of meat, as in Carne Pizzaiola
Neapolitan cooking has always used an abundance of all kinds of seafood from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Recipes use either less expensive fishes, in particular anchovies, or fishes of medium and large size, like spigola (European seabass) and orate (gilt-head bream), presently sold mainly from fish farms.
- Cicenielli, baby fishes, very small and transparent, prepared either steamed or fried in a dough
- Fravagli, few centimeter long, typically fried
- The baccalà (cod) and stockfish, imported from northern Europe seas, are either fried or cooked with potatoes and tomatoes.
- Octopus, squid, cuttlefish, as well as crustacea (mainly shrimp).
- Shellfish cozze (mussels), vongole (clams), cannolicchi, sconcigli are used in many seafood meals.
And let’s not forget the desserts. Struffoli, sfogliatelle and pastiera cheesecake all come out of Naples.
Make Some Neapolitan Inspired Recipes At Home
Cauliflower, Olive and Caper Salad
A traditional Neapolitan Christmas Eve dinner always begins with a family version of the following salad, which is actually an antipasto.
It can also be made with any of the following: tuna, pitted black olives, mushrooms, artichokes packed in oil, capers, peppers and cornichons, and a dressing made with lemon juice and olive oil.
- Coarse salt
- 2 lbs. whole cauliflower, washed and drained
- 3/4 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives
- 1/3 cup capers, rinsed and dried
- 3/4 cup pitted green olives
- 1/2 cup red peppers packed in vinegar, rinsed, dried, and sliced into julienne strips
- 8 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and cut into pieces
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fill a large saucepan with water; add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower the cauliflower head gently into the water.
Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.
Test the cauliflower – it should be al dente, not overcooked.
Drain, cool, and break into flowerets.
Put the cauliflower in a large bowl and add the black olives, capers, green olives, red peppers, anchovies, and pepper to taste.
Mix together the lemon juice and olive oil and pour over the salad.
Toss gently, being careful not to break the flowerets.
Taste for salt and add more, if necessary.
Note: This may be prepared in advance and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.
Pasta Caprese with Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella
- 1 1/2 lbs. fresh, ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, washed, dried and shredded
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 lb pasta, preferably penne
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- A pinch of hot red chili pepper
An hour before your meal:
Using a wooden spoon, mix the mozzarella, tomatoes, oil and vinegar, garlic and hot pepper in a deep bowl. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with a clean dishcloth and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.
Cook the pasta, al dente, drain the pasta and return to the warm pasta pot.
Add the basil to the tomato mixture, toss well and pour the tomato mixture onto the pasta. Mix well. Check again for seasoning, pour into serving bowl and serve.
Spicy Neapolitan Fish
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 lbs. fish fillets
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dry crushed red pepper
- 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup kalamata olives or cracked green olives, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons white wine
- 1 tablespoon chopped capers
- 1 cup chopped artichoke hearts
Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.
Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper.
Add half the fish to the skillet and sauté until just opaque in the center, about 3 minutes per side.
Transfer fish to a platter.
Repeat with the remaining fish.
Add parsley and crushed red pepper to the skillet; sauté 1 minute.
Add wine, tomatoes, olives, garlic, capers and artichoke hearts; sauté until tomatoes are soft and juicy, about 2 minutes.
Season sauce with salt and pepper; spoon over fish. This dish is often served over spaghetti.
Neapolitan Rum Baba
- 6 eggs
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour, sifted
- 2 tablespoons of baking powder
- 8 oz. (1 stick) butter, melted
- 3/4 cup of milk, warmed
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1/2 cup white rum
- 1 teaspoon of rum extract
Beat the eggs and sugar until fluffy.
Add the flour and baking powder sifted together.
Beat in the butter and milk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Pour the ingredients into a greased and floured bundt pan.
Bake for 30-40 minutes.
In a small saucepan cook the sugar in the water until syrupy.
Remove from the heat and stir in the rum and rum extract.
Unmold the cake and spoon the rum syrup, slowly, all over the cake until all the syrup soaks into the cake. You can also brush the syrup on with a pastry brush.
- A Slice of History: Pizza Through the Ages (history.com)
- Italian Food by Region (planegrazy.com)
- Barbara Zaragoza’s Naples Travel Book, The Espresso Break: Tours and Nooks of Naples, Italy and Beyond, Is Now Available As An Ebook (prweb.com)