|Penises on the Pavement and Whore Pasta|
|January 26, 2003|
Or, in other words, Campania and Capri.
First of all, I want to thank everyone out there that sent me email and hysterical e-cards cheering me on during my studies in hell. I definitely think all the good karma helped.
Secondly, I'm so behind in typing up my class notes that I'm going to do this ass-backwards -- I just can't wait for myself to get through the last few weeks before I write about today's lecture.
I don't think I've been this jazzed about a region in Italy since Piedmont, and Campania has got to be Piedmont's red-headed step-sister. The hot weather, the tropical lushness of Capri, the poverty of the people, and the red, red sauces of its pasta and pizza makes this region the polar opposite of that northwesterly alpine region.
Normally, I would call myself a lover of Northern Italy, preferring drizzles of olive oil and garlic to red sauce and anchovies. Today, however, I found myself salivating over the Costate di Maiale alla Pizzaiola (center cut pork chops partially braised in tomatoes, oregano, basil, black olives, and white wine) and the Spaghetti Puttanesca (that's the whore pasta with capers, anchovies, black olives, and julienned red peppers). I think the blast of Arctic wind we're being cat o'nine tails'd with these days is making me crave chunks of warming tomatoes and hearty eggplant slices with hot, gooey cheese.
Chef painted our minds with breathtaking images of tiny, bejeweled Capri: pristine beaches, the Blue Grotto, hot springs, and delicate perfumes made by the Carthusian monks exclusively on the island and not permitted to be exported anywhere else. It's more than enough to make anyone yearn to drink in wonders of the region along with a long glass of frigid Limoncello. Chef even gave us a secret recipe for Limoncello, which takes about twelve days to make properly. Now if I can only get my hands on some 190 proof pure grain alcohol...
The other island off the coast of Campania, Ischia, was formed by volcanic eruption and is known as "The Green Island." A fuzzy film of green moss covers even the hardened lava. They have magnificent hot springs venting through the earth. Some citizens even have the volcanic vents in their own backyards.
Chef Chateau Lafite is a trip. I knew from the first he would be a trip. I just didn't know that the trip would entail going to Neptune and back in six minutes. He's energetic, loud, and more animated than Yakko. Surprisingly, while he keeps us on the edges of our seats during lecture, he is very laid-back and calming in the kitchen. I adore him. You wouldn't believe the career he's had: Dancing on Broadway, training at La Varenne, cooking for a Baroness in Holland and her Princess Von Hapsburg visitors, catering parties for Anwar Sadat's daughter in Beacon Hill, eating Cheez-Its with Julia Child in Cambridge...I'm convinced he needs his own show on the Food Network and I should be his agent. Instead of Emeril screaming "BAM," you'd have Chef Chateau Lafite shouting "Stah that!" (his Boston accent gets in the way of his "r"s, but that's his mantra when he particularly wants us to remember something).
We learned that the wine known as Lacrima Christi ("tears of Christ") comes from this region, close to Vesuvius, and I immediately associated that wine with Gerald Durrell. Sure enough, I looked it up in The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium and found the Lacrima Christi mention in "The Maiden Voyage."
'Look,' protested Larry vehemently, 'I have been dragged away from France on this ill-fated attempt to revisit the scenes of our youth, much against my better judgement. Already I am beginning to regret it, and we've only just got as far as Venice, for God's sake. Already I'm curdling what remains of my liver with Lacrima Christi instead of good, honest, Beaujolais. Already my senses have been assualted in every restaurant by great mounds of spaghetti, like some sort of awful breeding ground for tapeworms, instead of Charolais steaks.'
I love Gerald Durrell.
I don't like Buffalo Mozzarella -- it has a weird not-quite-chewy-but-not-quite-creamy texture in the mouth, it's pretty tasteless and it comes from buffalo milk. Plus, wet cheese? Eeech. However, Chef Lafite told us a story of watching a woman in Sorrento make Buffalo Mozzarella. Apparently, he was anxious to get very close in order to capture everything on his digital camera but he slipped on the pavement and ended up dragging the whole stove with him. Cinders and all. "It was like something out of a Lucille Ball episode!" Chef Lafite shrieked. Seriously? This Chef is a Lucille Ball episode.
As we got elbow-deep into Campania today, Chef Lafite delighted in telling us that "putana" means "whore" and "Spaghetti Puttanesca" is the pasta of the whores. He's not completely sure why exactly it is the pasta of the whores, though. He hypothesized it's the hurry-up pasta the ladies of the night chow down on to keep them going -- so to speak -- or that it's what they throw together for their husbands at the end of a hard day's -- er, night's -- work. What he did know was that in Capri, there are penises drawn on the pavement pointing the way to the houses of ill-repute. "In Italy, everything is about religion and fertility!" Chef Lafite crowed.
Well, I won't look at a cannoli the same way again.
Class Notes: Campania
Campania is a densely populated region. Pasta and pizza are very prominent in this region as are tomatoes and mozzarella.
Naples is the capital. Naples is poor, industrial, and very dangerous. Only reason to go there is to catch the boat to Capri. Vesuvius is in Naples and caused the destruction of Pompeii.
Alluvial Soil--->Terra Pulla--->Water becomes filtered as it passes through the lava'd earth. Hence, the tomatoes that come from Campania are supposed to be the sweetest in the country.
The name pomodoro means "golden apples" because tomatoes used to be yellow back in the day. They were also avoided because the church said they were poisonous. The church also thought their shape and red color were sinful. Lots of tomato preservation in Campania.
The San Marzano is the best tomato for sauces.
Margherita pizza: Tomato, basil, garlic, and mozzarella (sometimes oregano). Named for a House of Savoy queen in 1889. The green basil, red tomatoes and white mozzarella on the pizza were representative of Italy's national colors. Pizza was created by Raffaele Esposito.
Because of the access to water, there's fish of every kind available to the people of Campania.
Five Regions of Campania
Naples: Second largest port city in Italy; smallest of the five regions.
Caserta: Famous castle built entirely of marble located here. In the north. Second city of the Roman Empire.
Benevento: Eastern part of Campania. Mediocre resources.
Avellino: Central and largest of all regions. Chestnut trees in great proliferation here.
Salerno: Largest region in the south of Campania; port of trade between Italy and Constantinople. Very Greek-influenced.
Pizza alla Napolitana: olive oil, mozzarella, tomato, oregano, other herbs and anchovies.
Pizza alla Francescana: sliced mushrooms, chopped ham, cheese and tomato.
Pizza con Cozze: same as alla Napolitana but mussels replace anchovies.
Calzone: ("pant leg") pizza dough folded over like a turnover and stuffed.
Pizza all Margherita: Named for queen. Basil, tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil, garlic.
Al sugo: with meat
Alla vognole: with clams
Al pomodoro: with tomatoes
Pommarola: fresh tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery.
Marinara: scalded tomato, garlic, olive oil.
Puttanesca: black olives, capers, tomato, garlic, anchovy, pepper flakes
Mozzarella di Bufala: buffalo milk mozzarella.
Scamorza: cow's milk mozzarella.
Provolone: made from buffalo or cow's milk, smoked or fresh, mild or strong depending on the kind of rennet added.
Breads: Pizza and calzone.
Products of Campania: fruits, vegetables, San Maarzano tomato, wine (Mastroberadino).
Major Cities: Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ischia, Capri
Major Ports: Naples, Capri, Amalfi Drive, Ischia
Pasta: Macaroni -- best spaghetti from durum wheat.
Mozzarella in Carrozza: "mozzarella in a carriage"; mozzarella sandwich dipped in egg, fried in olive oil, sometimes spread with anchovies. We made this.
Sartu: elaborate rice-lined casserole with meatballs and chicken livers. Chef Lafite likened this to the timbale made in Big Night.
Bistecca alla Pizziaola: tomato, garlic, wild marjoram.
Fritto Misto: Fish fry, with or without vegetables. "Misto" means "mixed." "Fritto" means "fried."
Zuppa di Vongole: soup with clams.
Melanzane alla Parmigiana: eggplant parmesan
Sfogliatelle: fan-shaped, flaky pastry with ricotta cheese.
Zeppole: choux paste donut filled with cream
Spumone: Neapolitan ice cream
Lacrima Christi: dry white wine, means "tears of Christ." From Grecco grape.
Fiano D'Avellino: white wine, can be dry and sparkling.
Taurasi: red wine
Gragano: sweet red wine
Strega: sweet, licorice-flavored liqueur
Limoncello: sweet, lemon drink.