Eat Naples and Smile

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Christopher Hirst reviews The Silver Spoon: Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Filleted from the original Silver Spoon, a daunting 1,600-page omnium gatherum of Italian food, this tempting 50-recipe selection conveys the colour, potency and brio of Naples and adjoining areas. Unlike its austere parent, this volume bristles with tempting photos of both food and locale (though some of the latter are inexplicably uncaptioned). Such luxurious amendments may seem superfluous to the more serious-minded food lover but, in my view, no region benefits more from illustration. Transported by the dizzying shots of bays and inlets, you can almost smell the totani alla
sorrentina (Sorrento-style squid) sizzling on the beach.  The haul ranges from classics known throughout the world, such as Margherita pizza and mozzarella and tomato salad, through long-standing trattoria favourites like melanzane alla parmigiana (aubergine with parmesan) and rum baba, to regional curiosities that have never ventured far from Naples. Fortifying salad or insalata de rinforzo turns out to be a melange of cauliflower, Romaneso and olives that was served on Christmas Eve when meat was banned. The potato and cheese cake known as gatto di patate is nothing to do with cats but Œa Neapolitan corruption of gateau¹ dating from the Napoleonic occupation of Naples in the early 19th century.

Making the most of a little, many of the dishes in this book overcome the ingrained poverty of the region with bravura presentation. Cupola di spaghetti is a dome of pasta topped with cheese and containing green beans, carrots and a courgette while timpano di rigatoni in piedi is a pastry pie containing upright rigatoni in a beef sauce with ham and cheese. Spezzatino di maiale is a cheap cut of pork (Œnot too lean so that it stays tender¹) cubed and bulked out with pickled red peppers.  From the alluring feast in Naples and the Amalfi Coast, I plumped for chitarra con zucca e mazzancolle (chitarra pasta with pumpkin and shrimp) that also emerged from Naples¹ cucina povera. It is based on an egg-based pasta cut into strands with wires stretched over a wooden frame ­ hence chitarra or guitar. (I bought some from Camisa & Son in Soho though tagliolini would serve equally well.) The dish also includes pumpkin Œcut into long, thin strips to give them the same shape as spaghetti alla chitarra¹. This is easier said than done but a solution to the problem of
such fiddly cutting is available at Sainsbury, who sell packets of spiralised butternut squash noodles¹ known as Boodles. They gave the dish a startling sweetness that perfectly complemented the brininess of the whole prawns. Unlike any pasta I¹ve ever had, it was like eating an unusual dish on holiday.
Another startling discovery in Naples and the Amalfi Coast is insalata di limoni di Sorrento. Exactly what the name suggests, it is simply a salad of marinated lemons dressed with oil, salt and parsley. An unexpected condiment but it is excellent with fish (both cooked and cured) and, I¹m sure, plenty of other things.

pumpkin and shrimp

Chitarra con zucca e mazzancolle

serves 6

  • 14oz pumpkin, peeled
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, keep whole
  • 700g shell-on prawns
  • 50ml dry white wine
  • 1 tblsp pink peppercorns
  • 1lb spaghetti alla chitarra
  • 2 tblsp chopped parsley

Cut the parsley into long, thin strips to give them the same shape as the spaghetti alla chitarra. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and brown. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the pumpkin and cook, stirring, over high heat for 5
minutes. Add the shrimp, stir, and after 5 minutes drizzle on the wine. When the wine has evaporated, reduce the heat and add the peppercorns. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti alla chitarra in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta, add it to the pan with the pumpkin and shrimp sauce and gently toss. Transfer the pasta to a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve hot.

185 Lemon salad

Insalata di limoni di Sorrento

  • 3 lemons, washed, thinly sliced and seeded
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 large fresh chilli pepper, sliced into thin rings
  • 2 tblsp distilled wine vinegar
  • 4-5 tblsp olive oil

Add the lemon slices to a bowl and cover with cold water. Add the salt, chilli pepper and vinegar. Cover and let marinate for 12 hours or until the rind has softened. Season with more salt and vinegar, if necessary. Serve sprinkled with parsley and drizzled with the olive oil

The Silver Spoon: Naples and the Amalfi Coast (Phaidon, £25.95),

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