“When the moon hits your eye” – oh wait a minute we did not even discuss pizza pie in our studies of the region of Campania. In fact the cuisine that we prepared representing the region of Campania was quite different than what I had imagined we would be preparing. Baccala’ alla Napoletana and Parmigiana Melanzane perhaps, but Baba alla Crema, and Paccheri alla Genovese huh? Putting my ignorance and preconceived notions aside and embracing the culinary offerings of Chef Antonio Tubelli proved to be a fun, tasty and enlightening experience. The cuisine of the region is infused with international influences and offers gustatory pleasures far beyond Pizza, Mozzarella di Bufala, and San Marzano tomatoes, all of which I consume liberally with glee.
It was interesting that the chef used the word contamination to describe the influences of other cultures. From my American point of view I took the use of the word contamination as a negative, and asked the chef if he meant that the cuisine had been “polluted”. He said that he was not using the word in a negative context, but to describe the influences of centuries of contact with peoples and cultures of a diverse nature. The city of Naples was founded by the Greeks and means “new city”. Naples was located on the Via Appia and connected Rome to Brindisi and across the Adriatic, and Ionian Seas to Greece. Following the years of Roman rule Naples came under Arab, Norman, Swabian, French, Spanish, and Austrian rule all influencing the culture, food, and eating habits of the region. For centuries Naples was the most important city in the Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s, which included all of southern Italy and Sicily. The chef stressed that at one point in history there were two main world cuisines French and the cuisine of the Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s. The chef’s discussion of the final stages of the unification of Italy was interesting. In his eyes we were not discussing the unification of the country, but the conquering of the south by the north. The cuisine of the south as it was prior to 1860 was destroyed in his eyes. Surprisingly although introduced much earlier it wasn’t until the first half of the 18th century that tomatoes and potatoes would become staples in the daily diet of the people of Campania.
Traditionally the lower classes of the region ate primarily the fruits and vegetables of the land and thus were known as “leaf eaters”, later when the consumption of pasta became commonplace this same class of people came to be known as “pasta eaters”. An interesting tidbit about a dish you will find in both Campania and Sicily called Caponata. In Sicily Caponata is a vegetable dish based on eggplant, but in Campania the dish is based on dry bread. In Campania it is a fishermen’s dish in which traditionally the dry bread would be dipped into sea water, broken up, and mixed with tomatoes, and if available fish.