20 December 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Christmas in Naples

SARONNO, Italy - In many  families, including my own, Christmas Eve dinner has always been a traditional feast of pasta, fish and vegetables. In other words meatless.
Christmas in Italy

No one ever seemed to notice there was no meat on the table as they dug into ravioli filled with potatoes or cabbage and sometimes even blueberries picked in the heat of the summer and frozen just for this occasion. Then platters of fried fish, big fish, little fish, whole fish and breaded fish filets and even pickled raw fish which my Uncle John loved the most would be set out, along with salads and vegetables and pretty dishes filled with olives and pickles and special Christmas treats.
In Italy, Christmas Eve dinners, like everywhere else, tend to be traditional. Every province, actually every family, has its own list of dishes, recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, that make not just Christmas Eve, but the entire Christmas season special. 
Papaccelle Peppers
And every cook knows that half of the fun of the holidays is making the dishes that everyone looks forward to. As I write this I’m sure that there are conversations going on all over Italy as one by one it’s verified that yes, Auntie X will make her special cannelloni and Auntie Y will bring  a tray of those delicious Christmas cookies she made last year along with her famous Christmas cake. It just wouldn't be Christmas without one of Auntie Y's special cakes. 
One of the dishes that says Christmas to Neapolitan families is a delicious salad called Insalata di Rinforzo which is served on Christmas Eve along with the fish course. I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers, but truth be told there are as many recipes for Insalata di Rinforzo as there are streets in Naples. Well, almost.  The basic recipe includes boiled cauliflower, red and green papaccelle peppers, those small, hot, pickled squatty peppers called papaccelle that are so popular in Campagna, olives and anchovies.
  Spicy Green Olives, Sooo Good

However, if you can’t find papaccelle peppers in your supermarket you can use some other kind of hot pickled peppers or as a last resort a jar of giardiniera mix and a jar of roasted peppers in oil. Some recipes also call for the addition of escarole, croutons, artichoke hearts, capers and even hard boiled eggs. The recipe is only a suggestion, not a mandate.
For the sake of simplicity, here’s a recipe created by native Neapolitan Guiseppe Topo that I found on http://www.napoliunplugged.com/  It’s straightforward, easy to make and really delicious. And don’t be afraid of the anchovies. Eaten with the rest of the ingredients they are scrumptious, they really are.
Guiseppe Topo's Insalata di Rinforzo

Insalata di Rinforzo

1 head of cauliflower
2 – 3 red and green papaccelle peppers –  pickled peppers in a jar can be used as a substitute
200 grams mixed green and black olives
Salted Anchovies


Cut the green leaves and the stem from the cauliflower
Boil in salted water until tender, 15 – 20 minutes
Drain the cauliflower and when it is cool enough to handle, break it up into bite size flowerets
Remove the seeds and slice the peppers
Add sliced peppers and olives to taste and toss
Condition with oil, vinegar and salt to taste and toss well
Top with anchovies

Easy peasy. Give it a try. Happy Holidays.

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