There is just something about living in this city. The people, the food, the lifestyle… Every time I walk out of my apartment I feel alive and around every corner I find something new.
Last week it was a contemporary dance performance at Teatro delle Palme. Tuesday it was breathing in the 360 degree views from Castel Sant’Elmo and a visit to the famed presepe collection at the San Martino Charterhouse. Last night it was a cooking class with Kathy from Food Lover’s Odyssey at Naples Città del Gusto.
A gorgeous facility set along the coast at the foot of Posillipo hill, Città del Gusto opened its doors in 2008. A collaboration between the Naples Science Center – Città della Scienza and Gambero Rosso, it is part of a reclamation project of the Industrial Archaeological area of the ex-ILVA Steel Plant in Bagnoli. A modern 3,000 square meter facility it has two teaching kitchens and a lecture hall as well as a wine bar and restaurant.
The second of Gambero Rosso’s facilities (the other one is in Rome), Città del Gusto offers amateur, professional, management, and wine courses and hosts a variety of wine tastings and special events throughout the year. It is as they say “a place where gastronomy becomes an experience.”
And an experience it was.
Neapolitan cuisine, Neapolitan history, Neapolitan hospitality.
Take one chef and add in five assistants who were always on hand to guide and advise. Saute in a state of the art kitchen with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Serve to ten eager (and hungry) students and you have a spectacular evening that was one part lecture, one part history lesson and one part conversation. And oh yes – there was hands on cooking and eating too!
The wine flowed as we prepared and sampled each of our three plates (I say sample because you really don’t want to eat three plates of pasta in one evening) and journeyed into the world of Partenopean Culinary Tradition.
A tradition that is typically passed down through the generations, Neapolitan cuisine is as stratified as the city itself. Like puff pastry, each wafer thin layer from the culinary traditions of the Greek and Roman settlers to those of the Bourbons and beyond combine to create a harmonious whole that emerges on the Neapolitan plate. Some dishes remain steeped in tradition, some become variations of a traditional theme and some as the chef explained, “are not born, but evolve.”
For this class tradition and evolution mixed as we uncovered the secrets of three of Naples most prized sauces.
Up first was Aglio e Oglio. The basis for a long list of Neapolitan dishes, the name speaks for itself – it is simply garlic and oil – extra virgin olive oil that is.
Clean, uncomplicated and unpretentious, the mediterranean flavors shine through and it is as simple to make as the ingredients. Generously coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil and throw in a few cloves of garlic. Something new I learned from the chef is to use whole unpeeled cloves if you plan to remove the garlic or sliced garlic if you plan to keep it in. Stir in spaghetti that has been cooked in salted water and saute for a few minutes more. Top the dish with fresh parsley and ouila – you have Spaghetti Aglio e Olio.
If your taste buds need a jolt like Kathy’s did, spice it up with some peperoncino (hot red pepper). Add a few pomodorini for a Pasta al Pomodoro or stir in mussels or clams and you have Spaghetti con le Vongole or Spaghetti con le Cozze and the list goes on.
Next up was Pizzaiola. Another simple but oooh so flavorful sauce, the name is said to have come from the sauce made by the Pizzaiolas – tomatoes, garlic and oregano. The secret ingredients – dried oregano and pomodorini del piennolo del Vesuvio. Sweeter than your average tomato, pomodorini del piennolo are cultivated in the area around Vesuvius National Park.
The name piennolo comes from the conservation method known as in piennolo. Cultivated in July and August, the tomatoes are hung by small bunches on a piece of hemp and left hanging outside for several months. Since 2009, Pomodorini del piennolo del Vesuvio have been a DOP product.
The beauty of this sauce is it can be used to condition the pasta for a primo piatto and then as a topping for a variety of meats or fish and served as a secondo piatto. We used mafaldine, a ribbon shaped pasta with wavy edges for the pasta and veal for the meat.
Finally, the star of the show, Genovese. The most complicated, most savory by far and my favorite sauce of them all.
The origins of Genovese are a bit murky but it is a Neapolitan dish not a Genoan dish as the name would suggest. Theories abound, one of which is that the name derives from a dish prepared by chefs from Genoa who lived in Naples during the 15th century. The theory I’m most fond of however is that Genovese was a fusion of a meat dish prepared for the nobles and an onion dish from cucina povera napoletana.
A rich and savory onion sauce flavored with a selection of veal and/or pork cuts, the key to Genovese is low and slow. The onions and meat are cooked on a very low flame until a rich and creamy amber colored sauce develops and the meat becomes very tender. Serve the sauce with a large pasta like paccheri for a primo piatto and the meat as a secondo piatto.
Educated, entertained and exhausted, we returned to Chiaia for a quick glass of wine at our favorite wine bar Enoteca Belledonne before heading off to bed. Thanks to Città del Gusto for a fabulous class and thank you Kathy for joining me! We will be watching Food Lover’s Odyssey for your post about the evening. And don’t forget to check out our version of this time-honored dish, Cooking with Giuseppe – Paccheri alla Genovese.
If you are interested in taking a cooking class in Naples or Rome, check out Gambero Rosso for upcoming classes. The three-hour class (which actually went for four hours) along with three plates of pasta, wine, water, a very nice apron, and copies of the recipes was only €65 per person.