As a port city, Naples has seen several civilizations come and go over the years. The Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, French, Spanish… they all had an impact on Naples’ architecture, language and, most importantly, its food. Neapolitan cuisine reflects these centuries of foreign domination, which has led to culinary cross-pollination and gastronomic innovations.
While foreign conquerors may no longer be putting their stamp on Neapolitan cooking, local chefs and bakers still look outside for inspiration as they continue to innovate, searching for new ingredients, new flavors and new methods. The aim is not to abandon the city’s rich culinary heritage, but to build upon it.
Take the Neapolitan pastiera, the queen mother of all baked goods in the kingdom of Naples; the recipe for this tart has rarely deviated from the original formula, which was first concocted 200 years ago in the convent of San Gregorio Armeno, located in the city’s historic center. Echoing Naples’ history, the pastiera is a melting pot of ingredients: Italian wheat and ricotta are added to Lebanese citron, Sri Lankan cinnamon and Mexican vanilla.
But Guglielmo Mazzaro, a third-generation Neapolitan pastry maker and owner of Mazz bakery, is taking a radical approach to the traditional sweet: He has started making his pastiera with pistachios. It’s an unexpected innovation, yet by no means unwelcome – the pistachio gives the pastiera a very intense and soft flavor. It seems that pastry experiments are no longer the sole realm of Neapolitan convents.
Pastry experiments are no longer the sole realm of Neapolitan convents.
Guglielmo’s family has been running the pastry shop, which used to be called Mazzaro, since the early 20th century. Vittorio Mazzaro, his father, was in charge of the bakery in the 1970s, when it was renowned for its delightful brioche. Today the shop is called Mazz, a contraction of Mazzaro, which means luck.
The pastiera is not only the pastry he’s experimenting with. There’s also the caprese, a cake from the famous island of Capri. Typically made with chocolate and almonds, Guglielmo elevates the dish by adding in his beloved pistachio.
Yet Mazz is probably best known for its Ponte Nuovo (“New Bridge”), a sweet that the young Guglielmo resurrected from his family’s historical recipes. This cake is so delicious and so light that we have to eat at least two to be satisfied.
The New Bridge is a pile of puff pastry, stuffed with pastry cream and pasta bignè (cream puff dough) with orange skins, surmounted by “bridges” of puff pastry. As it cooks, the pasta bignè rises and expands into the latticework of the puff pastry. The result is exceptional.
Being a fresh sweet, the New Bridge must be consumed on the same day that it’s made. Vincenzo, the extravagant bartender at Mazz, spends all day hoping that they remain untouched, so in the evening he can take them home for himself. But given their popularity, his wish is rarely granted.