Spring means a rebirth, a restart and, for Catholics, a resurrection. The sunnier weather and warmer temperatures are invigorating, allowing you to shake off the long and cold winter. It’s one of the best mood boosters out there.
But the season alone doesn’t fully awaken, ahem, everything. If you’re looking to arouse your sensuality, you can always count on Naples’ notoriously stimulating, almost erotic gastronomy.
Yes, we’re talking about aphrodisiacs. The concept comes from our Greek ancestors, who believed that certain foods were capable of improving sexual performance and accordingly named them after Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and, perhaps most importantly, pleasure.
In Neapolitan style, however, Aphrodite’s cooking is subtler, unlike those overtly sexual or unconventional items – oysters, turtle broth, iguana, puffer fish, bull’s testicles, etc. – many people commonly think of as aphrodisiacs.
As described in Raffaele Bracale’s book Neapolitan Aphrodisiac Cuisine (curated by CB’s Naples bureau chief Amedeo Colella), the eroticism here is hidden in typical Neapolitan foods and dishes: minestra maritata (wedding soup, in which the vegetables are “married” with salami), caprese salad, sautéed clams, mussel soup, and spaghetti with clams. And we would argue that, on the whole, there is a sensual, carnal and erotic undercurrent flowing through Naples’ cuisine, which stems from the city itself: the favorable climate, the lapping of the sea, the scents of the city and the profile of Vesuvius are the real aphrodisiac factors.
Scientific studies have established that there is no direct link between food and sexual appetite and that an aphrodisiac’s power is merely one of suggestion – it’s all about the placebo effect.
Rather than exotic aphrodisiacs or complex chemical compounds, we rely on local products for a dash of stimulating zest.
Even so, we still prefer to believe that some Neapolitan dishes can enhance a couple’s relationship. Two lovers eating sautéed clams and calamarata (a thick pasta resembling sliced calamari) with a view of the undulating sea – now that’s a potent love potion.
Rather than exotic ingredients or complex chemical compounds, we rely on local products from Campania Felix, the Roman name for the fertile countryside surrounding Naples, for a dash of stimulating zest. From basil and rocket to tomatoes and garlic all can be found at our weekly neighborhood markets.
Here is our selection of the best passion-inspiring Neapolitan dishes to try this spring – all happy marriages, all inextricably linked to the cuisine and ingredients of Campania Felix.
Spaghetti alla carbonara: a marriage between Neapolitan spaghetti and American bacon
Spaghetti alla carbonara is a Neapolitan aphrodisiac pasta dish made with eggs, bacon and a touch of yellow onion, olive oil and pecorino cheese.
Like any marriage, this dish can be contentious. More specifically, there is a lot of debate about the recipe’s origins. One theory is that the dish gained popularity in Naples in the mid-18th century; it was typically eaten by coalmen (carbonari), who labored hard in the coalmines and thus needed something very hearty to keep them going.
According to another hypothesis, the dish was born after the Second World War, when American soldiers came up with the idea to use bacon and powdered eggs from their military rations to season the Neapolitan spaghetti. Either way, it’s a rich combination that’s sure to satisfy.
Caprese salad: the perfect marriage between an American (tomato) and a Neapolitan (mozzarella)
If the margherita is the queen of pizzas, the caprese is the queen of salads. And both specialties have one thing in common: the colors that make up the Italian flag. The tomato, mozzarella and basil used in both create a perfect combination both from a gastronomic and a chromatic perspective.
The caprese salad is the result of a particularly successful marriage between an American (thick slices of tomato, a crop that’s native to South America) and a Neapolitan (thick slices of creamy mozzarella) – both bring bold and strong flavors to the table. The marriage has worked for years because the two partners are complementary, as happens in most marriages: one is acid (the tomato) and the other is fat and very sweet (the mozzarella). And the two longtime witnesses to this marriage are fresh basil and olive oil.
Minestra maritata (wedding soup): a marriage between meat and vegetables
This soup is perhaps one of the most sumptuous dishes of the Neapolitan cuisine. Here the marriage between a group of vegetables and a group of meats turns into a real orgy of flavors.
It is one of those dishes whose preparation is long and ceremonial (which explains why it’s usually only prepared for major holidays), not unlike a wedding: from purchasing the vegetables (chard, chicory, turnip tops and cabbage) to selecting the meats (usually pork fat, a bone of ham, sausages and lard), and then finally bringing the two together in a long-simmering – and successful – union.
Editor’s note: To celebrate the arrival of spring this year, we’re looking at seasonal produce and products that are a bit surprising.
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