In a city with such a conservative attitude toward gastronomy, it’s rare for new foods, new preparations and new trends to flourish. Naples has continued to reject the aggressive advances of globalized food: The number of fast food chains can be counted on one hand (although many have tried their luck in the city), and the latest international fashions, from poke to kebab, struggle to make inroads.
There is one exception: the muffin, an American dessert that has become widespread in the city’s bars. But, of course, Neapolitans proceeded to modify this novelty according to the tastes and traditions of South Italy. It is not uncommon to find rustic savory muffins, made with ricotta and cigoli (pork crackling).
Nevertheless, 2019 was a year in which we saw the emergence of new “classics” among Neapolitan dishes. For example, the immense popularity of Poppella’s snowflake, which has now become a new traditional dessert, or the Neapolitan panettone, a take on the traditional Milanese dessert that many Neapolitan pastry shops are producing.
My favorite dishes of 2019 include timeless classics, made with better and better ingredients, along with some novelties that have been carefully researched and executed.
Pasticceria Poppella’s Snowflakes
Ciro Poppella’s little cream-filled doughballs covered with powdered sugar are now one of the most widely eaten desserts in the city. Imitated by many pastry shops, il fiocco di neve (“the snowflake”) has become the symbol of Pasticceria Poppella, which is now synonymous with innovation and high quality.
When biting into a snowflake, I always try to guess the components of the white cream inside – I can definitely taste the freshness of sheep’s milk ricotta. It’s a light filling, ideal for a soft brioche. But Ciro Poppella’s lips are sealed: He won’t reveal the recipe to anyone. Factory secret.
The Neapolitan Panettone
The typical Christmas cake of Milan, the panettone is perhaps the most famous Italian dessert in the world. Even though I’m a southerner, I must confess that I love this northern creation.
Nowadays, many Neapolitan pastry shops have begun producing this cake, often in a very traditional way – packed with lots of raisins and candied citrus fruits. But they are also innovating, incorporating southern products into a northern dessert. Like the panettoni by Sal De Riso, a pastry shop on the Amalfi coast whose cakes can be found all over Naples. The Cilentano, which is made with Cilento figs, is a true pleasure.
The Emigrant’s Caciocavallo at Caseificio Chirico
Soppressata (cured pork salami) hidden inside caciocavallo cheese! I still can’t get over the brilliance of this idea, cooked up by Italian immigrants who were attempting to circumvent the ban on importing meat to the U.S. during the era of great immigration from southern Italy to the New World in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A slice of the caciocavallo dell’emigrante, especially at Caseificio Chirico, is a small work of art. The slight yellow color of the caciocavallo contrasts nicely with the intense red of the soppressata, which is made with the best parts of the pig and is very low in fat. It makes for a sublime bite, especially when accompanied by a nice slice of bread made with ancient grains.
Meatballs at Sfizzicariello
At Sfizzicariello, a “social gastronomia,” the food is at once excellent, and the cause worthy: A group of 10 people with mental health disorders run the deli. Not only is it a place where social inclusion is being put into practice, but it’s also a place where good, genuine, Neapolitan food is eaten.
Although there are multiple types of meatballs, called polpettone here, I like to take home the ones that are baked in the oven (it’s the best diet food out there). But the best meatballs are undoubtedly the fried ones – for when you feel like sinning.
The Pizza Carnevale at Pizzeria da Attilio
Pizza, which was born in Naples, is perhaps the most eaten dish in the world. And even though Neapolitan pizza-making has been awarded UNESCO world heritage status, there is still room for innovation, like the pizza Carnevale at Pizzeria da Attilio.
In a sector where it is believed that everything has been said by now, Attilio is a pizzeria that has always loved to innovate. While the restaurant was undergoing renovations sometime in the 90s, Attilio uncovered a menu from the 40s. He saw that his grandfather had been serving a particular pizza: Carnevale (carnival), a star-shaped pie. So, Attilio the junior decided to bring it back. The eight-pointed ricotta-filled star frame, stuffed with sausage, sauce and fior di latte, is just like the “carnival lasagna,” traditionally served as a meaty splurge before Lent, from which it takes its name.
Ragù at Tandem
And finally a real, true classic: ragù, the timeless Neapolitan sauce par excellence. The ragù at Tandem is made using an ancient family recipe. Eaten on bread, like Neapolitans do at home, it is delicious and a time machine to my childhood.
Tandem is the first restaurant dedicated entirely to Neapolitan ragù meat sauce – an innovative approach to a very traditional meal. Similar to the homemade version, the meat sauce at Tandem is cooked for at least six to eight hours, as owner Manuela’s grandmother used to do it. At this point, the meat has given its all to the sauce. Nevertheless, the meat of the ragù is a delicious second course, which I often order after a nice plate of penne with ragù.
Manuela has proved that sometimes the best inspiration can be found at home, while eating grandma’s cooking.