Over the last three months, as the Covid-19 pandemic forced us indoors, the members of my family have put on an average of two kilos. We spent lots of time cooking and talking about food, planning out the week’s menu well in advance.
We prepared everything at home: bread, pizza, noodles, cakes and biscuits. My daughters even made sushi! In supermarkets, yeast was nowhere to be found, and we witnessed frenzied scenes whenever flour arrived.
But there are some foods that just cannot be prepared at home, and these were the ones we craved. How do you reproduce Capriccio’s babà or Pasticciello’s pagnottiello, an extraordinarily good Neapolitan rustic pie filled with salami and boiled egg? The first haunted my dreams during the pandemic, while the second preoccupied my daughter Claudia. “Dad, I had a dream about the pagnottiello again last night,” she would often tell me in the morning.
And then there are dishes that can theoretically be prepared at home but are enhanced by some environmental factors that are not easily reproduced. For example, spaghetti with clams should be eaten near the sea, perhaps on a beach, while listening to the waves break on the rocks.
On May 21, as part of the easing of the lockdown restrictions, it was possible once again to eat in a restaurant. So over the past week, Neapolitans were finally able to fulfill their deepest gastronomic desires, the things that they dreamed about and pined for almost nightly.
For example, I had the intense urge to bite into a large ball – at least half a kilo – of buffalo mozzarella at the dairy, perhaps in the parking lot, after buying it still hot. And then maybe try some ricotta and caciocavallo and feel that pleasant sensation of buffalo overdose that pervades you.
Surely I wasn’t alone in this carnal desire for a certain dish. So I decided to do some research: I asked my almost 5,000 friends on Facebook what foods they were dying for during the quarantine. What were they planning to go eat as soon as the lockdown loosened? I received over 250 comments, which I have tried to group together.
At least 150 friends wrote that they wanted pizza made in a wood oven and eaten in a pizzeria. Gilda Mangiacapra, a teacher, writes, “There is something that cannot be done at home, his majesty, pizza, and I dreamed of it every night!” Every Neapolitan has his favorite pizzeria, as you know. Gennaro Chiaiese remains loyal to the classic, writing “I would like to taste it from Michele Antica Pizzeria.” Annamaria Medagli wants pizza from 10 Diego Vitagliano, a pizzeria in the Bagnoli neighborhood, while Maria Giovanna Luetec, a professor, prefers Pizzeria Pellone on Via Nazionale.
Gianni Cipriano and Sara Smarrazzo, photographers who often shoot for CB, also want pizza. “We wish we could sit at Attilio on Via Pignasecca. And immediately afterwards we would like ziti alla genovese from Tandem on Via Nilo or a nice first course of fish (with scialatelli [pasta]!) at Taverna Santa Chiara. And we would close with a baba au rhum, anywhere.” (Tandem was a popular choice overall, with Luigi Balestriere and many others chiming in to say that they were missing Neapolitan ragù with pasta from this small empire, which was built entirely on the meat sauce.)
And then there is the fried pizza cohort. Roberta Luce writes, “As much as we tried it at home, it’s another thing in a pizzeria.” Michele Propenso dreamed of the battilocchio at Masardona Pizzeria while for Vincenzo Paparo it was the fried pizza at Isabella De Cham Pizza Fritta. Vincenzo Pro chimes in that he lost sleep over the “fried calzone” of 50 Kalò.
The pasta alla Genovese is the main dish, the one that I desired so much I could practically taste it – particularly the version made with penne pasta at Trattoria Malinconico in the Vomero neighborhood. Gerardo Herreman Citro would like “a workmanlike Genovese possibly with coppery Montoro onions.” Rosario Napolano, a banker, has already fulfilled his Genovese craving! Lucky man.
Maria D’Angelo dreamed of “the mussel soup and immediately after a plate of vermicelli with clams, eaten in front of the sea in Pozzuoli.” (Since we skipped the mussel soup of Holy Thursday, one of the mandatory dishes of Holy Week, it was another favorite, particularly of Raffaele Liccardo and Rosaria Riccio.) Angela Buonocore and Alessandro Nadedi have a boundless nostalgia for seafood linguine. Lucia Dello Iacovo will run as soon as possible to eat spaghetti with octopus at Trattoria Vigliena (and I will gladly accompany her).
On the subject of seafood, baccalà cod is in great demand – both Massimo Arnone and Amalia Grasso want the ruoto di baccalà at ‘E Curti, a restaurant in Sant’Anastasia. Amina Filippelli, a school administrator, is craving a plate of “small fried fish, fritters made of cicinielli [whitebait] and peppered mussels. All accompanied by a cold glass of Asprinio di Aversa.” She also wants to fry fish from the Gulf with her friends.
Some desires are more basic but no less satisfying. Marco Ciullo, a pharmacist from Castellabate, “feels the desire for Cilento hard bread, the fresella, topped with crushed tomatoes and exceptional Cilento oil.” I would perhaps bathe it in seawater (to soften it up), as it was once done and perhaps now can be done again because the Gulf of Naples has been cleaned up.
Caterina Basile and Paola Pellegrino dreamed of the eggplant parmigiana; I recommend the version at Mimi alla Ferrovia.
Among the desserts, Gino Di Napoli confesses that he “missed pastries very much: sfogliatelle and babà.” Roberto Zorzetti, a researcher, recalls that we spent the feast of San Giuseppe at home, and therefore we must recover with a fried zeppola di San Giuseppe – made as God commands. Annamaria Medagli chimes in that we must also get a gelato from Gelateria Mennella on Via Scarlatti.
I want all these things and more – I now have a long list of places to visit. But first, I will accompany my friend Alfonso Corsini to eat a nice carnacotta (tripe soup) and maybe a taste of spaghetti al soffritto (spaghetti in a sauce made by slowly boiling the less desirable parts of the pig, which are then cooked in an aromatic tomato sauce with strong chile peppers) at Trattoria ‘O Russo on Via Foria, because after three months of imprisonment, I want the sin to be really deadly!
Editor’s note: As our cities begin reopening and adapting to the new normal in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, we are asking CB team members as well as chefs, journalists and food personalities to share the meal they are most looking forward to eating in our new “First Bites” series.
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