4 Neapolitan Pastas for My Brilliant Friend

4 Neapolitan Pastas for My Brilliant Friend

Tonight the first two episodes of My Brilliant Friend will air on Rai1. I’ve been counting the days and everyone in Ischia is super excited to watch tonight especially because they filmed some scenes here in the late spring this year.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article on Food52 ‘10 Perfect Pastas for My Brilliant Friend Premier’. The recipes look delicious, but I thought wouldn’t it be even better if the pasta dishes were Neapolitan. So in celebration, I am sharing 4 Neapolitan pasta dishes to celebrate the four nights that Rai will air the episodes of My Brilliant Friend.

Continue reading “4 Neapolitan Pastas for My Brilliant Friend”

Enjoy!

Pasta alla Genovese

click on the title for the recipe

(Recipe by the lovely Rachel Roddy from her column in The Guardian)

Pasta alla Genovese via The Guardian, Rachel Roddy’s A Kitchen in Rome column

Don’t confuse this with pesto al genevose, which is the rich basil pesto that most are familiar with that comes from the Genoa region. Despite the name, this is a Neapolitan dish whose name comes from a family named Genovese that created the dish. This is basically a meat sauce made with minced meat, onions, carrots and celery with just a spoonful of tomato puree to make it a bit red. Serve the sauce with a large tubular pasta such as paccheri or rigatoni with this hearty sauce.

Lina and Lenu would have eaten this for a Sunday lunch or some kind of holiday.

Pasta con cozze e pecorino – Pasta with mussels and pecorino

click on the title for the recipe

(Recipe by Tina Ciccio from her blog Our Edible Italy)

Pasta con Cozze e Pecorino From Our Edible Italy

There is the general known Italian rule that you never serve cheese with fish, but that rule is broken with this classic dish served on the island of Ischia. You mix with mussels with a bit of pecorino cheese, not too much or else it will overpower the mussels, and serve with paccherri or mezza paccheri. I would even add some lemon zest to the sauce to get a citrusy, salty seafood pasta dish.

Lila and Lenu could have eaten this when they were on holiday in Ischia.

Frittata di Spaghetti – aka Spaghetti Pizza

click on the title for the recipe

(Recipe by Jaime Oliver and Gennaro Contaldo)

Pasta Frittata from JaimeOliver.com

If you’ve accidentally made too much pasta and have some leftovers, you can mix it with some eggs and cheese and fry it on the stove in a deep dish pan to make a spaghetti frittata. This is a classic Neapolitan dish that I grew up on. You can add all kinds of things to this like chopped dried sausage, mozzarella, a spicy provolone or whatever. You can serve it at room temperature or cold from the fridge (my favourite).

Perhaps Lila and Lenu would have eaten this as a picnic food for Easter Monday or would have brought it with them to the beach.

Spaghetti allo Scammaro

click on the title for the recipe

 (my own family recipe)

spaghetti allo scammaro and cooking
My family recipe of spaghetti allo scammaro

This is a Neapolitan dish that is typically made during Lent or any other fasting periods throughout the Catholic year. However, you can eat this year round since it’s a really light, cheap and easy dinner. This is one of my favourite pasta dishes and something we ate every Christmas Eve while growing up.

Lila and Lenu could have eaten this on Fridays as Fridays were generally fasting days and one didn’t eat meat.

***

Enjoy!

Our First Year in Italy

Our First Year in Italy

Hello everyone! It’s a year ago today that me and Marituccio said goodbye to London and boarded a plane to Italy with 4 suitcases and a Christmas cactus.

Looking back on this time last year, I remember being so so so scared with this big decision to move to Italy. It was hard for me to figure out whether it was intuition that was trying to stop or just fear of jumping into the unknown. I didn’t have this same kind of terror when I had moved to Mexico City, London and Rome. Maybe because I was older? Maybe because there was nowhere else to go if this didn’t work out? It was so strong that I almost didn’t feel any excitement at all. I was numb. Continue reading “Our First Year in Italy”

Gatwick Airport, 25 November 2017, Moving back to Italy

Honestly, the first 6 months were difficult. Not for any of the usually bureaucratic difficulties of setting into life in Italy nor the  baggage that comes with trying to navigate a new country in a different language. It was more psychological than that.  I thought in the beginning that I was going to be punished for moving to Italy. I could hear all these voices from family members in the past who had always made me feel like I was too dumb or too young or too naive to realise how bad life in Italy really was. These voices of the past were always on my shoulder and I could feel them angry with me for trying to live here. Last Christmas I made Neapolitan rococo, using my Nonna’s recipe, and they came out bad with a terrible bitter taste. I thought I had messed up the recipe and overdid the spices. I felt like Nonna was trying to tell me that she was angry with me, for daring to make her cookies in Ischia, the place where life had been so difficult for her. (Later I found out that the flour I used for the cookies was rancid and had nothing to do with my grandmother being pissed off in the clouds.)

My batch of roccoco that came out disgusting (thanks to that bag of flour)

But once I realised that I was giving weight to voices that didn’t exist anymore and that it was futile to imagine how they would think and what they would say based on faded memories that were at least 20 years old, I felt better. Really, if they were still alive today and lived and had grown as people for another 20 years, they might have thought that I was really brave and awesome for doing this. In any case, I wasn’t living this new life here for them, continuing their own story, this was for me. My life. My story.

Things that I expected to happen that didn’t:

– Extreme culture shock moving from a major metropolis to a tiny island

I thought it would be a lot harder, I thought it would take a long time to get used to the slower pace of life and to not have so many things available to you 24 hours a day as is in a city, to not have so many events to go to, friends to see, places to walk to. I seemed to adjust to this part of life in Italy quite quickly. It’s amazing to be able to go for walks along the beach and into town, to see the sky full of stars, to breath clean air and not deal with the noise and traffic of city life. I also feel less anonymous here, people seem closer to life and more aware of life and death. There are processions and festivals to mark the holidays and saint days, announcements to mark births and funerals and people are always ready to talk to you in the shops and on the streets.

The garden waiting for the dinner party to start
Everything closed during the winter off season with no one in the streets

Hah! It’s true it gets quieter during the off season and quite a few restaurants and hotels close. But there are 70,000 full-time residents on the island and tourists still come here all year round. There are lots of events going on – concerts, book signings, talks, festivals and markets. And the neighbourhoods are lively.

Winter Lemons
– Feeling isolated and claustrophobic from living on an island

When I was preparing for the move, I would get scared thinking about how I was going to be on an island being surrounded by a very powerful sea. Even if you needed a break, you wouldn’t be able to just drive your car for an hour to go someplace new. But Ischia has 6 towns and isn’t as small as it seemed to me before I left. Each town has its own character and you can just go to another town for a walk or an icecream and it feels like a change in scene.

Spiaggia Cava dell’isola, Forio
– It would take a long time to make friends

It always takes a long time to develop friendships, especially when living in a community in a different country, and I was prepared to spend a lot of time alone. But I’ve found that it was pretty easy to become friends with my neighbours and landlords, to be invited to birthday parties and Sunday lunches, to go out after work with Martiuccio’s colleagues and generally be included in people’s lives here. I’ve lived in cities for most of my adult life and got used to being anonymous going about in my everyday life, so here it’s nice to go for a walk and say hello, stop for a coffee, and have a little chat. There’s a nice community of artists and writers on the island and I got to know other bloggers here in particular Isabella Marino of Qui Ischia and Laura Mattera Iacono of Al Tavolo di Amalia that have helped me learn about what life in Ischia is really like.

– It would be difficult for Marituccio to find a job

I kept my London job and work remotely from Italy, but Marituccio, a massage therapist, wanted to find work in a hotel spa. Some people were discouraging and said that finding work would be really hard as there wasn’t a large turnover in staff in the various hotels and that people kept their jobs season after season. But he didn’t let that put him down and he started visiting various hotels, stopping in saying hello and dropping off his CV. We weren’t sure if it was going to work out for this season, but he eventually was hired as a therapist in a hotel in Ischia Porto, it was first for the summer season but he’s now working into the holiday season. Which means we’ll spend our first Christmas in Ischia this year. Yay!

House on via soronzaro, Ischia Ponte

Things that I didn’t expect to happen:

  • Losing the pleasure to cook and eat as I adjusted to this new life
  • How damp things can be in the wintertime like the sheets on your bed
  • How weather can affect the ability to travel, especially if you need to get to the mainland so you can go to the airport.
  • Getting seasick even for a short ride on a small boat
  • How working in English during the day makes it difficult for me to speak with friends in Italian after work, my tongue takes a longer time to warm up and I’m more uncertain when speaking and mispronounce things
  • A whole new cat family showing up at my doorstop all wanting to live with me
My children

Overall, this first year in Italy has been a great surprise and I’m so happy to have moved here. Life is still uncertain and a bit precarious, but also really lovely. This feels like home.

Back to cooking and Spaghetti allo Scammaro

Back to cooking and Spaghetti allo Scammaro

This blog post is part of the #DolceVitaBloggers link up from Mamma Prada, Italian at Heart and Questa Dolce Vita. Each month they pick a topic and open it up to all bloggers to join in. The topic for September is a favourite Italian recipe.

I went through a really long adjustment period during the move to Italy, starting from when we first started packing up our flat in London in September 2017 and ending sometime during the spring. I was overwhelmed by these big changes and I lost all interest in cooking and I couldn’t taste or enjoy food. It’s not that I turned anorexic and didn’t want to eat. I ate everything, but I didn’t care about eating like I normally did. I was numb.

But now things have been getting better. In April we moved to Forio, on the west side of the island, into a little yellow house with a garden. The house was furnished, but the kitchen just had the basics, so the first thing me and Marituccio did was put together the kitchen. We mounted shelves and bars to hang up our pots and pans and tools. We added a sideboard table and put a cutting board on top of the small fridge to add some more counter space.

Continue reading “Back to cooking and Spaghetti allo Scammaro”

I had a kitchen again and I started to cook. At first, I made a few simple dishes and rotated them during the week, slowly getting into it. Then in July, I went up to the Venice and got the rest of our stuff out of storage and shipped everything to Ischia. That meant our move was finally complete and home felt like home. Then I really started cooking the way I used to. Reading about food, trying new recipes and getting inspired. The days were long and hot with the cicadas booming, the door was always open with the cats coming in and out of the garden and I listened to podcasts and music while cooking. And the supermarket was down the road so I could do a daily shop picking up just what I needed for the day. And then Marituccio would come home from work and it would still be light out so we’d walk to the beach to watch the sunset. And then we’d come back and sit and eat.

I cooked and made all sorts of things this summer, trying new things and letting my mind lead me to wherever it wanted to go: A tomato tart, roasted aubergines, cantuccini, and zucchini flower pancakes. Grilled peaches with goat cheese and walnuts, red chilli compote with chillies from the garden and fish tacos. Steak pizzaiola, prosciutto and melon, gallons of gazpacho, and a spinach frittata in a cream of chickpeas. Fresh mayonnaise in tomato sandwiches, pea risotto, and roasted tomatoes.  I was chewing on the heart of summer, getting the most I could out of it.

Such a different feeling from all those months feeling numb and lost craving burgers, fries and hot dogs. Reading about food and looking through cookbooks and recipes online made me feel happy and settled again and I had a kitchen full of light where I could keep my cookbooks and hang up pictures and postcards. Of course the cats coming in and brushing against my leg or threatening to jump on the counter made it fun too. And the church bells ringing Ave Maria at 8 pm every night.

One of my favourite dishes that I made this summer is a dish we ate every Christmas Eve while I was growing up. You would think that during those hot humid days I would avoid eating anything that would remind me of the winter, but this sweet and salty pasta dish made of olives, raisins and pine nuts felt like the perfect thing to eat. Growing up the dish didn’t have a name and I never saw any of my other aunts and uncles eat it, so it just seemed like it was our thing. But one day when the craving hit me, I googled the ingredients and I found Spaghetti allo Scammaro.

It’s actually a 19th century Neapolitan recipe back when Napoli was under Bourbon control. The Duke of Buonvicino, Ippolito Cavalcanti, first prepared this dish for the fasting monks during Lent and the other fasting days (called in Italian i giorni magri -skinny days). The recipe was added to his book Cucina Teorico-Pratica in 1837 and it quickly became part of the Neapolitan cucina povera.  It’s nice to know that we were following an old Neapolitan tradition after all by making this on Christmas Eve.

The Neapolitan word scammaro originates from the monks in the monasteries. During Lent, the monks who were unwell and were permitted to eat meat ate their meals in their rooms (cammere in dialect) so as not to disturb the other fasting monks. So the word cammerare (to eat inside your room) became synonymous with eating heavy fatty carnivorous meals while scammerare (to eat outside of your room) meant eating light vegetarian or fish-based meals.

I guess it made sense getting this craving over the summer when it was too hot to cammerare. It’s a quick easy light dish and goes great with a glass of white wine from the fridge and a peach or fig for dessert.

 

spaghetti allo scammaro and cooking
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Spaghetti allo Scammaro

Quick light pasta dish for your 'giorni di magro'.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 2

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 2 tsp capers
  • 20 gr pine nuts
  • half handful gaeta olives
  • 1 anchovy in oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • chopped parsley
  • grated parmigiano (optional)
  • 160 g spaghetti

Instructions

  1. Leave the raisins to soak in a bowl with warm water. Remove the pits from the olives and roughly chop. Toast the pine nuts in a pan over a low flame for under a minute. Watch closely and don’t let them burn. Once toasted, set aside.

  2. Add oil to the pan. Add the anchovy and once it dissolves add a crushed garlic clove.

  3. Add the olives, raisins and capers and cook until soft and covered in oil. Add in the toasted pine nuts. Remove from heat.

  4. In the meantime, add the spaghetti to the boiling water. You’ll want this to be al dente so remove two minutes before the suggested cooking time on the packet. Reserve some cooking water.

  5. Add the pasta and a ladle of cooking water to the pan with the sauce and put it on a low flame and mix until the sauce becomes rich and creamy and sticks to the pasta.

  6. Add chopped parsley and grated parmigiano if desired.

Recipe Notes

Note: Most of the ingredients in this dish are salty so it would be easy to make this dish too salty. Play around with the measurements. I add more raisins to balance the saltiness and I put just a bit of salt in the water before I throw in the pasta.

I’ve seen some posts online where this recipe is taken to the next level in which breadcrumbs are added and it is fried so it becomes a frittata without the eggs. Crazers! The frittata could be a great vegan dish (if you leave out the anchovies and cheese) to bring to a party or picnic.spaghetti allo scammaro and cooking

spaghetti allo scammaro and cooking

spaghetti allo scammaro and cooking

 

Enjoy!

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10 Years in Europe. Happy Anniversary to me!

10 Years in Europe. Happy Anniversary to me!

Wow wow wow. Ten years ago today I got on a plane with three suitcases and left my home in New York for London and now I’m here, 6 visas later, living in a little yellow house in Ischia. The plan back then when I first started was to study in London for a year and then move to Rome and see how long I could last there.

Continue reading “10 Years in Europe. Happy Anniversary to me!”

My 29th birthday and saying goodbye to New York and my friends. I was so excited to move to London and be closer to Italy. That’s my friend Phillipe on the left and my cousin Marina, laughing gloriously, on the right.  New York, August 2008.

There were so many moments during those first years in which I felt like my nerves were stretching like piano strings while I flew back and forth between Italy and the UK playing the visa game, keeping up with friendships and trying not to fail and move back to New York. Immigration laws and visa woes drove me crazy and created oceans of anxiety. Also the solitude, isolation and loneliness from living abroad and in new cities. The unrelenting effort to start a new life from scratch in all of these different places. The insecurity of learning and speaking a different language. All the unsuccessful job interviews and having to navigate through low self-esteem.

Sometimes it felt like no one understood what I was trying to do and the things I was doing to make it happen. While people could understand the effort and ambition you need to go after a career, trying to live where you want to live isn’t really recognised as something commendable (just look at all the anti-immigration rhetoric that’s dominating politics). I mean no one was giving me a high-five as I filled out applications and went to visa appointments and immigration offices. Most of the time, I felt like I was a brat for wanting something that I couldn’t have.

Me in class getting ready for a class trip to the Venice Biennale. London, June 2009.

I could have stayed in the US and gotten a career in something and become a professional who wore nice clothes to work and felt like I could take care of myself. Instead I threw myself into uncertainty, cobbling together jobs and studying for two more masters, walking the streets a perpetual over-educated and underemployed non-EU citizen hoping that something would turn out in the end.

Me in my kitchen in Rome wearing an apron from Ischia. Despite the solitude and heartache, I loved loved loved Rome so much. Rome, August 2010
When I moved back to London, I had a bed, Ikea furniture and 11 boxes of stuff that I put on a truck. Everything arrived 3 weeks later. A lot of those things came back with me when we moved back to Italy. Rome, February 2011.

10 years on, I’m still here and it’s turned out pretty good. I’ve slowly learned how to deal with the uncertainty and not treat the set-backs as a reflection on my character. I’m proud that I made it this far. Looking back, I would have done some things differently (like study in Rome instead of London), but then I might not be sitting here today, writing this post from my home on an island in the Mediterranean where I live with Marituccio. I’m stronger than I was 10 years ago, have met amazing people along the way, especially artists and writers, developed strong friendships that can withstand the distance, and created a new way of living in different cities, languages and accents. I’ve had tons of jobs and learned new skills. I’ve worked in art galleries, an auction house, and a bakery. I’ve been a private English tutor, a translator, and freelance writer. I’ve written, performed and published poems and essays. I haven’t made a lot of money or stock-piled a nest egg, but I did manage to fill up the pages in my passport and had new pages put in.

During these years, I’ve seen this tide against migrants and refugees swell across Europe and I’ve been caught in the changes in laws as conservative governments have come into power. And it’s really ironic, that now as an immigrant married to an Italian and having had to go through immigration in Italy, I feel more welcomed and legally accepted than I ever did in the UK (even before Brexit). I’m painfully aware of the disgusting racist rhetoric against immigrants coming from the government and Italians on the street, this perpetual blaming the other, as if kicking out immigrants is going to automatically make life beautiful for those that were born here. The irony, contradictions and awareness of my privilege is something I deal with every day especially when I get into an argument with someone over immigration and I hear them say something offensive about immigrants. ‘But Giovanna, I wasn’t talking about you.’

I sometimes still struggle with the idea that I could have stayed home and I question myself wouldn’t it be easier to move back home and establish a career, buy a house, start a family, save money for retirement? But the longer I’m here, the less I ask myself that. Moving back to Italy is definitely not the way to go for job and life security and who knows what I’ll be able to achieve here, but living in London and going through Brexit taught me that there is no single place or career that will give you security. Something will always happen that will change everything you planned for, so why not just follow your heart and do what you want to do?

My favourite job was at Christie’s in London. This was my last day at work hanging out in the post room with the boys. London, July 2012.
Learning how to make pasta. That’s my mother-in-law in the background. Venice, August 2012
Me and Marituccio happy, tired and drunk on our wedding day in London. August 2013

I don’t know what’s next in store for me and I don’t have that dreamy eyed excitement of starting a life abroad as I did 10 years ago, but I’m still certain that this is where I want to be. I’ve applied for Italian citizenship (which will probably take years to come through, I’m not holding my breath), so one day in the future I won’t be considered an extracomunitaria but an Italian and EU citizen. Something I’ve wanted ever since I was a little kid. When that happens, will that change how I feel about who I am and where I belong?

Doing chores at our first place in Ischia. December 2017.
Speaking at a round table discussion during La Palabra en El Mundo Poetry Festival in Venice. I was terribly unprepared, but I pulled myself together and spoke in Italian about culture and identity. Ca Foscari, Venice, May 2018. (photo by Alexandra Mitakidis)

When I was little, Italy was where I had family that made me feel loved and welcomed and I wanted to be with them and live where they were. Despite being a foreigner, I didn’t feel out of place here. Of course, now that I’m an adult and live here, it’s a bit more complicated, but it still feels like home, even though the longer I live here, home is a harder place to define. But I think the biggest thing is that while for decades, home and Italy felt like a childhood dream, a magical place, now that I’m here, I realise home isn’t a perfect place. But it’s where I want to be and I’m finally allowed to be where I want to be, so  I think that’s good enough.

Ischia and the cats in my life

Ischia and the cats in my life

My life is now full of cats. For the longest time, I had no cats and I wanted a cat so bad. I left New York 10 years ago and all this time I wanted a cat so bad – a cat that could grow in my home, that could keep my company at my desk, that could sit on top of my book while I tried to read, that could sit on my belly, that could sit on my face, that could crawl on top of me to wake me up from my sleep, a cat that was my friend, a cat that understood me but that I couldn’t understand, a cat that could remain wild while living in a house. I moved to Europe 10 years ago and it’s taken 10 years for me to find a home and settle down enough to have a cat.

But I have these cats by accident. It wasn’t by a choice, they just showed up and I let them in.

Continue reading “Ischia and the cats in my life”

As soon as we found long-term housing on the island in the town of Forio and moved into our yellow house, Terri, the landlord’s pregnant cat who lived next door, decided she wanted to move in with us. Perhaps because we fed her fish, perhaps because we let her in the kitchen and sleep on the chair, perhaps because she liked us. The landlords didn’t mind because she was a roaming cat and would go off for days at a time and they were happy that she was safe at our place.

Ischia and the message of cats
Terri turning our place into a home.

So that’s what happened, Terri moved in and had her 5 babies with us. It’s been incredible to watch these fragile tiny beings grow and change and love us as much as we love them.

But sometimes I feel like my heart is going to explode. All of these emotions overwhelm me. The little orange kitty we name Gordito, passed away during his second week of life. Terri went into heat while she was still nursing the kittens and the house was surrounded with tom cats while we locked the wailing Terri inside. The kittens, now that they’re older, leave the garden to explore and I chase after them making them come back into the garden only to have them jump back out. I worry and wonder, there are so many of them.

And then just two weeks ago, another kitten showed up in our garden. A little grey boy so scared, lonely and hungry. And I cried and cried thinking that it was too much, that I needed to send him away, but I couldn’t do it. This poor little kitty needed so much love. So we took him too and named him Sesto, meaning Sixth in Italian, adding him as the sixth cat to our cat family.

But I love them, I love them, I love them. How easily they’ve become part of my life here, helping me ease into life on the island, helping me create a home out of this yellow house. I’m quite anxious now that they’re big enough to leave the garden and start roaming and it’s been hard for me. But I will get used to it because it’s the only way that I can keep 6 cats. These mysterious independent live beings.

Ischia and the message of cats
L-R: Sesto, Rose, Indy, Mucca, Pippo

Like what Doris Lessing says, in ‘The Old Age of El Magnifico’ –  Cat walks across your room, and in that lonely stalk you see leopard or even panther, or it turns its head to acknowledge you and the yellow blaze of those eyes tells you what an exotic visitor you have here, in this household friend, the cat who purrs as you stroke, or rub his chin, or scratch his head.

Sometimes I wonder, how did they know? How did they know to show up at our door. How did Terri know that we were new and lonely and needed some love and would take care of her and her kittens? How did Sesto know how to find us, that there was this garden with this little cat family full of brothers and sisters for him?

I can’t help but believe that these creatures have chosen us and told us that after moving around for so many years, that this is finally home and that we will stay.

Ischia and the message of cats
Me and Pippo