It happens that we are forced to stay away, unfortunately sometimes even on Christmas Day, from the city of Naples and your family. I’m writing this article for those who cannot see their families again and want to bring a bit of Partenope at home. Let us remember together how Christmas days are in Naples and not only at the table.
A typical Neapolitan Christmas
At Christmas, the city streets of Naples are full of people and voices, the queues are everywhere and even smiles, all this is already the usual but is greatly amplified by the joy of the Christmas holidays.
The best place to feel the Christmas atmosphere is definitely the old town, especially the market: the most experienced go there early days to grab the best products, away from the crowd of the holidays.
Fishermen are the great heroes of the festival, in fact, they stay open all-day. Their activities are family activities and they live the Christmas as a time when joy is accompanied by fatigue. They allow themselves in the rare moments of peace, with an eye to the eels that punctually try to wriggle out of the tanks, a moment dedicated to tradition, eating the classic escarole pie. Unmissable, waiting for the abundant Christmas dinners, is in fact the presence of pizza for lunch. This, like many other traditions, is not followed by everyone: some people prefer to keep light waiting for lavish evening meals.
The houses of Naples are filled with Christmas perfumes and sounds
When you grew up in the south, in your childhood memories you have the image of these large tables, full of joyous people, open to relatives but also to those who are passing through their lives. At Christmas, you know, hearts are open and doors decorated with garlands to anyone who wants to bring joy.
The southerners, but in general the Italians, have always made the reception a pride and the magic of the holidays makes it almost a duty.
The undisputed protagonists of the kitchen are usually the aunts who take turns in hosting on 24, 25 and 26 December. Very busy and ready to take out their best dishes, while the husbands are sent on a mission for the last-minute gifts or that forgotten ingredient and absolutely necessary to make everything perfect. In some houses the situation turns around and to lord it is the uncle chef, called only on great occasions to the kitchen: no one would dare to try to provide guests with the pale imitation of the paccheri with seafood that he does.
When you’re an adult, we leave gifts, poems and rewards behind for saying them, what’s still impressed, in addition to the feeling of protection of being in many in the same house, is that particular smell that creates the cooking done in abundance and at the same time of a lucullan meal, a mixture of sweet and salty, fried and boiled, hot and cold.
The Christmas dinner
Here are some of the recipes of the traditional dishes of the Neapolitan Christmas Eve, perfect for those who want to bring a bit of Parthenope to the table. Take a seat to the stove and start with the appetizers.
The classic Neapolitan fried and the entrée as the bruschetta cannot miss. Very common is the seafood salad, an boiled octopus immersed in a pinzimonio of lemon, garlic, parsley and oil, which are often accompanied by the fritters with seaweeds.
Fritters with seaweeds
Ingredients of fritters with seaweed: 250gr of flour, 200 ml of water, 12gr of brewer’s yeast, 8gr of salt, 40gr of seaweeds(to buy them just go to the nearest fishmonger), vegetable oil for frying.
Place the flour in a bowl with the water in which you have already melted the yeast, we recommend to always put a little bit of sugar that helps the leavening. Then begin to knead and add the salt. Knead the batter until it is smooth and let it rise for an hour. After rising, add the chopped seaweeds. All we have left to do is to fry them!
Pour the dough with spoons into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, a couple of minutes should be enough. Once ready place them on a plate lined with paper towel and serve hot.
The paccheri with seafood
To prepare the paccheri with seafood you need: 500gr of paccheri, 200gr of calamari, 200 gr of cuttlefish, 400gr of clams, 400gr of mussels, 200gr of shrimp, 300gr of zucchini, 800gr of cherry tomatoes, 3 garlic cloves, extra virgin olive oil q.s., salt and pepper q.s., white wine q.s.
Boil mussels and clams in a large pot to get them open, then filter and store the cooking water. In a pan brown the oil with the chopped garlic and cook the roughly chopped cuttlefish and squid. Sauté the thinly sliced zucchini in a pan with garlic, oil and parsley. When the squid are cooked add the shrimp, chili, cherry tomatoes and simmer with white wine. Just before extinguishing the flame add the clams, mussels and zucchini diluting with the cooking water preserved.
Cook the paccheri in abundant water, then flavour with seafood, and the paccheri will be ready for tasting.
To cook the famous Christmas eel you will need 3 cloves of garlic, 5 bay leaves, 1 lemon, oil, salt, and pepper q.s.
We recommend to buy it already cleaned, then wash it and cut it into pieces of about six centimetres. Put it in a baking tray, then beat the lemon juice with 3 tablespoons of oil, garlic and bay leaf chopped, salt and pepper, sprinkle the eel with this emulsion and then bake for about 40 minutes.
The fried cod
Another main course of traditional Neapolitan fish is the fried cod. The preparation is very simple, you need 1 cod, 400gr of flour and 1l of peanut oil.
Wash the cod and lay it on a layer of paper towel, then prepare the flour in a bowl where just dip the cod, once is dry. Once floured put to heat the oil and fry the cod over medium heat turning it until it is golden brown.
The italian wedding soup
The italian wedding soup ingredients are the “mascariello” (ox cheek), the pig’s ear, the lard, the cabbage, the escarole, the torzelle (the oldest cabbage in the Mediterranean), the garlic, the salt, the cheese and the bread.
Take the mascariello and the pig’s ear and cook it in a pot with water then slice into small pieces and put it back in the broth together with the lard and garlic, which you have previously fastened. Wash the vegetables and cook, aside, add salt, then put it in broth and cook, stirring everything together. Put some stale bread in the plates and pour over the soup with a bit of cacio cheese.
Ingredients to make the reinforcement salad: 200gr of olives, white and black pitted, 1 cauliflower, 70gr of anchovies, 200gr in vinegar, salt, oil, red wine vinegar q.s.
Clean the cauliflower, slice it into small pieces and heat it in water and salt for about 20 minutes until it is cooked but still crispy and pass it in a bowl with ice to stop cooking. Once cooled, put it in a large plate with salt, oil, vinegar, anchovies and olives; if you prepare it a few hours before it will taste even better.
To make the roccocò you need these ingredients: ½ kg flour, ½ kg sugar, 300gr of shelled almonds, the grated peel of a lemon, a sachet of cinnamon, salt, 5gr of ammonium carbonate for cakes, 2 eggs of which one whole and one red, 1 sachet of vanilla flavouring.
Put the flour on a pastry board and make a well in the middle, then add the sugar and redo the hole, adding the chopped almonds, the grated lemon peel and a little more than half of the cinnamon bag, a pinch of salt and finally knead the whole. Add if you need some warm water. After kneading well add the 5g of ammonium carbonate (leave a bit ‘aside) and knead again. Once the dough is ready you make so many roccocò. Separately prepare a baking pan laying on the bottom a little ‘lard and, leaving a little’ space between one and the other, arrange the roccocò. Beat in a bowl the eggs with the sachet of vanilla flavouring and pour the mixture on the roccocò spreading well with your hand: this will help to make them shiny. Bake and cook for about 40 minutes. Once cooked, let cool. For those who do not have very strong teeth it is recommended to dunk the roccocò in a little “marsala all’uovo” (marsala with egg yolk).
To make Struffoli, also known as Honey Balls you need these ingredients: 3 eggs, 50gr butter, 100gr sugar, a small glass of anisette, a sachet of vanilla sugar, the grated lemon zest (or orange), a little salt, some baking soda, 400 gr flour, 250 gr of honey.
Form a fountain with the flour, put the whole eggs, butter, sugar, a glass of anisette, a sachet of vanilla sugar, the grated lemon (or orange) peel, a little salt, a pinch of baking soda and knead. Work until the dough comes off from your hands, if necessary, you can add a little more flour. Form ropes about the size of a pencil and cut into small pieces, fry them in boiling oil until golden brown, and drain them a colander. When all the pieces are fried, take a baking pan and put 4 or 5 tablespoons of sugar, melt it a little over low heat, then add the Struffoli and honey turning for about ten minutes. Remove them from the pan and put them in a plate. Decorate them with citron, candied fruit, coloured sprinkles, white and silver sugared almond.
To make Neapolitan Christmas Mostaccioli you need these ingredients: 1kg of flour, 1kg of sugar, 350gr of toasted and chopped nuts, 2 grated lemons, ½ cinnamon sachet, a little salt, water q.s.
Mix all the ingredients and knead with warm water. The soft dough should not be processed very much. Cut into small diamonds of the thickness of the little finger. The mostaccioli are baked in a medium oven for about 15 minutes.
Even the nougat, usually bought in pastry, is never missing on the tables of Neapolitan families.
At the end of the meal, or waiting for midnight, you can’t miss the tombola (bingo). Who “pulls” the numbers has an important task: must know the Smorfia well, a book that details the old Neapolitan tradition in which dreams are analysed and converted into numbers to play, and entertain guests by composing a story.
The numbers are marked with clementine peels. Often, in fact, one of the guests shows up with a large basket of seasonal fruit, all polished for the occasion.