Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

"To every thing there is a time..." and it's always time to eat.
Ecclesiastes 3: 6-10

You Must Remember This, a Kiss is still a Kiss, a Bean is still a Bean

...and so is a chestnut still, an eggplant still, and a mushroom stll.* Be careful of mushrooms; don't confuse them with toadstools. They will kill you. If you see a toad sitting on it, don't eat it. Don't eat the toad either. You have a brain the size of bowling ball, so use it. Go bowling. 
*Yes, still, not just As Time Goes By - words and music by Herman Hupfeld. 1931.
       Turn off your computer and go watch Casablanca.

Better, go to a sagra. Sagre (plural)
are local festivals held in many villages and towns in Italy and often dedicated to a local food, such as chestnuts, wine, and even beans, Phaseolus vulgaris to you, you peasant, and other food that crops up (touché!) at sagre held throughout the year.

Start with dessert. Like this (image, right). Agatha[a] of Sicily (c. 231 – 251 AD) is a Christian saint, highly venerated in Roman Catholicism Her feast is on 5 February. She was born in Catania, part of the Roman Province of Sicily, and was martyred c. 251. She is the patron saint of Catania, Molise, Malta, San Marino, Gallipoli in Apulia,  Zamarramala, a town near Segovia in Spain, among other places. She is the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bakers, and bell-founders (due to the shape of her severed breasts). Yes, severed. She was tortured to death so hideously, you may want to tell your dinner guests her story before serving dessert, so they don't ask for more. An annual festival to commemorate her life takes place in Catania, Sicily, from 3 to 5 February. The festival culminates in an all-night procession through the city. The tradition of making shaped pastry on the feast of St. Agatha,called "Agatha bread" or buns, is found in many countries.
Saint Agatha is often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter, as in Bernardino Luini's Saint Agatha (1510–1515) in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, in which Agatha looks at  the breasts that rest on a platter she holds in her hand.


. I have taken this from "The Pasta Project", Jacqui Debono's blog at

"The word paccheri comes from the ancient greek (“πας” -all and “χειρ” -hand) which translated into Italian  means a pat or a slap given with an open hand, but not in an aggressive way. In Italian, the word for slap is ‘schiaffo’. Whereas in Neapolitan dialect, it’s ‘una pacca’. In fact, this pasta has two names, paccheri and schiaffoni! Many attribute the name/s to the ‘slapping’ noise made when pouring sauce onto the pasta!"
I recommend this site highly. It's laid out well, is friendly, easy to navigate, and is very informative. -jm

"We Hold these Noodles to be Self-Evident...

 Jefferson's drawing of a macaroni machine   
    and instructions for making pasta, ca. 1787.

Besides that thing that starts “When in the course of human events…,” Thomas Jefferson’s other immortal line was “The best maccaroni [sic] in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called semola, in Naples.” True, he misspelled maccheroni, but even the Oxford English Dictionary has 6 or 7 spellings for it, from macaroni (the most common English version) to mackerony. In Italian, the singular is maccherone; the plural (obviously the most common form, unless you are anorexic) is maccheroni. The only correct Italian spelling in English I have found is one from 1711 by Joseph Addison, who used maccherone to mean “a fop" or "dandy." 
That is the first paragraph from a longer article here.Jefferson's adventures in Noodle Land is quite a story. He came to Italy, but not as far south as Naples. He did, however, learn about our pasta and built himself a noodle-making gizmo so he would never be without. But
this for the "woke" among you he brought two persons with him, two slaves (!). One was Sally Hemming, his lovely mistress, and, two, her brother, his top-notch chef. If you are outraged, feel free to boycott noodles for the rest of your life.

I know two things about truffles: 

1) Intelligent German shepherd dogs, yes, may dig them up on a direct order —but they won't eat them ("Pee-yuuu! You must be kidding. There's your truffle, maestro. Gimme a biscuit, or I'll have to run you in. I'm a police dog, too, you know. And I rescue human children." (This, as opposed to stupid pigs, which have to wear snout rings to stop them from devouring the profits.)

(2) Rossini once called truffles "the Mozart of mushrooms". What can I say? I still like The William Tell Overture.

        That is an excerpt from this longer article:


I have spent the last hour or so examining the lentil—yes, the common lens esculenta. Neapolitans go on a lentil binge at the New Year. It’s because the lentil resembles a coin —I am here repeating what unregenerate lentophiles tell me— and if you gorge yourself on them at the beginning of the New Year, it bodes well for you; that is, you can expect lots of little metal lentils—commonly known as coin of the realm— to come your way. (You have a special reward stored up for you in Paradise if you can say “little metal lentil” five times really fast.) I have eyeballed lentils even with a magnifying lens (hence the name lens esculenta—they look like a lens… lenses?…lensi? Esculenta means "edible"), and they still look like little beans to me. OK, a little convex on one side (which maybe means they are concave on the other side, but I’m not sure —I failed fabatopographics, the study of the description of beans. I majored in music in college), but, essentially, it’s a funny-looking bean. I don’t get it. After all, Averroes claimed that lentils cause melancholic blood, obscure vision, constrict the stomach and impede sexual activity. So, come on. Is a little extra money in the new year worth all that?

slow food

I remember the First International Pasta Exhibition at the gigantic passenger terminal of the Port of Naples. They spent a lot of time talking about eating and not enough time actually handing out free samples. There was a panel of self-important sociologists holding forth on "Societal Incorporation of Emerging Syntheses in Higher Order Gastronomic Structures". They whined about "fast food". MacDonald's are all over and —food philistine that I am— I have eaten there. The main one is in the university district and is actually not a bad place for students to sit and read. No one hassles them if they nurse a soft-drink for an hour or so. I am reminded of the title of Hemingway's short-story, A Clean Well-Lighted Place. Everyone needs a place to sit sometimes. There is an Italian anti-fast-food society with the English name "Slow Food". They use a stylized image of a snail as their logo (photo) and send out invitations to their monthly affairs. You show up and spend a half-hour or so warming up by admiring the vittles— the texture of this noodle or aroma of that artichoke. Ah, maccheroni 97!—an excellent year—with an aggressive but not presumptuous bouquet that we think will amuse you. After all, they reason, their imperial ancestors dined slowly, sumptuously, in the most leisurely Claudius-peel-me-a-grape fashion imaginable. Right?, wrong.
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oman Fast-Food 
                            "Possum tubera solani fricta habere?"*

I call the sloth-besotted attention of my fast-foodlers to Dr. Penelope Allison's recent book The Insula of the Menander at Pompeii Volume III: The Finds, a Contextual Study (Oxford University Press, 2007). It has catalogues, analyses, photos and drawings of 2,000 archaeological artifacts excavated in Pompeii. The great empire builders were out of the sack by mid-March at the latest. The average ancient Roman ate on the run (!) and—(drum-roll)—did not wine and dine in measured decadence the way you see them doing in movies about ancient Rome. As a matter of fact, the ancient Romans never even saw movies about ancient Rome! (Dr. Allison doesn’t say that; I’m just trying to help out.) She says, "In many parts of the western world today, a popular belief exists that family members should sit down and dine together and, if they don't, this may represent a breakdown of the family structure."
                                     * "Can I get fries with that?"

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Of wine,  wine Pest, Names of Wine & Leonardo da Vinci's vineyard

We had good wine some time ago right down at water's edge of Lake Averno, the place of the fabled descent into the Inferno (from the name "Averno," by the way). Our host told us that his vineyard and a few others down along the slopes of the lake and in a few other places in Italy produced unusual wine for this day and age in Europe; this is because they enjoy the same soil characteristics (having to do with nearby volcanoes and other subterranean goings-on).               (The entire article is here.)

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Address to a haggis pizza. Many Neapolitan restaurants I walk into have a bit of verse on the wall, some sort of poetic tribute to pizza, telling you how hard it is to make a real pizza. The poem might be by a local dialect poet or even Robert Burns (image) or something by Dante, himself (the so-called 'massimo topping of Italian literature', who once said of the Neapolitan delicacy, "Insomma" ("yeah...well"). Richard Feynman supposedly (I suppose) once said that "Quantum mechanics does not impose upper limits on what you can put on a pizza." Scientific guy that I am, I have held to that. This, in spite of my wife's declaration, after enjoying a Taco pizza in Honolulu, that "this is good, but they should call it something else because it's not pizza." But I kept true to science. I accepted (as reported in my bible, The International Journal of Gastronomic Syncretism) such international delicacies as a squid ink pizza; a pickle, port and grape pizza; a marsh-mellow and dark chocolate pizza; and, in Finland, a smoked reindeer pizza called "the Berlusconi." (Yes, they all exist.)   
This an extract from a longer article, here.

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On the Thursday (yesterday) before Easter, my neighbors were having "zuppa di soffritto" a sautéed, "strong soup", a highly seasoned stew of pig lung, trachea, heart and skin." Since I wouldn't touch that even with the proverbial 3.048-meter barge pole, I shall move on. There are wonderful things to eat in Naples before, on and after Easter: such as the Colomba, a special, dove-shaped Easter bread (symbolizing hope), embedded with candied orange peel and topped with almonds and sugar bits (symbolizing your sweet tooth). And boiled eggs are always a prominent part of Italian Easter meals, symbolizing life, renewal and fertility. Sometimes, parishioners bring boiled eggs or chocolate ones to church to be blessed at Sunday mass.
Chocolate eggs are indeed very big; that is, very popular, but some of them are also gigantic in size. Our famous Gay Odin chocolate makers are powering through their busiest time of the year. (No, that name doesn't mean "Happy Wotan", but nice try.) In Naples, you will have soup or pasta for the first course. If you are undecided, put the pasta in your soup. Some will call you a slob. I call it gastronomic daredevilry.
Lamb is a common second course. You can get solemn and ruin the meal for everyone by noting that only the cross is a more powerful Christian symbol than the lamb. "The Lamb of God" is one of Messianic titles of Jesus. Capretto (roast kid goat) is another popular choice. I have only had that once, and I was in Greece. I was the guest of honor and they offered me the specialty, a "variety meat", one of the glands used as food and sometimes called "sweetbreads". "They're small. Take two." They always come in pairs. Over home we call them Rocky Mountain oysters. In Italian they are "granelli" (lit. 'granules'). You don't need them to enjoy your Easter meal.

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The Wizard's Secret

"They still say that late on a Saturday night in the house of the Cortellari, up in the wizard's room, Cicho returns to cut his maccheroni, and Jovanella can be seen stirring the pot of sauce while the devil, himself, grates cheese with one hand and fans the flame with the other."

That is the last paragraph of "The Wizard's Secret," one of the marvelous stories in Matilde Serao's Neapolitan Legends, first published in 1891. The complete story is here.

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Recent stats tell us that 7,000 pizzerias in Campania closed during the pandemic . Northern businessman., Flavio Briatore, wants to do us a favor and open a northern pizzeria down here. (My computer balked at that: "Are you sure you want to write "northern pizzeria"? It gave me two choices: NO and VERY NO. To interpret the symbolism of the image (right) that ran with this item in la Reppublica, that is the maw of a pizza oven from whence is being taken out a good-looking pizza... the banked oven itself... hmmmm .... that is Mt. Vesuvius, The whole 8.23 meters of the symbolism is "light at the end of the tunnel". Thus: "From us in the north to you in the south, this is where you are get good pizza from here on. From us!" To be impartial --you know me-- Flavio Briatore is a total douchebag, convicted in Italy on several fraud charges and currently enjoys spending what little remains of his 81-year-old life hanging out with supermodels. He reminds me of the next food item.

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Oh, yeah?!

A point-by-point rebuttal to Johnny Burke, who whote the lyrics to Swinging on a Star, sharing an Oscar with Jimmy Van Heusen for Best Original Song of 1944. For THIS?!
        "A pig is an animal with dirt on his face,  /  his shoes are a terrible disgrace,
        he's got no manners when he eats his food, / he's fat and lazy and extremely rude,
        but if you don't care a feather or a fig, / you may grow up to be a pig."

1. So? They cleaned me after slaughtering me, without even stunning me first. Bastards.
2. I don't wear shoes, you moron, and you are about to get a cloven hoof up where the moon don't shine.
3. I do oink a bit when I eat, yes. What, you've never slurped soup? 
4. I'll cop to chubby and indolent. I am not rude, so oink you!
5. Shove your feather and fig.  6. Burke was right about the mule
—stupid and stubborn. But I was proud to be a pig.

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