Finding Old Delhi in the alleys of Naples
In the birthplace of pizza, street food is everywhere, and it is addictive
There were several moments during a recent long weekend in Naples when I did a double take and wondered if I was, in fact, back in Old Delhi. Like the Indian capital, Naples is one of the most ancient cities in the world—its origins can be traced to the ninth century BC. The historic centre was built at around the same time as Shah Jahan was putting down roots in Delhi and the street pattern is strikingly similar. There is a warren of ever-narrowing, dark alleyways (or gullies, as we call them) where laundry flaps between the buildings and baskets are lowered from the upper floors to be filled with deliveries from the street. The last time I saw this was in Sadar Bazaar, as a means of conveying mutton korma from a rooftop kitchen to the ground floor of Ashok and Ashok restaurant. I came away with the impression that Centro Storico is basically Purani Dilli without the rickshaws.
The Neapolitan relationship with food also reminded me of Old Delhi—it’s everywhere, and addictive. There is a lane called Spaccanapoli where people go to visit the beautiful old buildings, gorge on street food, and like Old Delhi, much of it is deep-fried. Some of it even looks like Indian street food. When I posted a picture of deep-fried pizza on Instagram, a Delhi food writer friend of mine commented: “Bhaturas!"
Naples is, of course, the birthplace of pizza, which also happens to be one of India’s favourite dishes. Unlike its desi counterpart, though, the classic Neapolitan pizza is thin and crisp outside, soft inside, with a simple, light topping. Local favourites include Pizza Napolitana, with tomato and garlic, margherita is tomato and mozzarella, and the marinara is a margherita without the mozzarella. India, please note: no lamb keema, no chicken tikka, no biryani.
You really need to eat five meals a day to make the most of Neapolitan food and we gave it our best shot. A typical day involved coffee and croissants in the market for breakfast, elevenses of local speciality sfogliatella, a shell-shaped pastry filled with cream, pizza for lunch, a mid-afternoon snack of fritto misto (an assortment of vegetables coated in egg and batter, then deep-fried—basically pakode), then a hearty ragu (pasta and meat sauce) for dinner.
The very best thing I tasted, and something I will dream of for evermore, was a little pastry called fiocco di neve (snowflake) at the Pasticceria Poppella near our apartment. It is small (two bites), a very delicate brioche-type bun filled with a light whipped cream, which comes in vanilla, pistachio, chocolate and Nutella flavours. I thought about trying to recreate it here but decided to make a simple crostata instead. I saw this pie in bakeries and market stalls everywhere in Naples and it is also made in homes all over Italy, the filling changing according to the season. It’s like a fancy jam tart, with rich biscuit-y pastry, easy and delicious—in Italy or India.
For the pastry
200g very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
400g plain flour (maida)
150g icing sugar
4 egg yolks
For the filling
500g strawberry jam (you could use any jam you like)
1 small egg, for glazing
You will need a 25-26cm tart tin, preferably with a removable base
Put the butter and flour in a food processor, then blitz for a few seconds until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the icing sugar and egg yolks and blitz again. If the mixture is starting to clump together, gently form it into a ball with your hands. If not, add a little iced water until the dough holds together. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for an hour, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease the tart tin and sprinkle with flour. Cut off about one-third of your dough, wrap it in cling film, then refrigerate. On a lightly floured surface, large enough to line your tart tin, roll out the rest of the pastry. Carefully lift it into the tin and press gently into the corners. Run a rolling pin over the rim of the tart tin to cut away excess pastry.
Spread the jam over the base of the tart. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick. Cut the dough into 12 strips long enough to go across the tart. To make a lattice, place pastry strips 1cm apart horizontally on top of the pie, then vertically, weaving in and out to create a woven pattern. Seal the edges and trim any excess pastry. Beat the egg in a small dish, then brush all over the lattice top.
Bake the crostata for 45 minutes.
The Way We Eat Now is a column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.
Pamela Timms tweets @eatanddust