Thursday, May 22, 2008

Genovese e Parmigiana

Do you know what Neapolitan cooking is? I'm not talking about the three colored ice cream. I'm talking about two of the best dishes which represent Neapolitan cooking: the Genovese and the Parmigiana di Melanzane. Settimia Cincinnati in her cookbook Mangiamo Cosí writes: ‘There are two Neapolitan dishes that happen to have the wrong names: la Genovese, unheard of in Genoa, and the Parmigiana that is unknown in Parma. Of course, things are changing and today you can find these dishes also outside of Naples. It's great food and it catches on.

The Genovese is a puree of onions flavored mainly with meat. In Naples we used to use the sauce to dress the pasta and we used the meat as a second course. Regarding the mistery of this Neapolitan dishes Arthur Schwartz writes in his cookbood Naples at Table : One story has it that, in the sixteenth century, Genovese merchants living in Naples, attending to their business (the cities always communicated and traded because they were and are still chief ports of the Mediterranean), had private chefs who made such a sauce. The merchants eventually went back to Genoa, but some of the chefs stayed behind, enchanted by their new-found paradise, Naples. They set up shops or stands selling food to the public, many of whom didn't have kitchens in their tiny, one-room apartments (called bassi). The sauce that was to become known as la Genovese was their specialty.

The Parmigiana is generally made with eggplants. It is a Neapolitan treat with eggplant smothered in a tomato sauce and layered with mozzarella and parmesan. Some of my friends in Italy use only the Parmigiano (parmesan) as a cheese (they make it without mozzarella, which is generally too wet unless it has been dried out) and no Parmigiana would be the same without the parmesan. The Parmigiana originated in Naples sometime after the tomato was accepted as nonpoisonous in the eighteenth century. At home, in Naples, my family used to serve the Parmigiana as an antipasto but also as a pietanza (a complete meal), or as a contorno. Restaurant and pizzeria versions in America are sometimes disappointing, with the eggplant too heavy, breaded and greasy, or unpleasantly bitter. Not many people properly slice and salt their eggplants because they don't know that they have to let them rest until they loose their bitterness.

I guess the quest for the perfect parmigiana continues...

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