As we quarantine together through these hard times, allow me to take you on an emotional journey back to my origins in Naples. Thru an imaginary line of memories and explorations of a curious child re-discovering simple ingredients, standout flavors, and family traditions.
40 days of quarantine…40…it is indeed this imaginary line, better known as a parallel. Virtually connecting New York to Naples, leading me straight home.
Once upon a time, in the centuries-old and charming city of Naples, in southern Italy, a curious and, creative child was growing wild and fascinated by Nature, Art, and discovery.
As not so many children of his age, he was also charmed by the simplicity of the ingredients, the standout flavors and the earthy textures of his family’s traditional cooking . Food and everything around it, at that innocent age, was such an adventure for this little child…
Since he was so adventurous and loved exploring unknown places, he would push himself, not only to the most hidden places of the old neighborhood, built over centuries with narrow and tall alleys, so called “vicoli” where the sunlight rarely touch the street, and picturesque little “piazzas”, with his little friends, but also we would sneak inside his aunts and grandma’s kitchens, where, believe it or not, there was always, ALWAYS, something delicious simmering on the stove, or a tasty, fragrant ingredient on the counter of the big kitchen, ready to be cooked, catching his growing senses.
This little child hungry of discovery and curious was me, little Giuseppe, and somehow he still survives inside me, as an adult, inside my early memories and my daily habits, as an Italian living somewhere else in the world, still deeply proud of his roots.
Loving exploration and adventures, the little child grew up feeding a dream: travel all over the world and land in this concrete jungle, we call New York. This dream became true and with a bubbling soup of emotions, fear, excitement…, my partner Leonardo, and I decided to undertake this adventure.
New York is the most exciting city in the world, so vibrant, dynamic and diverse. You can meet people from all over the world and eat a different cuisine every day. It is a hotbed of creativity, rife with innovative dining experiences.
It’s been a roller coaster of emotions and experiences, dnd food has played an important role in this adventure.
At the beginning it was an exhilarating exploration of new flavors, new culinary experiences and, of course, guilty pleasures. Then I struggled to find the flavors that reminded me of home, and I started realizing that in New York this so-celebrated “Italian food” is not even close to what I grew up eating or what inspired me as a little child.
In New York Italian cuisine is quite often misinterpreted, manipulated and over elaborated. While the Italian, and especially southern-italian cuisine I have known for all my life is simple, genuine and I would say “innocent” like a child. So little by little I started reproducing my childhood memories and experience in my daily cooking and, and then while hosting dinners
This is how Amato Cibo was born, or better re-born. Amato, aside from being my last name in Italian means “beloved”, Cibo means “food” so Amato Cibo is just an emotional journey back to my childhood memories, to my family’s place and to the characters that played a role in my upbringing. It’s a way to keep alive my “beloved food” through my childhood.
… So I needed to find the way home, and how would a little kid and explorer find his way home? In a fairytale he would scatter bread crumbs along the way of his exploration to find his way home, or trace his path unrolling a little string as a line to follow back … A line, better if straight home …
Much to my delight, I found this line. Latitudinally, New York and Napoli are a straight shot from each other, both near 40° North.
What a funny coincidence. Right ?
So, all I needed was to fly straight back home. No turns, no jumps, just straight home!
Not to mention that all this thinking came, of course, during these unprecedented and uncertain times, after being barely 40 days of digital isolation and Zoom-ing with my family in Italy, I found myself digging inside, and focusing on myself.
Historical noteORIGIN OF QUARANTINE
1600–10; < Italian quarantina, variant of quarantena, orig. Upper Italian (Venetian): period of forty days, group of forty, derivative of quaranta forty ≪ Latin quadrāgintā
So during this “40-ine” I have been cooking and wondering who I really am, and where is my happy place?
In New York, the most beautiful and vibrant city in the world, or in Naples, the city that makes my heart beat? Who am I, what is my true calling, am I an architect, chef, American, New Yorker, Italian?… So I’ve decided to write about this inner journey back to my senses… writing down 40 recipes that take me home.
I have come so far, but I have never stopped to look at my past to build my future, through these stories I would like to show the quiet determination and the reckless enthusiasm that have inspired my creativity since I was a child.
Recipe #1 – Escarole and red beans soup
The first recipe I want to tell you about is “escarole and red beans soup” because it is such a simple and frugal dish, that reminds me when my ancestors had to feed the whole family in such hard times, with locally grown and poor ingredients.
I grew up loving it because my entire family would make it, with fresh escaroles coming straight from my grandpa’s orchard, yes, I grew up going incampagna(to the field) with my nonno Pasquale, who taught me the love for harvesting fresh ingredient, literally farm-to-table.
(In the next posts, maybe I will tell you about the characters of my childhood, people who inspired and impressed in me the love for food and cooking.
Back to the soup….
Perfect during winter, because escarole is in season, this is such a comfy soup that you can prepare yearlong with different greens.
Pantry and budget- friendly this recipe features humble ingredients but standout flavor. Greens and beans are a classic pairing in Italian peasant cuisine (as well as many other cuisines from around the world), known as cucina povera (“poor cuisine”). Brothy cooked-from-dried beans and hearty greens like escarole, Tuscan kale or chard, which can last for a long time in the fridge, together create dishes that are simple, quick, filling and healthy, especially in this moment of difficulties
- 1 lbs. dried red beans (or canned)
- ½ cup chopped onion
- ½ cup chopped carrot
- ½ cup chopped celery
- 4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 bunch (8z) escarole or kale, tough stems removed, leaves cut into 2-inch pieces
- Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup dry white wine¼ cup chopped prosciutto crudoor guanciale
- ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Rinse the beans few times, put them in a large bowl with water, chopped vegetables, and let it soak, possible overnight. The longer you soak them to faster will cook. By soaking they will start absorbing all the flavors that will be held by beans during the cooking.
- In a large pot or wok, combine oil, garlic and chopped prosciutto (if using). Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until prosciutto gets slightly crunchy and garlic has softened and is just beginning to turn lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and continue to cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Increase heat to medium-high and add wine. Bring to a simmer and cook, swirling pan and scraping up any stuck-on bits with a wooden spoon, until wine has emulsified with olive oil and mixture is slightly reduced, about 30 seconds.
- Add beans and soaking water (if using dried beans) or stock (if using canned beans), season lightly with salt (remember prosciutto or guanciale are already salty themselves) and let it cook for 30/40 minutes or until cooked, stirring occasionally. While cooking you can crush part of the beans against the side of pot in order to make the mixture creamy and thick.
- Right before the beans are cooked, add the chopped escarole and let is cook for bit, stirring occasionally till thickened and soften. Do not over cook. You want the escarole (or kale) to keep their freshness and crunchiness.
- Let it rest of few minutes. You can eat right away adding some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top. Enjoy it with stale bread or crostini.
This soup was featured by @EATWITH Blog as Comfort Food recipe. See it here