A voice coming from far …
Naples. It was around this time of the year, in the afternoon of a typical southern summer; soon after after a light lunch; no one in the street but stray cats. A little restless child was finally attempting to nap on his grandma Vincenza’s comfy floral sofa, hoping that anytime a breeze blow through the typical louvered windows and alleviate his journey to dreamland, when he heard a yelling voice coming from far, that became closer and closer, louder and louder ….
This voice, that sounded like a mermaid song, was saying: “ … pesce fresco, oggi tenimme treglie fresche, calamari e vongole veraci… direttamente ‘ra Mare Chiaro… jamm bell ja, accattatavelle !! ”
… fresh fish, today we got fresh surmullets, squids and wild clams, fished from Mare Chiaro, let’s go, buy it … this is wha it means.
At first, he couldn’t tell if he was already dreaming or it was a reality… until he suddenly realized that that day was Friday, in the afternoon, and every Friday night his family would have fish for dinner…
So, it became clear to him… the man’s voice chanting about the fresh fish was “don Mimì” a funny man, known by everyone in town for his jokes, who, every day, would sell fresh fish locally caught in the Gulf of Naples, as driving around town a typical three-wheeled truck, opened in the back, where the fish was happily displayed for the joy of customers, and bees flying all around!
For centuries the voice of those men and women, who stroll around for hours and hours, selling products of any kind, have echoed from wall to wall, from window to window down the narrow alleys, and hidden squares of the city of Naples.
Back in time, in Naples and, all over southern Italy, you could see these local itinerant sellers called “venditori ambulanti” every where. They used cars, open trucks, old wooden carts or even boiling pots carried on wheels, and you could buy anything from the street: fresh-the-oven bread, farm-to-table vegetables, wild caught fishes, and even frogs caught from nearby rivers (yes it’s true), olives or “lupini” beans … sometimes you could buy toys for you kids, get your knives sharpened and umbrella fixed. I was fascinated by all these courageous men, and women (sometimes) wandering around the city as carrying goods… every time was a joy to me.
A sort of an ancestors of Amazon Fresh. Food at your door step, and believe me, I still smell the flavors of some of this fresh products… as they were carried and sold around town, home by home.
“o panaro” to delivery or pick up food
When I was little, we would usually have lunch and spend entire afternoons at my maternal grandma’s house, since my dad was working all day in a warehouse, so, quite often, I would hear these voices coming from the streets. The apartment with rows of rooms with high ceilings, was located at the second floor of this brick-and-mortar building; it had a huge terrace facing the courtyard and quite deep balconies full of plants facing the street.
So, here it comes the fun fact: when any of the itinerary sellers was passing by, yelling as announcing his presence, my grandma would buy stuff, but she wouldn’t even go down the street, especially in hot days, but she would lower to the street level a typical basket to collect food.
This basket in Naples is called “o’ panar“, which derives from the ancient roman way to refer to a bread basket; in fact in Italian bread is “pane”.
O’ panar is used daily to lift up deliveries of milk, cheese and eggs, produce, a fast food delivery, or other supplies brought to home. You can imagine how dangerous it can be when Nonna loads a couple of sharp knives or scissors into the bucket to send down to “l’arrontino” the knife-sharpener, on his weekly visits!
As a little generous and little stubborn kid, I always wanted to help my grandma to lift the groceries from the street level. I tried to do it my self, but of course it was too heavy for my little arms, so my patient grandma would help me. I miss her, so much!
Supportive basket in Covid-times
Nowadays, it is still such a thing in Naples and throughout South Italy, and especially in Covid-19 times, this habit was revamped and people are using it a lot, in order to keep distance from relatives dropping off groceries or, if you are generous to leave spare food to donate to passing by people in need or homeless.
They call it “supportive basket”. Such a beautiful and smart idea …
Now, let’s talk about nowadays, and how I found a way to bring this concept to New York.
Homemade food delivered in New York City
You all know that, aside from hosting a social dining experience on Eatwith, I started also sharing my food on a new innovative app called Wood Spoon, on which local home chefs can sell their homemade food delivered directly to local customers, in a radius of few miles.
A genius idea I have immediately married, when I was contacted by the founders last summer and, I have been delivering home made food since, and feeling very proud of being part of this community.
So usually, when the order is ready, a delivery service person, comes and picks up the bag, to be delivered to the customers, but in the light of most recent events this process has been made even safer, requiring face masks and gloves.
Well, I couldn’t avoid to think about the concept of the “panaro” when I had to give the delivery guy my food, and since I have two windows facing the street I though that I could revamp this concept here as well. Right?
So, I took this squared woven basket with handles, that I use to I keep magazines in, and turned it into my Neapolitan delivery food basket, by attaching to it a rope … as long as the distance in between my windows sill and the street. So cool.
Now, every time I have an order on Wood Spoon app , not only I’m happy that my food is going to make someone’s day better, but alsoI can’t wait to use that basket and I lower it down the building. Safe, easy and much authentic!
You can easily imagine that, by doing this simple little gesture for the first time after ages, I was transported straight back to my childhood in Naples… and, believe it or not, I felt the warm touch of my grandma Vincenza on my hands, as she was behind me trying to help me. She was one of the sweetest person ever, but unfortunately she left us too soon, because of diabetes, I must have been 6, so little, so innocent, but not too little to have collected already memories at that age.
I love you ‘nonna’ and I miss you!
Recipe #2 Calamari in casseruola
Squid in cherry tomatoes sauce, with fresh sweet peas and potato.
One of the dishes that my grandma used to make in the summer, typically on Fridays or Saturdays after Mimí arrivals, was squid or so called “calamari” simply sautéed in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil, fresh sweet peas and sun-ripen “cieliegini” (cherry tomatoes) harvested in grandpa “Pasquale”‘s farm, who was her beloved husband, and only man of her life,
Sometime she would add some tomatoes sauce that my family would make once a year at the end of summer. It used to be a family tradition passed to us for generations, nowadays disappeared, sadly. I’m going to talk about this in my next post, because I want to revamp this concept as well!
This squid sauce is such a simple and genuine dish. I brings together the freshest ingredients we could find at the time, aside from being so healthy and tasty.
Neapolitans love squid, and we cook it in any possible way, “in casseruola” sautéed, fried “calamari”, grilled or stuffed and baked…
- 1 lbs squid, or so called calamari, cleaned
- 1 lbs sweet peas, still in the pods )
- 1 lbs cherry tomatoes, better if canned Pomodoro Mutti
- 1 potato
- 4 leaves of basil
- 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Separate the tentacles from the long body of the calamari, if not done already. Slice the body, or calamari tubes into rings about 1/2 to 2/3 inch thick, set aside.
In a saucepan, heat olive oil add garlic and basil and let it cook, about 5 minutes. Add the calamari to the pan and sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add white wine and let is steam, about 5 minute.
Add some water, salt and black pepper and let calamari cook for about 10-15 minutes, Calamari is done when it is plump and more opaque. Do not cook on higher heat or for a longer period, as calamari is famous for becoming rubbery.
Clean sweet peas and add them to the sauce. Cook for other 10 minutes. If you want to know how to clean see here
Combine the chopped potato and cook for about 5 minutes.
Combine canned cherry tomatoes, “cieligini”. Simmer on medium low for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.