Last year I visited Naples Italy for the first time. After a lengthy journey from Los Angeles, I met up with my mother at the Rome train station and together we took the high speed train to Naples.
I was so fried from the 24 hours of travel that I could barely think straight, let alone figure out where to have dinner. Normally I have a carefully curated list of restaurants in a neat little (self) printed booklet I make before every trip. This time I had too much drama in the days leading up to the trip and I never managed to finish my list. Nor could we access the internet for any research, so we wandered around the area, looking at menus, searching for something which appealed and wasn’t too touristy. Exhausted, all I wanted was a plate of pasta and a bed.
We came across the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, located across from Piazza Bellini and underneath the archway leading to the street connecting to Piazza Dante and just stopped, sitting under heat lamps outside in the chilly night. Wrecked from not sleeping for almost 30 hours by this point, I ordered my old standby, Penne alla Arribiata, a pasta in a spicy tomato sauce. This is one of those classic dishes by which you can judge a restaurant. It’s simple, but they have to get it right and fortunately, they did.
My mother had a very tasty Fettuccine with Porcini mushrooms in a cream sauce, but the stars of the meal were the contorni (vegetables) we ordered. The first was a side of escarole, sauteed with anchovies, capers, and black olives, served warm. This dish was absolutely fantastic, all the salty additions contrasted so nicely with the bitter greens. We also had spinach sauteed with chunks of garlic, olive oil and lemon which, while surprisingly served cold, was still very tasty. I knew right then I had to try and recreate these vegetables.
Recently we had a small dinner party and I finally had the opportunity to make the escarole now that it’s in season again. For this dish, I’ve combined the best of both contorni by adding the lemon and spinach to the escarole. I think the spinach tempers the bitterness of the escarole a bit. Because southern Italian food is influenced by North African food, I added the preserved lemon, but if you don’t have any, you can substitute a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice. Everyone loved the greens and they were just as good, if not better, than I remembered.
Have you ever successfully recreated a dish you’ve eaten on your travels or in your favorite restaurant? What was it?