Friday, 19 September 2014

Flipping for the Napoletana

Ever wonder about those funky upside-down coffee pots that you see in movies and rustic restaurants around the Campania region?  It's called the Napoletana, in homage to the city where its popularity peaked and has remained a household icon.

The Napoletana is often affectionately referred to simply as "la macchinetta" (the little machine).  It has a hazy history but was purportedly invented in 1819 by a French tinsmith, then brought to Naples, where it really caught on.  Coffee culture has remained an important ritual in Napoli.  So beloved was the macchinetta that many departing Neapolitans toted it along with them to the New World when they emigrated.

It enjoyed more than a hundred years of unabated reign until the faster and more practical Moka pot emerged on the scene, but adherents swear that the Napoletana makes a more aromatic and flavorful caffe' than other home brew methods.

So how does it work?  Unlike the moka which uses pressure to "express" the coffee up into the pot, the Napoletana is a drip machine.  The bottom reservoir is filled with water, the metal filter is placed inside and filled with fine-ground coffee, then the top is screwed on.  The pot looks upside-down on the stove.  When the water boils, the contraption is inverted (right-side up) and the water filters through the coffee grounds.  Sugar is stirred in and a decorative lid is placed on it for finesse.

High pressure espresso machines in coffee bars helped make Naples the caffe' capital of Italy - it's undisputed that the best coffee is found  here - but the Napoletana is still found in most kitchens around Campania, if only for nostalgic decoration.

The Colors of Confetti

In Italy, colorful confetti is used to celebrate important occasions.  But here confetti doesn't come in the form of bits of paper; they are much more delectable.  They're are candy-coated almonds and they make an appearance at every marriage, graduation and baptism that we celebrate.  It just wouldn't be a party with confetti!

The tradition is a couple of millennia old, dating back to the Romans when they served pieces of candied fruit and nuts at celebration banquets.  During the Middle Ages, alchemists cooked almonds with sugar syrups mixed with tinctures and herbs to aid digestion after a big meal.  The custom became more elaborate in the Renaissance with the introduction of sugarcane, when the coating could be cooked to a hard, colorful shell.

During the 1500s, the lovely town of Sulmona in Abruzzo turned into the unwitting center of confetti manufacturing when a convent started producing and selling the tinted treats.  In the 1780s the Pelino family introduced the first "factory" production of the sweets using only almonds and pure sugar, though the 4-day long process can never be fully industrialized.  The Pelino family still operates their confetteria in Sulmona.

Nowadays, you can find them made from hazelnuts, pistachio and chocolate, and they're made in cities around the country, especially in Naples and Milan, but Sulmona is still the capital of confetti.  They are formed into flowers and bundled into bouquets or wrapped into whimsical shapes, perfect for the party favors that decorate the place settings at the table.

The rainbow of colors have a purpose - white for weddings, pink or blue for baptisms, red for graduations or birthdays, and green for engagements.  But at most events, a big jar of various colored confetti decorates the lobby like an edible kaleidoscope.

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