Last week I briefly mentioned a habit that a lot of people from Southern Italy have: claiming exclusivity. When you go to the South, people will feed you until you cry, and accompany just about every dish or ingredient with the words “Here, try this! It only exists here, only we have this”. They’re really big on this, which is fair enough because it’s awesome to be the exclusive producer/creator/consumer of something really delicious. It makes you an expert by the virtue of being one-eyed in the land of the blind.
It’s endearing and hilarious at the same time, because to me, only about half of the time it seems true. In Naples, you’re as likely to hear these words when eating some really unique, traditional, hand-made sweets, as when you’re trying a funky type of salad. I understand the charm of being the only one who has something, but I sometimes feel they’re pushing it a bit too far into the realm of the unlikely and unbelievable.
One of the many types of food that they “only have in Naples” are friarielli, or cime di rapa. I frequently buy cime di rapa here at the market in Turin, and my veg guy lists their origin as Puglia (the heel of the boot that is Italy: distinctly not in the close vicinity of Naples), and yet the Neapolitans in my life will not relent. “They’re not the same thing! Friarielli and cime di rapa are not the same vegetable!”
I googled it and found out the following complication: friarielli turn out to be cime di rapa that have started flowering. Well, this is going to be a tricky one to settle, isn’t it? They’re technically the same plant, but the two names refer to different stages in the plant’s life. Does that mean they’re the same thing or not? Let’s say they aren’t, or I’m gonna take a beating from my Neapolitan friends. Plus, I may have to admit: the flowering version, so friarielli, are actually a bit more bitter than cime di rapa, and thus, in my opinion, slightly more delicious.
The good news? I can now make my own friarielli by leaving my cime di rapa in the kitchen for too long. Awesome.
As with many types of food, friarielli are best combined. Aim to eat them with their meaty spouse from the most beautiful culinary marriage of all times: friarielli e salsiccia, or friarielli with sausage. In Naples, you can buy this delicious duo in tonnes of places spread out over the city, usually in a roll or otherwise just like that on a paper plate to shovel down with a plastic fork sitting outside somewhere. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a roll with friarielli and sausages from Naples (you haven’t lived until you’ve been to Naples, full stop, but that’s a different story for a different time). If you want to have a go, and you’re not sure what to look for, in English friarielli are usually called broccoli raab or broccoli rabe, otherwise try for something like broccoletti. As I said, you can have them by themselves or in a roll, but I also like to have them with pasta. So that’s what we’re gonna have today. Pasta, friarielli e salsciccia.
For two, use:
- a foot of pork sausage
- 400 gr of friarielli or cime di rapa
- one small dried chili
- one clove of garlic
- enough pasta for two – I like penne for this one
- olive oil
- parmesan for finishing touching
Boil a big pot of water with salt for your pasta. In the meantime, crush your garlic and chop up your chili. Gently fry them in some olive oil, low heat. Grab your sausage and squeeze the meat out of the intestine so that you get small little balls of sausage meat. If you find this too much hassle you can also just cut them up with a knife, but I hate those little bits of rolled up sausage skin that you get when you fry them like that. Whichever you prefer.
Chop up your friarielli. Take off the bottom parts of the stems and chuck them out, chop up the rest in parts of half half an inch, then wash them and chuck them in with the sausages. Turn up the heat somewhat, put on a lid and leave the whole thing to simmer. After about a minute, stir the whole bunch, add half a glass of water and put the lid back on. Repeat this process until your friarielli are pretty soft. Then leave them with the lid off so that all the liquid can evaporate.
Boil your penne, drain them, add them to the meat-and-veg, mix well, top with some parmesan and enjoy.