Neapolitan potato croquettes: history, info, interesting facts

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Neapolitan potato croquettes: history, info, interesting facts


The Neapolitan potato croquettes, the ‘Crocchè’, are among the most traditional street foods of the ‘City of teh Sun’. Let’s find out their special relationship with Naples and many interesting facts. Let’s find the historic ‘Friggitorie’ where to taste the original flavor of this delicacy. Let’s savor it while strolling through the colorful alleys known as ‘vicoli’.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Crocchè in the vicoli of Naples.


The origins of the Neapolitan Potato Crocchè.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Ferdinand I of The Two Sicilies (img-04)

The origins of the Neapolitan potato Crocchè are anything but certain. In this respect, It should be remembered that specialties quite similar to it are part of the gastronomic tradition of many countries in the world. Nowadays, the most believable theories associate this delicacy to a couple of nations in particular: France and Spain. It’s no coincidence, considering that their past domination over the city of Naples and, more in general, over southern Italy (*1), was in fact particularly significant, deeply influencing also food.

French origins:

According to this theory, that is also the most popular, the Neapolitan Crocchè could be the evolution of the French ‘croquettes’. It’s more than likely that their recipe was introduced in the city during the second half of the 1700s by the French chefs who prepared the court banquets for Ferdinand I of Bourbon (*2) and his wife Maria Carolina of Austria.

Spanish origins:

The second hypothesis, generally considered less likely, suggests that the Neapolitan Crocchè could be the evolution of the Spanish ‘croquetas’.

*1: This is the reason why specialties very similar to Crocchè, such as the Sicilian ‘cazzilli’, are prepared in many places of southern Italy.
*2: Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, ex Ferdinand III of Sicily and Ferdinand IV King of Naples. He was nicknamed ‘Re Nasone’ (‘Big Nose’ King), due to the size of his nose (as evidenced in many portraits of its time), and ‘Re Lazzarone’ (‘King of the Poors’), because he loved to mix (in incognito) with its subjects.


‘Crocchè’ and ‘panzerotto’: two types of potato croquettes.

The ‘crocchè’ (the classic potato croquette),is often confused with its ‘big brother’, the ‘panzerotto’, also known as ‘panzarotto’. They are in fact quite similar to each other: the panzerotto differs from the crocchè for its size and the presence of a filling.
Let’s give a closer look at these two delicacies:

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Crocchè, detail. Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Crocchè, detail.


The ‘crocchè’ is usually quite small, not more than 3/4 centimeters long. Its dark-gold breading looks very appetizing and covers a soft part made with potatoes, eggs, bread crumbs, parsley and black pepper.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Crocchè, detail. Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Crocchè, detail.


The ‘panzerotto’ is bigger than a Crocchè: around 7/8 centimeters. Its golden breading covers a soft filling made with potatoes, parsley and black pepper, enriched with smoked provola cheese and/or mozzarella.


The ‘friggitoria’: part of a long tradition.

As already said, Crocchè can be bought in a ‘friggitoria’: this word comes from ‘friggere’, the Italian for ‘to fry’. As per its name, it’s a food shop selling mainly (but not only) fried stuff. Simple and yet delicious preparations that can be easily eaten while walking.
At first sight, there are some similarities between a friggitoria and modern fast foods.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Neapolitan friggitoria, home of crocchè. Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Ercolano, caupona.

This kind of commercial activities has existed since the distant past, meeting a common need: feeding passers-by. Something that can be easily demonstrated by visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum. These ancient cities are still almost intact: the volcanic ashes that covered them many centuries ago, have also protected them from the passage of time. ‘Thanks’ to Mount Vesuvius, it’s still possible to see these places as they were when Emperor Titus ruled over the Roman Empire. Walking through their streets, it’s easy to come across a ‘caupona’: a small food shop that long ago served food and beverages. The caupona can be considered the ancestor of the friggitoria.

Nowadays, there are many ‘friggitorie’ in almost every Italian city: the most famous are in Naples, Genoa and Palermo.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Ercolano, excavation.


Not just potato croquettes in the Neapolitan ‘Friggitorias’.

Crocchè are not the only delicacy sold in a Neapolitan friggitoria, there are in fact many many others: here follows a small list of the most famous. Even if this list is quite incomplete, it gives a good idea about the great variety of the specialties offered.

01. Fried pizza (Naples): Fried pizza dough. There is also a stuffed version.
02. Rice balls (Naples): Small rice balls, breaded and fried.
03. Fried eggplant (Naples): Eggplant cut into thin slices, battered and fried.

04. ‘Pasta cresciuta’ (Naples): Soft pizza dough, fried and salted.
05. ‘Arancini’ (Palermo) Stuffed rice balls, coated with breadcrumbs and fried.
06. ‘Mozzarella in a carriage’ (Naples): Sandwich with mozzarella cheese, battered and fried.

09. ‘Fiorilli’ (Naples): Courgette flowers, battered and fried.
10. ‘Frittatine’ (Naples) Thick spaghetti omelettes, battered and fried.
11. ‘Gattoncino’ (Naples) Made with mashed potatos, breaded, fried and stuffed.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: 'Crocchè' and 'frittatina'.


Naples: the essential ingredient for perfect potato croquettes.

It’s so easy to spend entire days walking through the Old Town of Naples, exploring its narrow alleys, the ‘vicoli’. It’s such an interesting and pleasant journey, something that should be tried at least once in life. A few steps are enough to be surrounded by the sounds and the colors of an incredibly vital place. It’s so nice to get lost here, wandering around just for the pleasure of doing it.
Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Crocchè, detail. Such an experience can be further improved by eating something delicious, meant to be tasted ‘on the go’. Where to look for it? Well, it’s quite simple actually: when strolling through the vicoli, it’s easy to come across a ‘friggitoria’. It’s a particular kind of food shop: the name comes from the Italian verb ‘friggere’ (‘to fry’). Not surprisingly, a great part of its specialties is fried. It’s possible to choose which one to buy directly from the street: a difficult task because they all look so delicious. One of the most typical is the ‘Crocché’, name used in this city for a particular kind of potato croquette. Even if this food is well known worldwide, here it’s kind of special, not just for the recipe, but also for an ingredient that, in some way, improves its flavor. This ingredient is Naples itself! The only way to understand what this means is to taste it.

There is something so ‘Neapolitan’ in every Crocchè, something deeply connected with the sunny disposition of this city and its people.

Once again, culture has a fundamental role in improving the taste of food: a popular culture, deeply influenced by the Classical Age, by Ancient Greece and by the thought of its philosophers.


‘Agorázein’ and potato croquettes in Naples.

To understand something more about the ‘special ingredient’ that improves so much the taste of the Neapolitan potato croquette, the ‘Crocchè’, it’s useful to remember the origin and the meaning of the word ‘agoràzein’. It comes from ‘agorà’, a term frequently used in ancient Greece: it was the central square of a ‘polis’, the Ellenic City-State. Much more than a gathering place, it represented the pumping heart of a magnificent civilization. A meeting point not just for politicians, artists and philosophers, but also and foremost for common people.

‘Agoràzein’ means strolling around, enjoying the beauty of the place, the warmth of the sun, the company of interesting people, intriguing conversations, good food and so on.

The philosopher Plato, in one of his famous writings, the Dialogues, explains that this activity was once much appreciated in Athens.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Naples, Pigna Secca. Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Naples, Pigna Secca.

‘Il passeggiare’:

Many centuries ago Naples was part of a Greek colony, the ‘Magna Graecia’: at that time its name was Neapolis (nea: new, polis: city). More than two thousands years have passed since then and the people of this city still retains a great part of the old habits. One of them is ‘il passeggiare’, the strolling around: something very similar to the ‘agoràzein’. Once again, pleasure comes from beautiful places, nice weather, good company and … delicious food.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Crocchè and pasta cresciuta. Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Crocchè and pasta cresciuta.

‘Lo sfizio’:

The joy of strolling around the Old Town of Naples can be further improved by eating something delicious. The Neapolitans use a specific term to describe such food: ‘sfizioso’. A Crocchè may be a good example of ‘sfizio’ (whim) since it’s not meant just to feed, but also to give pleasure. This small delicacy is like a single piece in a great mosaic offering, to those who can appreciate it, a delightful experience in which all senses are involved.

In conclusion, it’s possible to say that ‘il passeggiare’, the strolling around, is something extremely important to understand the Neapolitan way of life: an Epicurean way of living, inviting people to enjoy themselves as much as possible … until it’s possible.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Sfizio in Naples.


Burckhardt explains the ‘agorázein’.

The famous historian Jacob Burckhardt, in one of his books, ‘The Greeks and Greek Modern Civilization’, describes the activity of ‘agorazein’:

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Jacob Burckhardt (img-01)

“Here, in full view of the ships, surrounded by as many temples, civic buildings, monuments, shops and moneychangers’ stalls as there was room for, the Greeks could occupy themselves with agorazein, that activity no northerner can render in a single word. Dictionaries give: ‘go about in the marketplace, shopping, chatting, consulting’, but can never convey the delightful leisurely mixture of doing business, conversing, standing and strolling about together. It is enough to know that the morning hours were generally described by it: the time when everybody is in the agora“.

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‘Vicoli’: strange places, full of life.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Naples, San Gregorio Armeno.

The word ‘vicolo’ comes from the Latin ‘viculus’ and means ‘narrow alley’. Great part of these ‘vicoli’ is in the Old Town of many Italian cities.
The most interesting and colorful are probably in Naples: their origin dates back to the Sixteenth Century, the period of the Spanish rule on the city. Not surprisingly, the most characteristic can be found in a district known as ‘Quartieri Spagnoli’ (Spanish district). Even if they are very narrow, they have accommodated for centuries, side by side, the houses of the poor (the ‘bassi’) and many different kinds of shops and small workshops.
A lot of people live in the vicoli still today: these odd roads are like small, self-contained universes. Walking through these places, passersby are immediately surrounded by an incredible variety of human activities.

Strolling in a Vicolo is an extraordinary experience that should be enjoyed at least once in life. All the senses are overwhelmed by an incredible mix of sounds, colors, smells and tastes.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Naples, Pigna Secca.


Naples, the birthplace of potato croquettes.

Naples, the ‘city of the sun’, is the county seat of Campania region. Its origins date back to the 8th Century BC

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: crown


It’s quite difficult to determine which is the most ancient friggitoria in Naples. Until we find it out, please refer to the following list including some of the most traditional places where you can savor Crocchè prepared according to the original recipe:

Friggitoria Fiorenzano
Via Pignasecca, 48, 80134 Naples;
Official website
Friggitoria Vomero
Via Domenico Cimarosa, 44, 80129 Naples;
Rosticceria Imperatore
Viale Colli Aminei, 66, 80131 Naples;


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Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: 'Crocchè' or 'Panzerotto'?


‘Crocchè’ or ‘panzerotto’?

In Naples the word ‘crocchè’ is often used instead of ‘panzarotto’.
To be sure of using the correct name, it’s important to remember that:
The crocchè is small and without any filling.
The panzerotto is much bigger and stuffed.

It’s also very important to remember that, in the rest of Italy, the name ‘panzerotto’ is used for small stuffed pouches of pizza dough, baked or fried.

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Music in the ‘vicoli’.

Some typical Neapolitan music by Roberto Murolo to accompany the exquisite potato croquettes known as ‘Crocchè’:

Note: join Spotify and listen to the full song.

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: How to make Crocchè.


How to make the oroginal Neapolitan Crocchè.

Here follows a video showing how to make ‘Crocchè’ (video in Italian langage)


The ‘cousin’ of crocchè.

Since the ‘panzerotto’ can be considered, in a way, the ‘big brother’ of a crocchè, the ‘gattoncino’ could be its ‘cousin’. The basic ingredients are the same, its preparation is quite similar too. The main differences are that gattoncino is thick, round-shaped, and usually stuffed with mozzarella cheese and salami.


The ‘meaning of life’ for Epicurus.

Epicurus was one of the most important Greek philosophers. He was born in 342 BC on Samos, an island in the Eastern Aegean, and died in Athens in 270 BC.
His thought is very important to understand this article: he suggests that men, during their life, should look for pleasure. A pleasure often consisting of small joys. For him, it’s fundamental to keep always in mind that every moment could be the last and, as such, it should be enjoyed as much as possible.

Speaking of politics, is there something to eat? (Totò) (img-03)



The mobile ‘friggitoria’.

In Italy, when visiting a fair or strolling through a popular market, it’s common to come across a particular kind of friggitoria. It attracts the eye because it’s fit in a van.


Using a ‘cuoppo’ for fried food.

In Naples the ‘cuoppo’ (or ‘cuopp’), a cone made with straw paper, is used by the local people to carry around the delicacies just bought in a ‘friggitoria’ (typical fried food shop).

Neapolitan Potato Croquettes: Beverages for Crocchè.


The right beverage.

What to drink with a crocchè? Neapolitans usually choose beer. Another good choice could be red wine: something quite tannic, quite soft, and quite fresh.
The tannicity balances the greasiness of the frying.
The softness balances the saltiness.
The acidity balances the sweet tendency of the potato.


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img-01 (*) – Jacob Burckhardt, 1892 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-02 (*) – Greek philosopher Epicurus, Nuremberg Chronicle (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – Totò, sign picture, 1943 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – Portrait of Ferdinand I of The Two Sicilies, 1825 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}

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