Crocchè in the vicoli of Naples.
t’s so easy to spend entire days walking through the Old Town of Naples, exploring its narrow alleys, the so-called “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 without destination, just for the pleasure of doing it.
Such an experience can be further improved by eating something delicious, meant to be tasted while moving. 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 verb “friggere”, that is the Italian for “to fry”. So, not surprisingly, great part of its specialities is fried. It’s possible to choose which one to buy directly from the street: a difficult task indeed, since they all look so delicious. One of most typical is the “crocché”, the name used in this city for a particular type of potato croquette. Even if this preparation is well known worldwide, here it’s “special”: not just for the recipe, but for an ingredient that, in some way, “improves” its taste. This ingredient is Naples itself! The only way to understand what this really means, is to try it.
There is something so “Neapolitan” in every crocchè, something deeply connected with the sunny disposition of this city and of its people.
Once again, culture has a fundamental role improving the taste of food: a popular culture in this case, deeply influenced by the Classical Age, by Ancient Greece and by the thought of its philosophers.
The crocchè and the panzerotto.
he “crocchè” has a “big brother”: it’s the so-called “panzerotto”, also known as “panzarotto”. They are quite similar to each other: the panzerotto differs from the crocchè because it’s bigger and stuffed. Let’s give a closer look to these delicacies:
The crocchè is usually quite small, not more than 3/4 centimetres long. Its dark-gold breading looks very appetizing and covers a soft part made with potatos, parsley and black pepper.
The “panzerotto” is bigger that a crocchè: around 7/8 centimetres. Its golden breading covers a soft filling made with potato, parsley and black pepper, enriched with smoked provola cheese and / or mozzarella.
“Agorázein”: the special ingredient in a crocchè.
o learn something more about the “special” ingredient that improves so much the taste of a 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 persons, 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.
Many centuries ago Naples was part of a greek colony, the so-called “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 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.
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”, 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 the senses are involved.
In conclusion, it’s possible to say that “il passeggiare” (the strolling around), is something extremely important to really understand the Neapolitan way of life: an Epicurean way of living, inviting people to enjoy themselves as much as possible … until it’s possible.
Burckhardt explains the “agorázein”.
he famous historian Jacob Burckhardt, in one of his books, “The Greeks and Greek Modern Civilization”, describes the activity of “agorazein”:
“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 northener 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“.
The “friggitoria”: part of a long tradition.
he crocchè can be bought in a so-called “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 moving.
At first sight, many are the similarities between a friggitoria and a modern fast food.
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 possible to see these places as they were when the 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.
Not just crocchè in a friggitoria.
he “crocchè” is clearly not the only delicacy sold by an Italian “friggitoria”. There are many other specialities: they may vary depending on the city.
Here follows a small list of the most famous preparations: even if it’s widely incomplete, it gives an idea about the great variety.
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. “Crocché” (Naples) Made with mashed potatoes, eggs and smoked “provola” cheese. Breaded and fried.
05. “Pasta cresciuta” (Naples): Soft pizza dough, fried and salted.
06. “Arancini” (Palermo) Stuffed rice balls, coated with breadcrumbs and fried.
07. Fried cod (Genoa) Cod fish, battered and fried.
08. “Mozzarella in a carriage” (Naples): Thick slices of 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 potato, then fried and stuffed.
“Vicoli”: strange places, full of life.
he word “Vicolo” comes from the Latin “viculus”. It’s basically a narrow alley. Great part of these alleys is in the Old Town of many Italian cities.
The most interesting and colorful are in Naples: their origin of many of them dates back to the sixteenth century, the period of the Spanish rule on the city. Not surprisingly, many can be found in a district known as “Quartieri Spagnoli” (Spanish district).
Even if they are so narrow, they have accommodated for centuries, side by side, the houses of the poor (the so-called “bassi”) and many different kinds of shops and small workshops.
A lot of people live in these vicoli still today: they are like small, self-contained universes that retain their original function as roads. Passing through a place like this, means to be immediately surrounded by an incredible concentration of human activities.
Strolling around 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.
HOW TO MAKE A PANZEROTTO
ere follows a video showing how to make a so-called “panzerotto”, the “big brother” of the crocchè.
Even if the video is in Italian language (Neapolitan dialect), it’s quite easy to understand.
THE RIGHT NAME
n 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 very important to remember that in the rest of Italy, the “panzerotti” are small stuffed calzoni. They are made with pizza dough and can be either baked or fried.
THE “COUSIN” OF THE CROCCHE’
ince the “panzerotto” can be considered the “big brother” of a crocchè, it’s possible to say that the so-called “gattoncino” could be its “cousin”. That’s because it’s basically like a big crocchè, thick and round shaped, usually stuffed with mozzarella and salami.
VICOLI IN MUSIC
Some typical Neapolitan music to accompany this article:
THE MEANING OF LIFE FOR EPICURUS
picurus is 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 in 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.
A MOBILE FRIGGITORIA
n 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.
A NAPOLI, UN “CUOPPO” PER I FRITTI
n Naples the so-called “cuoppo” (in local dialect also known as “cuopp”) is normally used to carry around all the food delicacies just bought in a friggitoria. It is basically a cone made with oiled paper.
THE RIGHT BEVERAGE
hat to drink with a crocchè? A good choice is a red wine, quite tannic, quite soft, and quite fresh.
The tannicity balances the greasiness of the frying.
The softness balances the saltiness (due to the presence of salt).
The acidity balances the sweet tendency of the potato.
All the images used in this page, with the exception of those marked with the “webfoodculture” logo, are released in public domain:
©:1 (**) – Marble bust of Epicurus, II sec. b.C., photo by Interstate295revisited (Wikipedia Link)
©:2 (*) – Greek philosopher Epicurus, Nuremberg Chronicle (Wikipedia Link)
©:3 (*) – Jacob Burckhardt, 1892 (Wikipedia Link)
(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.