Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Julius Caesar's Summer Villa

Chi troppo vuole, nulla stringe
(He who wants too much, doesn't catch anything.)

Nook of Naples: Perched on a steep cliff, this fortress was purportedly the summer residence of either Julius Caesar or Nero. But the layers of history spanning many hundreds of years make that more myth than fact. King Alfonso II of Aragon built the castle in its current form during the 1500’s and legends also abound about pirates sailing into the Bay of Pozzuoli and trying to scale the sheer walls.

Inside the fortress, the thick walls have many passageways and stairs that lead to stunning museum rooms. The castle houses the Domitian-Nerva, the only equestrian bronze monument to survive from antiquity. At the top level, an opulent dining hall named the Nymphaeum Triclinium of Emperor Claudius enchants the visitor with a blue lighted floor, alcoves on either side with original Greek statues, and a large niche that displays a marble scene of Ulysses with knee bent offering 'black wine' to a Cyclops (both the heads of the statues now lost).

Getting There: Easy to find, especially since you can see it perched on the cliff, the Baia Castle -- as it is called -- can be found at via Castello, 39 - Baia - 80070 Bacoli - NAPOLI.

La Cucina Napoletana: Roman writers often described lavish banquets enjoyed by the rich. For these meals, they imported such exotic game as ostrich, flamingo, giraffe, and buffalo. Mozzarella is made from the milk of buffalo and still today is exceptionally popular here. Neapolitans often eat large balls of mozzarella plain on a plate with a fork and knife.

Everywhere I turn, it seems, the Neapolitans invented most of the cuisine I eat daily. Fried mozzarella sticks are another Naples original. Here is a recipe from Cucina Napoletana by Roberta Avallone:

Mozzarella in Carrozza (Mozzarella in Boxes)

1 cup mozzarella
8 slices of bread
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
extra virgin olive oil

Trim the crusts off the bread and then cut into triangles. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices. If it's very watery, pat dry with a paper towel. Distribute the mozzarella on half the bread triangles, taking care to keep the cheese about 1/4 inch away from the borders. Top the cheese with more bread triangles. Press the boxes well, then dampen the outer sides of each tramezzino, dipping each slice in a plate of milk, then passing it into the four. This will help to seal the boxes together. Whisk the egg with the milk, salt, and pepper. Soak the bread triangles in the egg batter, then pass them into the bread crumbs. In a frying pan, heat the oil and fry the bread triangles for about 2-3 minutes per side. When they are golden, place them on a paper towel. Then, serve hot.

(Note that if you use fresh bread crumbs from your stale bread at home rather than store bought crumbs, the "boxes" may not hold together as well.)

The wine that tastes exceptional with this snack or antipasto is "Vino Campi Flegrei". For wine lovers, check the "Some Fun Links" on the sidebar to learn more about the wines grown in this specific area west of Naples.


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