Dining With the Saints

In Honor of San Gennaro

San Gennaro (Saint Januarius in English) is the patron saint of Naples, and the city celebrates his feast day on September 19. The Christian Bishop of Naples during Roman times, Gennaro was martyred by decapitation.  His followers secretly stored his blood in glass ampules and a church was built around his relics. These ampules are held up three times a year, and they miraculously liquify. It is thought to be a sign that Mount Vesuvius will erupt if this miracle does not occur. Neapolitan communities all over the world, await the word if their city has earned the saint’s protection or not. There are elaborate religious processions through the streets in Naples, but the real focus, as far as I’m concerned, is the celebration of the city’s beautiful street food.. The celebration of San Gennaro gives New York City’s its most famous Italian Feast and with it, a huge array of street food.

If you like things fried, as I do, Naples does them better than anywhere else. At the feast you can get batter-fried zucchini flowers, calamari, artichokes, eggplant, even fried cow’s brains. Or a slice of Naples’s famous pizza margherita. Or you might require calzone stuffed with escarole or ricotta, or pizza fritta (basically a deep-fried calzone), crocche (potato croquettes), zeppole, or a sweet, flaky sfogliatelle. While the kids eat spumoni, the old men walk the streets munching on roasted chickpeas from little bags and drinking red wine out of plastic cups. That ritual seems very austere compared with everything else going on at the feast, which makes it very appealing and romantic. You can still get roasted chickpeas at the Little Italy feast in New York, but they are as hard as pebbles and, in my opinion, almost too dangerous to eat. Like most things, if you really want them right you’ve got to make them yourself. So here is my recipe for roasted chickpeas. They’re crisp and brown outside, but with a creamy center. Not only are they delicious and crunchy, but they’re almost fat-free, and they’re a great carb choice, low on the glycemic index. With all the red wine you’ll need to ease them down, they are a health meal made in Naples. For the wine, try a glass of Campanian red, such as a Lacryma Christi Del Vesuvio. Terredora is a good producer.


Roasted Chickpeas with Rosemary and Garlic

2 cups home-cooked chickpeas, drained (use good-quality canned ones if you prefer, but rinse them)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, unskinned and crushed with the side of a knife
Sea salt
A generous pinch of ground hot red pepper
A pinch of sugar
3 sprigs rosemary, the leaves well chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lay the chickpeas out on a sheet pan. Drizzle them with the olive oil. Scatter on the garlic cloves, and season everything with salt and the ground hot pepper. Toss the chickpeas with your fingers so they’re well coated with the seasoning. Spread them out again in one layer.

Roast the chickpeas until they’re fragrant and starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Pull the sheet pan from the oven, and scatter on the rosemary, and sprinkle on the pinch of sugar. Toss quickly, and put back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until the chickpeas are browned and crunchy-skinned but still have soft centers. Let them cool on the sheet pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Erica DeMane is a chef and writer. She the popular food blog:  EricaDemane.com 

Image: 2007 Poster from the New York City Feast of San Gennaro

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