Working in Naples

This post deserves its own blog, but I will try to summarize my experience into one blog post. Working in Naples should be prefaced with this is not working in Italy, I believe and have heard from others that working in other parts of Italy is completely different. As many say, Naples isn’t Italy.

I began my working in Naples journey nearly five years in an English immersion nursery and elementary school on the outskirts of the city proper on an old NATO base. Coming from Switzerland, this was a shock I wasn’t ready for. In retrospect, the school was the best job I had here (I’ve had many). In the end, I left because the distance to drive each day was too far (over an hour). But back to my first experience working here. Before school started, the school held a “Get to the know your teacher open day”, the parents came with their kids and visited me and the classroom. I though I was prepared, I had spoken to the more experienced teachers about what I needed to do and I had nearly 5 years of teaching experience under my belt (in Switzerland). I had great relationships with the parents in Switzerland so I couldn’t imagine why this would be any different.

The first thing the parents did was pull me apart, tell me Neapolitan children aren’t well behaved and I had no idea what I was in for. Needless to say, I left the day in tears and in shock. What did I get myself into? The rest of the year passed though with only a few bumps, mainly caused by the parents, but the work itself wasn’t bad.

The next job came with a partial contract of being paid partially under the table at a language school, where I worked evenings. The owners were nice enough, always paid on time, but still things weren’t as they should be. Sick days were unacceptable and I went to work with a fevers and stomach bugs. I couldn’t take a day off to take my daughter to the pediatrician when she had chicken pox or take off the recommended two weeks I needed when I injured my ankle during the summer camp. I could have put up with it all though, but the evening hours were keeping me away from kids and it wasn’t something I wanted to do anymore.

The next job was an English teacher where Raffaello went to daycare. The school itself (daycare, preschool and elementary age) was nice enough and the other teachers were professional and did their job well, especially in the preschool and daycare aged classes. I worked lots of hours, more than I signed up for but was always paid for them. There were signs of the owners being unfair when they forced us teachers to attend 2-3 hour long meetings begining at 6pm, every two weeks, unpaid. There was also other signs through the work day, such as being called out on for doing something wrong by the owner in front of the children, being yelled at by the owner, etc. I left days many days in tears.

The worst of the trouble came when Covid hit and the owner began to stay our salaries would be cut and he would be paying us late, before we even knew the impact of Covid. One day after the schools closed from Covid, he already informed us employees that we would be paid late and paid less for the previous month (which everyone worked as normal). He only paid me for February in mid April, after I posted on social media that the school hadn’t been paying us teachers for February (many parents on social media). My best move professionally? Probably not, but I don’t care, they weren’t professional. The owner even called my husband and screamed at me to “control me” and that he “would come to my house and show me what he means”. They paid me after that, but ONLY if I removed the social media post. My contract with them officially ended in May, in Italy when you finish a work contract there is some money to be paid out, which usually ends up to equal a month’s salary. I never received that money, though I did receive a pay stub where it says it would be paid. That was May 2020, this is May 2022. It hasn’t come, even with an official letter from a lawyer saying it needed to paid.

The last job worth nothng in this story of bad jobs, was my most recent. I took the job reluctantly. I was supposed to be working in another language school for around 20 hours a week, but a friend of mine quit her job her teaching English and left me as the other English speak contact. This new job offer sounded better, it would be mornings only. At first I was promised the same salary I was supposed to make at the other school, but when I went to sign the contract, it was less than expected. I let it go, knowing that this is typical in Italy. The new job took me to three different preschools where I spent 1-3 hours a day “teaching” English.

Sounds easy right? I was given no materials and no budget to make materials. All materials ended up coming out of my pocket. None of the teachers in the other schools gave any interest in me, since I was just their new free hour. These preschools sell themselves to parents as “bilingual” education, which should mean the children are learning the same topics in Italian and English. This is impossible when nobody coordinates with you. These were essentially one hour of chaotic English lessons, since the children were left alone with a teacher they weren’t used to, nobody learned, I spent most of my time asking them to listen. I spent all of my “free” afternoon hours making materials and preparing for the next day’s lessons. I would spend around 1 hour with each age group each day, but I would be left alone with 20-25, 3-5 year old’s, trying to teach a foreign language. It was chaos. Then I was told it wasn’t enough or that my crafts I had done with children (not done by the teacher which seems to be the style here) weren’t good enough. This job affected my mental health more than any, I have never felt so much pressure and stress before. If the school was closed for whatever reason, often by the mayor (too many cases of covid or bad weather), I would be expected to “make up the hours” even if the school was closed for official state holidays. The problem was there were simply no other “hours” in the morning I had available to do “make-up” and the afternoons were off limits because the children were either sleeping or too tired for academics. The amount of hours I needed to make-up accumulated so much I have no idea how I was ever supposed to finish all of those hours. Sick days obviously, not allowed. The amount of children per classroom could not have been legal for one adult. The way the children were sometimes treated by the other “teachers” was shocking. I wasn’t the only teacher left with so many kids, it was often the same for the Italian teachers. Many of them worked extra days with out being paid as well.

Needless to say, I have no interest in finding another job for the moment, especially not in teaching. Working in Naples isn’t for people who like respect and equality. It’s unregulated chaos, stressful and a sign of how living here can be so difficult.

Bella Napoli? Not so much.

Homemade Pasta

For Mother’s Day on Sunday, we made homemade ravioli and tagliatelle. Making fresh pasta doesn’t take much time but it does require some patience. We began making the dough for the pasta around 9:30 am. The dough is quite simple to make, a basic mixture of flour and eggs. We have a Thermomix, its a multi function and cooking kitchen appliance that makes things such as dough making a breeze. It took less than two minutes to get the dough made then it needed to sit for 30 minutes to rest.

After it’s 30 minute rest, we got to make the ravioli. We used approximately half of the dough for ravioli. Umberto rolled out the dough until it was nearly cracker thin, we then used a small bowl to create a larger circle shape (we could say these were “raviolone”, big ravioli). After prepping the ravioli, I made the filling. I sauteed two eggplants until they were soft and then mixed with 250g of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, seasoned with salt pepper. We then placed the ravioli, one-by-one into the ravioli cutter, filled the middle with the eggplant and ricotta mixture, closed the cutter and scraped off the over flowing edges of the pasta (which we saved to add to the tagliatelle mixture).

I made a tomato sauce for the ravioli using canned and diced tomatoes, olive, oil, salt, pepper and oregano. When we had finished making the ravioli, there was still some eggplant and ricotta mixture left, so I added that to the sauce. To make the tagliatelle though, we needed to use our pasta maker. The kids loved this part, they helped us to turn the “wheel” to make the tagliatelle. We served both pastas with the tomato, ricotta and eggplant sauce.

Bruschetta for an appetizer
Finished Ravioli
Felicity helping make tagliatelle
Raffi’s turn for tagliatelle!
Raffi making Ravioli

Dressing Up and Showing Off

Neapolitans love to host events. Communions, baptisms, 18th birthdays, and the biggest of all, a wedding are huge, lavish, all day events. They stray from anything religious and you will have had a hard time trying to figure out what a horse drawn carriage and circus performance have to do with the holy sacrament of a child’s first communion. It leaves me stumped every time I attend one of these events. I come from a country that celebrates first communion with cake in a church basement after church.

The girls dress in extravagant child bride dresses, have professional photography sessions and then following the church event an all day party at an “event center” that looks like something you would only find for chic events in Hollywood. The meal lasts all afternoon from 2 pm until 6 or 7 pm, 4-5 courses are the norm. The whole day is centered on some sort of “animation”, anything from circus shows to small scale concerts. I’ve read this extravagance began as way to show that the families aren’t poor as was assumed in the past in Southern Italy.

Weddings are even longer and even more extravagant. If you attend also the church ceremony you are looking to spend more than 12 hours of the day at this wedding, going well into the night, finishing at 1-2 am. There is “animation” or teenagers that occupy the kids, while the adults eat for 7 hours and dance. Weddings usually have a grand finale of fireworks to close the party.

A simple Sunday lunch at a restaurant is also a small scale version of these parties. Lunch can began at 2 and continue until 5 or 6 in the evening. If you’re lucky the restaurant will have the animatore for children, a small playground, or a petting zoo. There will be 4-5 courses again and you will leave filling ill.

For these events, first and foremost you must dress to impress. Guest wedding attire usually must be formal and you will find yourself spending a mini fortune on dressing your family up to standards. The same goes on a lesser scale for the other events. Neapolitans love their version of fashion and as an a non Neapolitan you will stand out like a sore thumb if not dressed up the 9s (for me I don’t really care though!). Women should also have gotten their hair done at the hair salon before as well as makeup and nails.

These events are still, after five years, quite strange for me. I find them long, uncomfortable and I get the itch to leave and go somewhere else during them. Just another difference I run into here as an Anglo Saxon who grew up with shorter and more modest events.

My nephews’ communion (2021)
Before a wedding that lasted til 1 am (2020)

Pasta with oil, lime, and chili pepper

Yesterday was Cinco di Mayo and had we been in the States it would have been celebrated with margaritas, chips and salsa, and tacos. It’s a holiday I’ve long stopped “celebrating” but I decided to take inspiration from the flavors of Mexico and make pasta with lime and chili pepper or peperoncino as it’s called here.

Peperoncino are the most common spicy peppers in in Italy, they are small, red and pointed. They are not as spicy though as the peppers we normally find in the US. They are grown usually in the South of Italy, in Calabria. Italians use them for an element of taste, not to make something overly spicy. You will find peperoncino in a variety of dishes just to give it an extra kick.

This recipe stems from the traditional pasta reciple “olio, aglio e peperoncino”. The addition of the lime gives this traditional dish a refreshing, summery twist. It would go perfect with a lime margarita!

Pasta with oil, lime and chili/ Pasta con olio, lime e peperoncino

2-3 servings

240g of spaghetti or other long, thin pasta

2 limes

2 gloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

Fresh chopped parsley

olive oil

1-2 peperoncini (or small red chili peppers, to taste)

salt

Pecorino Romano, to taste

First bring a large soup pot of water to a boil, salt liberally (as the Italians, “salty as the sea”). In a medium sized pan, add enough oil so that it forms a small pool in the pan (this will be your sauce). Chop the parsley and set aside. Finely chop garlic and add to the oil with the two bay leaves and chopped peperoncini. Stir occasionally and cook until garlic browns. Take off heat. Zest one lime and set aside the zest in small bowl. Remove the bay leaves from the oil.

Once the water is boiling, cook the pasta for one minute less than indicated on the package. When the pasta is cooked, take it immediately from the water (without rinsing, use a pasta spoon to transfer. The starches on that pasta is necessary!) and add to the oil and garlic mixture. Heat over low heat. Add the zest of one lime and the juice of one lime. Mix well, stirring often to ensure the pasta is completely covered in the sauce. Mix in some chopped parsley and stir again.

Serve topped with chopped parsley and grated pecorino cheese. Extra lime juice can be added too!

Pasta e piselli, revisited

It is the season of fresh peas in Italy. You can not find fresh peas any other time of the year and when they are in season, its a time to celebrate. The season is short, so you must take advantage of it. Tuesday and Friday a produce vendor truck stops outside our house. I’ve never gone to buy from it but decided Tuesday to see what was being offered and decide what to cook with was for sale this week. As soon as I saw the peas, I knew I had to buy them. I wanted to make a meal that everyone in my family would eat, pasta e piselli con pancetta.

Instead of pancetta, we used bacon which was a big hit with the kids. This recipe could also easily be made with frozen or canned peas but if peas are in season, use them in this recipe!

Pasta and peas with bacon/ Pasta e piselli con pancetta affiumicato

4 Servings

340 g of short pasta (I used “pasta mista”, but any small shape would work)

300 g of fresh peas

4 slices of bacon

1/2 white onion

olive oil

salt (to taste)

pepper (to taste)

Pecorino (to taste)

First, boil water in a medium sized soup pot. When water is boiling, add peas and let cook for around 5 minutes or until they are tender but not losing their bright green color. Remove peas (but save water), rinse under cold water and set outside. Using the water you cooked the peas in, bring the water back to a boil and salt the water for the pasta.

Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Chop the bacon and onions. Add the bacon to the hot pan and fry for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. If the bacon doesn’t release enough fat to cook the onions in add a little olive oil (bacon here doesn’t seem to be as fatty as American bacon, so I usually need to add some oil). Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent.

Once the onion is cooked, add the peas to the onion and bacon mixture. Mix to cover the peas with the flavor of the bacon and onions. Salt to your tastes. At this point your water should be boiling, add pasta and cook for one minute less than is recommended. Lower the heat on the pea mixture and continue stirring occasionally while the pasta is cooking. Once the pasta is ready, transfer it with a pasta spoon to the pea mixture, do not rinse pasta or you will some of its starchiness and ability to stick to the sauce. Add soup ladle full of pasta water to the pasta and pea mixture, stir. Let cook over low heat for a minute. This will cook the pasta.

To serve, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and pecorino cheese.

An American in Naples

I have been encouraged by a friend to start a blog on cooking in Italy as an American. I’m taking up her challenge as I have run out of energy on cooking food from around the world, the hardest part for me in cooking recipes from the around the world is the food waste associated with it (various ingredients only needed once) and the difficulty in finding such ingredients. I love cooking but I want to cook with what is easily available to me and with little waste and extra expenses. So here we are, an American in Naples cooking Italian food with a twist and a bit of zest from the traditional recipes.

Italian food in Italy is not at all what you would find in the US. Each has their own special place in the culinary world, neither is good nor bad (though the quality of pasta in the US is usually not good!). So stay with me, check back and please continue reading. See you next time (with a recipe!).

Italian Culture Shock

I lived in Switzerland for nearly 9 years of my adult life then moved to Italy, where my husband is from at 32. Switzerland was a minor culture shock in comparison to Italy. The initial culture shock of Switzerland faded fast. Everything was smaller, the working hours of businesses and stores especially were very set in stone. For many years, most stores closed at 7 pm. Sundays stores were completely closed. The people of Switzerland weren’t very friendly and remained very closed. I never made a friend with an actual Swiss person, all my friends were expats, like me. Traditional Swiss food, such as fondue was important but the day didn’t involve around cooking or deciding what to eat. But I adapted to the lack of store hours quickly and grew used to the ways of Switzerland.

Moving to Italy was a total culture shock, one I still feel nearly 5 years later. The way of life here is a complete 180 from Switzerland. People are very friendly, everyone will talk to you. Everyone wants to offer you advice on something, if you want it or not. The day is centered around meal times. The hours of work are longer because of the large “siesta” in the middle of the day. Stores are open earlier and later. Sundays are “partially” closed, small town shops will be open til mid-day, especially supermarkets and then close. Malls and other large big box stores are open all day Sunday.

Family is the center of life for most Italians. Many children live with their parents until they get married, in their 30’s. Many families all living the same building, separate apartments for each family unit. Many families still gather to eat lunch together, especially on Sunday. Many women do not work (me included) and take on the traditional role of housewife. School ends at 1 pm and children come home for lunch. This in itself is a big factor, I believe, in women not working. It is hard to manage children coming at one, needing to eat, do homework and go to activities unless one parent is at home.

The work environment in Italy is the perhaps the hardest challenge I have come across living here. I worked in Switzerland and the US, I stayed in my same jobs most of my life in those countries. Here, in Italy, I have changed countless times because each employer is worse than the last. There’s a lack of fair treatment to employees and usually the salary is so low you can’t justify the bad treatment. You must deal with being yelled at by your employers, yelled at in front of your coworkers (and in my case in front of the children), not being able to take sick days without having to “make up” those hours, making my own materials for teaching without reimbursement, working outside of discussed hours without extra pay, and late payments. The list could go on. In the end, its always too much stress for the money you are paid.

There is also what I like to call Italian “beliefs” or old wives tales. There are endless old wives tales that are still believed today despite science telling us otherwise. Cold and wind gives you bronchitis. Sweat will give you a fever. A wet bathing suit in wind will definitely give you bronchitis. Eating after swimming will give you stomach cramps. The list goes on and on of things I never knew existed until I moved here.

The culture shock does get less and less as times goes on, I’ve learned to adapt to it or push it of my mind. Often, though, I am still caught off guard by one of the old wive’s tales and I want to scream its not true! But I can’t change anyone’s mind on it. Culture shock is a part of living abroad all of us expats have experienced, some of it is good, some it is bad, but you learn to eventually adapt or accept it.

Until next time!

Meals, the center of the day
Oh no! Not the cold and wind! An Italian’s worst nightmare!

Tonga

Recipes from Tonga aren’t easy to find and most that I found surprisingly have corn beef! Corn beef was brought from the Australians and the Tongans kept it alive in their food culture. Corn beef is difficult to find in Italy and is usually on available in the canned form. The recipe that caught my eye was Kale Moa, a mild yellow chicken curry with coconut. I love coconut curries and this recipe fit into our requirements of easy to cook and easily available ingredients. Kale Moa is a common dish throughout the islands of Oceania and each country adds what is has on hand to make it their own.

Kale Mao – Serving: 3 to 4

1 onion, chopped

1 large chicken breast, chopped into chunks

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

2 tablespoons of mild curry powder

1/2 piece of ginger, minced (or a teaspoon of ginger powder)

1 – 1 1/2 cup of water

2 cups of coconut milk

3 medium potatoes, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

3 Tablespoons flour, 3-4 tablespoons of water

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large pot, add onion and cook for 3 minutes, add garlic, curry, and cook, stirring frequently until fragrant. Add chicken and season with salt and pepper, brown chicken chunks then add water and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then lower, simmer, and cover for 15 minutes. Add carrots, potatoes, and celery, bring back to a boil if needed, the cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Mix the floor with the 3 tablespoons of water until a flour slurry is formed and add to the curry. Mix in the slurry, turn up the heat to medium until the curry has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with basmati rice.

The Perils of Eating in Italy

You’ve come to Italy to eat all the Italian food you love in the US, you want to try how it “really is” in Italy. You get to your first restaurant and Italy and look for fettucine alfredo, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmigiana and salad with salami, olives, cheese and a Italian dressing. But, none of these are on the menu! These foods do not actually exist in Italy, and some are even considered sacrilegious, such as spaghetti and meatballs or chicken parmigiana. Fettucine Alfredo is essentially a food for when you’re sick, so though not completely outlawed, you won’t find it on a menu. After finally ordering your food and eating, you want to order a cappuccino to finish off the meal, but once again it’s 2pm and you can’t have a cappuccino at that hour! Who knew all these rules existed? Read and learn more about the perils of eating in Italy.

  1. Spaghetti and meatballs do not go together. Meatballs are an antipasto (appetizer) or secondo (second dish) and they will not be found anywhere neat a plate of spaghetti. Spaghetti, a long pasta, does not go anywhere near a meatball, a large round object. How do you manage to get both on your fork in the same bite? Each pasta has its designated sauce and there are no exceptions. Spaghetti goes with pomodorini (cherry tomatoes), but no onions in the sauce if you are make pasta con pomodorini with spaghetti, the onions do not work with the spaghetti, only with short pasta. I would need to write a thesis on all the types of pasta and their designated sauces, so let’s leave it at that. Don’t mix spaghetti with meatballs. Ever.
  2. Fettucine Alfredo is not real. Yes, this dish was first served in a restaurant in Rome, but for American guests who loved it so much they brought it back to California with them and served it at their restaurant, taking the name of the restaurant they first ate it, Alfredo’s. It is basically a glorified version of what you serve to someone under the weather, pasta with olive oil or cream. This is my picky kids favorite meal, but once again the olive oil or cream sauce is usually “better” with short pasta, like penne.
  3. Cappuccino after 11:30 is unacceptable, in fact all milk is unacceptable after 11:30 am. Your body simply can not digest milk in the afternoon. It’s that simple, don’t ask more questions. If you NEED milk in your coffee, cafĂ© macchiato is acceptable (espresso with a TINY splash of milk).
  4. Chicken parmigiana isn’t a food in Italy. I don’t know the history of Chicken Parmigiana, but I do know that Eggplant Parmigiana is the best food ever and you should order it wherever you see it, especially at my mother-in-laws (she makes the best!) Take out the chicken and add fried and breaded slices of tender eggplant topped with mozzarella (sometimes it doesn’t have mozzarella), tomato sauce, basil and parmesan cheese. Avoid fights with Italians if parmigiana is from Sicily or Naples.
  5. Seafood, especially fish, doesn’t go with cheese. Do not top your grilled fish or pasta with seafood with any form of cheese, it is sacrilegious and you may die from bad digestion.
  6. You will be asked to leave the country if you put pineapple on your pizza. It is not ok though, to top your pizza with French fries and hot dogs, so no worries, you’ve got stranger combinations you can try! On the same not pepperoni does not mean spicy salami, it means bell peppers, so if you order a pepperoni pizza you are getting pizza with bell peppers. “Pizza alla Diavola”, is the closest to pepperoni, it’s spicy salami.
  7. Eggs have no place at breakfast. Just because. Only at lunch or dinner.
  8. Salad dressings do not exist, only olive oil, vinegar, salt and a little lemon (if you’re the adventurous type).
  9. Bread isn’t for eating before the meal, it is meant to be eaten with the meal or used at the end of the meal to scoop up all that remaining delicious tomato sauce aka “fare la scarpetta”.

Buon Appetito!

Chicken Scallopine with Lemon and Capers

I first had this dish on the island of Capri and wanted to recreate it at home especially since the lemon trees outside our house are overflowing with lemons this time of year. It’s simple and requires ingredients you probably already have at home!

4 thin chicken breasts (or 2 cut in half)

1/2 cup white wine

Tablespoon of capers

1 lemon, zest and juice

Fresh basil leaves, chopped

salt and pepper

2 Tablespoons of olive oil

Flour

Milk

Place chicken breasts in a baking dish and cover with milk, then cover dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 25-30 minutes. Do not skip this step, it makes the chicken tender. Juice and zest one lemon, set aside. Once chicken is ready, dredge chicken breasts in flour, enough to lightly cover both sides. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Place chicken breasts, season with salt and pepper, and cook for a few minutes on each side until they are browned but not completely cooked through.

Add wine and cook until evaporated. Add lemon juice, capers, sprinkle half of the lemon zest on the chicken breasts, basil leaves (as much as you would like), and a cup of warm water. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Check to see that chicken has cooked through.

The sauce should have reduced and be creamy. Add the rest of the lemon zest to the top of the chicken and serve.