I have a new love, he is called Napoli and I miss him deeply. Nothing can quite prepare you for a city that mashes up everything that you expect from it with a totally unexpected quiet elegance. It was the street markets in particular that called to me like the ancient and beguiling sirens of myth. Porta Nolana near central station is reputed to have the best seafood in Naples; however, its greasy passageways are chaotic, impoverished and slightly threatening so I suggest that, if you do decide to visit, take no valuables whatsoever; no camera, no mobile phone, not even a secure bag and be absolutely aware of what’s going on around you. Incidentally, to prepare myself for our trip, a friend advised me to read Katherine Wilson’s brilliant book, ‘Only in Naples, Lessons in Food and Famiglia‘ . In it she writes, ‘Naples was not a logical destination. When I had visited Italy on vacations as a kid, we avoided the city or passed through it as quickly as we could to get to Pompeii or Vesuvius. Naples was dirty and dangerous, we heard. My Grandfather, whose parents are from Calabria, said that Neapolitans could steal your socks without taking your shoes off.’ In actual fact, apart from Porta Nolana and the streets that surround the station, we felt perfectly safe throughout the city, even in the Spanish Quarter – Quartieri Spagnoli – which has a notorious reputation; in fact, it was the edgy authenticity of this area that made it my favourite part of the city. Here, the walls of the streets are plastered with images of Maradona, de Nero and Sophia Lauren which comfortably sit alongside shrines containing sun-bleached photographs of the dead and flutters of washing hug out to dry. It’s crazy noisy with the shouts of the pedlars, gossiping women and the buzzing engines of a thousand Vespas. The air is thick with the aromas of the sea, baking bread, melting cheese, ripe peaches, church incense and petrol fumes. It’s the very essence of life and, somehow, it all works. The stalls of the vibrant Pignasecca street market are piled high with an amazing variety of seasonal fish from the Mediterranean – sardines, tuna, anchovies, shrimp, octopus and squid; juicy ripe fruit – prickly pears, peaches, apricots, grapes, plums and, of course, huge Amalfi lemons; and crisp, fresh vegetables – San Marzano and datterini tomatoes, borlotti beans, chillies, squash, herbs and plump papacella peppers. This late summer salad is inspired by all that glorious abundance. Here, I’ve combined three varieties of bean with a creamy tarragon and Greek yoghurt dressing and garnished it with the sexy little figs that were just coming into season as we left last week. It’s super quick to put together and so delicious.
200g fresh green beans, trimmed
400g can of can borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
400g can of can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 fresh figs, quartered (you can also use super ripe pears)
A pinch of sumac (optional)
For the dressing:
200g of Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp of fresh tarragon, finely chopped, plus extra for garnishing
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
How I make it
In a bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and set aside to infuse.
Meanwhile, place the trimmed green beans in a steamer over a pan of boiling water and allow to steam until the rawness has gone but their crunch is retained (about 4-5 minutes). When the beans are done to your liking rinse them under running cold water to stop the cooking process.
In a large bowl, mix the beans together and combine with enough dressing to lightly coat everything. Season to your taste.
Tumble it all out onto a pretty plate and garnish with chopped tarragon, a pinch of sumac (if using) and the quartered figs. Serve with crusty bread and the rest of the dressing on the side.