After Rosh Hashana in Sicily, I took a coastal train to Naples, a city that I was pleasantly surprised by with its picturesque mountainous bay setting, and bustling historic streets. Just blocks from where I stayed in the vibrant waterfront Piazza Vittoria neighborhood, an area filled with boutiques, bars, and cafes, is the city’s sole synagogue. Funded by Baron Rothschild in the 1860s, it is still open for the city’s approximately 150 Jews. The only give-away to its presence was a guard located at a set of massive wooden doors (which one stepped through) at the entrance of a large apartment complex’s courtyard. At the other end of the courtyard, up a discreet staircase, was the entrance to the synagogue.
I first came to the synagogue for Shabbat and upon knocking on the door, was greeted by the rabbi who is based in Milan and travels weekly to Naples for Shabbat. The sanctuary is modest in size and simple in design, but stunning, with a large arched ceiling and a beautiful ark. It was a modest gathering with barely a minyan and during a delicious Shabbat dinner, I met a couple of steadfast community members. Similar to people that I met in Sicily, there were two men who hadn’t been raised Jewish but decided as teenagers to convert to Judaism (and later found out that their family had been anusim). One of these men also was the caretaker of the synagogue and prepared all of the meals.
Yom Kippur happened to be quite warm and the women’s section’s upstairs was hot (and the men below controlled the open and closing of the windows from their section, so naturally they were mostly closed). It was a mix of tourists and locals. It was a long day and when not in Hebrew, I only heard Italian. However, despite not understanding much, the atmosphere was low-key, warm, and inviting as we slowly made our way through the machzor.
The community was welcoming and one of the highlights of the day was walking with members of the congregation (including a woman who walked 30 kilometers to get to the synagogue!) along the nearby waterfront promenade, where much of the city’s population was enjoying a gloriously bright, unseasonably warm day.
The congregant caretaker had prepared in advance a lavish break-fast spread which included pasta with tomato sauce, sauteed mushrooms, bread and a two part-soupy rice dish. It was filled with lots of fresh herbs and vegetables and was so nourishing and satisfying after the fast. I am not sure exactly what he made or how and I’m sure that I cannot compare to his spectacular Neapolitan cooking, but I’ve attempted a recipe inspired by his food, below.
Neapolitan Rice and Vegetables
1 1/2 cups uncooked wild rice (I find the flavors and texture to be much more intense and enriching than other grains)
2 cups water
1 cup vegetable broth
1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 large zucchinis, cut into quarters and finely chopped (green ones are preferable but I used the yellow ones that I received in my farm box)
1.5 cups shelled green peas
1.5-2.5 cups freshly chopped herbs (I used basil, parsley, and oregano)
4-6 cups vegetable broth (some white wine would also be good to add)
salt and pepper to taste
- Prepare rice by adding water and rice together. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer until done, about 20 minutes. Somehow in Naples, the rice was cooked perfectly but still a bit watery. Not sure how to pull this off without it becoming mushy.
- In a deep pot, add about 1.5 tbsp olive oil (burner should be low-medium heat). Saute onions until soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add zucchini, peas, garlic and broth/water mixture. Reduce flame to low/simmer and cook for about 20 minutes covered, until zucchini are soft. About half way through, add all of the fresh herbs and mix well. There should be a good amount of liquid (it should be like a soup). If it begins to dry out, then add more broth as it continues to cook.
- Once it’s finished, drizzle fruity olive oil on top and add salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for a few minutes.
- In bowls, scoop a serving of rice. Ladle the vegetable-broth mixture over the rice (there should be a significant amount of liquid in the bowl).