Carife and One Wonderful Dish: Li Trieddi
In the business of making others smile
I knew I had had that pasta and sauce before, but I hadn't ever been to Carife. How could that have been? Isn't it only served in that part of Italy? There could be only one explanation. My bisnonna (great grandmother) Angelina Freda of Carife arrived on Ellis Island on December 24, 1919. She brought with her the recipe, one she'd hold so dear to her heart that she'd prepare it well into her 80s for her entire family at the "Big House" at 5330 Rising Sun Avenue in Philadelphia. Angelina was born in 1901--the daughter of Nicola Freda (b. 1871) of Carife and Maria Concetta Addorisio (b. 1874) of nearby Trevico. When I visited Carife just a few years ago I was fortunate enough to befriend the open-armed husband and wife owners of one of the few restaurants in the town, Il Grottino. This fantastic dish was served to me as a "welcome home." I took one look at it. Then one taste. No question, it was the dish. It transported me to my bisnonna's kitchen, to when I was five years old (click on the pictures to the right and below; you'll see Nellino and his brother Alessandro with Angelina in her kitchen). It's difficult to arrive at Carife, nestled in the hills of Campania in the province of Avellino near Naples. Less than 2,000 people call Carife home, though many Italian Americans trace their origins to this town--geographically part of what has long been referred to as the region of Baronia, and more generally as Irpinia, a word that comes from the Latin hirpus, meaning wolf. Why wolf? Because, as the story goes, millennia ago the first "hirpini" to settle in the area were led there by a single wolf. Good thing, then . . . a world without these people would be a sad one. So, what's this special pasta that allows for time travel? It's called cicatielli, a "poor man's pasta" commonly referred to today as cavatelli. Would you like to make my bisnonna's dish? Here's what you need. Buy a pound of the freshest cavatelli you can find. Fry a little garlic in olive oil, add in some peperoncini (red pepper flakes will do just fine), add a simple Italian passata (tomato sauce), and then add the magic: Pennyroyal, known in Italian as puleggio, or, in dialect, as pulieio. Pennyroyal is an herb found in the mint family. You'll have to do some searching to find it, but it's a must. Once the pasta's cooked and the sauce has simmered nicely, introduce them to one another and then to your belly. Everyone's going to be happy. What's this dish's name? In Carifano dialect it's called "Li Trieddi," known in the region generally as "Cicatielli co lu Pulieio," but it's also known as "This Is Just Wonderful." Now that you're adequately hungry, I hope, and perhaps also inspired to look into your family's history, why don't you take a moment to find that long-lost family recipe for that special dish from that special town? Make it tonight. Visit your family once again through memories brought to life through food. If you need a little help doing the research, drop me a line. I'm happy to lend a hand, but only as long as I'm offered a seat at your table! Do we have a deal?