The “reinforcement” salad and the “papaccella” at risk of extinction

Reinforcement salad. The richest of the poorest holiday dishes. Because on the tables of the Neapolitans it cannot be missing: «It is devotion».

And everyone knows that the main ingredient for an excellent reinforcement salad is papaccella. A unique pepper and, beware, endangered, so much so that it is registered in the “Regional repertoire”And is kept in the Campania plant germplasm banks. In short, there is the risk that in a few years the reinforcement salad could lose its “reinforcement”. To avoid the oblivion of a flavor that is part of Neapolitanism at the table, a group of scholars from the Agricultural Department of Federico II is carrying out an extraordinary research project, together with some producers determined not to lose this jewel of the Campania region. Also to protect it from forgeries.

It is therefore easy to say papaccella, because not all pickled peppers can boast this “title”. The real ones have a “ribbed” shape and must be grown in a well-defined area of ​​what the Romans called Campania felix: Brusciano, Mariglianella, Marigliano, Acerra, Nola, Cisterna Castle, Pomigliano d’Arco, Sant’Anastasia, Casalnuovo; it has been a Slow Food presidium since 2007 and is supported by the Campania Region, Department of Agriculture. Only 5 people produce this tasty pepper, their contact person is Bruno Sodano; a heroic agriculture, especially because it tears the fertile and luxuriant countryside of the Nolano-Pomiglianese countryside away from the ignominy of the Terra dei Fuochi. How passionate is the work of Patrizia Spignoresearcher at the Faculty of Agriculture, expert in agrobiodiversity for years committed to the conservation of the heritage of historical and traditional vegetable varieties of Campania through the realization of funded projects at regional, national and European level. To her we owe most of the work of safeguarding the Neapolitan papaccella. And it is she who reveals the path of this inevitable ingredient on the festive tables. «According to some, the Latin name ‘Capsicum’ derives from ‘capsa’, which means box, and owes its name to the particular shape of the fruit (a berry) which resembles a box with seeds inside». The spread in Europe is linked, like other vegetables, to the discovery of America; Christopher Columbus brought it in 1493 and also arrived in Campania from the Spaniards. “The fruit – explains Patrizia Spigno – was called pepper because of the similarity in taste (although not in appearance), with pepper, Piper in Latin”. This is the general and incontrovertible story of the spread of pepper. But there are several hypotheses on the name of Neapolitan papaccella. «A first, the most ascertained, would trace the name papaccella from the Latin, from the word“ pipiricellam ”. However, there is also another story that would make the name go back to the many inhabitants of the town of Brusciano and its surroundings, who had Papaccio as their surname. The crops were located near farms intended for the production of the vinegar necessary for conservation: the vinegar was usually obtained from the so-called piccirillo wine, a red wine obtained from vines cultivated with trees (i.e. resting on live trees arranged in rows), sour and low in alcohol, to be consumed immediately after the harvest. The “ciutunaro”, so in dialect the person who produced the preserves was called, took care of dipping peppers and other garden products in vinegar inside the so-called “rancelloni”, a sort of wooden barrels that could contain up to 150 kilos of whole papaccelle, never fillets », says Spigno. And she adds: «The berries preserved in red wine vinegar represent the main ingredient of the reinforcement salad, a typical dish of the Neapolitan Christmas holidays».

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And so, what appears to be the poor dish that came to us from the condition of ancient misery of a Lazarus and king people, takes on all the flavor of the history and culture of the Campania region. A fertile land, able to welcome the seeds that came from so far and to make their own and traditional product. What to say? Eating is not just about eating but knowing and fighting in order not to lose the pleasure of being at the table, even in such a difficult time, enjoying history.