Home to the picturesque Amalfi Coast and mainland Europe’s only active volcano, Campania boasts a vibrant food scene as swoon-worthy as its breathtaking landscapes. The region rests below Rome and was once an integral piece of the Roman Empire. Historically, the Romans turned to the fertile, nutrient-rich pasturelands of Campania, along with the coastal fishing villages of Amalfi, Cetera, and Positano for sustenance. The modern diet in Campania still emphasizes simple, fresh cooking with produce from its abundant lands and seafood staples along the coast. Food in Campania uses ingredients from the land and sea, with more meat consumed inland away from the coast. While Naples, the birthplace of pizza, is the culinary heartbeat of the region.
Regional Products of Campania
Food in Campania is vibrant and flavorful, thanks to the high-quality ingredients and products of the region. Here are a few specialties in Campania worth seeking out. The gorgeous Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is a timeless destination, with its stunning coastline, luxurious hotels, picturesque villages, and fabulous food and wine you can enjoy with Cellar Tours on a private Amalfi Coast Food & Wine Tour
Anyone who has ever visited the Amalfi Coast knows the unmistakably fragrant citrus aromas and sweet flavors of Amalfi lemons. They’ve been cultivated on terraced hillsides in the province of Salerno for centuries. Due to their long, spindly shape, these lemons are known as sfusato Amalfitano in Italy, as sfusato means spindle. Today, they exist thanks to small bitter lemons, which arrived in Amalfi by way of the Middle East. Local farmers in Campania crossed these bitter lemons with oranges to produce the sweet, fragrant Amalfi lemons we know today. Whether enjoyed fresh or in Amalfi’s famous limoncello, they offer an unforgettable taste of the Amalfi Coast.
Other Regional Produce To Try:
- Sorrento lemons – slightly rounder than Amalfi Lemons, but just as fragrant
- San Marzano tomatoes
- Paestum artichokes
- Cilento white figs
- Nocerino spring onions
- Montella chestnuts
Must-Try Cheeses in Campania
Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO
Mozzarella di Bufala, or buffalo mozzarella in English, became the only mozzarella to achieve the Protected Designation of Origin status in 1996. To be labeled under the PDO, the mozzarella must be made 100% from the milk of domestic water buffalo in the provinces of Caserta, Salerno, Naples, and Benevento in Campania. In addition, limited provinces from Lazio, Puglia, Molise are also incorporated in the designation, though Caserta and Salerno represent 90% of total Mozzarella di Bufala production.
Buffalo milk is rich in protein, fat, and calcium, lending itself to a creamy, delicately sweet cheese. Learn more about the production process of Mozzarella di Bufala on the website of the PDO’s consortium.
Ricotta di Bufala Campana PDO
Ricotta di Bufala Campana is made by processing the first whey from the production of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. Within Campania, Ricotta di Bufala can be made in the provinces of Benevento, Caserta, Naples, and Salerno. This cheese is known for its soft, creamy consistency and sweet flavors.
Provola is a stretched curd cheese from Campania made of cow’s milk. After being shaped, the cheese is immersed in brine then hung out to dry for four months. When smoked, it’s known as Provola affumicata. Depending on how long it’s aged, Provola can have mild and sweet or very sharp flavors.
Pasta in Campania
Pasta di Gragnano PGI
Produced within the city of Gragnano, pasta di Gragnano represents the ultimate quality in Italian pasta. The first family-owned pasta factories in Gragnano date to the 16th century. By the 1860s, Gragnano was known as the “city of macaroni,” home to the largest pasta producers in the world.
Pasta di Gragnano includes long, short, laminated, and baked pasta. It’s made from durum wheat semolina and water from Gragnano’s local water aquifer. Along with natural drying techniques, these simple ingredients launched pasta di Gragnano to fame.
Other noted Pasta of Campania:
- Malfadine from Naples, named after Princess Mafalda of Savoy
- Scialatelli from Amalfi
Pizza, as we know and love it today, was first created in Naples. When King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples in 1889, baker Raffaele Esposito made a pizza in honor of the queen. At the Naples pizzeria “Pietro…e Basta Così” the first pizza Margherita was baked with colors representative of the Italian flag. Red tomatoes, green basil, and white Mozzarella di Bufala adorned this signature pizza known as the classic pizza Napoletana or Neapolitan pizza.
Today, both margherita and marinara pizza are recognized as official Neapolitan pizzas under the “Verace Pizza Napoletana” designation. Both start with a basic risen dough of water, salt, yeast, and flour that’s baked in a woodfired oven at 430°- 480°C. Marinara pizza is topped only with tomatoes, oregano, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. While the traditional margherita pizza is made with tomato, oil, mozzarella or fiordilatte cheese, grated cheese, and basil. The more modern take on margherita pizza often features fiordilatte cheese over buffalo mozzarella.. Established in 1984, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana provides an international regulation on what makes an authentic Neapolitan pizza based on oral accounts from generations of Neapolitan pizza makers.
Furthermore, in 2017, the culinary art of Neapolitan “pizzaiuoli,” or pizzamaker, was also given UNESCO World Heritage status. The UNESCO status covers the four-step dough preparation process and the woodfired oven cooking techniques of the pizzamakers.
Other Must-Try Styles of Pizza in Naples
While pizza Napoletana is the star of Naples, there are a few other styles of pizza not to be missed. First, pizza marinara is the traditional Neapolitan pizza topped only with tomatoes, oregano, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and sometimes basil.
Next, pizza portafoglio, or wallet pizza, is the ideal way to eat pizza Napoletana on the go. It’s made by taking the classic Neapolitan pizza and folding it up to make it portable. Pizza marinara can also be savored as a pizza portafoglio.
Pizza fritta, though born out of necessity, demonstrates Neapolitans love for all things fried. After WWII, items like mozzarella and wood for the woodfired ovens became a luxury in Naples. Consequently, the less expensive pizza fritta, or fried pizza, was highly popular. Pizza fritta was typically stuffed with pork cracklings and ricotta, then fried in oil until golden brown and crispy. Today, you can order pizza fritta with various fillings at many Neapolitan pizzerias throughout the city.
Additionally, don’t miss the Parigina, or Parisian, which is a pizza made with Neapolitan pizza dough. The dough is topped with tomato, cheese, and prosciutto cotto. Then those toppings are covered with a layer of puff pastry. Finally, be sure to try pizza di scarola alla Napoletana. This pizza is more like a pie filled with stewed escarole, raisins, pine nuts, anchovies, and extra virgin olive oil.
Popular Antipasti in Campania
The Caprese salad is an antipasto from Campania now enjoyed around the world. It’s made with tomatoes, Mozzarella di Bufala, basil, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. There are two stories behind how this flavor-packed yet straightforward salad was created, the first dates to WWII when a mason worker in Capri wanted a light meal for lunchtime so he could easily get back to work. So he decided to create a light salad representative of his beloved Italy. The second story says the salad was first made at a hotel in Capri for Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of Futurism. Marinetti thought pasta was too traditional, so instead, the hotel served him Caprese salad made in Italian flag colors.
Mozzarella in Carozza
Another delicious fried food in Campania, mozzarella in carozza, is an indulgent antipasto everyone should try once. Different family recipes abound depending on the region. The Neapolitan version of mozzarella in carozza involves sandwiching mozzarella between two slices of bread. Then, dredging the sandwich in flour and eggs before frying in hot oil until the mozzarella in carozza is golden brown.
When craving seafood in Naples, look to polipetti affogati or small drowned octopuses. This Neapolitan seafood dish involves drowning the octopuses in a tomato stew made of San Marzano tomatoes, tomato purée, garlic, white wine, and chile flakes. Finally, parsley and lemon garnish polipetti affogati, and it’s usually served with bread or toast to soak up all that delicious sauce.
Primi Piatti in Campania
Spaghetti con le Vongole
Spaghetti con le vongole, or spaghetti with clams, is a traditional Neapolitan dish that’s also enjoyed along the Amalfi Coast and on the islands of Capri and Ischia. Typically, it’s made with veraci clams, a baby clam that provides flavor for this dish. To make spaghetti con le vongole, the clams are cleaned, soaked, and then sautéed with garlic, parsley, white wine, and chile flakes until they open. Then, cooked spaghetti (or linguine) is tossed with the clams and wine sauce, sprinkled with parsley, and drizzled with olive oil. Some Neapolitans also add fresh tomatoes.
Spaghetti con la Colatura di Alici
Colatura di alici is a semi-fermented flavorful liquid made in Cetara by curing anchovies with salt. The curing process takes place in chestnut barrels where the salt draws the liquid from the anchovies. That liquid collects at the bottom of the barrels and is later bottled as colatura di alici. Spaghetti con la colatura di alici is a simple pasta dish made with this anchovy sauce, garlic, parsley, chile flakes, and olive oil.
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina
Gnocchi all Sorrentina is one of the best-known pasta dishes in Campania. This delicious dish hails from Sorrento and involves smothering homemade potato gnocchi in a rich tomato and mozzarella sauce flavored with fresh basil. Next, the gnocchi is topped with more mozzarella or pecorino and baked until the cheese has melted and a golden crust forms on top. Traditionally, gnocchi alla Sorrentina is baked and served in a single portion clay pot called a pignatiello.
It is a typical food of Campania, especially Naples; minestra maritata is a soup often served at Christmas and throughout the winter months. The name means married soup, referring to the ideal marriage of ingredients. Many variations exist, but the base ingredients must include black cabbage, chicory, escarole, pork rinds, pork feet, pork ribs, and sausage. Everything is simmered together until the meat is tender and a rich broth has formed. Minestra maritata can be topped with grated cheese to serve.
Pasta, Fagioli e Cozze
Pasta, fagioli e cozze is a Neapolitan take on the peasant dish called pasta e fagioli enjoyed in several Italian regions. Land meets the sea in this simple, filling dish savored in the summer months from May to August, when mussels are freshest. It’s made with mixed short pasta, cannellini beans, garlic, white wine, olive oil, chile flakes, tomatoes, and mussels with their cooking liquid. The dish has a thick, creamy consistency that’s loaded with flavor.
Piatti Unici in Campania
Frittata di Maccheroni
Frittata di Maccheroni, or frittata di spaghetti, is a hearty piatto unico traditionally prepared to utilize leftover pasta from Sunday’s Ragù. It can be prepared either with ragù (rossa/red) or without ragù (bianca/white). To make the frittata, leftover pasta is mixed with eggs, caciocavallo, scamorza cheese, prosciutto, pancetta, or whatever is in the refrigerator. Once cooked, frittata di maccheroni can be eaten hot or cold and is often savored at picnics or on the beach.
Parmigiana di Melanzane alla Napoletana
While many Italian regions have their take on parmigiana di melanzane, the Neapolitan version is made with dark-skinned, elongated eggplants, which are slightly more bitter. First, the eggplants are sliced lengthwise and salted to remove excess liquid. Then, the eggplant slices are dredged in flour and fried in oil until golden brown. Next, the fried eggplant is layered with freshly prepared tomato sauce and slices of mozzarella. After sprinkling with Parmigiano Reggiano, the parmigiana di melanzane is baked in the oven, then left to rest for one hour before serving.
Secondi Piatti in Campania
Totani e Patate
Totani e patate is an example of food in Campania, where mare meets terra, or sea meets land. Squid and potatoes come together for a tasty dish from the Amalfi Coast. First, Totani e patate is made with potatoes sautéed in a pan with olive oil and garlic. Then, strips of red squid are sautéed with onions, garlic, and olive oil in the same pan after removing the potatoes. Wine and crushed tomatoes are added next and allowed to simmer before returning the potatoes to the pan. The most popular recipes for totani e patate are from Positano and Praiano.
Pesce all’Acqua Pazza
Acqua pazza, or crazy water, is a cooking technique used with fish like sea bass, sea bream, red snapper, or perch in the coastal regions of Campania. This crazy water method involves cooking the fish in water, salt, oil, garlic, and cherry tomatoes. Pesce all’acqua pazza is a healthy, low-calorie preparation that highlights the flavors of fresh fish.
Fritto Misto di Mare
As with many Italian regions near the sea, fritto misto di mare is widely savored in the coastal zones of Campania. Fresh seafood is essential to an unforgettable fritto misto, and thankfully seafood abounds along the Amalfi Coast, as do spectacular seaside views to enjoy with it. Typically, fritto misto includes fresh anchovies, squid, shrimp, or prawns, mixed fish dredged lightly in semolina, then fried until crispy yet tender. Then finished with a squeeze of Amalfi lemon juice, fritto misto di mare offers an authentic taste of the sea.
Polpette alla Napoletana
For an authentic taste of Naples beyond pizza, polpette alla Napoletana is an absolute must-try food in Campania. These meatballs are one of the most ancient and renowned recipes of Naples handed down by grandmothers from one generation to the next. Polpette all Napolitana is made with ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, and pepper. The addition of pine nuts and raisins makes them distinctly Neapolitan. The meatballs are fried in olive oil to cook and then simmered in freshly prepared tomato sauce before serving.
Another classic Neapolitan meat dish, ragù Napoletano, is a highly cherished food in Campania. This meat and tomato sauce takes a lot of time to prepare, but the result is worth the labor of love. The dish is also known as ragù guardaporta because it used to be prepared by doormen while observing their posts. The ragù preparation starts with sautéing a soffrito of pancetta and prosciutto with a local aromatic herb called piperna. Whole cuts of different types of meat are used for the ragù, including beef and pork ribs. When beef steaks are included, they’re often rolled up with a mixture of pine nuts, garlic, parsley, cheese, and seasonings.
The key to success is cooking the ragù Napoletano for many hours over a low flame to achieve the dish’s signature complex flavors and texture. For serving, the sauce can be enjoyed with pasta for a primo piatto, while the meat is served as a secondo piatto.
Dolci in Campania
Pastiera Napoletana is a cake with a short pastry crust typically served around Easter. The filling for the short pastry crust is made with eggs, grano cotto (pre-cooked wheat grains), sugar, ricotta, lemon zest, candied orange peel, and orange blossom water. Pastiera’s flavors are genuinely reminiscent of spring in Naples, and it’s usually served cold. Though it originated in Naples, pastiera is now widely enjoyed throughout Italy for Easter.
Sfogliatelle are multi-layered pastries whose name means leaf layers in reference to the hundreds of layers of crisp puff pastry they contain. They have a ricotta and semolina filling and are dusted with powdered sugar. These irresistible pastries were first made in the seventeenth century at the Santa Rosa monastery in Salerno. Today, you’ll find regional variations like sfogliatelle ricce (curly) and sfogliatelle frolle made with a sweet shortcrust instead of puff pastry.
Babà al Rum
Babà al rum is a traditional Neapolitan sweet brought to the region by chefs who trained in France and worked in the kitchens of the wealthy in Naples. These sticky sponge cakes soaked in a citrusy rum syrup originated in the eighteenth century in the Duchy of Lorraine. Babà al rum soon caught on and became a Neapolitan dessert adored by all. The sponge cake, or babà, is made from flour, yeast, milk, sugar, eggs, butter, and salt. After baking until golden brown, the babà are soaked in a syrup made of rum, sugar, lemon zest, orange zest, and water. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth delicious dessert that can’t be missed.
About Nicole Dickerson
WSET certified international wine writer with a passion for rare varieties and cellar hand experience in both hemispheres. Join me in the vineyards and cellars of the wine world at palmandvine.com.
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