The people of Capri are proud of their heritage, and the food on the island is evidence of this pride. Much like all other destinations in Italy, there are several dishes that are uniquely defined as being “of Capri” and are culturally significant to the people of the island.
Capri is particularly known for using the freshest of the fresh ingredients, whether it be vegetables picked straight out of the garden, the lightest and freshest of cheeses, or fish pulled straight from the surrounding bay. Specifically, Capri is known to have beautiful fresh, plump, and sweet tomatoes and crisp fresh basil. The people of Capri are also particularly fond of freshly handcrafted pastas but are perhaps most in love with the local seafood of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
One of the most traditional dishes on the island of Capri is impepata di cozze, or peppered mussels. These mussels are quickly steamed in their own juices with generous amounts of pepper. They are not cooked with any oil or butter, instead they are served by themselves or only with lemon and parsley for garnish. Once cooked, they are served at the center of a table for everyone to enjoy together.
Alternatively, for those who love good fresh seafood for an appetizer but are not fans of mussels, totani are one of Capri’s signature seafood ingredients. Totani, or flying squid, may be prepared in a variety of manners on the island, such as breaded and fried and served as an appetizer.
One of the two most famous dishes that Capri is known for, though, is insalata caprese, or caprese salad. This famous dish is known the world over and is perhaps one of the simplest salads to make, but Capri is where this recipe came to life. Insalata caprese is made with juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, crisp, fragrant basil leaves, and fresh mozzarella di bufala cheese, all topped with Capri’s own local extra virgin olive oil, a dash of pepper, and, sometimes, oregano. A simple dish bursting with flavor, insalata caprese may be served as an appetizer, main dish, second course dish, or side dish.
The people of Capri absolutely love pasta for their first courses. Alongside insalata caprese, the other main traditional dish of the island is known as ravioli capresi. The filling of these delicious ravioli is made with parmigiano and caciotta cheese, which is then seasoned with marjoram, or with parmigiano and mozzarella cheese. When the pasta is cooked, it is tossed with a fresh tomato and basil sauce, or, alternatively, it can be served with cherry tomatoes or with butter and sage. This dish is so ubiquitous on Capri that one can find it at nearly every restaurant on the island.
A variant of ravioli caprese involves frying the tasty morsels. In this case, the fried ravioli caprese are served as an appetizer or a street food.
Another pasta that the people of Capri favor is scialatielli. This fresh ribbon-shaped pasta is made with flour, water (and sometimes milk), parmigiano, and basil blended directly into the dough. The pasta may be served mixed with fresh seafood like shrimp or mussels, or sautéed vegetables.
A classic local summer dish is called pennette aumm aumm. The dish features penne pasta mixed with fresh cheese, vegetables, and basil. Traditionally, it is prepared with sauteed eggplants and cherry tomatoes plus mozzarella cheese, however, these ingredients may be substituted with similar alternatives depending on what is available.
In Capri, one cannot go wrong with ordering a delicious plate of seafood for their second course. The people of Capri fish all kinds of seafood from the waters around the island, including octopus, flying squid (totani), cuttlefish (seppie), seabream (saraghi), squid (calamari), and many different kinds of shellfish including mussels, clams, shrimp, prawns, and more.
One of the most famed fish that is served in Capri is pezzogna (blackspot seabream). Found throughout the Gulf of Naples, pezzogna may be cooked in a variety of ways. In Capri, the most common method is known as pezzogna all’acqua pazza. All’acqua pazza is a very traditional way to prepare fish in Southern Italy. The method originated with fishermen who would cook fish in sea water, as opposed to using salt, which was expensive. Today, the fish is salted and sauteed in olive oil with garlic, chili pepper, and cherry tomatoes. While the fish is cooking, white wine is added as well as a glass of water. Other local fish, such as saraghi, may be cooked in this way as well.
Flying squid (totani) pulled fresh from the sea are a versatile ingredient in the local cuisine. Known for their stronger taste compared to calamari, totani can be prepared in countless different ways, with one of the most common being totani e patate (flying squid and potatoes). This simple dish consists of sliced flying squid sauteed in olive oil with garlic and chili powder, then cooked with white wine, cherry tomatoes, water, and potatoes. Locals serve this dish with slices of fresh bread in order to dip it in the tasty sauce and savor all of the flavors.
The other popular dish featuring flying squid is known as totani ripieni, or stuffed flying squid. In this case, the squid are sliced and the tentacles are removed and put aside. Then, the tentacles are sauteed in olive oil with garlic. Afterwards, the tentacles are mixed with eggs, caciotta cheese, parmigiano cheese, and parsley to make the filling. The filling is carefully placed inside of the slices of squid and closed with toothpicks. The stuffed squids are cooked in homemade tomato sauce for no more than 20 minutes then served.
Anchovies are another local favorite and one of the best ways to serve this fish is known as alici marinate, or marinated anchovies. The dish consists of anchovy fillets covered with vinegar for a minimum of two hours and up to a few days, if placed in the fridge. Before serving, the vinegar is filtered out and the anchovies are seasoned with chili pepper, parsley, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. Depending on portion size, the anchovies may be served as a second course dish or as an appetizer.
Another seafood that the people of Capri particularly favor is shrimp. Shrimp is served on the island in a number of different manners. The shellfish can sometimes be served raw as an appetizer, with only a little olive oil to compliment it. It can also be sautéed and served in any number of sauces. Alternatively, one can find shrimp being tossed and served with pasta or a risotto. There is truly no end to the number of ways that shrimp can be served.
CONDIMENTS AND SIDE DISHES
When visiting Capri, the most common condiment that dishes are served with is the island’s very own olive oil. Capri is renowned for crafting its own extra virgin olive oil. Known as L’Oro di Capri and grown by local farmers, this delicious oil is made from Ogliarola, Rotondella, Frantoio, and Leccino varieties of olives. Much of the olive oil production on Capri is run by the Associazione l'Oro di Capri, which is dedicated to preserving ancient traditions of cultivating olive trees, producing outstanding olive oil, and protecting historic olive groves. Those who visit the island should be sure not to miss it.
A common sauce that can be found throughout the island is called chiummenzana, which consists of sliced tomatoes or cherry tomatoes sauteed with garlic, chili pepper, and oregano. In some cases, black olives and/or capers may be added. The final product is always topped with basil and may be served with pasta (primarily spaghetti), ravioli capresi, fried ravioli capresi, and meat dishes.
Caponata is one of Southern Italy’s most iconic side dishes. Originating from Sicily, caponata can be prepared with different ingredients depending on where it is made. In Capri, caponata always features a mixture of vegetables with stale bread or freselle (a local type of whole grain bread with a rough, dry texture and, usually, a circular shape). Depending on personal preferences, some common ingredients include tuna, arugula, lettuce, anchovies, eggplants, cheeses, and more. Locals typically prepare the bread by soaking it in salted water for a minute or two then mixing all of the ingredients together with condiments (typically extra virgin olive oil, pepper, and/or oregano).
STREET FOOD IN CAPRI
As established, one of the most famous dishes served on Capri is ravioli capresi, and the fried version may be enjoyed on the go as a tasty street food or snack.
Another favored street food is panino caprese. Derived from insalata caprese, this perfect summer sandwich features sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese, and extra virgin olive oil.
As with many coastal Italian locations, another street food that may be enjoyed in Capri is fritto misto. Traditionally consisting of mixed fried seafood, such as calamari and shrimp, fritto misto is served in a paper cone for portability.
The people of Capri adore their rich, sweet desserts. One of the most beloved desserts served on the island, and the rest of Italy, is gelato. Served in a cone or cup, this quintessential summer treat is the perfect pick-me-up while exploring the island of Capri.
Perhaps the most famous dessert native to Capri, though, is torta caprese, a dense, flourless cake made from chocolate and almonds and sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar. An icon of Campania’s regional cuisine, it is believed that the cake was invented during the twentieth century when a local chef forgot to add flour to a chocolate and almond cake he was preparing. Nevertheless, the cake was served, and the diners loved it so much that torta caprese spread throughout Italy and the world. This simple yet delicious cake may be served on its own or with whipped cream.
WINE IN CAPRI
Though space on the island is very limited, the locals have built some vineyards on terraced slopes that overlook the sea. The two wine varieties made directly on the island include Capri Rosso, which consists of Piedirosso grapes, and Capri Bianco, which consists of Falaghina, Greco Bianco, and Biancolella grapes. The people of Capri tend to favor light white wines to go with their seafood.
Although not from Capri, Lacryma Christi is a wine imported from the nearby slopes of Mount Vesuvius. It is an ancient wine, mentioned throughout history by authors and poets. It can be made in red or white varieties with the red version made from Piedirosso and Sciascinoso grapes, while the white version is made from Falaghina, Caprettone, and Greco di Tufo grapes.
Of course, the only proper way to end a meal on the island of Capri is with a glass of strong and fragrant limoncello. This liqueur is made directly on the island of Capri (as well as in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast) using locally grown lemons.
Capri’s local cuisine is renowned for its fresh flavors: seafood, tomatoes, lemons, basil, extra virgin olive oil and pasta are all delicious staples of this beautiful island. Capri may be small, but its contributions to Italian cuisine as a whole are undeniable.
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