Campania - Food & Wine
Campania is the land of sun, sea, and culture; an area that has distinguished itself since ancient times for its vast culinary heritage that is rich in unique delicacies.
The region boasts extraordinarily fertile land, a fundamental condition for the acclimatization of countless species of animals and plants. As a result, the territory has an incredible biodiversity, which led to a great richness of traditional dishes.
Campania’s cuisine represents a true cultural heritage of Italy that goes well beyond the exquisite gastronomic tradition making this region a perfect trip to Italy for food and wine lovers. In fact, wine is equally important in Campania and the region boasts one of the most flourishing winemaking cultures. In Campania, wine pairs perfectly with the traditional products that vary from area to area.
Around the world, Campania is famous for its delicious Mediterranean food. Bathed by the sun, the territory offers plenty of fresh vegetables which are used to create superb dishes. Moreover, the cuisine is based on fresh, seasonal ingredients often seasoned with abundant local olive oil.
While Campania is the birthplace of pizza and renowned for its high-quality dried pasta, the region is also famous for a wide variety of typical cheeses, traditional salumi, and liqueurs.
Out of all the areas in the region, Gragnano is among the most famous when it comes to food. Known as “The City of Pasta”, Gragnano is a small town in the Naples metropolitan area that is renowned worldwide for having the most exquisite dried pasta in Italy, and in the world as a matter of fact.
The pasta made in Gragnano is the epitome of pasta, and it is different not only because it is made exclusively from the local wheat, but because the grain is dried through a slow process that maintains its flavor. Furthermore, the pasta is produced following traditional techniques, resulting in a pasta distinct in terms of texture, flavor, and shape.
Campania is also the place where one of the most beloved foods in the world was born. We’re talking about pizza, a dish invented to welcome Queen Margherita of Savoy to Naples. In fact, the true pizza owes its name to the queen and is made exclusively with tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius (San Marzano or Pomodorino del Piennolo), type 0 or type 00 flour, fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella. Baked to perfection in a wood burning oven for no more than a minute and a half, pizza margherita is a favorite in many of the ancient pizzerias in Naples, featuring an explosion of flavors that is second to none.
Initially, this signature dish of Campania’s cuisine was rigorously baked in the ovens that skillful craftsmen used to create ceramics. Since its birth, many chefs have tried to reproduce the unique taste of the Neapolitan pizza without real success. In fact, the only true pizza can be tasted in Naples and a few other cities in Campania.
If Naples has pizza, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are famous for their lemons. Thanks to the almost constant sun and mild winters, the large lemons of Campania are characterized by a unique crisp flavor and are used as the main ingredient in many dishes and beverages.
One of the most famous types of lemons of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast is called sfusato because of its elongated shape and distinct point. This type of lemon is usually implemented in seafood dishes, though it can also be eaten raw or used to flavor desserts as well as make limoncello.
Campania’s regional cuisine varies from province to province, yet the simplicity of the flavors and the genuine ingredients are the strong points of the typical foods found throughout the region.
The cuisine of this region has the undisputed merit of contributing to the birth of the Mediterranean diet thanks to the use of essential products such as tomatoes, olive oil, vegetables, and seafood. As such, the appetizers feature healthy and high-quality ingredients. Campania is mainly a territory of the sea, however the region does boast products that are typical to the inland territories, which make delicious appetizers.
Similar to the other regions of Italy, appetizers in Campania may consist of cured meats and local cheeses as well as hot appetizers.
One prosciutto of choice is prosciutto di Venticano, a typical product made in the province of Avellino. The main characteristic of this prosciutto is its tenderness that is preserved despite the long aging process, while the flavor is mild and somewhat sweet. Another excellent local prosciutto is called prosciutto di Trevico, which is aged for at least 16 months.
In the province of Salerno, specifically the Cilento area, a typical cured meat is called sopressata cilentana e del Vallo di Diano. Aged for at least 40 days, this pork product is ultimately smoked using beech and oak wood.
Also of note is the salame di Mugnano, a type of salami made with a distinct dual stage drying process that first uses smoke from a fire pit followed by exposure to strong local winds. Then there is also the salame Napoli, which can be produced throughout the region using pork meat cut from the shoulder, neck, and loin. To add flavor, the salami is enriched with pork fat, black pepper, and spices.
Naturally, Campania is highly regarded for its wide assortment of cheeses. Among the most famous is the supreme mozzarella di bufala. Made from buffalo milk, this type of mozzarella is soft and creamy, and it has a distinctive buttery flavor that will make you crave more and more.
Another soft texture and buttery flavored cheese is fior di latte, which follows a similar technique as mozzarella di bufala, except it is made with cow milk. Fior di latte can also be referred to as simply mozzarella. Ricotta di fuscella, a soft cheese with a sweet taste and pyramidal shape, is also typical of the area.
Moving on to firmer cheeses, we can mention the semi-hard Provolone del Monaco, a cheese with medium to long aging process that is made in the surroundings of Naples using milk from Agerolese cows.
Caciocavallo, which can be found throughout Southern Italy, is distinct in the Campania region due to a final smoking process that results in caciocavallo affumicato. Another smoked cheese produced in Campania is provola affumicata.
Outside of cured meats and cheeses, there are a variety of tasty appetizers enjoyed in Campania.
For example, the region has its own take on bruschetta, which is popular throughout Italy. In Campania, the bread may be topped with fresh tomatoes, garlic, and oregano as well as anchovies, olives, local cheeses, vegetable spreads, or meat spreads.
Perhaps Campania's most famous appetizer is the refreshing caprese, made with sliced tomatoes, sliced mozzarella di bufala, basil, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
Among popular hot appetizers is mozzarella in carrozza, made with bread and mozzarella. The cheese is placed between two slices of bread, dipped in a mixture of egg and milk, and then fried until crispy and golden brown.
Campania is renowned all over the world for its delicious pasta, of which there are many different varieties. In addition to pasta, there are other first courses that stand out, such as the traditional soups.
Out of all the pasta shapes, spaghetti is among the most beloved in Campania and it is used in many traditional dishes. Examples include the seafood dishes known as spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) and spaghetti allo scoglio (spaghetti with mixed seafood such as clams, mussels, and shrimp).
Spaghetti alla puttanesca is another simple yet exquisite first dish. Made with capers, olives and tomato sauce, this dish embodies the typical flavors of the area. Last, but not least, is spaghetti aglio e olio, which is made with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parsley, and pepper.
In Campania, no food goes to waste and leftover spaghetti, together with eggs and cheese, is used to make a dish called frittata di spaghetti.
Sartù alla napoletana is another flavorful first course to taste in the region. This elaborate dish consists of rice that is shaped like a timbale and filled with ragù napoletano, fior di latte, tiny meatballs, boiled eggs, peas, pancetta, and mushrooms. The dish is baked to achieve a golden-brown crust and served in slices.
In the Sorrento area, a famous first dish is gnocchi alla sorrentina, potato gnocchi cooked in a typical ceramic bowl called pignatiello and served with tomato sauce, fior di latte, parmigiano, and basil.
Maccaronara is a fresh pasta local to the province of Avellino. It is made by hand and is similar to large spaghetti, but with squared sides.
Moving onto soups, there is one Neapolitan dish that mixes pasta and soup. Known as pasta fagioli e cozze, this is a Southern Italian take on the popular pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) found in other parts of Italy. Known for its thick consistency, pasta fagioli e cozze is made with short pasta shapes (sometimes featuring a mixture of different pasta shapes) plus beans, mussels, and tomatoes.
Among the most popular soups, we can mention the zuppa di lenticchie e friarielli. This rustic dish encompasses the genuine nature of Campania’s cuisine. Made with lentils and broccoli rabe, this dense soup is best enjoyed with generous amounts of crunchy bread.
Zuppa di vongole al pomodoro is another popular first dish that is typical of Campania’s coastal areas. Prepared with clams and fresh tomatoes, this simple soup is made from a short list of ingredients.
During the festive periods, and especially during the cold season, many locals also prepare and serve as a first dish called minestra maritata, a soup made of mixed vegetables such as cabbage and chicory plus other herbs cooked in beef broth and accompanied by boiled beef or sausage. A winter staple in Naples and other parts of Southern Italy is pasta e patate (a thick soup with pasta and potatoes).
A local dish served during holidays or celebrations is ragù napoletano. A complex dish that requires a significant amount of time to prepare, this rich sauce comes together by slowly cooking beef muscle, pork ribs, onions, and tomato sauce over low heat for at least three hours.
Lastly, as mentioned above, Naples is famous for its pizza and in addition to the classic pizza margherita, there are several other important dishes that incorporate the delicious local pizza dough. We can start with pizza alla marinara, which is made the same way as pizza margherita except the only toppings are tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, and olive oil.
Next, we have dishes that consist of stuffed pizza dough. The most famous is the calzone, which can be fried or baked. In Campania, a calzone consists of folded over pizza dough that is traditionally stuffed with tomato sauce, local cheese (such as provola), and cured meats. Pizza di scarola, is thicker compared to the calzone, and it almost resembles a cake. For this dish, the dough is stuffed with sautéed escarole, black olives, capers, pine nuts, and anchovies.
Just as the first dishes, Campania’s second courses can vary depending on whether you are tasting them in the coastal areas or further inland.
If you are visiting Naples and the surrounding area, one of the most delicious main dishes to taste is trippa alla napoletana, a dish made with beef tripe, local lemons, vegetables, and usually served with a slice of tasty local bread.
Salsicce e friarielli, on the other hand, is a rustic dish that is tasty and has a rich character. This Neapolitan specialty is made with local sausages and broccoli rabe.
If you want to taste a traditional seafood dish, the sauté di vongole is one of those mains that will conquer your taste buds forever. Also worth trying is pesce all'acqua pazza, which features small bites of local fish served with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and parsley.
In Ischia, one of Campania’s islands, a main course that stands out is coniglio all’Ischitiana. While it is rare finding a non-fish based dish on an island, what is even more impressive is the fact that this dish is the most popular in the area. Made with a special type of rabbit unique to the island and seasoned with plenty of herbs, this dish is similar to a stew and it is baked in a clay pan.
A delicious vegetarian main is parmigiana di melanzane alla napoletana, which is made with oven-fried eggplant, tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella (or provola) and parmigiano.
Further inland, particularly in the Sarno Valley, one well-known dish is braciola di capra, made with rolled goat meat that is stuffed with garlic, parsley, and cheese, and cooked in a tomato sauce.
In Naples and the surrounding area, a popular Sunday dish is calamari ripieni alla napoletana. The squids are stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, olives, and capers, and cooked in tomato sauce seasoned with oregano, salt, and pepper.
Also in Naples, another popular seafood dish is impepata di cozze, which consists of steamed mussels seasoned with pepper and usually served with parsley, lemon juice, and bread.
Other famous mains are polpi veraci affogati, made with small octopus, tomato sauce and parsley, maiale al latte (milk-braised pork), marinated anchovies, and various types of baccalà (salted cod) dishes.
Similar to the other Italian regions, Campania’s side dishes are inspired by local products and peasant traditions. The sides are usually made with seasonal vegetables and vary widely between summer and winter.
In spring and summer, a popular side dish is zucchine alla scapece, made by frying pieces of zucchini and seasoning them with olive oil, fresh mint leaves, and vinegar.
In late autumn and winter, the artichoke of Paestum is the protagonist of many side dishes, such as carciofi gratinati con caciotta or carciofo ripieno. The first recipe features breadcrumbs, artichokes and three types of cheeses, usually caciotta, pecorino, and parmigiano. The second dish is stuffed artichokes with a mixture of breadcrumbs, parmigiano, and sometimes sausage.
Dried fruits and nuts, such as the hazelnuts of Giffoni, are also popular. Rarely served with the main course and usually consumed after the meal, these hazelnuts grow in a few areas around Salerno and are characterized by a unique taste.
When it comes to desserts, Campania certainly is a region that impresses. Campania’s pastry tradition is one of the most famous in the world, inspiring many pastry chefs with simple yet exquisite recipes.
Some of the most famous desserts feature ricotta as the main ingredient. One of them that should definitely be savored is sfogliatella. Baked throughout the region, this delicious dessert has two versions and it is made either with multi-layered pastry or with shortcrust dough. These delicious sweets can be filled with ricotta, candied fruit, and almond paste.
The babà is one of the few desserts, or dishes, as a matter of fact, that wasn’t born on Italian territory. Despite being a foreign acquisition, the dessert found its fame in Campania and today it is considered a traditional dessert in Naples and the surrounding area. This type of sponge cake with a distinct shape is traditionally dipped in rum syrup.
Pastiera is a traditional sweet typically made for Easter but that is found in most pastry shops all year long. The tart is filled with ricotta and orange flower water.
In the Carnival period, another ricotta-based sweet to try is migliaccio. This dessert doesn’t have a definite recipe and each family has its own version, yet the key ingredients are semolina, ricotta, eggs, and orange zest.
A characteristic Christmas dessert is struffoli, which are fried balls of dough served with nonpareils sprinkles and candied fruit. To conclude, we must mention the divine torta caprese, a flourless chocolate cake made with almonds, chocolate, eggs, butter, and sugar.
Campania is also the land of exquisite street food.
Cuoppo is probably the most diffused street food in the region, especially in the Naples area. The term refers to a paper cone filled with all sorts of fried goodies, that range from fried vegetables to fried seafood.
If you are looking for something a little heartier, a panuozzo will probably stop your hunger and impress you with its deliciousness. This type of sandwich is made with pizza dough that is baked in a woodfired oven then cut in half and filled with different cured meats, cheeses, or cooked foods. Among the most popular versions are panuozzo con parmigiana di melanzane and panuozzo con polpette.
As it is easy to imagine, in the land of pizza this popular food is also a street food. You can choose either from pizza a portafoglio, pizza that is folded to eat on the go, or a pizza fritta, made with fried pizza dough and filled with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and other ingredients.
In all coastal areas, fried anchovies are another popular street food.
Thanks to the position of the territory, Campania is also one of the world leaders in wine production.
Although famous worldwide for its wine, Campania's offerings are formed by a small oenological elite; nonetheless, these wines are of an absolute excellence.
The three prominent DOCG wines of the region are Greco di Tufo, Taurasi and Fiano di Avellino. These wines are characterized by flavorful bodies and astonishing aromas, pairing well with a wide variety of foods and cheeses from the region.
Apart from the DOCG wines, Campania boasts a wide range of DOC wines mostly produced from indigenous grape varieties such as Aglianico, Piedirosso, Falanghina, Biancolella, and Aspirinio.
The Amalfi Coast and Sorrento are not widely known for their wines, yet they are famous for limoncello, an alcoholic beverage produced from the local species of lemons, which is a must-try!