A Culinary Tour of Italy
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The flavors of Campania are word-famous; many dishes that are synonymous with Italian food—including pizza and spaghetti—were born in this region. Principal ingredients include sun-kissed vegetables (e.g., Marzano plum tomatoes), slightly acidic produce (e.g., Annurca and Limoncella apples), and farmhouse cheeses (e.g., mozzarella di bufala). Fish and seafood dishes are mainstays along the coast, while lamb, pork, and buffalo meat are protein staples in the region's inland areas. The signature pizzas are baked in wooden domed ovens, and pasta is always served al dente. Look for red wines from Aglianico and Taurasi, the Barolo of the south.
The heart of Campania lies in Naples, the raucous capital of Italy's south. Dine at L'Europeo, my favorite restaurant in the city, for perfect marinara pizzas topped with tomato slices, garlic, and a basil leaf, sans cheese. More adventurous epicures are encouraged to sample the city's world-class street food. Down n' dirty Neapolitan treats like arancini (fried rice balls) and calzones (fried pizza stuffed with ham and vegetables) are cheap and delicious, and give the city's formidable trattorie a run for their money in terms of value and taste.
North of Naples, I recommend that visitors try La Caveja, a rustic restaurant-inn located in the town of Pietravaiaron. The menu abounds with thrilling rustic vegetable preparations, dishes like pancotto (bread cooked with greens or beans) and tubes of "broken candle pasta" flavored with fatback and pecorino; the wine list carries local gems from unknown varietals such as Palagrello. Owner Berardino Lombardo has an organic farm, Terra di Conca, which raises much of the produce, fruit, pork, and poultry served at his restaurant. (Ask someone to guide you if you'd like to visit, as it is not easy to find.)
Cheese connoisseurs looking to taste perfect mozzarella di bufala head to Tenuta Vannulo, a dairy farm that's located south of the Amalfi Coast in the town of Paestum (also home to the famous Doric temples). Visitors can observe buffalo at rest and play, but the only true reason to visit Tenuta Vannulo is to purchase organic buffalo milk products. (N.B., The mozzarella is usually sold out by noon.) They're some of the greatest dairy products I've ever tasted, and they're available only at the Vannulo shop and bar.
L'Europeo di Mattozzi
Via Campodisola 4/6/8
Lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner, Thursday through Saturday. Closed all day Sunday, from August 15-31, and Saturdays in July.
Osteria degli Antichi Sapori
Via Santa Lucia 18
Via Santissima Annunziata, 10
Closed Sunday evening and all day Monday, Dec. 23 to Jan. 8.
Via G. Galilei (Contrada Vannulo)
84040 Capaccio Scalo (Paestum)