Campania is the region south of Lazio on the Tyrrenian coast bordering on Molise, Apulia and Basilicata. The name may not ring many bells, but Naples, Capri, Pompeii and the Amalfi coast are well known to many.
Campania’s history goes back over 3000 years, when it was first colonised by the Greeks. They founded Cuma in the 8th century BC, leaving behind the beautiful Greek temple at Paestum, the ruins of which are still there today. Part of the region was ruled by the Etruscans in the 6th century BC, the whole area becoming part of the Roman Empire around the 4th century BC, when it was named Campania Felix (prosperous Campania). The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD completely destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, but the archaeological excavations have given us not only an insight into the sophisticated, wealthy local way of life, with its elaborate and varied diet, but also a glimpse of the food culture at the time.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was fought over by the Goths and Byzantines, becoming a Lombard duchy; however, Amalfi and Naples, remained independent republics. The Normans, who captured the whole region in the 11th century, eventually took the whole of the South, which was named “The Kingdom of Sicily”, with Roger II on the throne. In the early 16th century, the region was governed by the House of Aragon, as a dependency of the king of Spain, for 200 years, after which it passed to the Bourbons, (with a spell under French and Austrian rulers, when it became the seat of the kingdom of the two Sicilies).
During the Spanish and Bourbon rule, the south of Italy became one of the poorest parts in Europe, due to crippling taxation and land-grabbing between the Spanish local aristocracy and the Church. Two cuisines had evolved in Campania – that of the aristocracy which was opulent, extravagant and purposely wasteful to prove the superiority of the ruling classes, and that of the poor, based mainly on vegetables, pulses, grains and occasionally fish, who used their ingenuity and past food traditions to create wholesome dishes out of very little. The aristocracy employed professional chefs, often French, who were referred to as Monsieur, and later becoming known as Monsu’. These were extremely knowledgeable as well as competent, having been apprenticed for many years, and were highly respected in the community.
The layers of its history are apparent not only in archaeological sites, castles and grand palaces, but also in the colourful traditionality of its food. Because of centuries of hardship and poverty, its peoples have developed the instinct of survival, making the most out of the simple things in life, yet always with the humour, joie de vivre, and natural exuberance.
The Food of Campania
The cuisine today carries the legacy of its history; the over elaborate dishes of the past are seldom prepared, but the tradition of the Monsu is apparent in the wonderful variety and richness of their desserts and pastries, such as baba’, pastiera napoletana, Neapolitan shortbread and many others. Its peoples have continued to adapt the ingredients available, showing great creativity, in the different minestre, and various recipes for each seasonable vegetable all year round. In the clear waters of the coast, the great variety of fish and shellfish give rise to imaginatively devised recipes.
Campania is famous for its buffalo mozzarella, the buffaloes introduced by the Normans, but most important of all, this region can take the credit for discovering and developing the perfect combination between the tomato and the carbohydrate: Pizza and pasta, foods most commonly thought of as Italian dishes, evolved in the streets of Naples, where they were both inexpensive and easy to cook, and could be eaten on the go – the first fast food.
Pizza – a legacy of the Romans, although present in various forms throughout the Mediterranean, focaccia (all over Italy), pitta bread (Greece and Turkey), mazo bread (Middle East), - gained its popularity when in the mid 19th century, it was combined with tomato and baked, to be eaten immediately. So bakers set up tables outside their bakeries, to seat people whilst they were eating, and in this way the pizzeria was born.
With the unification of Italy, the pizza margherita was created in honour of the Queen Margherita di Savoia, with tomato, mozzarella and basil – representing the colours of the Italian flag.
Pasta – The Greeks and the Etruscans, were the first known civilisation to have the original form of pasta, with the Romans making large use of it. Dried pasta as we know it, was first introduced into Sicily by the Arabs; the first record of large-scale pasta making was in Palermo in 1156, from where it was transported to the mainland. It soon became popular in Naples, as it was inexpensive and easy to make. However, it was the combining pasta with tomato, as had been done with pizza, that made it fashionable. The fork as we know it today (with 4 prongs) was invented by a Neapolitan, so that King Ferdinand could eat spaghetti with tomato, a dish normally eaten by the people with their hands. Today, spaghetti with tomato and basil is known as Spaghetti alla Napoletana.
Tomato – originally from South America, was introduced into Europe in the 16th century as an ornamental plant. Not until the 18th century, was it discovered to be edible, but it was here in Campania that the potential of this fruit-vegetable was developed, possibly due to the extreme poverty of its people, who were able to put everything to good use with their culture, passion, humour and positive attitude to life.
A couple of examples of the way the Neapolitans used their imagination to fool their stomach can be seen in the names of dishes, eg pizza marinara which has no fish whatsoever, was so called because the use of tomato, garlic and parsley commonly used in a fish dish of the same name, would remind them of the sea; and sea bass all’acqua pazza (lit. sea bass in crazy water) adds humour to a dish simply cooked in water with tomato, parsley, garlic and olive oil.
The Wines of Campania
Enjoyed by Emperors and Popes, the wines from Campania have been highly regarded since Roman times. Their heritage is unlike any other wines from grape varieties as Fiano, Greco , Aglianico, Falanghina , are the same as were enjoyed by Pliny and Virgil who valued them as some of the finest in the Roman Empire. After centuries of neglect its wine industry is now in full bloom.
Campania champions many interesting native varieties, of which there are more than 100. They are the essential ingredients in the region's 3DOCG wines (Taurasi, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo) and 17 DOC wines (Aglianico del Taburno, Aversa, Campi di Flegrei, Capri, Castel San Lorenzo, Cilento, Costa d'Amalfi, Falerno del Massico , Galluccio, Guardia Sanframondi/Guardiolo, Irpinia, Ischia, Penisola Sorrentina, Sannio, Sant'Agata dei Goti, Solopaca and Vesuvio).
The area’s prestige is centered on one red variety that has put the Taurasi DOCG in the spotlight, and three white varieties, of which two give the DOCGs Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo their names. The king of red grapes is the Aglianico introduced to the area by the Greeks and later cultivated by the Romans. The white protagonists are Greco, (which, like Aglianico was brought to Campania by the Greeks), and Fiano, which dates back more than 2000 years (its name comes from vitis apiana, meaning vine beloved of bees). The white Falanghina is also highly regarded, and is the mainstay of the Falerno del Massico and Galluccio wines. Its honeyed sweetness gained it praise as one of the finest grapes from Pliny the Elder, an ancient philosopher who often mentioned in vino veritas (there is truth in wine) in his writings.
Campania’s success owes much to the varied climates and terroirs that host around 100,000 acres (46,800ha) of vines. Viticulture is in its element thanks to an abundance of sunshine, dry hot summers, mild winters, a long growing season> and volcanic soil (the latter ensured phylloxera was kept at bay). The coastal Mediterranean breezes blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea and across the Apennine Mountains to temper the heat, encouraging a bright acidity in the fruit. These factors also contribute to the varied qualities of Campania wines. For instance, an inland Falanghina grown on slopes where there is more rainfall offers more fragrant notes than those found on the coast, where the climate is continental and tends to be drier.
Despite being ensconced in tradition, today’s wine styles are fruit forward and youthful: the whites are known for their aromatic characters, often redolent of the local flora, while the reds, mainly from Aglianico, have big personalities which require a little ageing. Dynamic and innovative methods have helped improve the quality of Campania’s wines, specifically through better vineyard management, harvesting methods and cellar techniques. A particularly notable name in the world of Campania wine is Antonio Mastroberardino, whose pioneering use of both tradition and innovation make him the most respected, experienced and knowledgeable winemaker of the area.
Campania Recipe - Aubergine Fritelle
4 Aubergines, peeled, cubedsalted
300g stale bread, soaked in milk
250g smoked scamorza, grated
30g parmesan, grated
50g basil, shredded
300gr Stale bread
2 egg yolks
1. Leave aubergines to drain for 1 hour
2. Pat dry and deep fry in olive oil
3. When golden, put on litchen roll to absorb grease
4. Squeeze milk out of bread
5. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl
6. Make cakes 1 cm thick and 5cm diameter
7. Pat in flour and shallow fry in olive oil for 2 mins each side
8. Bake in oven at 180C for 5 mins
Monday - Thursday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 22.30
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 23.00