The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Campania: Part II
The complex historical events in this region must be considered in order to begin to grasp the essence of its unique and world famous gastronomy. The profound influences of the generations of French and Spanish administration are clearly evident in the preparations of dishes that are designed to be consumed at the tables of the aristocratically rich in long, leisurly, luxuriant banquets. Yet there is a diametrically opposed style of cookery in the region, one that is reserved for the peasants where vegetables and dairy products form the everyday staple ingredients, there is almost no meat present, and fish is reserved for extremely special occasions.
Since the Dark Ages, Campania has been an area where the poor were absolutely dirt poor, and the rich led a gilted life in palaces and castles of the nobility and, of course, the court of the Kingdom, as for many centuries the city of Naples was the capital of the Kingdom Of The Two Sicilies. The subsequent French and Spanish aristocracies were extremely interested in sapping away the economic lifeblood of the region to fund their lifestyle and enrich their crowns back home, but rarely considered the welfare of their citizens who right up to modern times have lived in abject poverty and been forced to survive on what would generally be considered little more than scraps.
From this base of "making do with what's freely available" Neapolitan cuisine has reached the zenith of international cuisine to the point where what most people around the world consider "Italian" cuisine is actually Neapolitan in origin. Essentially, every time you enjoy a pasta with tomato sauce, a pizza, mozzarella, or ricotta, you have to credit those wily and resourceful inhabitants of the Gulf of Naples, who were able to create gastronomic greatness out of virtually nothing. (Let's also not discuss at this time that whatever people in every country of the world consider "Italian" classic tunes are almost always Neapolitan as well... we'll leave that for another Hub.)
Despite the culinary and cultural cross-contamination which occurred during the centuries from Etruscan times to today, Neapolitan cuisine still retains a surprisingly wide repertoire of dishes, ingredients and preparations that characterize a unique cultural identity. As the capital of the former great kingdom (which was based in what is now the entire southern half of modern Italy), the cuisine of Naples has been the central focus of much of the culinary traditions of the region of Campania. After millennia of progress and constant adjustments arriving today at a reasonable balance between the dishes of the land (pasta, vegetables, dairy products) and the sea (fish, crustaceans, molluscs).
At the very base all Neapolitan cuisine there is one ingredient that deserves its own extraordinary mention, and that is the tomato. Vivid, vitamin-rich, and with the unique capability to enhance thousands of other flavors, it is natural to ask how it was possible for Italians to do without it for so many centuries. After all, the use of tomato only relatively recently arrived in Europe and then even later in Italy from its origins in Peru or Mexico after the discovery of America, and for two entire centuries was ignored in terms of food. In fact, the tomato plant itself was considered poisonous! The noble tomato is first mentioned in 1743 in a song written for Mardi Gras, but only towards the beginning of the nineteenth century the tomato became central to many recipes and its cultivation spread to become one of the most important crops in Campania.
Continued in Campania Part III
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