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The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Campania: Part VII

Updated on March 29, 2009

Among the common local recipes for seafood one of the most popular is octopus alla Luciana cooked with red hot chili pepper and the ubiqitous tomato, which derives its name from the popular district of Saint Lucia in which it originally arose. The octopus is prepared in a variety of ways, simply boiled, or in salads seasoned with lemon, parsley, and olive oil. In the richer households, this seafood salad is prepared with cuttlefish, squid and prawns in addition to the traditionally cheaper octopus.

Mussels are prepared in various ways including all'impepata, which is quickly boiled and heavily peppered, then further seasoned with a few drops of lemon juice, which each local diner prefers to squeeze directly on the individual mussels. Clams and other seafood are often enjoyed sauteed with garlic and oil and served on crostini, or au gratin, baked in the oven with breadcrumbs.

The codfish, the only popular non local seafood as it is imported from the seas of northern Europe, is also an ingredient that is part of the historical Neapolitan tradition, and is prepared fried or poached with potatoes and tomato. A recent development saw a scarcity of codfish among local fishmongers, as the Scandinavian fish industry decreed that its trucks could no longer enter Campania. The reason? Many of their vehicles were truckjacked! They wouldn't just lose the load of fish, but they'd lose the entire truck!

Meat is not overly used even in modern Neapolitan cooking even though many locals can now afford it, as it was an element which was essentially missing in the traditional cuisine. Although fillets, steaks and chopped meat is generally available in modern supermarkets, the consumption is very low, and even the actual cut of meat may be disappointing to those accustomed to the considerably higher butcher standards of northern and central Italy. Given the relative novelty of meat on the Neapolitan table, they have absolutely no clue as to how to serve it, and the locals tend to apply the same basic rules as fish: Serve it fresh. That can be disastrous in the case of beef which only gains flavor and tenderness through aging a minimum of six weeks. Rare is the local butcher shop which does not advertise the freshness of its beef, boasting that the animal was butchered today. If you've never eaten beef that fresh, do yourself a favor and avoid it at all costs. The result is leather tough, sinuously gristly, and rather disgustingly gamy.

Unlike the inhabitants of its neighboring regions, Campanians tend to shun any meat from the sheep or goat, so you'd be much better off enjoying the various cuts of pork which unlike beef are best served very fresh. Campanian pigs are much fattier than the ones to be found in the north, and some favorite cuts include the ribs, which are exceptionally fat, and are mostly cooked in sauces. Sausages in Naples are prepared with the meat cut into large chunks (a ponta e curtiello) and can be rather surprising for anyone expecting a conventional ground meat sausage. An interesting variant is the cervellatine, which are thinner than regular sausage and historically contained brains, but fortunately no longer do. Neapolitans are also inordinarily fond of tripe, and it is still very common to see it sold from streetside kiosks. Yes, this is not necessarily a cuisine for the squeamish!

Continued in Campania Part VIII

Check out the entire tour of Italy's Historical Regional Cuisines!

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