The cuisine of Naples has a variety of dishes for any food lover. With flavors from the sea, and ingredients enhanced from the sun and soil. There's something for every taste; seafood, slow-cooked, succulent, sweet, simple, fussed-over, fried, and of course, pizza for the pizza lover. Narrowing down 10 favorites and only 5 desserts was harder than I thought. In fact, I would say the food of Naples and the Campania region rivals Sicily and Rome for the top regional food of Italy.
The stars that make up these dishes are the San Marzano tomatoes, frutti di mare, mozzarella di bufala, basil, and lemons. There are many other ingredients that play strong supporting roles including, eggplant, olives from Gaeta, walnuts, and salami. Some of the best of these dishes are found in the homes of the Napolitani where nonna and mamma make the family recipe that is decades, if not centuries, old (each family having their own version of the dish). In some cases in Naples, mamma's cooking is so good that criminals on the run, can't even stay away.
My choice for the top 15 dishes not to miss when visiting Naples, and if you can find a nonna Napolitana to cook any of them for you, all the better:
Mozzarella in Carrozza - (Fried Mozzarella in a “carriage”) Instead of a grilled cheese sandwich, think fried cheese sandwich, and gooey goodness. Originally, they made this from “left over” mozzarella. The “carriage” is the bread, two slices cut into triangular shapes, encasing the mozzarella and keeping it together as it fries.
Crocchè di Patate - (Fried potatoes, and oh so much more) Pronounced like the game, croquet, these are mashed potatoes with herbs, cheese, and sometimes salami mixed in. They are lightly coated in breadcrumbs and fried. You may never want a French fry again. Find them throughout the city at friggitorie (fry shops), especially in the centro storico (historic center).
Parmigiana di Melenzane - (Eggplant Parmigiano) All the flavors of the region layered one upon the other; fried eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan and basil. The dish has spread throughout Italy and the world, but you should try it here where it started and where the ingredients are some of the best.
Pasta e Fagioli - More from cucina povera. Two items that can stretch a dish to feed more on less, beans and pasta, combine to make one of the most famous dishes of Naples. They even made a song about it. This dish, made well, that's amore.
Pasta from Gragnano and Ragu - A four-hour ragu of meats (depending on who's cooking it--this could be beef, pork, veal, and maybe even some offal) and dried pasta from Gragnano, the town near Naples famous for its dried pasta. My mom, not Napolitana but Siciliana, made ragu for us once a week, so for me, this dish is love.
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina - One of my favorite dishes in all of Italy. Gnocchi made in the Sorrento style, are fluffy potato "knuckles" that float in a sweet tomato sauce with melted mozzarella all around.
Ravioli Capresi - Everyone has heard of a Caprese salad, but these ravioli, just as popular in the area, are hard to find outside of the region. The filling is cacciotta caprese (a soft cheese from Capri), parmigiano and an egg to bind it. The sauce is a simple tomato one. Basil and more parmesan finish the dish.
Cozze - Mussels are a must when visiting Naples. I like them alla marinara, cooked in a tomato sauce spiced up a bit with chile peppers (pepperoncini) and parsley and served on toasted bread to absorb all the juices. Impepata di Cozze (mussels cooked in their own juices with black pepper) is also a good choice.
Polpette - Meatballs are a Neapolitan specialty, but they are not served on top of spaghetti. They are served as a secondo (second/main course) with tomato sauce, and, even better if you try them fried.
Pizza - Although pizza isn't the only great food in Naples, it's definitely a must eat while there. In the centro storico you can find all the "best pizzerie in Naples," along with the famous Da Michele and, my favorite Trianon di Ciro.
Now for i dolci (the sweets). These are five of my favorite "everyday" pastries from Naples and the surrounding area. These, except the Torta Caprese, aren't the simplest to replicate at home, as they are pretty labor intensive. Just another reason they should be sampled again and again while you're in Naples. There are also delicious holiday pastries, but I'll save those for another post.
Il Baba - Roots in Poland and named after Ali Baba, this dessert is somehow more Neapolitan; these little cakes are everywhere in the city. The original is soaked in a rum- or limoncello-based syrup, but you can also find them sliced and filled with pastry cream, ricotta cream, cream chantilly and fruit, lemon cream or Nutella.
Sfogliatelle - The clam shaped flaky pastries filled with ricotta cream, and topped with powdered sugar. Between the flakes of pastry and the sugar, don't plan on staying clean while you eat it. A lot of work, and strutto, is involved in making this pastry. Sample, sample, and sample some more while you're there.
Delizie al Limone (Delicious Lemon) Its name says it all. Delicious lemon flavors are in every part of this dessert. Pan di Spagna soaked with lemon or limoncello simple syrup, lemon pastry cream is the filling, and it’s iced with a lemon infused whipped cream. Pasticcierie (pastry shops) along the Amalfi Coast sell them in individual-sized domes.
Torta Ricotta e Pera - Also from the Amalfi coast, ricotta cream with bites of poached pears is sandwiched between two layers of almond and hazelnut biscotti. Dusted with powdered sugar to ensure you make a big mess of yourself when biting through the hard cookie to get to the sweet and creamy center. Like sfogliatella, it's worth the mess.
Torta Caprese - This is a dark chocolate, flourless cake. It’s rich, dense and has a slight almond flavoring from the chopped almonds in the cake. Always topped with powdered sugar, some pasticcerie also add chards of chocolate or a layer of rich ganache for a truly decadent dessert.
Here you have Reason #1 for visting Naples - the food. In case you need another...Reason #2 - the people of Napoli - is my next post.
What's your favorite Neapolitan Food? I know I haven't listed them all; what would you add to the list?
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina - A Taste of Sorrento (guest post for Napoli Unplugged)