ArchiveApril 28, 2024

Campania (Naples)

Don’t we all love Italian food? Warm and comforting pasta, pizza, gnocchi, ragu, taralli, mozzarella, soppressata…
Many of our most beloved Italian dishes originate in Campania, so I recently made a pilgrimage to Napoli to start to explore the area and the Greek and Roman ruins in the surrounding countryside. My trip was cut short by a foot injury. Beware of the deeply, uneven cobbled streets and pavements, beautiful but remember we are on a fault line, in the shadow of the twin peaks of Mount Vesuvius, which has been rumbling and erupting for thousands of years. If you really want excitement in your life, you can explore the site as thousands do every year. Don’t miss a visit to Pompeii, the site of the tragedy in 79 BCE where more than 2,000 out of a population of 11,000 people were said to have died in 15 minutes when they were overwhelmed by the lava from the eruption. The exact total will probably never be known.
Few folks are prepared for the magnificence and grandeur of the 66 hectare site, resplendent with huge marble temples and palatial villas, plus produce markets, granaries, bakeries – over 33 have been discovered to date and more recently, ‘prison bakeries’ where slaves and donkeys ground grain for the bread.
Less visited but my number one recommendation is Paestum, the only ancient Greek city in Italy to have survived in its entirety. Three awe inspiring, fifth century (this is correct way of spelling for single digit century), BCE temples dedicated to Hera are among the best preserved in the world
While you’re in the area, famous for its mozzarella, visit the nearby Tenuta Vannulo dairy in the midst of lush farmland and gardens.
Stop at the café for a buffalo and ricotta themed lunch, don’t leave without tasting the yoghurt and gelato also. I greatly enjoyed the mozzarella en carozza. Unlike the water buffaloes in West Cork, which range freely on lush pasture, the Italian buffaloes are kept indoors and fed fresh forage and grain but are at least protected from the vagaries of the weather.
Burrata has a creamy interior while a soft tender version with cream inside is stracciatella. Mozzarella is genius, there are many, many variations on the basic fior di latte mozzarella di bufala.  Mini ones are called bocconcini, the braided version is called treccia, firm stretched curd is caciocavallo.
Scamorza can be plain or smoked, aged Provola is pear, sausage or cone shaped.
This area on the Amalfi coast is a wonderful mix of culture, great food and totally breathtaking scenery.

Wander through the streets of Napoli, the birthplace of pizza. There are a myriad of historic archaeological sites. Don’t miss the Catacombs di San Gennaro in Naples. If you want to avoid the full tourist impact, you may want to avoid the mythical Isle of Capri and Positano. If you have to choose just one more historic site it might have to be Herculaneum built in BCE by the Osci people. Herculaneum lay concealed by approximately 20 metres of volcanic ash until 1709. Excavations continue to the present day. There among many other extraordinary remains, you will clearly see kitchens, bakeries, huge olive oil pots and wine amphora – Roman’s loved to feast!
Close your eyes and imagine you are surrounded by Romans wearing togas going about their daily routine baking, cooking, farming, pressing grapes for wine, olives for oil, tanning hides, making sandals…
Between Temple hopping, lookout for restaurants and cafes serving some of the specialities of the Campania region,  pizza of course, pasta with ragu – the rich, slow cooked, chunky beef and pork sauce, Parmigiane di melanzane, spaghetti alla vongole, (clams), grilled razor clams, tagliatelle with sea urchins but here are a few simple dishes you may not have come across before.

Mozzarella en Carozza

Mozzarella en Carozza is a fried mozzarella sandwich. Seriously guilt making food but so quick and delicious.  We vary the filling depending on what’s in the fridge but it should always be highly seasoned and include a melting mozzarella cheese. Make it your own, sometimes the mozzarella is just flour, egg and crumbed.  

Serves 4

8 slices of best quality white bread

8-12 slices of Mozzarella cheese depending on size

4 tbsp basil pesto

1 red onion, thinly sliced

4 roasted red and yellow peppers or a mixture

salt and freshly ground pepper

beer batter (see recipe)

First make the beer batter.

Preheat the oil in the deep fry to 180°C.

Cut the crusts off the bread. Cover 4 slices of bread with Mozzarella.  Smear generously with pesto, add several rings of red onion and a few pieces of roasted red pepper. Season generously with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.

Top with the other pieces of bread to make four sandwiches. Press down the edges and seal well.  Make sure there is no cheese sticking out. Just before serving, dip into the beer batter and deep fry until brown crisp and deep golden.

Drain on kitchen paper, cut in half at an angle, arrange on hot plates and serve immediately with a tomato and mint or basil salad and a mixture of tasty well-dressed salad leaves. 

Beer Batter

Makes 425ml

110ml plain white flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, yolks separated from whites

3 tbsp olive oil or melted butter

200ml beer or water

Mix together the flour, salt, egg yolks, and oil or butter in a bowl. Gradually add the beer or water and whisk for only as long as it takes to produce a nice smooth batter. Do not overwork the mixture. Leave the batter to rest for at least 1 hour at room temperature otherwise it will provide an uneven coating.

Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them into the batter just before using.

Zippoli or Zeppole

A delicious snack from Calabria, I loved these deep-fried doughnuts which can be savoury or sweet. This version has the addition of some anchovies and mozzarella (sardines work too). If you’d like a sweet version, add a couple of teaspoons of sugar into the initial pastry liquid and dredge with icing sugar when cooked.

Makes 15-20


75g strong flour (Baker’s)

small pinch of salt

110ml water or a mixture of water and milk

50g butter, cut into 1cm cubes

2 eggs depending on size (free range if possible)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

25g anchovies or sardines (1 tin, drained), finely chopped

80g mozzarella, finely diced

finely grated Parmesan

oil for deep-frying 

First make the pastry.

Sieve the flour with the salt onto a piece of silicone paper.  Heat the water (or water and milk) and butter in a high-sided saucepan until the butter is melted. Bring to a fast rolling boil, take from the heat. (Prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough).  Immediately the pan is taken from the heat, add all the flour at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan to form a ball. Return the saucepan back onto a low heat and stir for 30 seconds – 1 minute or until the mixture starts to furr the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds.

Meanwhile, set aside one egg, break it and whisk it in a bowl.  Add the remaining eggs into the dough, one by one with a wooden spoon, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Make sure the dough comes back to the same texture each time before you add another egg. When it will no longer form a ball in the centre of the saucepan, add the beaten egg little by little. Use just enough to make a mixture that is very shiny and just drops reluctantly from the spoon in a sheet.  

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Stir in the finely chopped anchovies and mozzarella.

Heat the oil in a deep-fry, drop a morsel of the mixture into the hot oil.  Cook until it puffs and crisps.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Fill the remaining mixture into a piping bag with an eclair nozzle. Pipe little blobsinto the hot oil a few at a time, snipping each one off with a scissors or small knife or drop generous teaspoons into the hot oil.  Cook for 3-5 minutes turning frequently depending on size until crisp and golden.

Cook until puffed, crisp and golden. Roll in finely grated Parmesan if you fancy.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve while still hot sprinkled with lots of finely grated Parmesan. 

Angioletti with Rocket, Cherry Tomato and Basil Salad

Angioletti or ‘little angels’ of fried pizza dough.  Another delicious riff on your pizza dough inspired by a dish I ate in a Starita pizzeria in Napoli.

A Simple Pizza Dough 

680g strong white flour or 600g strong white flour and 110g rye flour

2 level teaspoons salt

15g sugar

50g butter

1 packet fast acting yeast

2-4 tbsp olive oil

450 – 500ml lukewarm water – more if needed

Cherry Tomato and Basil Salad (see recipe)

rocket leaves

First make the pizza dough.
Sieve the flour, salt and sugar into a large wide mixing bowl. Rub in the butter and sprinkle in the fast-acting yeast, mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the oil and most of the lukewarm water.  Mix to a loose dough.  You can add more water or flour if needed.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work top, cover and leave to relax for about five minutes. 

Knead the dough for about ten minutes or until smooth and springy (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough).

Leave the dough to relax again for about ten minutes. 

Pinch off small pieces. Roll gently into 4-6cm pizza sticks.

Heat oil in a deep-fry.

Meanwhile, make the tomato and basil salad.

Drop the angioletti a few at a time into the hot oil.

Cook until puffed, golden brown and crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper.

Sprinkle the rocket leaves with extra virgin olive oil and a few drops of vinegar, flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper and toss.

Transfer 6-10 angioletti (depending on size) into a serving bowl Scatter with some fresh rocket leaves and top with a couple of tablespoons of cherry tomato and basil salad.

Enjoy immediately with a little freshly grated Parmesan on top while the angioletti are still hot and crisp. 

Cherry Tomato and Basil Salad

red or red and yellow cherry tomatoes

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar


1 tbsp wine vinegar or wine vinegar and Balsamic vinegar mixed or freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar or honey

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing.

Slice the tomatoes around the equator, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar, toss in a little dressing and scatter with fresh basil leaves.

Just before serving.

Toss the rocket leaves in just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten. Scatter the tomatoes over the salad also.


I’ve been told that if you want to make your way to an Italian man’s heart it is essential to be able to make a good ragu.

It is a wonderfully versatile sauce – the classic sauce for Tagliatelle alla ragu, indispensable for lasagne, also delicious with polenta and gnocchi not to be confused with the well-known brand of the same name.  I have been making Marcella Hazan’s version for many years from her Classic Italian Cookbook (a book you would do well to seek out).  It is the most delicious and concentrated one I know.  The late Marcella says it should be cooked for several hours at the merest simmer, but I find you get a very good result with 1-1 1/2 hours cooking on a diffuser mat.  Ragu can be made ahead and freezes very well.

Serves 6

45g butter

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp celery, finely chopped

2 tbsp carrot, finely chopped

350g minced lean beef, preferably chuck or neck


300ml dry white wine

110ml milk

1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1 x 400g tin Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped with their own juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

small casserole

In Italy they sometimes use an earthenware pot for making ragu, but I find that a heavy enamelled cast-iron casserole with high sides works very well.

Heat the butter with the oil and sauté the onion briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes. Next, add the minced beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add salt to taste, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red colour (Marcella says that if it browns it will lose its delicacy.)

Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.  Turn the heat down to medium, add in the milk and the freshly grated nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated, stirring every now and then. Next add the chopped tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down to the very lowest so that the sauce cooks at the gentlest simmer – just an occasional bubble. I use a heat diffuser mat for this.

Cook uncovered for a minimum of 1 1/2 hours (better still 2 or even 3), depending on how concentrated you like it, stirring occasionally. If it reduces too much add a little water and continue to cook. When it is finally cooked, taste and correct seasoning. Because of the length of time involved in cooking this, I feel it would be worthwhile to make at least twice the recipe.

Serve with tagliatelle, preferably homemade and lots of freshly grated Parmesan.


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