THE PRODUCTS OF THE COAST
On the basis of the countless and multiple gastronomic qualities of the Coast, there are some excellent environmental conditions, to say the least. The extraordinarily fine climate and decidedly fertile soil contribute to the production of high quality raw materials. The sea and its traditions do the rest, bestowing on the local cuisine an incredible variety of flavours. In these places, one can see a marriage between the rustic farming cultures-tied to agriculture and livestock-and the culture of sea people that have fishing in their blood. The cultivation of the earth here goes back millennia. We know for certain that the Romans cultivated spelt, which they roasted on enormous heated rocks, and other products such as beans, wheat, broad beans, chick peas, alfalta, and various vegetables such as garlic, squashes and onions. The production of milk has always been guaranteed by the presence of extremely generous cattle, so much so that the crest of the Peninsula is called the Lattari (‘latte’ means ‘milk’) Mountains. This situation has had a positive influence on the production of all kinds of milk products, which are a source of pride in the area, particularly the highlands of Agerola, famous for their mozzarella, smoked provola and caciocavallo cheeses. The sea along the Coast represents an inexhaustible source of fresh fish and naturally, it plays a primary role in the local cuisine. Cuttlefish, squid, anchovies, and shellfish are used in many recipes, some more and some less elaborate. The local cod is noteworthy, superior to the Atlantic cod for its lack of fat.
In the gastronomic tradition of the Coast, pasta plays, a fundamental role. According to popular tradition, it was supposed to have been Marco Polo who introduced pasta to Italy, having discovered it in China. The first pasta forms were the ‘nunderi’, ‘lagane’ and ‘ricci’, invented by the hands of housewives and master pasta-makers. The ‘nunderi’ are now consigned to history, and no longer found in moderne cuisine. The ‘lagane’ are still used in recipes on the Coast and consist of a sort of noodle made from a mixture of flour, water and salt. The traditional sauce for lagane is made of chick peas, garlic, oil and parsley. By ancient tradition, this dish is prepared on November the 2nd.A dish reminiscent of impoverished times is spaghetti with ‘fuiuto’ (the fish that escaped),with oil,garlic,parsley,and the scent(just that!) of an inexistent fish replaced by a glass of sea water poured into the pasta pot during the cooking of the spaghetti.
Of the fish dishes,some ‘musts’ are ‘pezzona all’acqua pazza’ (red bream)and ‘impepata di cozze'(peppered mussels). The red bream is cooked in water, oil and ‘spunzilli’, the cherry tomatoes of the Mediterranean, while the mussels are steamed until the shells just begin to open, at which point, they are seasoned with pepper, chopped parsley and lemon juice.A very characteristic recipe of these areas is the famous ‘sarchiapone’ di zucchini squash stuffed with mince meat. A widely-spread dish is the ‘caponata’ a mixed and tasty dish made up of ‘freselle'(round dried bread slices),little tomatoes,anchovies and eggplant.
The ‘pastiera’, generally made in the period around Easter, is a traditional dessert made with a base of sweet pastry filled with fresh ricotta cheese, orange flavouring, grain boiled in milk, candied fruit, cinnamon, eggs and sugar. Among the other treats are ‘susamielli’, S-shaped Christmas biscuits made with flour, almonds, candied fruit, honey and sesame seeds; ‘struffoli’, balls of fried sweet dough covered with honey and candied fruit;’mostaccioli’,biscuits made with honey and anisette, and finally ‘zeppole’, fried bignè filled with cream.
Wine on the Coast has a very old history when one thinks that Pliny and Martial mentioned in their writings the manufacturing of special amphoras designed to contain Bacchus’s nectar. There are two species of vine which have particularly characterized wine production on the Sorrento Peninsula throughout the centuries; San Nicola which is linked to a delicate and light-tasting wine, found only in the area of Sorrento and Amalfi Coasts; and the other, sanginella, recognizable by its hard, large, oval, and very pleasant-tasting fruit. These two original vines, in the light of agricultural transformation, are disappearing to make way for new species of vine of a grafted and barbed variety which guarantee a better production than grafting onto the stem of a San Nicola or Sanginella vine. As to white wines, special mentions go to l’Episcopio Ravello,a wine of a pale straw colour, delicate bouquet, and slightly bitter aftertaste; il Tramonti di Apicella, produced with the Biancolella and Falanghina grapes, with a delicate bouquet; and il Furore, which has a slight accompanying bouquet of broom and a dry taste. As to red wines, there is l’Episcopio Ravello, an intense ruby red colour and particularly good with white meats, and the cold meats and salamis of Mount Lattari.