Cooking on the Coast is symbolic of the territory’s variety where it has developed over the centuries: there are only a few kilometres between the sea and the mountains, from the cliffs to the garden, from the aristocratic traditions to those of the farmers, from the haute cuisine of some of the best restaurants in the world and the genuine immediacy of the osteria and trattoria. All close to each other, this is truly a great opportunity for wines which have infinite possibilities of being combined with food in many and varied way.
If we want to put order into this magnificent pantry of flavours, we must start with pasta, the history of which is part of the Coast. One of the kinds of pasta, gli’nduneri, a kind of gnocchi with ricotta cheese, semolina and spices has been recognised by Unesco as one of the first on record: they are in fact a derivation of a Latin dish made with spelt (farro) flour. They are typical of Minori from where the town pasta-makers departed in order to set up the famous pasta factories of Gragnano, a town on the other side of the mountains still famous for its bronze-rolled pasta.
Another characteristic of the Coast’s cuisine is the anchovy sauce of the fishing town of Cetara known as “colatura di alici”, which is also an evolution of a Roman sauce called ‘garum’ – the sauce derives from the production of salted anchovies. This speciality, together with tuna fish, is an important economic resource of the small fishing village.
Among the other basic foodstuffs of the Coast are dairy products little known elsewhere: there are many cheese factories that use cow’s milk for the production of fiordilatte (a fresh cheese similar to mozzarella) and delicious ricotta, provole and caciocavalli cheeses. The main area for this activity is Tramonti where the flocks pasture in the surrounding countryside.
Finally, we must not forget the Sfusato amalfitano – the Amalfitan spindle – a sweet, fragrant variety of lemon from which limoncello liqueur is made and which is also indispensable in cooking whether fish, meat or cakes.
All of these make the gastronomic journey worthwhile as a discovery of their innumerable interpretations. The style which marks tradition, echoed in haute cuisine, is land/sea, the combination of freshly caught fish combined with vegetables from the gardens and Mediterranean herbs. Many exemplary dishes derive from these – simple and unrepeatable, such as sword-fish cooked in lemon leaves, anchovy Parmigiana, tuna in onion sauce, squid fish and potatoes: all of which contrast with the Neapolitan meat dishes. Tasty seafood and succulent vegetables are two elements of taste which vary from town to town.
In the wonderful towns along the coast road, seafood cookery is prevalent, but going up to Tramonti and Ravello, the real agricultural area of the coast, we find pork dishes, goat, dairy products and the robust peasant cooking, with the classic Sunday ragout similar to the Neapolitan dish. We also come across the chestnut, widely found inland used for sweets and cakes as the Italian Appenines.
There are two important factors which have contributed to the Coast’s traditions at table: the presence of religious comunities and of hotels. In the former, monks and nuns over the centuries have enriched and experimented with infusions (of lemons, fennel, bay leaves, walnuts, wild strawberries), cakes and jams of which there are ample traces in present day confectionery. The Santa Rosa pastry was invented here, the Boccanotto (a cherry and custard filled pastry), aubergines in chocolate sauce and the famous chocolate and almond Caprese cake. A tradition which has been re-launched by the historical pastry shops famous all over Italy for their candied fruit or, in new inventions, such as the much imitated pear and ricotta cake.
The hotels have experienced two historical moments. The first was the tradition of Neapolitan cookery introduced originally by the Monzù chefs to the tables of the aristocracy – cannelloni, arancini (rice balls), pasta cakes, rich spicy bread etc. A homage to the many noble families in the area. Then from the middle of the nineties, modern gastronomy has come to the fore, a lighter kind of cuisine, very careful in the choice of quality prime ingredients: an interpretation of new combinations experimenting with flavours and high quality products.
The last word about pizza. Not many people know the story of three thousand pizza-makers from Tramonti who work all over Italy and the rest of the world. Emigrants out of necessity after the War, now they are to be found in all the northern Italian cities where they have handed down their traditions, opening restaurants which are always busy. The pizza has no segrets and that is why it’s worth trying on the Coast from where they left.
In this context of spectacular gastronomy, enhanced by wines, there really is a chance to enjoy and try new flavours by experimenting: drinkable red wine or casked wine, light or seasoned white wines and rosé wine are only spoilt for choice.