Fruit and Vegetables
The cuisine of this region is very much tied to the abundance and very high quality of the fruit and vegetables which are produced all over.
This particular characteristic is at the origins of the epithet of “mangiafoglia” which, in the past centuries accompanied Neapolitans everywhere; this was before the art of making macaroni and spaghetti landed on the shores of the gulf from Sicily. It is not just a question of the much praised San Marzano tomato, but of all the products which go to make up the physiognomy of the region which takes on its identity with the localities where the specialisations are highest. In fact, there are the artichokes and the asparagus of Mondragrone and Pietrelcina; the French beans from Alife; the artichokes, fennel, aubergines and sweet peppers from Capua which is also renowned for its olives for preserving; the walnuts, oranges, mandarins, peaches and apricots from Pontecagnano; the bunches of cherry tomatoes from Torre del Greco.
A real speciality is the lemon from Massa Lubrense, probably brought to Italy by the Arabs. Its success comes from the fact that, in the seventeenth century, people were convinced that its juice was an excellent remedy for scurvy. Its cultivation became intensive in the most propitious areas: the Amalfi Coast and the Peninsula of Sorrento. The Jesuit fathers founded such an efficient production in the Guarrazzano valley, close to Massa Lubrense, that one of the most prized varieties is still today called the “lemon of Massa” and is distinguished from the variety from Amalfi by a number of characteristics: it is, in fact, elliptic in shape while the other is more spindle-shaped. Both types have a good citrine yellow colour and all have plenty of very acidic juice.
Another well known fruit from this land is the annurca apple. It is rich in vitamins and minerals, roundish-flat or truncated-cone shape, recognisable from its yellow skin overcoloured with red for almost all of its surface and has a compact and crunchy white-coloured pulp which is acidy-sweet in flavour. Aromatic and fragrant, it is one of the fruits which corresponds best to the nutritional requirements of the human organism: the doctors say that it is an excellent tonic for muscles and the nervous system and also has anti-rheumatic, diuretic, low colesterol, refreshing and antiseptic properties, as well as being a decongestant for the liver and purifying for the blood. So, it would appear, an alimentary product belonging to the Campania region which is to be highly recommended: ninety per cent of the production (on average, ninety thousand tons per year) comes from the provinces of Naples, Caserta, Avellino and Benevento. The disappearance of some cultivations has obliged some producers to update their methods: the apples used to be laid on layers of hemp to become red, but now, since hemp is no longer to be found, layers of pine needles or wood shavings are used in its place. The original annurca apple is cultivated in Campiania in two varieties of the slightly larger fruit, the "rossa del Sud" (‘red of the South’) and the "bella del Sud" (‘beauty of the South’).
Amongst the dried fruit, which is produced in large quantities, we particularly note the round hazelnut of Giffoni and the walnut of Sorrento.
Good quality hazelnuts have always been produce in this region: in Roman times, the avellana was already being cultivated at Abella, today Avella. Regulations for the measurement and weighing of these very highly prized fruits existed as far back as in the seventeenth century, in the Kingdom of Naples. The round hazelnut of Giffoni represents twenty percent of the production in Campania, about ten thousand tons yearly.
The product still has a great reputation today for its shape, the white and fragrant kernel and for the ease with which it comes away from the shell. The mortarella hazelnut, which is also produced in large quantities in the four provinces of the Campania region, is less well known. It is used in the alimentary industry for confectionery and ice cream. In the towns in the Avellino area, above all for festivals and patron saints’ feasts, it is the custom to offer nocciole 'ndrite, hazelnuts which have been toasted in the oven and then threaded onto a thin string like a necklace.
The Sorrento walnut is the most prized variety in Italy: it has a thin shell which is however tough enough not to be broken so easily, a soft, not too oily kernel with an excellent flavour and it is able to maintain its characteristics for a good length of time, which certainly makes it more commercially viable. As far as its shape is concerned, the walnuts from Sorrento are divided into two large categories: the first includes the fruits of an oval shape with a rounded base and slightly flattened top; the other type of nuts are longer with more evident veins. Although a typically autumnal product, walnuts can be eaten all year round and their use in cuisine or in confectionery is manifold. The hulls of still unripe walnuts are used in various parts of Italy to produce an ancient liqueur which has digestive properties: the nocino liqueur. In the past, the rules for its preparation imposed meticulous and extravagant conditions such as the walnuts having to be picked by the hands of barefoot maidens on the night of San Giovanni (Saint John). Today, the ritual has been simplified.
Amongst the vegetables, the best known is the San Marzano tomato, unmistakable for its long shape and bright colour. The widespread fame of the Neapolitan pizza has contributed to making this very special product known throughout the world. In fact, it represents one of the major resources of the agriculture in Campania: its cultivation covers as much as twenty thousand hectares (fifty thousand acres) with a yield of four hundred quintals per hectare. Most of the harvest is destined for the preserved food industry. The area of production includes two well defined zones: the zone known as Agro Sarnese-nocerino and the zone of Acerra and Nola.