Caserta and its province
The city of Caserta is situated in the plains of the Campania region, just sixty eight metres above sea level, at the foot of mount Tifata. It is the most important city of the area called the ‘Land of work’, and is surround by one of the most fertile regions. Its province borders with the Tyrrhenian sea between the lake of Patria and the mouth of the Garigliano to the north.
The economy is prevalently agricultural; in fact, there is production of wheat, corn, lupins and potatoes; there is a widespread rearing of buffalo and cattle, for which the conditions are favourable in the Mazzoni di Capua and the lower Volturno areas. These flourishing stock farms afford the possibility of preparing cows’-milk cheeses, particularly amongst which, the mozzarellas. They are still ‘mozzarella di bufala’ (buffalo-milk mozzarellas), although the term is used incorrectly to describe the fior di latte, that is, the kind of mozzarella made with cows’ milk. It is a ‘pasta filante’ (‘stringy-textured’) cheese which is made from whole milk. It is immersed in cream or a governing liquid to guarantee its freshness. The mozzarellas from Caserta are amongst the most famous and highly prized in the South.
As well as the dairy products, all kinds of vegetables are also at the base of this cuisine: they are eaten on their own, after having been just pulled out of the “pignatiello” (cooking pot), or with pasta, completing the ingredients of a nourishing soup. Broccoli, sautéed in the pan with a suitable dose of garlic and chilli pepper, become the mythical «friarelli».
Aubergines, enriched with mozzarella, grated cheese and meat sauce are presented with as much dignity as the «parmigiana» dish; sweet peppers often arrive on the table enriched with a filling of breadcrumbs, anchovies, capers and similar ingredients.
Still on the subject of vegetables, it is worth mentioning the «cardoni in brodo» (‘cardoons in broth’); the ingredients for this dish are as follows: two large bunches of cardoons, one litre and three quarters of meat or chicken broth/stock, two egg yolks, four tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, two whole eggs, salt and pepper. An ancient recipe suggests the following preparation: cut the cardoons into ten centimetre (four inch) lengths, carefully removing the strings. Then, to prevent them from turning black, put them immediately into water with lemon juice and then boil them in salted water for ten minutes. Bring the broth to the boil, add the well drained cardoons and cook all the ingredients together slowly for another ten minutes. Beat the whole eggs with the two yolks and add the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the mixture to the cardoons and broth, stirring briskly so that it solidifies a little. At the table, add more Parmesan cheese.
So, to conclude, this is a poor cuisine which mirrors the social composition of its people; indeed, notwithstanding the fact that the Palace of the Royal Court was situated in Caserta, in the past, the people as a whole never entered into contact with the opulence of its royalty.
Meat rarely appears on the tables, when it does, it has undergone a long preparation and is flavoured with vegetables and with oregano, garlic, chilli pepper e and tomatoes; it is cooked for a long time because bought fresh from the butchers, only recently slaughtered.
Fish is reserved for special occasions, and is often cooked with vegetables and baked in the oven.
The first course dishes are also often dressed with vegetables, although there are also a number of preparations using an anchovy base accompanied by garlic, parsley and chilli pepper or pepper.
Amongst the desserts, as well as the exquisite ice creams and «cassate» (layers of ice cream with a heart of candied fruit and cream) and the imported sweets, it is important to mention the famous mela annurca (annurca apple) which is plentiful in the area around Caserta. This is an apple with a white coloured pulp which is compact and crunchy, acidy-sweet tasting, fragrant and perfumed.