Fish and other sea creatures are mainstays of the Campanian diet, especially along the region’s stunning coastline, and on the islands ringing the Bay of Naples.
The waters along Campania’s shore are regarded as some of the cleanest in Italy. Evidence of that claim comes from the ubiquity of anchovies (alici or acciuga) that are said to only swim in pristine waters. Fishermen in some villages still go out at night in lighted fishing boats to attract and net anchovies, which are cooked fresh or cured with salt.
The Mediterranean Sea’s bounty extends far beyond alici. Some of the most popular fish varieties are listed on the following page, but there are scores more waiting to be tasted. Gustatory explorers eating their way down the coastline might also encounter these sea creatures: aguglie (needle fish); calamari (squid); cicale (mantis shrimp); cozze (mussels); mazzancolle (a type of prawn); orata (seabream or daurade); pesce spada (swordfish); seppia (cuttlefish);scorfano di fondale (ocean perch);scorfano rosso (scorpion fish); andscampi (langoustines).
Campanian chefs know how to treat fresh fish, using simple preparations that showcase the fresh flavors of the region. These are some of the typical preparations.
-baked (al forno)
-baked in a paper pouch (al cartoccio)
-grilled (alla griglia)
-roasted in salt (al sale)
Alici (anchovy) – Highly flavored, small fish that may be served fresh or cured. Grilled or fried anchovies have a milder taste than the cured fish, which can be quite pungent. Fried anchovies are a popular snack along the coast.
Baccalà (salt cod) – Cod that has been dried and cured in salt. Before use, the dried baccalà fillet is soaked repeatedly in water to reduce saltiness and reconstitute the flesh. It is used in myriad dishes for protein and flavor. Common dishes include sautéed baccalà with potatoes, and baccalà baked in spicy tomato sauce.
Bottarga – Salt-cured fish roe, typically from tuna or mullet. A prized flavoring aid, bottarga is often grated or shaved on pasta. The flavor is briny and unctuous, but not fishy. Some people call it the “essence of the sea.”
Branzino (European sea bass) – A medium-sized fish with lean, flaky white meat and a slightly sweet, mild flavor. May also be called spigola. It is often grilled and served with potatoes, or baked al cartoccio.
Gallinella (gurnard) – A meaty white fish that may also be called mazzole or tub fish. Gallinella all’acqua pazza is cooked in “crazy water” flavored with tomatoes and herbs. A related fish is cappone gallinella (red gurnard).
Polpo (octopus) – The firmly textured, gently flavored octopus may be boiled in simple soups, stewed (polpi in cassuola), or simply sautéed with garlic and olive oil, among myriad preparations. Polpetto is the term used for little octopi.
Sarde (sardines) – Sardines are considered pesce azzurro—small blue fish that swim near the ocean’s surface—along with anchovy and cecinelli (smelt). These fish typically appear in seafood fritto misto, a mixture of small fried fish.
Totani (flying squid) – These squid closely resemble calamari, and likewise are popular a popular snack when cut into rings and deep-fried. May be stuffed with diced vegetables, fried as a snack, or boiled and served cold in salads.
Triglia (red mullet) – Small bony fish with moderately fatty flesh and delicate flavor. Often featured in fish stews, and may also be served sautéed, baked, or roasted.
Vongole veraci (striped Venus clams) – These tiny, sweet clams are prized throughout Italy, where they play a starring role in spaghetti vongole. They also are served in simple soups and risottos.
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