A journey to discover the most representative recipes of Neapolitan cuisine: 7 dishes you absolutely must try!

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A visit to Naples cannot but become a gastronomic tour: there are too many unique and incredible preparations that this city has to offer. A walk through the historic centre is enough to be literally overwhelmed by so many different scents: spectacular fried foods, sweet aromas of sugar and liquor, the smell of coffee in every corner of the city!

The shop windows full of delicacies are promises of moments of pure happiness. You have to give in! Below is a shortlist including 7 dishes to try before leaving Naples.

7. Sfogliatella, a unique Neapolitan pastry


Every self-respecting Neapolitan has surely eaten so much sfogliatelle to lose count and continues being crazy about it. Needless to say, anyone who visits Naples cannot avoid tasting this spectacular dessert, whose origins date back to the 18th century.

Actually, the first sfogliatella was baked in the province of Salerno, in the conservatory of Santa Rosa da Lima in Conca dei Marini. Legend has it that the cake was born almost by chance, made with the leftovers of the convent: semolina dough, dried fruit, sugar and limoncello.

In order to obtain the sfogliatella that all Neapolitans know and love, it was necessary to steal the recipe. It seems that the pastry chef Pasquale Pintauro took possession of the secret recipe of the convent and, after making some changes, he decreed the birth of the typical Neapolitan sfogliatella.

The fact dates back to 1818 and included the filling still in use today: semolina, ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar, candied fruit and aromas. There are two different versions of sfogliatella: “riccia” (curly), which is made with puff pastry on the outside, and “frolla”, made with the short pastry, named precisely “pastafrolla” in Italian.

This division has created real schools of thought, affirming the superiority of one or the other version. There is no absolute truth about this, the suggestion is simply to try!

6. Babà, the perfect dessert

dishes to eat in naples: babà

A dessert that is truly part of the Neapolitan imagination is undoubtedly babà, so much so that it has even become an adjective used to pay a compliment with sympathy to someone.

Also, babà is a cake born outside Naples and then reinvented to become an essential part of Campania's culinary tradition. The alleged inventor of baba is a Polish king, Stanislao Leszczynski. Then, various rounds of marriages and vicissitudes allowed the arrival of the recipe in Italy.

Here the preparation of baba has been perfected over time, and only expert pastry chefs master the secret technique of leavening this sweet delight. After the dough has been leavened for a long time in a particular mould that gives it that very recognizable mushroom shape, it is baked in the oven.

Once baked, the process which makes it so delicious is not yet complete, as it must be soaked with a solution made of sugar and rum, or limoncello. In the Neapolitan way, now it is "nu babbà"! 

5. Macaroni omelette

macaroni omelette

Macaroni omelette (Frittata di Maccheroni) is a poor dish created not to waste leftover pasta and make it tasty and nutritious with few ingredients. It is an ancient recipe; even the illustrious Goethe remembered it.

Over time, what has changed is the addition of so-called "luxurious" ingredients. The new components increased the variations of a dish that is already by no means light!

As the name suggests, it is therefore fried pasta, the legendary macaroni baked with eggs and cheese, to which pieces of cheese (provola, caciocavallo, scamorza) and cold meats such as ham or salami were later added.

Some variants include the use of tomato, whereas others make it smaller: the legendary frittatina, often served as an appetizer in pizzerias and fry shops and which has often decreed the fame of some restaurants preparing it in a workmanlike manner. 

4. Potato Gattò

potato gattò

Potato “gattò” derives from the French word gâteau (meaning “cake”) and it is in fact the result of a splendid mixture of Neapolitan and French cooking, dating back to the end of the eighteenth century, at the time of Ferdinand I of Bourbon. It is said, in fact, that the first gâteau were prepared for Ferdinand's wife, Maria Carolina.

Gattò is a delicious savoury pie made of potatoes, to which are added eggs, mozzarella cheese, provola cheese, salami and ham. This soft timbale is then sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked in the oven, thus creating that delicious crust creating the typical contrast between internal softness and external crunchiness.

Gattò is an extremely versatile dish, which can be eaten both as a single course and as a tasty second course. Cooled and cut into pieces, it can also be used as a fun appetizer or as part of a buffet. It's really impossible not to adore this incredible dish, simple and explosive at the same time!

3. Genovese, a speciality of Neapolitan cuisine


Genovese is a typical Neapolitan white sauce made with onions and beef, requiring very slow cooking. The typical pasta to be served with is ziti, broken by hand, or mezzane.

How come a sauce called "genovese" is one of the most important dishes of the Neapolitan tradition? Well, there are many legends about it. It seems that the most truthful one associates this sauce to the time when it was invented, which saw circulating in the city mercenaries from the canton of Geneva, from which derives the mispronunciation "genovese".

Other legends want this sauce to derive from the work of Genoese cooks operating at the port of Naples between the fourteenth and the fifteenth century. This rumour seems to be unfounded because, in Genoa, most people are not aware of the existence of this pasta.

Regardless of its origin, this delicious dish definitely deserves a taste: the slow cooking allows the onions to become a tasty cream with a unique flavour that Neapolitans love. In short, genovese is a must-try, unless you have an intolerance to onions!

2. Rice Sartù

sartù di riso

Rice sartù is a plate very connected to the Neapolitan capital city. In fact, it is peculiar for Neapolitans to have a dish made of rice, as the main ingredient of their first courses is almost always pasta! 

According to legends, it would seem that even rice sartù was invented at the court of Ferdinand I of Bourbon, where the cooks, cunningly, tried to find a stratagem to make rice pleasing to the sovereign. So they created this delicious baked timbale, which, thanks to the use of breadcrumbs on the surface, allowed to hide the content. 

The sartù can be white or red (obviously with the addition of tomato), but the procedure and the ingredients remain more or less the same. Sartù is also an excellent dish of recycling, as almost everything can be used to make it: peas, boiled eggs, meatballs, sausages, bacon, fiordilatte or provola.

Even the tomato seasoning is not just a simple sauce, being a delicious Neapolitan ragù! No one can remain indifferent in front of an excellent Neapolitan rice sartù, so the advice is definitely to try it.

1. Luciana octopus

Luciana octopus is the last recipe on this list, but certainly not the least! This is a typical Neapolitan preparation involving an octopus stewed in a casserole and seasoned with tomato sauce, capers and olives.

Once cooked, the procedure includes the addition of chopped parsley. The important thing is that, during cooking, water is not to be added at all: this rule also gave life to the famous Neapolitan saying," 'O purpo se coce dinto a ll'acqua soja" (octopus is cooked in its own water).

It is defined as Luciana style because of the district of Santa Lucia, the seaside village where the preparation was invented. Luciana octopus is a highly versatile recipe that can be used either as a first course, with spaghetti, or eaten as a second course.

Not to be underestimated is the possibility to make this dish a delicious appetizer, with the simple addition of croutons. There are only two adjectives to define this recipe: simple and taste!

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