Eating Well on the Amalfi Coast

Locals say they have "one foot in the fishing boat, one in the vineyard"—and a fortunate stance it is, as you can count on eating simple, fresh, seasonal food, and lots of it, with tutti i sapori della campagna verace (all the true flavors of the countryside). From the gulfs come pesce alla griglia (grilled fish), calamari, aragosta (lobster), and gamberone (shrimp). Wood oven–baked thin-crust pizzas start with the classic Margherita (tomato sauce, basil, and cheese) and marinara ("marinated" with tomato, garlic, and oregano) and go from there to infinity.

La Cucina Costiera seems more sensuous amid all this beauty. Sun-dried tomatoes and chili peppers hang in bright red cascades on balconies and shopfronts. Ingredients grown in terraced plots include plump olives pressed into oil or eaten whole, tiny spring carciofi (artichokes), and sweet figs. Sponzini, or pomodori del pendolo, the tomatoes carried from Egypt long ago by fishermen, grow in the mountains and muddy fields of Furore and Conca dei Marini. Eggplant, asparagus, and mushrooms thrive in the mountainous areas of Ravello, Scala, and Tramonti. Soft fior di latte (cow's-milk cheeses) are from the high hill pastures of Agerola, while the world's best buffalo mozzarella comes from Paestum.

Pasta is often served with seafood, but regional dishes include crespelle al formaggio—layers of crepes with béchamel sauce—and fettuccine-like scialatielli, often a house specialty, served with varied sauces. Clams and pasta baked in a paper bag—al cartoccio—is popular in Amalfi. In Positano, try traditional squid with potatoes, stuffed peppers, and slow-simmering ragù (tomato sauce with meat, garlic, and parsley). Around Cetara, anchovies are still transformed into the famed sauce called garum, handed down from the Romans. A lighter version is colatura di alici, an anchovy sauce developed by Cistercian monks near Amalfi, served on spaghetti as a traditional Christmas Eve treat. South of Salerno, you can visit working farms, and make friends with the buffalo, before sampling the best mozzarella known to mankind. Artichokes are also a specialty of the Paestum area. For the sweet tooth, don’t miss the unusually good chocolate-covered eggplant or a moist cake made with lemons grown along the coastline and sometimes soaked with a bit of limoncello, a traditional lemon liqueur.

Wine here is light, drinkable, and inexpensive, and often consumed mere months after crushing; don't be surprised if it's the color of beer, and served from a jug (sfuso, "loose wine"). Practically all of it comes from Campania, often from the town or village in which it's poured, perhaps even from the restaurant's own centuries-old vines. Little of it transports well. Furore, Gragnano, and Ravello produce good bottled wines, both rosso (red) and bianco (white) with Furore's Cuomo perhaps the finest white wine.

Although a few restaurants are world-renowned, most are family affairs, with papà out front, the kids serving, and mamma, aunts, and even old nonna in the kitchen. Smile a bit, compliment the cuisine, and you're apt to meet them all.

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