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Everybody knows that Naples has the best pizza in the world and is the epicenter for espresso-style coffee, but it’s a lesser-known fact that Neapolitan cuisine is more than just pizza pies. Naples is a city where food surprises await in every nook and cranny of its gloriously grungy, graffiti-decorated cobblestone alleys.
The food fun starts with fried street treats and ends with flaky sfogliatella pastries. We love all of the food in this authentic Italian city, but Neopolitan pasta holds a special place in our hearts – not to mention our stomachs.
Unlike Margherita pizza, pasta was not invented in Naples. However, many believe that dry semolina pasta was perfected in Campania’s capital city before becoming a food staple of Italy.
Even today, noodles are an important staple in the Neapolitan diet, with pasta served at most meals – always cooked al dente (firm – literally translated ‘to the tooth’) and then topped with a number of different sauces including savory, hearty, meaty Neapolitan ragu. And what a ragu it is!
Blessed with juicy tomatoes grown on nearby volcanic soil, chefs and nonnas (Italian grandmothers) alike make flavorful tomato sauce and gravy in Naples.
Tomatoes entered Neapolitan cuisine during the 18th century. The industry of preserving tomatoes originated in 19th-century Naples, resulting in the export of the city’s famous “pelati” (peeled tomatoes) and the “concentrato” (tomato paste) to all parts of the world.
Cooks traditionally use various methods to prepare home-made tomato preserves which are either bottled into tomato purée or canned whole. The famous “conserva” (sun dried concentrated juice) tomato is cooked for a long time and becomes dark red with a velvety texture.
Neapolitan Pasta Time Video
Curious about Neapolitan pasta? Click here to watch us eat a pasta meal in Naples Italy.
Cooking Pasta at Home in Naples
Since we lived like locals in Naples for a full month, we had the luxury of a kitchen in our Airbnb apartment which gave us the ability to cook pasta at home. Sometimes cooking can be a hardship, but not cooking pasta in Naples. Seriously, it’s fun to cook pasta when the ingredients are so plentiful and delicious.
To make Neopolitan Pasta, it all starts with buying the noodles at the local market. These markets don’t display the noodles on shelves; instead, many shops in Naples have entire rooms dedicated to pasta of all shapes and sizes.
With such great selection, you might think that noodles in Naples are expensive. Think again – a typical box of dry pasta costs well under a Euro.
And then there’s the ragu. If we can agree that a solid ragu starts with good tomatoes, then it’s fair to say that Neapolitan ragu is the ultimate ragu based on the city’s proximity to Mount Vesuvius.
However, without sounding counterintuitive and a bit scandalous, we preferred to skip the luscious red tomatoes for sale at local markets and instead bought jarred Passata at our neighborhood Naples grocery store.
These glass-jarred, pureed tomatoes have all the flavor from the mighty Vesuvius slopes, but they’re also super easy to use in a kitchen since the juicy tomatoes are already puréed and ready for the sauce pot.
In Naples, a bowl of noodles and ragu could be enough, but why stop there.
Sprinkle on some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or add a bit of ricotta fresca or ricotta salata. Better yet, mix in locally produced sausage or fresh seafood.
And don’t forget to add basil. When grown in Naples, this leafy green herb provides a romantic, colorful touch to any bowl of Neapolitan Pasta.
Eating Pasta in Naples Restaurants
As easy as it is to cook in Naples, sometimes it’s enjoyable to dine in restaurants for a different atmosphere and experience. Plus, dining out provides an opportunity to try different types of food including the many variations of Neapolitan Pasta that you can only find in Naples.
During our first trip to Naples, we ate fusilli on Via dei Tribunali. We took it further on our second visit by eating pasta at several spots like Osteria Mattozzi near our apartment, Ristorante Bellini famous for their seafood pasta, cooked al cartoccio with seafood in parchment, and ultra-casual Spiedo d’Oro.
However, we ate our favorite Neapolitan pasta at Tandem Ragu.
Tandem Ragu is the perfect spot to eat traditional Neapolitan pasta topped with authentically slow cooked ragu. Here, chefs embrace the city’s abundance of local ingredients, and the flavors shine through in every dish.
Portions are generous and you will want to lick the plate before it’s cleared. At least that’s what we wanted to do after our Friday al fresco afternoon meal.
During this meal, we dipped bread in a Scarpette, a delectable version of ragu, forked up ragu topped ziti and scarfed down braciole. And, of course, we washed it all down with a carafe of the reddest Aglianico red wine from Campania (Naples’ home region.)
Eating Neapolitan Pasta at an outdoor patio, with a view of the day to day happenings in the Central Historico, is especially appealing. Scooters wiz past alfresco tables. Napoli residents stroll by or just pass the time in front the huge, green, ancient doors that look upon the diners just across the way along Via Paladino Giovanni.
The ancient stone structures of Naples surround you. At the right time of day, the sun bursts through the clouds onto the age-old cobblestones and buildings that have endured the many years of war and volcanic eruptions.
Be sure to plan ahead for your meal at Tandem Ragu. The restaurant is both intimate and popular, making advance reservations a must.
Osteria Mattozzi is located at Piazzetta Arcangelo Scacchi, 9/19, 80138 Napoli, Italy.
Ristorante Bellini is located at Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, 80, 80138 Napoli, Italy.
Spiedo d’Oro is located at Via Pasquale Scura, 52, 80134 Napoli, Italy.
Tandem Ragu is located at Via Paladino Giovanni, 51, 80134 Napoli, Italy.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.