Italy’s Campania region – Pompeii and Capri (and a delicious recipe for spaghetti with Italian sausage)

Last week I talked about Sorrento, the popular town that is the gateway to Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Both Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast sit on the coastline of the Campania region, which is situated in southwestern Italy. In my next couple of posts I’d like to share with you some of the places worth travelling to from this gateway.

When I first started my blog last year I wrote a post about a day we spent in Ravello, a small town in the hills above Amalfi. This was one of the day trips my husband and I did from Sorrento when we were on the Coast last year.

Ravello is possibly not as popular a stop as Positano or Amalfi but I would say only because it’s not quite as easy to get to. Last year we had a rental car and drove (an experience we didn’t feel the need to repeat). Whereas you can catch a ferry directly to Positano or Amalfi you will need to ferry and bus to reach Ravello as it is set up in the hills.

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Below is a link to my post on Ravello. For me the town was a complete gem and well worth the effort to get there.

Ravello, a gem of the Amalfi Coast

The other highlights from our trip to the Coast last year were day trips to Pompeii and Capri. Both places are easy to travel to from Sorrento and not to be missed.

Following a stressful day driving the Amalfi Coast road to Ravello we were more than happy to ditch the car and take the train. Our destination – Pompeii.

This ancient city has a famous story. Mt Vesuvius still stands proudly today, casting its shadow over the Bay of Naples and the cities and towns that inhabit its coastline. The mountain is beautiful and serene viewed from a distance but a visit to Pompeii will remind you of its destructive power.

Once a thriving Roman city, Pompeii was completely destroyed after an eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The volcano had been inactive for a long time prior to the eruption, which meant that the people of Pompeii had no idea of the threat Vesuvius posed to them. The city was buried under metres of ash and it remained buried for almost two thousand years.

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Pompeii is now an important archaeological site and one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations.

The first thing that struck my husband and I as we explored the ruins was the sheer magnitude of the site. We also marvelled at how much still remained and in such detail. It almost felt as though the city had been suspended in time, holding its breath beneath all those layers of ash until finally being rediscovered. Excavation began in the eighteenth century.

On the day we visited we were lucky enough to have brilliant blue sky but it was scorching hot. Perhaps it was for this reason that we decided not to take the guided tour and find our own way around. Normally this is my preference in any case but on reflection I wish now that we had opted for the tour. The site and its history are fascinating and you’ll discover a lot more if you let the experts lead you around.

 

Look out in particular for the body casts of the victims they’ve been able to preserve after being entombed in ash for all that time. Very moving – you can almost imagine their terror on that fateful day.

ash-ruins

We spent the morning at Pompeii and could easily have stayed longer but it got hotter still as morning ticked over to afternoon. And there was little shade to be had. My tip if you’re visiting in the summertime – go early to avoid the soaring afternoon temperatures.

As for getting to Pompeii, if you’re staying in Sorrento or nearby one of the easiest ways to travel there is by train. The site is an easy walk from the station. You might even be lucky enough to be entertained by the buskers that hop on and off the trains. But a quick tip – they do expect you to pay for the privilege of having been entertained during your journey.

If a guided tour is more your thing there are plenty on offer – it’s a good idea to check with your hotel as they can often arrange everything for you.

I recommend you don’t miss out on Pompeii if you’re travelling to this part of Italy.

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The following day we once again left the car safe and sound in the garage of our hotel and this time caught the ferry. Our destination – Capri.

It’s one of the more popular spots in this region so my first tip would be to avoid going on the weekend. It gets extremely busy.

There are great views of the island as you arrive by ferry and the harbour is colourful and lively.

view-from-boat-smallOn the day we arrived we had planned to take the funicular (a tram-like cable railway) up to Capri town after disembarking at Marina Grande. It’s a great option and will take you directly to the Piazzetta (Capri’s most famous square).

But fearful of queues and delays my husband and I decided to hit out on a taxi. In fact it wasn’t that expensive and it turned out to be somewhat of an adventure. The road that leads up to Capri town is narrow and winding (with some amazing views on the way) and I’m guessing gridlock is a common occurrence. Our taxi driver ended up getting out of the car. We watched as he talked and gesticulated wildly with the other drivers. We found it all rather amusing.

view-3

Finally arriving at the Piazzetta (and we’ll never know if it would have been quicker to take the funicular) we decided that first on the agenda was a refreshment stop. After a wander down the elegant main street we came to a hotel that had a lovely terrace with tables set out. It was a beautiful day and I could think of nothing better than to sit on that terrace with an Italian coffee and watch the world go by.

coffee-break

The photo above has become rather famous among my family and friends because we did indeed stop at the hotel of my choice and that cappuccino I have in my hand cost eleven euros. No, that’s not a misprint. Eleven euros. I’m sure the smile I’m sporting is somewhat ironic. But it was a fabulous spot and a very delicious cappuccino. Just as well!

After our refreshment stop we browsed the shops – Capri’s main shopping street is littered with designer stores. You’ll see many of the big names from the world of fashion and all within one small shopping district.

We had been told by a local we got chatting to in Sorrento that when on Capri it’s worthwhile visiting Anacapri also. This is a town on the western side of the island. We opted to catch the bus. It’s a good way to get around the island – the buses to Anacapri run every fifteen minutes and the journey only takes ten minutes or so.

Anacapri has a very different feel to Capri’s main town. Less busy and swanky and definitely where you want to head if you’re on a budget. We thought it was charming and had a more authentic feel.

The one thing we missed doing, which I regret, is catching the chairlift up to Mount Solaro. It’s the highest point on the island and the views are supposed to be spectacular. So make sure you don’t miss out as we did. The chairlift only takes twelve minutes and the entrance is very close to the bus stop.

We meandered around Anacapri for long enough to build up an appetite for lunch and found a lovely spot to eat al fresco. As usual the Italian food did not disappoint. Everything was fresh and colourful and tasted delicious. I’m sure I could live on the mozzarella and tomatoes that they serve in Italy.

Sated after a lazy lunch we caught the bus back to Capri and spent some time gazing out at the views before heading back to Marina Grande and our return ferry.

How fantastic is Italy – one day we’re walking around ancient Roman ruins in Pompeii and the next we’re drinking coffee and lunching al fresco on the island of Capri. Every day is a surprise, an adventure.

For me, nothing is more of a surprise and adventure than the food. Last week I cooked risotto – a famous dish from the north of Italy. This week I am, of course, sticking with Italian and cooking pasta. One of my favourite pasta dishes is spaghetti and meatballs but I also cook a slightly different take on this classic that is easier and less time consuming. I actually do love to stand at the bench rolling my meatballs but I don’t always have the time.

So to speed things up and still produce an outstanding spaghetti dish I use Italian sausages. I squeeze the divine meat out of their skins and then cook them in a hot pan, breaking them up as they sizzle. What you end up with is little mini meatballs to stir through tomato sauce and spaghetti. Admittedly their form is slightly more rustic than the perfectly round meatball but that’s hardly a problem. It still looks great, tastes even better and can be on the table in forty minutes.

Italian sausages have a great texture and tend to be coarser than your standard pork sausage. They also taste amazing. But if you can’t get hold of proper Italian sausages then use a good quality pork or beef sausage.

The tomato sauce for this dish is made a little more decadent with the addition of some cream at the end. Think cream of tomato soup (which my husband loves out of the tin) but better.

An excellent dish.

 

Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Tomato Cream Sauce

Serves 4

 

Tomato Cream Sauce

25g unsalted butter

Dash of olive oil

1 onion

2 fat cloves garlic

2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary (depending on their size)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

700g bottle tomato passata

250ml water

Salt and pepper

60ml cream

 

6 Italian sausages

375g spaghetti

Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped

Grated pecorino cheese (or parmesan)

 

Peel the onion and garlic cloves and roughly chop them. Pop into the bowl of a food processor with the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and oregano. Blitz until you have a fine oniony pulp.

Heat a large pan and add the butter with a dash of olive oil. Once the butter has melted and is just starting to sizzle add the onion pulp and sauté until soft and the liquid from the onions has evaporated. This should only take a few minutes.

Add the bottle of passata and the water and stir well. Season with salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Bring to a good simmer and leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes. By this time it should have reduced a little and thickened. Taste and check the seasoning.

Lower the heat, add the cream and stir through.

While the tomato sauce is cooking you can get on with the sausages and spaghetti. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and heat a pan for the sausages. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions.

Run the tip of a sharp knife along the side of the sausage to tear the skin and remove the skin. Once the pan is hot enough add a dash of olive oil and then the sausages. As they start to sizzle begin to break them up using a wooden spoon. The pieces of sausage absolutely don’t need to be uniform shapes, simply a similar size although it really doesn’t matter if some are slightly larger than others. Just don’t break them up into too small pieces. Fry the sausage meatballs, turning when necessary, until they’re golden brown and cooked through.

Once the spaghetti is cooked, drain it in a colander and return to the pan. Now add the sausage and the oil from the pan and toss through the spaghetti. I also like to grind over a little pepper at this stage too.

Stir the basil (leave a little for garnish) through the tomato cream sauce and then start spooning it over the spaghetti. I use a ladle and this is important – add a few ladlefuls of sauce and then toss it through the spaghetti before you start adding more. You may not need all the sauce – what you want is for the spaghetti to have a good coating but you don’t want it drowning.

If you have any sauce leftover pop it into a container and keep it in the fridge – you’ll find plenty of uses for it. It also freezes well so make a double batch and then you’ve always got a meal ready to go.

Serve the spaghetti in pasta bowls and sprinkle over the reserved basil and the grated pecorino.

Take it to the table, close your eyes on the first mouthful and imagine you’re in Italy.

Buon Appetito!

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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Favourite posts of 2016 – and my love affair with Italy – Tracey O'Brien

  2. Pingback: Italian Sausages with Tomato & Cannellini Stew | Tracey O'Brien

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