Campania – historical flavours in Benevento

Benevento has many fascinating ancient food traditions, and this first restaurant, of the four reviewed below, is a particularly good place to experience some of them .

My Google map is here.

Trattoria Nunzia (Intermediate A), 152 Via Annunziata – CLOSED since Nov 2020

Benevento’s most venerated restaurant, specialising in local dishes and ingredients.

I first came in 2005 and had a fantastic meal (see below) so I was very happy to return twelve years later. Nothing much has changed, it’s still very good (although I am perhaps more critical), but the old lady’s son Antonio, a good English speaker, is now working alongside her.

I began with the Bruschettina con Fagioli; a variety of white beans, which Antonio told me had no name, on good toasted bread, drizzled with olive oil and given a light sprinkling of oregano (B+).

To drink I tried a glass of a local Aglianico blended with Sciascinoso and Cabernet Sauvignon by I Pentri which was fine but nothing special (B). Nice label though.

Next the restaurant’s famous signature dish; Scarpariello (A); a square spaghetti tossed in tomatoes, Parma ham, pepperoncino and chopped basil, the exact proportions of which are a closely kept secret.

I also received an unordered bowl of Tagliatelle e Melanzana ‘just to taste it’. Sadly I found the artichokes to be quite bland and the pasta a bit overcooked but it was still okay (B).

After this Salsiccia rossa di Castelpoto (A); a wonderfully dense, spicy sausage which Antonio told me utilised the better cuts of the pig as well as the usual offal content. He also said that it was the only Slow Food Association protected-food in the area.

As usual my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I also ordered the Polpette al Sugo, a very dense meatball containing whole cloves of garlic (A) served in a perfectly flavoured tomato sauce (A).

With these a big plate of Contorno Misto Grande which included grilled courgettes, courgettes in vinegar, a local broccoli, chicoria, fried aubergine (all B+), and some grilled aubergine (A).

This nearly finished me off but I still found room for a large scoop of Mela Stregata, an ice cream made using Strega the local liqueur (see below), a local apple and a small piece of Baba sponge cake. Of course a shot of Strega on the side was the best thing to accompany it.

All this cost €64.50 which included water, cover, four glasses of wine and two shots. Pretty good value given the quality I’d say.

After a walk (more of a waddle really) and a snooze, I made it back a few hours later for dinner. I was still pretty full but I managed their Moscardini Affogati, a type of small squid stewed in a tomato sauce which was delicious (A).

To drink a glass or two of a very good Fiano from Sannio; one of my favourite wines (B+).

I also had a plate of fresh and crispy salad leaves (A) with this and followed with a small plate of Formaggi, all quite young. The Cachiocavallo and Provolone were very good but the Cabrito, goats’ cheese, was the star (A).

With this a glass of Piedirosso, also from I Pentri, but which failed to impress (B).

I had a final dessert of Semi-freddo al Torrone drizzled with a chocolate sauce containing Strega which was excellent (A).

With a double limoncello this took the bill to another €40. I was happy to pay this and more.

From 2005:

This is a fantastic place. Nunzia is the wonderful old lady who runs it; she’s very friendly and helpful. There’s no menu, she just comes and sits with you to discuss what you’d like to eat.

To start the marinated sardines are delicious. For a pasta course, try the Scarpariello (square spaghetti with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil) or the Cavatelli with cherry tomatoes and parsley. For a secondo the veal is good or the baby squid with cherry tomatoes and parsley. A great red is Aglianico del Taburno, and a good white, Fiano d’Avellino. For dessert choose between Macedonia with wild strawberries and a Passito wine or vanilla ice cream made with Strega, the famous local herbal liquer.

Back in 2005, three courses with wine cost me about €20 here, an absolute steal. Long may Nunzia reign.

On my last day in 2017, the teachers I was working with took me to this place:

Gino e Pina (Intermediate B+), 23 Viale dell’Università,

This place is a restaurant, pizzeria and wine bar, founded in 1940 and frequented wholly by locals as it’s a fair way from the touristy areas at the top of the hill.

We shared the biggest Mozzarella I’ve ever seen (B+). Three of us only managed about half of it!

We also had a plate of antipasti each which were okay but nothing amazing (B-). The most visually spectacular were these stuffed peppers which I’m told are a local delicacy.

At the owners insistence I had a slice of his wife’s homemade Pasteira, a local tart traditionally made at Easter, which was very nice (B+).

And for a spot of food shopping…

Benevento is very famous for its Torrone (nougat) which is typically made from honey, sugar and egg white. Traditional Torrone di Benevento is sometimes called by its historic name Cupedia, which is a crumblier version made with hazelnuts. Softer versions are made with almonds. The history of Torrone pre-dates the Roman era and goes back to the times of the Samnites. Although well-liked by the Romans, the historian Tito Livio mentions it, torrone only became popular in Europe during the 17th century, when the Beneventan candy makers created today’s varieties, which have been dipped in dark chocolate or given a lemon, orange, or coffee flavoured icing.

I visited two confectioners. At the seemingly very traditional Russo Umberto at 17 Via Gaetano Rummo, I got some modern chocolate-covered torrone and a bottle of Strega.

At the bigger Euroliquori (formerly Alberico Ambrosino Confectioners) at 111 Corso Garibaldi I got some plain bars of traditional torrone and a bottle of Strega Crema.

As mentioned above, another famous local product is Strega liqueur whose 17th century recipe uses a secret mixture of seventy herbs and spices. It looks a bit like Galliano, due to the inclusion of saffron, and has a bittersweet taste with hints of fennel and mint. It’s probably best used in coffees and confections rather than being drunk straight. You can also get a crema version which is more drinkable. The word strega means “witch”, a reference to the ancient legend that Benevento is the city of witches.

So, lots of nice things to eat and drink in Benevento! Wish I’d had more time but no doubt I’ll be back at some point. Off to Naples next…

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