The best time to go to Procida? Easter, when religious rites and gastronomic traditions mingle in the alleyways and among the colourful houses of the Capital of Culture 2022. Chef Marco Ambrosino tells us about his island.

Its like winning a championship that we never imagined we could win”, the nomination of Procida as Capital of Culture 2022 is ahuge joyfor Marco Ambrosino (doctor, chef and patron of the 28 Posti restaurant in Milan). An investiture that gives the island (immortalised by Elsa Morante) a leading role in Italian cultural life. Almost to officialise a relevance already emerged between the pages of the books and the frames of the films that over the years have translated the charm of this paradise mignon format. Four square kilometres, sixteen kilometres of coastline and a life that proudly preserves its identity without ever shying away from the encounter with the world.

Procida. Secluded capital

A nomination that tastes like the unexpected victory of a cadet team in the major championship, “has always been our condition: a little because we are so small, we remain in the shadow of other islands. A little by choice: we stayed on the sidelines, even voluntarily. ” An innate reserve, of someone who prefers understatement to shouted visibility, never too glamorous, never too pop, never disheveled. That’s why it’s so loved by intellectuals, names from the world of culture and politics who, since the 50s and 60s, have walked the streets that wind between the famous coloured houses. Chef Ambrosino adds, “Never before has there been a way to tell the story properly. The next step is to internationalise, to make known to the world this character that is part of our baggage; this is an important opportunity”. Although he left the island 15 years ago, he has not severed the cord that makes him a son of this land and this sea. ” We,” he comments, “remain Procidans even after years of distance. I have always tried to tell the story of the Mediterranean with my own means and my own language” he adds: “In the end, I don’t think I ever left Procida, I think I remained in Italy”.

Procida Capital of Culture 2022. From a goal to a path

This designation is an important goal that will bring visibility, movement and give new impetus to these places – “it is also the confirmation that we are moving in the right way” – but in addition to being an achievement it is also “a path to take to grow and put in place a number of things”. There are still 12 months to act as a hinge between the annus hornbills ravaged by Covid and the future as a Capital. In the midst of this, there is a year of rebirth and a new beginning to be pursued also through culture, an essential resource that is often left in the background in our country. “Culture is a means of doing things, we Procidians are aware of this value. Now the organisational machinery will start, with the many initiatives that will be born in the wake of a widespread cultural vitality. ” There are many people who dedicate themselves in a selfless way to cultural activities, literary events, initiatives aimed at sharing and welcoming. They play stories, professionalism, information. Now” he continues “Procida is ready to welcome the artists who will come to tell the story of the island, a bit like it happened in the past, so it can be a megaphone and harness the potential of the whole area of Campi Flegrei. ” And in this sense, the theme “La cultura non isola” (Culture does not isolate) is always right.

Measured tourism looking to the future

Procida is an extension of the mainland “has always had a soft tourist vocation”. “This”, he adds, has always been a place where people traveled for work, here there are seafarers, fishermen, people who went to sea, then came home to stay in their little space. Arturo Island is a place of the soul, not only in the collective imagination but also in those who were born and raised in this corner surrounded by the sea. Little inclined to get caught, even if things are changing: In recent years there has been an exponential growth compared to what was before, compared to itself. I think there has been an awareness of the enormous tourist attraction, also international, not only as a seaside resort. The tourism of Procida”, he adds, “is a relaxed, reflective tourism.

Procida: gastronomy of proximity

Place of sailors, Procida, where generations have crossed the world, reaching faraway places, “that they didn’t even know really existed, and they got there by embarking for months. My grandfather, for example, went to Japan and my father also went far away. ” Many of the Procidan cooks, especially those of the old guard, have taken to cooking on board. ” I worked with a few senior cooks who came from there, too. ” And what is left of this story of long crossings?” For a few years there was a reference to the kitchens on board, for example in the use of spices, which was new to us but common practice on ships.” Not enough to influence the island’s cuisine: “in reality, Procida’s cuisine is a cuisine of proximity, of local products, a cuisine that has always tried to consecrate what it has available, as in the lemon salad, our lemon bread, or in pasta with sea urchins, which everyone gathered for themselves, without any commercial purpose: all you needed was a stove to make a plate of pasta”. And then there’s the peasants’ breakfast: “something so poetic, the soup with fijuto fish, with sponged bread, tomatoes and whatever was in the garden. Fish no, that’s why he was fujuto. ” And what do you bring from Procida into your kitchen?” Beyond specific products and preparations, I bring the approach of the Procidan: a person who has moved, has gone around, is curious but aware of his condition as an islander, which is also a privileged condition: Procida offers you shelter, protection”.

When to go to Procida?

“The best moment, the most characteristic, is Easter, which is more heartfelt than Christmas for us“, says Ambrosino, who never misses the appointments of Holy Week, “the most beautiful of the year”, when cooking and religious rites are mixed together: “in the streets there is the scent of cinnamon that is put into the pastiera and is also found on the statues that go in procession: the smell of cinnamon is the smell of that time of year for us”. And then there are the religious processions and the allegorical tables that refer to the passion of Christ: “one of the most reproduced things is the last supper, and everywhere there is barbecued lamb and the smell of laurel“, it is then that flavours, perfumes and traditions mix together beyond the strictly religious aspect.

Procida. The premises of Marco Ambrosino

In such a small place, we all know each other, and the clubs we go to are friends’ clubs. Historic, immutable places, and others that have gained strength with the arrival of the new generations, very young engaged in hospitality activities, in new or renovated hotels, in restaurants that mark a new course. Like La Medusa, at the Port, two young brothers, who are doing well, then there is the Vineria Letteraria, a fantastic place that combines wine and literature, especially that related to the island”, and then there is Gorgonia, in Marina di Corricella, they were pioneers, one of the longest-lived clubs in Procida, while in Chiaiole There is an incredible character, from the Procidana restaurant is called Girone, and then there is his brother Crescenzo who has the oldest structure in Chiaioliella. A genuine seafood cuisine, “where the menu changes even more than once a day depending on what there is. On the one hand, people who grew up working on the island, have become aware of the value of the characteristics of this place, also from the gastronomic point of view; more recently, however, many young people go out to learn: It is a generation that is becoming more and more aware, it is a transition that is taking place and this great result, the nomination as Capital of Culture, must be a stimulus for to perfect what we already have.

La Medusa – Procida (NA) – via Roma, 116 – 081 8967481

Gorgonia – Procida (NA) – via Marina di Corricella, 50 – 081 8101060

Girone Lungomare  – Procida (NA) – via Cristoforo Colombo, 4, – 081 8967367

Crescenzo – Procida (NA) – Via Marina Chiaiolella, 3 – 081 8967255

Vineria Letteraria  – Procida (NA) – via Marina di Corricella, 40 – A 081 896 9500

by Antonella De Santis