Today we will tempt your taste buds as we journey through southern Italy. Starting in Molise, often forgotten but full of surprises; to Campania, the birthplace of the Mediterranean Diet; across to Apulia, the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’; Basilicata, whose regional capital was the European Capital of Culture in 2019; and finish in Calabria, the tip of this boot shaped country.
This region of Italy’s central south has preserved many centuries old traditions of country life in its vast green pastures, rolling hills, and the mountains of Matese and Majella, the second highest mountain massif in the Apennines after the Gran Sasso, which is located in Abruzzo. Today, Molise cultivates its proud sense of identity and tenaciously defends it from any attempt at standardisation, most of all, with regards to its cuisine.
Sheep farming and agriculture are key ingredients in this region’s cuisine, which remains simple, strongly flavoured, and based on jealously guarded recipes passed down from one generation to the next.
Molise is one of the most undiscovered, secret, and secluded of Italy’s regions, but also an explosion of romantic and magical sensations. The gastronomic tradition of this region is closely related to its northern neighbour Abruzzo and Apulia at its south, due to the ‘Tratturi’ routes along which the herds were once led from the mountains of the Apennines to the plains of Apulia.
For thousands of years, these rural tracks allowed herds and flocks to periodically move and take advantage of pastures in different seasons at different altitudes. Although now a rarity, in autumn some still leave the mountains as winter sets in and head for the plains, where they stay till spring, before again returning to higher altitudes; this custom is called ‘Transumanza’ [Transhumance]. These tracks, today used by horse riders and mountain bikers, form a web ideal for those wishing to discover a gastronomic tradition which has remained almost intact over the centuries.
The heart of this region’s traditional cuisine is now found in a vast number of towns and country restaurants. Kid and lamb are very popular, and the preferred method of cooking remains spit-roasting, which gives the meat a unique taste. Excellent lamb dishes include escalopes with olives and barbecued intestines. A typical traditional dish based on lamb guts is ‘Magliatiélle’, prepared with a base of celery, garlic, chilli pepper, lamb thymus, and a little water. It can be served as is, or with tomato sauce. If during your stay in Molise you are in the province of Campobasso and want to taste a mouth-watering ‘Magliatiélle’ or other local dishes, we recommend you visit Le Terre del Sacramento restaurant in the town of Guardialfiera where the population is less than 1,000.
Sheep farming and livestock breeding do not only provide excellent meat for cooking, but also a highly sought after variety of dairy products. Molise is famous for its ‘Pecorino’, ‘Scamorza’, and ‘Burrino’, also called ‘Butirro’, which is a small cow’s milk cheese, pear-shaped, with its neck tightened by a thread for easy hanging, stuffed with butter and eaten fresh after maturing for only one week; if you prefer a stronger taste, let it sit for a month.
In the north of this region, in Agnone, a town known for the manufacturing of handmade bells, dairy products have a particularly high standing. Among these, we find ‘Caciocavallo di Agnone [P.A.T]’ [Prodotto Agroalimentare Tradizionale], a stretched curd cheese produced with an ancient technique, using only local raw cow’s milk. The cheese is shaped like a large pear, about 20cm high, and weighing from 1.5Kg to 3Kg, recognizable by a thread wrapped around its top. In 2019, the ‘Caciocavallo’ produced by Caseificio Di Nucci [‘Caseificio’ is Italian for cheese making factory], which opened its doors in Agnone back in 1662, won the award for the best ‘Italian Seasoned Cheese’.
There is widespread production of salami and hams: ‘Prosciutto Affumicato’ from Rionero Sannitico, in the province of Isernia, being one of the best; salami such as ‘Capocollo’ whose name derives from the use of the upper part of the ‘collo’ [neck], but also that from the back of the pig; and ‘Ventricina’ and ‘Sopressata’, made using lean and fatty pork, spices, salt, pepper, and red wine. There is also ‘Pampanella’, bacon flavoured with chilli, garlic, white wine vinegar and baked in the oven; and we cannot forget the typical ‘Salsiccia Ferrazzanese’, a sausage flavoured with chilli and fennel seeds. Ferrazzano, in the bay of Tappino, has become famous for its sausages, which make use of pork from pigs fed on acorns.
In a ‘borgo’ [village] of app 200 inhabitants, in the province of Isernia, a unique and ancient salami, made using only the best parts of the pig ‘La Signora di Conca Casale’ is produced. It is referred to as the “most feminine salami”, as for centuries it has been produced only by the elder women of the borgo, using a traditional method, to then be served to royalty of the time and today, to tourists. For those seeking more information, the literal translation of Borgo would be ‘Village’, but the term Village does not fully explain what a Borgo is. Perhaps a more accurate description is that a Borgo is a fascinating small Italian town, generally fortified and dating back to the period from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
As in Abruzzo, homemade pasta is of great importance in Molise, and again we find ‘Maccheroni alla Chitarra’, as well as many types of stuffed pasta such as ‘Calcioni’, filled with sheep Ricotta, ham, and then deep fried in olive oil. Shepherds and farmers created what is still considered one of the region’s most characteristic recipe ‘Zuppa di Ortiche’ [Nettle soup], after being boiled in water the nettle stems are cut into smaller pieces and fried with tomatoes. The flavour is incredibly delicate and a must try for anyone adventuring to this part of Italy.
Although the coastline is limited, it is a beauty not to be missed and a visit to resort areas such as Termoli and Campomarino will allow you to enjoy various delicacies of the lower Adriatic Sea such as mullet, cuttlefish, and sea bass. A must try is ‘Calamaretti all’Olio’, which consists of fresh small squid, eaten raw, and served with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and chilli. If you prefer something more substantial and cooked, you can taste ‘U bredette’ [fish soup], often made using fish with a lower commercial value. To respect local traditions, there is always a good amount of garlic and chilli pepper in the soup. Another is ‘Sècce e Pesille’ delicious cuttlefish cooked in olive oil, onions, and peas.
The winemaking tradition of Molise dates back to the 3rd century B.C., the time of the Roman Empire and today, Molisani wines act as a bridge between Abruzzese and Apulian wines.
The native black grape variety ‘Tintilia’ has given birth to the full body red ‘Tintilla del Molise DOC’ [Denominazione di Origine Controllata] In the area around Isernia, the most important wine is ‘Pentro d’Isernia DOC’, produced both in red and white varieties, while the area of Campobasso, Molise’s capital city, is known for its ‘Biferno DOC’, produced as a red, a white, and a rosè. Also, worth trying is the region’s most famous liqueur ‘Estratto di Poncio’, whose name and ingredients recall the punch drunk in the Anglo-Saxon world. Campobasso is home to this oldest of Molise liquors, traditionally prepared during the Christmas season, and often paired with another typical products such as ‘Pepatelli’, hard cookies made to be dipped in the fruity liquor.
Molise’s beer-brewing culture is very young, vibrant, and growing consistently during the last few years. If you find yourself in Campobasso, make sure to check out these rising stars of the brewing industry: ‘Birrificio Cantaloop’, ‘Birrificio Kashmir’, and ‘Birrificio La Fucina’.
On June 29th the day dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, the town of Isernia celebrates this region’s produce in an ancient ritual dating back to 1254, the ‘Fiera delle Cipolle’ [Onions’ Festival]. Although focused on onions, it is a true celebration of all fruits and vegetables. According to local tradition, onions tied together in large garlands and bought during the festival, are tastier and considered to have great medicinal powers.
In June, on the day of Corpus Domini, the 13 ‘Macchine dei Misteri’ [Mysteries’ Machines] are carried on the shoulders of around 200 men in procession, following a ritual route starting in the old town, along the streets of Campobasso. This festival, like all festivals in Italy, is a great opportunity to taste regional cuisine specialties.
On August 1st every year, the ‘Sagra del Baccalà e Peperuol’ [Cod and Bell Peppers festival] takes place in Frosolone, in the Province of Isernia and is considered one of the most beautiful ‘Borghi’ in Molise. Here, Cod is prepared according to an old local recipe, while the bell peppers are stir-fried in local olive oil and nothing else, to make sure their taste is preserved.
Locals of this region have been enjoying the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ since time immemorial while completely unaware that one day nutritionists the world over would recommend it to everyone. Their culinary culture was not a result of trying to balance their nutrition, but of using what was available and selling cheap at the local market – vegetables, bread, pasta, cheese, and fish. The region’s cuisine is thus based on humble ingredients, with little use of meat as it was expensive, but vibrant with colour and flavour.
Campania’s cuisine respects traditions with its ancient roots in Magna Grecia and Sannio. Originally influenced by the Greeks, the Spanish, and the French, Neapolitan cuisine impacted on this region and tends to preserve the ingredients’ natural flavours, exalting their freshness and quality. Campania’s gastronomic culture has been consolidated over the centuries and handed down from generation to generation.
No discussion of Neapolitan cuisine can possibly avoid its most famous dish ‘Pizza’, which more than any other, has introduced the taste and simplicity of Italian cuisine to the world. Pizza, a dish whose predecessors were consumed in the times of ancient Rome, Egypt, and Greece, in modern times, came about as a result of locals’ continual search for a cheap meal to satisfy hunger, simple to prepare, able to be combined with just about anything in the kitchen, and at the same time filling and nutritious. Pizza, therefore has a long, complex, and uncertain history, first referenced back to the year 997 AD near Gaeta, started life as a simple dish of dough with Mozzarella topping, flavoured with olive oil and garlic, and possibly a handful of seafood as the only dressing.
When tomatoes arrived from Latin America and pizza assumed the form we love today, it became a dish of mass consumption, and slowly but surely exported to every corner of the world. Pizza was not only for the masses, but also popular with the Bourbons, kings of Naples and the Savoia, kings of Italy, to name a few. When Italy’s Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889, an experimental pizza chef, Raffaele Esposito, dedicated a pizza to her and called it ‘Margherita’, a tomato, mozzarella, and basil topping, celebrating the tricolour flag of the newly unified Italian State. When you visit Naples, remember to try a delicious ‘Pizza Fritta’ [deep fried Pizza], typically prepared in the shape of a ‘Calzone’ [Folded Pizza] and stuffed with tomato, mozzarella or ricotta, and basil. Pizza comes in all shapes & sizes, flavours and colours, it’s any creative chef’s or food lover’s dream.
Another linchpin of Neapolitan cuisine is ‘Pasta’ and the regional capital of this ingredient was Torre Annunziata, whose expert pasta makers used durum wheat imported from the Americas. The art of drying and storing pasta, which later led to industrial production, was perfected in Gragnano, a town to the south of Naples. It is precisely in Gragnano, where 'Maccaroni' were invented, thus making the town famous around the world. In recent years, entrance halls of historic buildings in Via Roma [the main street in Gragnano], have been used as real-life ‘gallerie del vento’ [wind tunnels] for drying pasta outdoors. In September, the ‘Festa della Pasta IGP di Gragnano’ [Pasta Festival] is held and welcomes tourists from all over the world. Neapolitan creativity has led to a vast variety of pasta shapes with names such as ‘Vermicelli’, ‘Fusilli’, ‘Spaghetti’, ‘Tortiglioni’, ‘Rigatoni’, ‘Ziti’, and ‘Maccheroni’ to name just a few.
There is a vast range of sauces and dressings served with pasta, the simplest and yet on par with any sophisticated rich sauce served in an expensive restaurant is tomato and fragrant basil, served on top of spaghetti, in a traditional trattoria.
An exception to Neapolitan simplicity in food preparation is ‘Ragù del Portinaio’ [Porter’s ragù sauce] which takes a long time to prepare and requires constant supervision. In this elaborate recipe, slices of veal are rolled up and stuffed with cheese, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, and sultanas. The rolls are then cooked with fat, tomatoes, and red wine. The sauce is then used to dress the pasta, while the meat rolls are served as the main course. In pure Neapolitan tradition, every self-respecting woman has her own secret ragù recipe. Among the best pasta to combine with this ragù, we recommend the ‘Paccheri’, characterised by their large, tubular shape, or ‘Mafaldine’, named after Princess Mafalda of Savoy, which is why this pasta is also called ‘Reginette’ [Little Queens].
As you can see, Campania’s culinary tradition is extremely varied, ranging from the very simple and popular dishes of the Caserta area to the countryside cuisine of Sannio, full of vegetables, cheese, and sausages; to the Mediterranean diet typical of the Cilento area, but not forgetting the traditional recipes of Salerno, such as Ravioli stuffed with eggs and Ricotta cheese. There is also, an amazing selection of seafood specialties to be found in restaurants from the peninsula of Sorrento, to the islands of Capri and Ischia.
A very particular and refined product is the ‘Colatura di alici di Cetara’ [anchovy sauce], a traditional Campania product, produced in the small seaside village of Cetara, on the Costa Amalfitana [Amalfi Coast]. This sauce is mainly used as a condiment for spaghetti, but also for flavouring dishes based on fish or vegetables, such as escarole for stuffed pizza; also, with stir-fried vegetables with oil, garlic and chili, such as chard, spinach, etc. Some appreciated it as a condiment for tomatoes, olives, and eggs. Something similar was prepared during the Roman Empire and called ‘Garum’, it was a salted and fermented fish sauce, which, in the Mediterranean, was as popular as olive oil or salt; it was prepared in ceramic vats and left to ferment under the hot sun for months.
Still on the Amalfi Coast, we find another excellence ‘Limone della Costa d’Amalfi’ [Amalfi Coast Lemon], also known as ‘Sfusato Amalfitano’ which carries the I.G.P. [Indicazione Geografica Protetta] recognition. This fruit is used for ‘Granita’ [a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavorings] and for ‘Limoncello’ liqueur, which is traditionally served chilled as an after-meal ‘digestivo’.
Viticulture began in Campania 2,000 years ago, presumably with the arrival of the Greeks, who introduced wine grape seeds such as ‘Aglianico’, ‘Greco’, ‘Fiano’, ‘Falanghina’, ‘Biancolella’, and ‘Piedirosso’; today, the main native grapes of the region. During the Roman Empire, Campania’s wines were widely traded, with Pompei being the main export port.
Today, we can enjoy white and red ‘Falerno’ produced in the area of Caserta; ‘Greco di Tufo DOCG’ [Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita], a white perfect for accompanying crustaceans and lobster; as well as ‘Fiano di Avellino DOCG’. The most popular reds are ‘Procida’ and ‘Vesuvio’; while other whites include ‘Lacrima Christi’, ‘Ischia’, and ‘Capri’. Also, worth trying are ‘Epomeo’ and ‘Don Alfonso’ from the island of Ischia.
The previously mentioned world-famous Limoncello, is best enjoyed in Sorrento, brewed with the giant, and extremely fragrant, ‘Limone di Sorrento’ [Sorrento Lemon]. Should you be invited to try a private brew never say “No”, as you will both regret your decision forever and offend the locals. If you find yourself in the Amalfi coastline, put time aside to explore the ‘Amalfi Wine Trail’ while enjoying stunning coastal views.
In July, the ‘Sagra dei Fichi’ [Figs’ Festival], held for almost 40 years in San Mango sul Calore, in the province of Avellino, is a unique opportunity to discover, taste, and appreciate San Mango’s figs as everyone is invited to taste traditional country dishes. There is no better way to accompany a San Mango fig, than with a glass of the local ‘Aglianico’ wine, or a nice ‘Limoncello’.
During the last Sunday of May in Sant’Arpino [Caserta], the ‘Sagra del Casatiello’ is held. If you have never heard of Casatiello do not panic, it is only prepared in Campania and during a certain time of the year [a couple of weeks before and after Easter]. It is a bread of a rich brioche type of dough consistency, made with eggs and butter, stuffed throughout with cheese and salami, and eaten while celebrating the end of Lent. Traditionally prepared by topping it with boiled eggs locked in with crosses of bread dough, but remember, eating it will keep you full for a week. Having said that, I must admit that it is worth every bite.
The people of this region have never been financially wealthy and mostly lived on agriculture and sheep farming since time immemorial. As such and because nature blessed them with a mild climate and fertile soil, their culinary tradition is based on simple elements such as pasta, cheeses, hearty country style salamis, hams, and tasty vegetables.
This region is the crossroad between East and West, the land of a thousand churches, Romanesque cathedrals, castles, and grottoes. A cocktail of art, history, natural attractions, and glorious cuisine. Three similar different culinary traditions have coexisted since 1222, when Federico II di Svevia, king of Sicily and head of the Holy Roman Empire, divided Apulia into Terra di Bari, Capitanata, and Terra d’Otranto, being the forerunners of today’s provinces of Bari, Foggia, and Lecce.
Bread, pasta, oil, and wine represent the pillars of this region’s popular cuisine. The golden wheat of Apulia is used for many types of pasta, whether produced industrially, in the many fresh pasta shops, or by housewives and restaurants, pasta such as ‘Orecchiette’, shaped as small shells or ears, are served with a wide variety of sauces, ranging from vegetables, to pulses, to meat. Another, ‘Cavatelli’ with their elongated shape similar to a boat, are commonly prepared with a vegetable-based dressing, cherry tomatoes, and garlic, or in combination with mushrooms.
Talking about oil, Apulia is the world’s leading producer of extra virgin olive oil, having always been a global reference point for quality and biodiversity, with 533 cultivars and the record of recognition in the EU with 46 D.O.P [Denominazione d’Origine Protetta] or I.G.P. [Indicazione Geografica Protetta] oils, almost 40% of the total.
An absolute must-try is ‘Orecchiette con cime di rapa’ [Orecchiette with turnip tops]; another is ‘Ciambotto’ [fish ragù], originally from Bari and prepared using whatever fish is available. Although freshwater fish are prepared in the interior and take centre stage in several recipes, coastal cuisine is full of seafood dishes. Recipes are extremely simple, as an example, in Bari freshly caught baby octopus and anchovies are often eaten raw and sometimes still alive [so much for Japanese sashimi]. Oysters are also excellent and should be eaten as fresh as possible, with only a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of freshly ground black pepper. To taste some of these varied dishes, you can go to any local fishing port early in the morning, when the fishing boats return with the daily catch. In Bari, among the many trattorie we recommend La Tana del Polpo, a seafood specialist with a wide assortment of raw and cooked local fish.
In Taranto mussels are exquisite and their excellence is explained in a local legend. So called ‘Citri’, jets of freshwater, which encourage the growth of mussels, rise from the seabed in the Bay of Taranto; the largest of these, whose vortex is visible from the surface is called San Cataldo and is said to have been created when one day the saint threw his ring into the sea to calm a storm and why locals insist that mussels from Taranto are so good.
Visitors to Gallipoli, a beautiful city in the Salerno province must try ‘Scapece’, a seafood recipe involving small fish left to marinate in vinegar, bread crumbs, and saffron, giving the plate its characteristic yellow colour. There are also many wine and dairy trails offering you the opportunity to try regional wines paired with delicacies such as Ricotta cheese and ‘Burrata’, produced in the Murge area and in particular in Andria. Although it resembles mozzarella, its consistency is much softer and stringier. It is made with cow’s milk, has a spherical shape between 7cm and 10cm in diameter and with an inside called 'Stracciatella', composed of small strips of mozzarella ‘Stracetti' from which, it takes its name.
Another gastronomic masterpiece is ‘Tiella’, a dish with a base of rice, potatoes and mussels, enriched with tomatoes and onion. This dish dates back to the region’s rural past at a time of Spanish occupation, when farming families returning home from work put whatever ingredients they could find, in a pot and cooked it.
Apulian bread, a product with a very well-deserved reputation as the bread of the Gods is dark, full flavoured, and perfect with strong tasting ingredients. Equally appealing are the many types of ‘Focaccia’ bread available in the region. The ‘Taralli Pugliesi’ or ‘Scaldatelli Pugliesi’ are another typical product and best when handmade by grandmothers using little else but water, flour, oil, white wine, and salt. Taralli can be flavoured to your liking and enjoyed throughout the region, but we strongly recommend La Signora dei Dolci pastry shop in Molfetta, in the city of Bari, whose Taralli are considered culinary magic.
Apulia offers a plethora of choices for those with a sweet tooth, among these we find ‘Pasticciotto’, a shortcrust pastry filled with ‘crema pasticcera’ [custard] and baked in the oven. The birth of the Pasticciotto dates back to at least the 16th century in Rome, as evidenced by Bartolomeo Scappi’s cookbook published in 1570.
This region was once known as ‘Italy’s Winery’ because of the vast quantities of wines it managed to produce [reaching 30% of the national production], most being excellent blending wines, used to strengthen wines from northern Italy, which were considered weak. Over time, wines from this region managed to earn a reputation for quality and not only quantity.
Grapes were probably present in Apulia before Greek colonisation and possibly as early as the 8th century BC. Even so, some of the varieties now considered indigenous to this region, such as ‘Negro Amaro’, ‘Uva di Troia’, and the ‘Alberello’ vine cultivation system have Greek origins.
Current production is focused on rosé, especially in the Salento region which is producing award winning wines such as ‘Rosato del Salento’ and the ‘Five Roses’, the latter being the first rosé ever produced in Italy. Great whites include ‘Locorotondo’ and ‘Castel del Monte’; while in the reds we have ‘Martino’ and ‘San Severo’. DOCG wines include the ‘Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva DOCG’, ‘Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG’, and ‘Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG’. For a sweeter palate, ‘Moscato di Trani’ is an excellent dessert wine.
Among the various wine trails, the ‘Murgia Carsica DOC Wine Trail’ will introduce you to the typical wines and dishes of the Bari area. While you explore this wine trail, you will encounter numerous small vineyards, as well as the unique ‘Trulli’, small hobbit-like dry stone huts with conical roofs, which functioned as dwellings for farmers.
Beer culture is on the rise in Apulia, with numerous micro-breweries popping up all over due to the region’s perfect climate for growing hops. If you are a beer lover, do not miss a visit to ‘Birrificio Svevo’ [Bari], ‘Ebers Brewery’ [Foggia], and ‘Birranova’ [Triggianello], which interestingly makes its beer using water from the Adriatic Sea.
Orsara, a small town in the province of Foggia, hosts the ‘Festa del Vino’ [Wine Festival], dedicated to ‘Tuccanese’ a red table wine. The festival takes place in the streets and piazzas of the old town, where local wineries offer wine tastings while you enjoy traditional folk music and educational presentations.
At the beginning of June, the city of Lecce hosts the ‘Sagra delle Orecchiette’, during which this traditional pasta is prepared by hand, and usually served with broccoli rabe.
Few know why in many parts of Italy sausages are called ‘Luganiga’. During the Roman Empire, this region was known by its Latin name ‘Lucania’ and is where the best sausages were produced, thus ‘Luganiga’ means ‘sausage from Lucania’. Here, a good lunch can be as simple as ‘Luganega e patate al forno’ [sausages & roasted potatoes], paired with a glass of ‘Aglianico del Vulture Superiore D.O.C.G.’ red wine.
This is a land rich in tradition, where local cuisine results in a combination of simple, and genuine products, shunning the sophisticated preparation of modern gastronomy. Despite similarities with some neighbouring regions, the originality of Basilicata’s cuisine is found in its capacity to extract flavour even from the simplest ingredients and to use spices to render the humblest dishes mouth-watering.
In this region, vegetables are often eaten as a first course, either on their own, or accompanied with pulses or pasta, in dishes such as broad beans and chicory, fresh almond shells with turnip tops, and wild chicory in beef stock. A dish dating back to the Middle Ages is the ‘Cavolo Seduto Azzis’ [Seated cabbage]. The particular name of this dish from the town Acerenza in the province of Potenza, derives from the fact that during cooking, the cabbage seems to rest on the bottom of a saucepan and the dish is not considered ready, till the cabbage is completely ‘seated’ at the bottom pf the pan.
Pulses, cereals, vegetables, and aromatic herbs are the basis of strongly flavoured and yet perfectly balanced dishes. Pasta, traditionally handmade using durum wheat, salt, and water, is one of the pillars of this region’s cuisine and comes in a vast array where shapes and names are limited only by the cook’s imagination. There are also interesting choices of stuffed pasta, such as ‘Ravioli alla Potentina’, stuffed with Parmigiano and Ricotta cheese, parsley, eggs, and pepper, usually served with a meat based ragù. From Matera comes ‘Calzoncini’, small half-lunar shaped pastry parcels filled with ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Fresh pasta prepared without egg, include ‘Trocco’, made using a brass rolling pin known as a ‘Troccolaturo’, and ‘Manate’ or ‘Strascinati’ the latter accomplished by literally dragging the paste with your fingers [‘Strascinati’ means dragged] and then allowing it to dry in the open, the more fingers you, use the bigger the pieces. To taste quality pasta we recommend you visit any of the many excellent local ‘Pastifici’ [Pasta making shops] in the region, where traditional recipes are still followed.
Various local cheeses are also frequently enjoyed on tables throughout the region and are all of excellent quality, none more so than those made using sheep’s and goat’s milk. ‘Pecorino Lucano’ produced with 70% sheep’s milk and 30% goat’s milk and matured for 3 to 12 months, is a cheese of exceptional quality and taste you will never forget. Another with a very particular flavour is the ‘Casieddo PAT’; when the cheese is still fresh, it is wrapped in fern leaves and tied with broom stalks. It is then eaten fresh, along with seasonal vegetables, pumpkin, or ginger jams. Excellent if accompanied with fruity white wines or light beer. If aged, it goes well with ‘Alezio Rosso Riserva DOC’ or ‘Lizzano Negroamaro Rosato’ wine.
In this region there is certainly no shortage of sweets, you can enjoy ‘Zeppole di San Giuseppe’, a typical dessert consumed during the Feast of San Giuseppe. The main ingredients are flour, sugar, eggs, butter, olive oil, custard, a sprinkling of icing sugar, and cherries in syrup as decoration. Another typical sweet from Matera is ‘Spumette’ [Spunges], soft biscuits made with chopped almonds.
Basilicata is a small region, mainly mountainous and hilly, with a hot and dry Mediterranean climate. The region produces mostly red wines [90% of production], although in the Metapontino area with mild and rainy winters, paired with hot, dry, and fairly windy summers, an ideal environment is created for the production of aromatic whites like ‘Greco’.
The top 3 famous regional wines come from the Vulture district, near Melfi and Rionero. These are the full body red ‘Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG’ excellent with meat, the sparkling white ‘Moscato’, and the characteristic dessert wine ‘Malvasia’. Other wines worth mentioning include ‘Aleatico di Rionero’.
Basilicata is home to the ‘Morena Celtic Stout’ artisan beer, produced by the ‘Gran Riserva Lucana’ brewery; awarded first place at the World Beer Awards in London in 2016.
In this region, folklore, gastronomy, and history are closely linked and if you are lucky enough to be in Matera during July, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the ‘Festa della Bruna’, a festival intended to try and ensure a good harvest, during which, you will be able to see an impressive procession led by an oxen pulled carriage, while enjoying traditional regional dishes.
If in Potenza in mid-August, do not miss the ‘Sagra dei Rascatiddi’, where ‘Rascatiddi’, a type of fresh pasta, is still prepared by hand and using flour from the local mill.
This region’s cuisine reflects rugged high mountain ranges, two dazzling seas, and offers a good selection of citrus fruits, olives, vegetables, and wines. Chilli, also called the spice of the poor and brought to these shores in the 16th century after the discovery of America, gives life and an unmistakable flavour to simple dishes. This region’s traditions are a hybrid of strong influences from both Albanian and Greek communities settling here in the Middle Ages.
This is an ancient land on the southern tip of the Italian peninsula with a rich history, white beaches, green pine forests, and small towns clinging to harsh mountainsides, situated between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas. The cuisine reflects the environment and the so called ‘Caviale dei poveri’ [Poor man’s caviar] is the dish, which more than any other makes this statement. It is a paste, typical of the province of Crotone, made with anchovies’ eggs spiced up with abundant chilli and conserved in oil. This recipe bears witness to a culinary tradition based on humble and simple ingredients, with very strong flavours and aromas. Calabrian cuisine is an expression of the harsher side of the famous Mediterranean Diet.
This caviar also introduces another particular characteristic of Calabrian cuisine; the processing of food with the aim of preserving it. In its history, daily substance was not something taken for granted, the harshness of the terrain and the often-difficult climate made it imperative not to waste anything. Because of this, households developed various techniques for long term conservation of produce from the land and the sea in oil, and which today evoke the flavours and aromas of a bygone age, and still found on many restaurants’, osterias’, and trattorias’ menus. Calabrian chili pepper, also called ‘Diavolicchio’ [Devil], is typically preserved in vinegar and according to tradition, combined with practically anything you want.
This region’s diet is well balanced, with a good variety of dishes based on mutton, pork, vegetables [Aubergines are particularly popular], and fish generally prepared in sauce or grilled. An extremely tasty specialty is ‘Capretto con le Patate’ [kid with potatoes], baked in the oven and when in season, accompanied with peas and artichokes. Talking about aubergines, a typical dish is the ‘Polpette di Melanzane Calabresi’ [Calabrian eggplant patty], this recipe contains all the scents and flavours of Calabria and Mediterranean cuisine. Calabria is also the homeland of the hottest red chilli in the whole of southern Italy, commonly known as ‘La Sigaretta Calabrese’ [Calabrian’s cigarette], it incredibly manages to enhance other flavours without overpowering them.
One of the constant features on Calabrian tables is homemade pasta; in no other region is the preparation of pasta so much a part of daily life. Locals will often tell you that the measure of a good hostess is knowing at least 15 different ways of preparing dough. There are as many types of pasta as there are meat and vegetable sauces with which to serve them. Meat sauces are nearly always based on beef, veal, pork, or lamb, slowly cooked in a sauce of locally grown tomatoes, pureed, and conserved under a layer of olive oil. In the mountain areas of Sila and Aspromonte, there is a whole range of mushrooms, especially the fragrant ‘Porcini’, used in a wide repertoire of tasty recipes from humble origins, which exploit the flavours of the ingredients without distorting them.
Among the countless varieties of pasta, a well-known type is the ‘Fileja’, with their elongated and curved shape looking like a ‘Fettuccina’ twisted on itself, generally made with durum wheat semolina and water, and about 10/12 cm long. They are generally served with a sauce based on ‘Nduja’, spreadable pork meat, made by using parts of the belly and shoulder, tripe, fatback, and roasted hot red chilli peppers. The latter adding the characteristic spicy hot taste, making it a national treasure.
There is also an immense selection of vegetables dishes, which often seem to outdo the main courses they should accompany, such as ‘Melanzane ripiene’ [Stuffed aubergines], and ‘Peperonata’ [Stewed peppers], not to mention the great variety of vegetables conserved in olive oil such as the ‘Giardiniera’, a mix of purple aubergines, round green peppers, carrots, celery, garlic, and chilli.
Fish also holds a prime place in Calabrian coastal cuisine; tuna and swordfish are cooked in thousands of ways ranging from fried, in soups, in sauces, to baked as ‘Involtini’ [slices of fish rolled up and stuffed]. A must try specialty is the ‘Sgombro farcito alla Calabrese’ [Calabrian stuffed mackerel], stuffed with breadcrumbs, parsley, pecorino cheese, parsley, but strangely no chili. If you are a lover of fish with pasta, you should definitely taste the ‘Pasta ca’ muddica’, generally linguine pasta is accompanied by anchovies, pecorino cheese, and the inevitable stale bread.
Sweet lovers cannot leave Calabria without tasting ‘Pitta mpigliata’ or ‘Pitta nchiusa’, both prepared at Christmas and Easter. The main ingredients being durum wheat puff pastry, raisins, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, and vermouth. A sweet typical of the province of Reggio Calabria is ‘Nacatole’, made with re-milled soft wheat flour, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, milk, anise, and yeast. Considered to bring good luck, it comes in donut, braid, and spun shapes.
Both the Phoenicians and the Greeks produced wines using the region’s splendid grapes. The ancient Greeks knew Calabria as ‘Enotria’ [Land of wine]. The first documented viticulture in the region is dated around 1,000 BC, a sign that even then this activity had a primary role in the Calabrian economy.
Surrounded by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas, Calabria is characterised by narrow valleys and mountains, with the Tyrrhenian side offering great climate for production of white wines like ‘Greco di Bianco’, while the Ionian side, ideal for full body red wines like ‘Gaglioppo’.
The best-known regional wines are ‘Cirò DOC’, which comes as a red, a white, and a rosé; while ‘Savuto DOC’ and ‘Donnici’ are delicious dry reds. To accompany seafood, we suggest a nice white ‘Cesare’.
To enjoy both a good wine and breathtaking open spaces, travel the ‘Wine and Woodland Trail’ running through the Sila Mountain National Park near Catanzaro, were the Apennines meet the sea.
Catanzaro also has one of the best beer breweries in Italy, ‘Birrificio Gladium’, 2017 winner of the Best Beer in Italy prize.
For over 30 years, every September, the town of Diamante, in the province of Catanzaro hosts the ‘Festa del Peperoncino’, bringing together lovers of this tasty product and giving you the opportunity to taste many specialty dishes prepared using Calabrian’s pepperoncinos.
During the first week in August, do not miss the ‘Sagra della Nduja’ in Spilinga [Vibo Valentia], birthplace of the famous spreadable salami.
During the last 3 months, our culinary adventure have taken us from Italy’s north west to its north east, through Italy’s central regions, and now to its south, but stay tuned as next month we enjoy the cuisine found in Italy’s two main islands.