The Region of Calabria

 Reggio Calabria  Catanzaro  Cosenza  Crotone  Vibo Valentia

 

The name Calabria if derived from the Greek language “calos” meaning beautiful and bryon meaning moss or vegetation, that is abundance of rural land with flora; if derived from the archaic Latin the word “cala” means rocks or peaks, thus (the land of) mountains.
Calabria confines to the North with Basilicata, separated from it by the Pollino Mountains, to the south, stretching towards the strait of Messina, is embraced on the east side by the Ionic Sea and west by the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The largest Italian natural park is in the Pollino Mountains and it contains a large group of rare trees, remarkable flora, fauna and some archeological pre-historic remains of interest.
The peninsula is no more than 35 miles away from either sea and is crossed in the center by a granite mount, covered with forests, a continuation of the Apennine Mountains. In the north-east the plateau of La Sila, whose high point is 6,325 feet, houses the National Park of La Sila, shared by Cosenza,  Crotone and Catanzaro. To the south almost to the end of the peninsula, the Aspromonte is the other plateau where the homonym Regional Park is located.

 

 

The People

 

The southern part of Calabria was the first area to be colonized by the Greeks around 700 BC; the city of Sybaris  was founded in that period, near the coast facing the Gulf of Taranto, near present Corigliano, Potenza. The city of Sybaris  became famous for its wealth, for the epicurean banquets and licentious life style of its inhabitants, and enriched our dictionary with the word sybarite, meaning a person dedicated to a hedonistic and luxurious way of life. 
The Romans and other powers dominated this land until 1861 when it became part of the kingdom of Italy.
When in 1479, the Ottoman Empire occupied Albany and defeated the last military forces, a large number of Albanians left their country and many found asylum in the Pollino Mountains and in parts of LaSila  where they founded over seventy prosperous villages, and to the present time they are professing their Christian Ortodox faith, talking their languages and following their traditions.
Another enclave is a few miles from Cosenza, made by the blond and tall descendans of Valdesian Protestants who took refuge in Calabria around the XIII century to escape religious persecution, and founded the town of Guardia Piemontese. Since they speak the “guardiolo” language, morphed into guardia, the name Guardia Piemontese was adapted because their place of origin was the Piedmont region.
In ancient times the forests covering La Sila and the Aspromonte Mountains provided the Greeks with lumber for ship building and in modern times the timber has made possible the growth of the building and construction material industries. In the lower flat territory and in the coastal area farming, sheep and goat raising, and fishing and the increasing tourist traffic represent major resources to the regional economy.
Vestiges of the Greeks, Romans and the other settlers who lived in the area, are scattered everywhere in the region and their civilization left indelible traces in the traditions, folklore and in the character of the people.

 

 

The Cooking

 

The Greek’s Spartan life style has been inherited in the cooking techniques which are uncomplicated, made of few ingredients and mostly healthy vegetarian dishes. Inland, pork, goat and lamb are occasionally eaten and mostly cooked over embers or baked; by the coasts, fish are abundant and prepared simply barbecued or boiled. 
Pasta with sauce has the strong taste and aroma of the local excellent olive oil coupled with the fierce addition of hot pepper; however most of the pasta is prepared as a dry soup using the large quantities of vegetables that are grown in their back yard or available fresh in the markets. 
Eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers, artichokes, olives, and green leafy vegetables are grown in large quantities and are utilized to make the thick soup served as the main dish on the Calabria’s tables. Pasta cooked al dente and dressed with cheese, garlic, hot pepper, and herbs, is used as a stuffing for baked tomatoes. Eggplants are cut in thick slices, blanched, dipped in a mixture of beaten eggs, grated pecorino cheese, chopped basil and spices, covered with breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil.

The old generation of Calabrian countrymen were hard working farmers, with pride of their skills, love for their occupation and care for their land.

Last time I visited Calabria was in the seventies, however, the information I have recently collected show a different reality: the new generation is not willing to carry on the hard labor in the fields, the parsimonious life of their parents or to face a future made of the same promises, hopes and dreams that were never delivered to the prior generations.
The traditional standards are somewhat changed, young men going to professional school to learn a trade or continue their education are forced to emigrate elsewhere, because satisfactory job in the local anemic economy are not available; consequentially the fields that require tender manual care are abandoned if it is not possible to use mechanical equipment or where the use of migratory workers does not give enough profit. This reality is affecting the agricultural European system.
Still some small craft shops keep alive traditional skill and talent that are a patrimony of Calabria and it helps the depressed economic conditions.
Three of the five provinces, Catanzaro, the region capital, Cosenza, and Reggio Calabria face the Ionic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea; the province of Crotone  faces the Gulf of Taranto in the Ionic Sea and Vibo Valentia faces the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Since serious measures were taken to control pollution, waste removal and seasonal flooding, Calabria has set up a modern pollution, waste and water management systems which makes its beautiful beaches and sea surrounding the region, one of the cleanest and uncontaminated coast lines of Italy: this in turn has implemented tourism and helped the local economy.
Along the coast many sea side resorts spring up and lay on beautiful beaches or on the snow covered mountain tops, to welcome guests for the summer and winter recreational sports. 
Most of the restaurants are family run and offer, along with the freshest and most delicious fish, many traditional dishes to keep alive the classic culinary traditions ostracized or forgotten by today’s women busy in their function of homemaker, mother, wife, and breadwinner. 
The exception being holiday time when as in most of the Southern parts of Italy, religious events correspond to a particular traditional dish, prepared to celebrate that particular festivity.  
Fat Tuesday, a day before the beginning of Lent, involves the preparation of very rich dishes: pork is cooked with sauce and pasta served with sausages and lamb, special sweets are baked or fried: the pantry is checked to cook and consume anything that could not be eaten for the “Quaresima”  or could not be preserved until the end of  Lent.
Baby lambs are a traditional fare for Easter, along with the bread decorated with eggs and made in various shapes; the whole region celebrates the San Rocco Festival and beside some spicy pasta dishes and other specialties, cookies are baked in the shape of that part of the body that is asked to Saint Rocco to be healed. “Lagane”, wide homemade noodles, served with chickpeas, tomato, garlic and olive oil are typical of November 2nd the day to remember the dead; on November 11th, Saint Martin is celebrated with fried cod fish and “pitta”, a flat round homemade bread, also made in a sweet version with dry figs and candied fruits and baked from now to the end of the Christmas  season. 
For Saint Lucy chick peas and wheat, the cuccia is dressed with olive oil or with honey and cinnamon.
Christmas  is a special holiday and all meals must contain thirteen courses, factually most of the people rich and poor for Christmas Eve prepare thirteen different kinds of fish, the Christmas Day meal contains thirteen courses in order to fulfill this traditional requirement.
Home made bread and pasta, made with durum wheat flour, are still the basic elements of the region’s diet, along with pork, lamb, seafood, cheese and large varieties of vegetables produced in each province.  
The preparation of bread have numerous variations and characteristics: the dough is made into loafs “filoni”, in round form called “panette”, in ring shaped breads, “cuddureddi” or into a bread tied to the region’s Greek traditions called “pitte”, which is a very versatile flat bread served plain or covered or stuffed with tomato, cheeses, onion, ricotta, salami, sausages or other vegetables.
The pasta is homemade in rural areas but a commercial type is used by the vast majority of the population.
However homemade “scialatelli, fusilli, maccarruni, rascatelli, stragulapreti and taghiarini”are still made by some dedicated housewives and served in good trattorias  and restaurants. This pasta is cooked in a dense sauce made with the local vegetables in season, or covered with a thick tomato sauce; each dish is finished with grated cheese, abundant red hot chili pepper, and fresh olive oil for additional flavor. 
Maccarruni cu sucu ru porcu e ra crapa”, pasta with pork and lamb sauce is a regional dish, finished with ricotta salata cheese, the pasta “ ’ncasciata” is baked in ragu’ sauce with salami, boiled eggs, local cheeses, fried eggplants and peas; “bucatini” are served with wild fennels and peas, “fusilli” are coupled with pork ragu’  and fresh ricotta. “Tagliarini” with chickpeas and stockfish is a dish with strong flavor especially when it is spiced with a lot of red hot “peperoncino”.  
Frittata” made with leftover pasta, sausages and eggs fried with Calabrese olive oil, is delicious. 
Simple pasta “asciutta”, literally means dry- not soupy, can be dressed with a sauce made with anchovies, black olives, capers, red hot peperoncino and sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs; in the countryside the shepherds combine the boiled “maccarruni” with “quaglio”, the whey, ricotta and cheese or instead of pasta, they make the “licurdia” which is a pudding made with hard bread, onions, lard, pecorino cheese and hot peppers.
Artichokes and mushrooms sautéed in lard, are a delicious condiment for any type of pasta.

 

 

From the Mountains

 

Wild life and game from the Pollino Mountains and the Nature Reserves of the Sila and Aspromonte is plentiful; mostly common roe deer, hare, wild boar, and rabbits are hunted in season. They are cooked in various ways but the most common preparation is to marinate overnight in red wine with onions and assorted herbs, than slowly fried in lard and to complete the cooking in the oven, covered with the same marinade.

 

 

Desserts in Calabria

 

Desserts are mostly made to celebrate religious holidays.
Cicerchiate or tirtiddi”, the small balls of fried dough mixed with candied fruits and covered with honey are made for Christmas; also prepared for this holiday are the “cannariculi”, fried dumpling flavored with wine, zest of orange, cinnamon, clove, vanilla and dipped in honey.
Crunchy Mustazzuoli  are made with flour, honey, anise liquor and shaped in various forms; the “quazunielli” are sweet bread dough packets stuffed with nuts and “mustarda”, the must, a special marmalade made with crushed fruits and mixed with raisins and cinnamon.
For Easter, the “Guti di Pasqua” are on every table: they are made with soft-sweet dough mixed with butter and eggs, twisted in the shape of a braid and garnished with eggs.
Other desserts like “ciambelle”, a donut shaped pastry covered with a sweet lemon glaze,   cannoli, fruit tarts and an assortment of pasties and almond cookies, are baked in some households or can be purchased in bakeries.
Baked dry figs, stuffed with almonds walnuts and fennel seeds is a tempting and tasty specialty you cannot stop eating.
Among the wines Ciro’  and Magliocco, strong red wines produced in the province of Catanzaro, the Greco di Gerace, an amber wine high in alcohol, and the Greco Bianco are produced from the greco  white andgreco  black grapes that are cultivated and grow exclusively in the area of Reggio Calabria.

 

 

 

 

 

Reggio Calabria

 

Reggio Calabria is near Sicily and with Sicily shares many traditional dishes.
Pasta is prepared “ca muddica e i lici”, breadcrumbs and anchovies, or “maccarruni di casa cu sucu” with ragu’ sauce, or “’ncasciata” baked “maccarruni” with meats, eggs, cheeses and ricotta. 
Roasted kid or lamb, sausages, pork dishes and wild boars are typical meat dishes consumed in Reggio Calabria. The “bracioletti” are rolled thin slices of pork or beef stuffed with small amount of lard, fresh cheese, raisins, fine herbs, crushed red pepper, nutmeg, and cooked in beef broth with onions, tomatoes and fresh oregano.
Among the fish dishes, the tuna fish and swordfish are prepared boiled and dressed with olive oil, garlic, parsley and lemon, or fried and covered with a garlicky sweet-sour sauce; breaded cutlets of swordfish, baccala’  and stockfish are cooked in countless ways.
A large quantity of various fish are caught in the seacoast and consumed locally.
The “mustica” is an appetizer served on toast or on pitta; it is made with newly born anchovies, preserved by exposing the spawns to the sun to dry, covered with red hot pepper and then conserved in olive oil. 
Due to the production of the bergamot, a small yellow, pear shaped citrus fruit resembling a lemon, Reggio Calabria is one of Italy’s richest provinces for the income derived from this fruit.
The skin of bergamot has the smell of cologne and in fact Gian Paolo Feminis 
a Lombard living in Cologne, Germany, created a perfume for men using the fragrance in the skin and oil from this citrus. Bergamot is monopolized by Reggio Calabria because it grows only in the area near the city.

The largest and busiest sea port in Italy and in the Mediterranean Sea, is located in the town Gioia Tauro, a very important agricultural, tourist, and commercial center with direct connections to the rail road system, super-highways, and the airport.

In the costal areas of the Ionic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea, surrounding the province of Reggio Calabria, are the most beautiful beaches and the cleanest waters. Villas for rent, hotels, and bathing establishments, are available for daily rentals or for long vacations, ready to accommodate the most demanding visitors. 
Seafront bars offer a relaxing atmosphere, delicious pasties, ice coffee or some exceptional “gelato”, ice cream and the smell of “gelsomini” the jasmine that grows along the Ionic coast.
Fancy or popular restaurants offer traditional and international fares to the business people, to the tourists, and to the locals; in those eateries it is possible to sample many classic and traditional preparations. 
“Cannaruozzi ‘ncipuddati” are ditalini  pasta combined with red onion from Tropea, lightly sautéed in olive oil and water and covered with grated ricotta salata, a dash of tomato sauce, and as usual…peperoncino.
Lagane e ceci” is homemade ribbon shaped pasta with chickpeas cooked with some tomatoes, parsley and hot red pepper.
Pasta with fish is a local specialty made with swordfish or with squid in a black sauce.
A taste of “pitta chi frittoli”, flat bread with assorted pork meat cooked in lard is a tasty antipasto; the “pitta pizzulata” is mixed with eggs, cheese, wine and covered with tomatoes and hot peppers. Other delicious starters are the stockfish salad, or a serving of the incomparable salame,  soppressata,  capicollaor the taste of the “butirro”, young caciocavallo  cheese that has a ball of butter in its center. 
Typical dish is the “maccu” of fava beans, cooked until the fava becomes cream, to which fresh olive oil and chili peppers are added.
Lamb or kid are either roasted whole or cut in pieces and baked with potatoes, tomatoes, pecorino cheese, oregano and olive oil.
Suffritto” is made with baby lamb’s “coratella” the liver, spleen, heart and lungs, cooked in lard with onions, tomato, herbs and spices and… hot pepper. 
Tuna fish and swordfish  are grilled, roasted or cooked in lard with garlic, anchovies, mushrooms and wine.
Fennels sautéed with Tropea  onions, fried cardoons, eggplants or sweet peppers fried or stuffed with breadcrumbs, cheese and eggs, or “patate  stufate” stewed potatoes with garlic and olives are some of the “contorni”, served as side dishes, or at times as the main dish with bread and a glass of wine.

 

 

 

Catanzaro

 

The cuisine of Catanzaro  is mostly fish, pork meat and vegetables.
Eggplants and red onions are largely grown in this province; the onions also known as Tropea or Calabria onions are originated and cultivated in the town of Tropea. Those sweet red onions are used in salads or to enhance the taste of sauces, stews, or fish dishes.
Eggplants are fried or baked in sauce or stuffed with breadcrumbs and cheese. 
A typical dish of Catanzaro  also made in the entire region, is “u murseddu” which is a preparation that goes between two pieces of bread: it is made with chopped pork and lean beef meat, with the addition of pork liver, spleen, lungs and heart, cooked in lard with tomatoes, red wine and chili pepper.
Kid or baby lamb stuffed with pasta al dente dressed with sauce, and spices is slowly baked: usually prepared on holidays or for special occasions.
Costalette alla Catanzarese” are lamb ribs first sautéed in lard and baked covered with the cooking liquid to which is added salted anchovies, capers, artichokes and mushrooms preserved in oil.

Swordfish, tuna and the large quantity of fish available are mostly fried in fragrant local olive oil or baked with herbs and vegetables. 

 

 

 

Cosenza

 

Cosenza  is the largest province of the region; on the coasts the major activities are fishing and tourism, inland is noted for olives and olive oil, vegetables, legumes and fruits. The figs from Cosenza, fresh or dry are famous for the taste and their size.
The DOC (denomination of controlled origin) which refers to the extra virgin olive oil produced in this province certifies the high quality of the light green Brutium  or the pale yellow Lametia  making those oils the most preferred by first-class gourmands in the world. 
The abundance of vegetables and the great quantity of oil support the production of preserved food exported all over the world thus creating an avenue of income for the local economy. The cuisine inCosenza  is Calabria  style with a large use of red hot pepper, which is cultivated in profusion, and fennels, artichokes, cardoons, zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes, onions and green leaf vegetables which are sautéed, stewed, fried or cooked with pasta to make an unsophisticated healthy and fulfilling dish. 
Pork, lamb and chickens are cooked for special occasions, more often a frittata made with eggs and preserved vegetables or a piece of cheese is paired with maccheroni to make a complete a meal. 
The large production of milk has well sponsored the production of a variety of cheeses and milk products.
In the Cosenza coasts of the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian Sea, fishing is a very important resource. Tuna fish, sardines, anchovies and seafood are prepared in simple or in traditional ways.
Tuna is boiled, fried “all’ agro-dolce”, with sweet-sour sauce or cooked in sauce.
Seafood is mostly fried or grilled and served with fresh preserved vegetables. The “avannoti di alici” is a spread of fried anchovies prepared by exposing the fish to the sun to dry, covered with red hot pepper and preserved in olive oil.

 

 

Crotone


 

Crotone  faces the Ionian Sea. The clement weather helps to make this province one of the most productive in the region; in fact it is protected from harsh winds on the west by the mountains, and it is touched by mild breezes coming from the east.
All kinds of agricultural products are cultivated in the countryside, by the coast, seafood is fished in abundance; lately new summer resorts are being built to bring tourist to the area.
The cuisine is versatile to accommodate all tastes; the traditional dishes are prepared with a large use of vegetables, often combined with pasta, but alongside the pasta with tomato or other vegetables, maccaruni with pork, lamb and fish sauce are preferred and as usual sprinkled with hot peppers and grated cheese. 
Lamb, pork and chickens are the most consumed meats; pork is made into sausages  or preserved as salame, soppressata, capicollo, and other pork specialties.
Seafood is grilled, fried or in soup; small fish caught in the costal area are fried and served hot or preserved in olive oil.
Tasty appetizers are prepared with fried peppers in a sweet-sour sauce, preserved eggplants, mushrooms, olives, or also with cheeses and salami. 
The “Pecorino Crotonese” is a delicious cheese to serve as an appetizer, a snack or used to grate: it is unique to this province and imitated in the region. 
The production of “scamorza” a semi soft pear shaped cheese, ricotta salata and mozzarella, are important factors in the balance of the local economy.

 

 

 

Vibo Valentia


 

The province of Vibo Valentia is the smallest of the five provinces. Greek ruins, Roman baths, a Norman Castle, Baroque buildings and churches are located in this territory.  
The gastronomic specialties prepared in this area are similar to other specialties indigenous to the region.  
Pasta is served in a light ragu’  of mullet, or combined with diced eggplants and the olive oil in which they are fried.
Red mullets are prepared with black olives, capers in a wine sauce. Tuna fish is boiled to be eaten fresh in salads or preserved in oil. 
The “sarago”, a fish similar to the porgy is cooked “in brodetto”, a simple sauce made with Tropea onions, a few diced tomatoes and olive oil.
In the hinterland trout are grilled or simply boiled and served with oil and garlic.
All kinds of pork products are made, as in other parts of Calabria. 
A specialty made in the small town of Spilinga, is a soft salame called “Nduja”.  This salame is made mostly with sweet and hot peppers, and herbs, lard and from the side of the pig, we call the bacon; it is ground fine and packed like a big salame. This soft but very hot and spice salame is spread on toast or pitta bread to make a hot and…explosive antipasto, or for the more daring it can be made into a sauce to top some homemade “taghiarini”, ribbon shaped pasta.