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
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
The southern part of Calabria was the first area to be colonized by the Greeks around 700 BC; the city
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
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
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
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 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
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,
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.
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
or could not be preserved until the end of Lent.
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
Lucy chick peas and wheat, the cuccia is dressed with olive
oil or with honey and cinnamon.
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,
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
However homemade “scialatelli, fusilli,
maccarruni, rascatelli, stragulapreti and taghiarini”are still made by some dedicated housewives and served in
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
Among the wines Ciro’
strong red wines produced in the province of Catanzaro,
the Greco di
Gerace, an amber wine high in alcohol, and
Bianco are produced from the greco
black grapes that are cultivated and grow exclusively in the
area of Reggio Calabria.
Calabria is near Sicily and with Sicily shares many
Pasta is prepared “ca muddica e i
lici”, breadcrumbs and anchovies, or “maccarruni di casa cu
sucu” with ragu’ sauce, or “’ncasciata” baked
meats, eggs, cheeses and ricotta.
Roasted kid or lamb, sausages, pork dishes and wild boars are typical meat dishes consumed in Reggio Calabria. The
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
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
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
‘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.
ceci” is homemade ribbon shaped pasta with chickpeas cooked with some tomatoes, parsley and hot red
Pasta with fish is a local specialty made with swordfish or with squid in a black
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
taste of the “butirro”,
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
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
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.
The cuisine of Catanzaro
is mostly fish, pork meat and vegetables.Swordfish, tuna and the large quantity of fish available are mostly fried in
fragrant local olive oil or baked with herbs 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
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.
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.
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 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
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
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
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.
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
Lamb, pork and chickens are the most consumed meats; pork is made into sausages
or preserved as salame, soppressata, capicollo, and other pork
Seafood is grilled, fried or in soup; small fish caught in the costal area are fried and served hot or preserved in
Tasty appetizers are prepared with fried peppers in a sweet-sour sauce, preserved eggplants, mushrooms, olives, or
also with cheeses and salami.
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.
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.
mullets are prepared with black olives, capers in a wine
fish is boiled to be eaten fresh in salads or preserved in
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.