The region of Basilicata in Italy forms the instep of the Italian “boot.” This small region is mountainous arid has two coastlines, one in the center of the Gulf of Taranto in the Ionian Sea and the other on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Potenza is the regional capital.
The population is rather small at about 611,000 people. Although Basilicata has never had a large population, there have been considerable fluctuations in the demographic pattern of the region. In 1881, there were 539,258 inhabitants but by 1911 the population had decreased by 11% to 485,911, mainly as a result of emigration overseas.
Basilicata has been victim to many devastating earthquakes over the centuries making it hard for the region to develop into an industrialized area. The effects of such earthquakes can be seen in the local landscape and are fascinating from a geological standpoint.
What little industry there is centers around chemicals and natural gas. About 55% of the population is employed in the service related fields (though many of these positions could also be considered agricultural), about 32% are employed in industry and about 13% of the work force is in agriculture. Industrial development is low, though there are some flourishing craft sectors, such as ceramic, woodwork and textile industries in the region.
Agriculture plays a major role in the region’s economy despite the fact that dry weather and limited underground water supplies make farming difficult. Olives, plums and cereals are grown and sheep and goats are raised. There is also some fishing.
The charm of Basilicata lies in the numerous small ancient villages decorating the region. There is little in the way of highways and railways because of the mountainous nature of the region. Visitors will be attracted to the ancient architecture and historical art of the region’s numerous small churches and medieval castles. The coastline is covered in some of Italy’s finest archaeological ruins. The outdoor markets of Basilicata offer an array of unique handmade items that one would not normally find in other regions.
The cuisine of Basilicata is based on simple, local products used efficiently to minimize waste.
Minimal amounts of meat are used in Basilicata recipes, however, pig farming plays a major role in the food culture. Pork from this region is noticeably leaner than in other parts of Italy, due in large part to the mountainous terrain. Many of the pigs graze in the hills alongside goats and sheep, so they tend to have less fat, more lean muscle mass and a different flavor than one would expect from most pork products. Sausage making is a primary use of pork in the region and the sausage often includes spicy peperoncini. Local favorites include lucanica (a spicy sausage), pezzente (“beggar’s” salami) and pancetta.
Other pork dishes include a popular stew called peperonata con carne di porco, which cooks several cuts of pork in a tomato and pepper sauce. Pork rind is filled with a mixture of salt pork, peppers and garlic and simmered in tomato sauce until tender. Poultry is also used in Basilicata cooking. A specialty of the region is pollo alla potentina, a chicken, onion and pepper dish gently cooked in a basil flavored wine and tomato sauce.
Basilicata produce include regional specialties, the Sarconi bean and Senise peppers. The peppers are usually fried with potatoes and eggplant and then stewed with tomatoes to make ciammotta. Another commonly eaten vegetable dish combines artichokes and potatoes and braises them with salt pork, fava beans and onions. Chickpeas, fava beans, lentils, durum wheat, artichokes, broccoli, rapini, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, olives and wine grapes are all staple crops and provide the hearty basis for countless dishes made in the Basilicata tradition. Acquasale is a tomato soup that is seasoned with onions, garlic and oil and thickened with bread. Minestra maritata has a blend of meat and vegetables simmered with pasta that sometimes contains breadcrumb dumplings. Other times, the soup may contain filling beans.
Anchovies and salt cod are usually preserved for later use, while tuna and sardines are often eaten fresh. Zuppa di pesce alla Santavenere contains a selection of local seafood in a savory soup.
Local wheat is used to make pasta and rustic bread. The bread is often incorporated into soups when stale. Basilicata is home to countless types of durum wheat pastas, some incorporating lentil flour or other bean flours. Orecchiette (“little ears”), lagane (lasagna), minuich (hand rolled tubes), firricieddi (twists), manate (tagliatelle), minuiddi (shaped like small quills), tapparelle (like orechiette but larger), rascatielli (corkscrew shaped) and lacane chiappute (a wide tagliatelle) are just a few of the pasta cuts popular in Basilicata. Most are served with a simply prepared tomato sauce that contains chili peppers, olive oil and garlic.
Equally as diverse are the different types of breads made in the region, rounding out the rustic country fare that seems to pair so well with dishes made from fresh vegetables and the cheeses of the area.
Lamb dishes are popular and sheep and goat’s milk are used to make cheese, such as canestrato. Lamb and potatoes are placed in a terracotta casserole dish with onions, peppers and bay leaves to make spezzatino di agnello.
Local cheeses also include, cacioricotta Lucano (a sheep and goat milk cheese that is particularly good grated over orecchiette pasta), Lucania mozzarella, Casieddu di Moliterno (a sheep’s milk cheese wrapped in leaves) and pecorino Lucano.
A popular treat in Basilicata is mostacciolo, an almond cookie flavored with cooked wine and sweetened with honey. Cuccia is another local favorite. It is an orange zest and honey flavored walnut pudding made with grano cheese.
It is on the upper slopes of Basilicata’s mountainous region that the finest wines are made. Basilicata boasts 4 DOC identified wines, of which Aglianico del Vulture is the most prolific. The grapes were first introduced to Basilicata by the Greeks in the 6th – 7th century. These wines have gained a significant following in the international market.
Traditional Recipes From Basilicata
Broccoli Rabe Soup Over Bread
- 1/2 pound broccoli rabe or other greens
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ¾ ounces pancetta
- 1 large onion
- 2/3 cup Pecorino cheese grated
- Salt to taste
- Bread slices
Dice the pancetta and thinly slice the onion.
Wash broccoli rabe very well, chop coarsely and boil in salted water until tender.
Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat, add pancetta and onion and sauté for about 5 minutes or until the onion is tender.
Stir in cooked broccoli rabe and saute for 2 minutes
Pour in hot broth. Cook for an additional 5 minutes and season with salt and pepper
Toast slices of bread in a preheated 400°F oven for 5 – 10 minutes.
Place a slice or two of bread in individual soup bowls and ladle hot soup over the bread. Serve with grated Pecorino cheese.
Pasta with Red Pepper Sauce
- 1 pound thick spaghetti (bucatini) or fettuccine
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 of a large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 hot red pepper
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 5 basil leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup shaved Pecorino cheese
Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the onion, chili pepper and garlic.
Once the onion and the garlic have browned, add the bell peppers, salt and black pepper and cook until the peppers are very soft.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water for the time indicated on the package for al dente. Save some of the pasta water for the sauce.
Drain the pasta and mix it with the peppers and onions and some of the pasta water to make a sauce. Mix well.
Garnish the dish with Pecorino cheese, basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
Basilicata Style Chicken
- 3 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- 2/3 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1 ½ tablespoons dry white wine
- Chili pepper flakes to taste
- Garnish with basil leaves or rosemary
- Salt to taste
Heat the olive oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add pieces of chicken and thinly sliced onion and cook until golden.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine and add the hot pepper. Add tomatoes, parsley, basil or rosemary and salt.
Cover and cook over medium heat for 1 hour until the chicken, adding spoonfuls of water if the sauce becomes too thick.
Remove from the heat and garnish with basil or rosemary leaves. This dish is often served with wedges of roasted potatoes.
Chocolate-Almond Cookies (Strazzate)
Makes about 34 Cookies
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, for greasing the pans
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ¾ cups finely ground, plus 2 tablespoons roughly chopped, almonds
- 1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup Strega or Galliano liqueur
- 1/3 cup coffee, at room temperature
Heat oven to 325°F. Grease 2 parchment-lined baking sheets with butter and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the baking powder and 1 tablespoon lukewarm water until dissolved, 20 seconds.
Combine ground and chopped almonds, flour, sugar, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, oil and salt in a large bowl. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir in the baking powder mixture, liqueur and coffee to form a wet dough.
Divide the dough into 1-oz. portions. Using your hands, roll the dough into balls and transfer to prepared baking sheets spaced about 1-inch apart.
Bake until set, about 25 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool to firm before serving.