Calabria is at the toe of the boot, the extreme south of Italy – lapped by the crystal blue Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas and separated from Sicily by the Strait of Messina. The warm climate, the beautiful colors of the sea, rocky coasts that alternate with sandy beaches, the classic flavors of local foods and the vestiges of its ancient origins make Calabria a unique place in both winter and summer. The provinces of Calabria are: Catanzaro (regional capital), Reggio Calabria, Cosenza, Crotone and Vibo Valentia.
With farmland sparse in Calabria, every viable plot is cultivated to its greatest advantage. Tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, artichokes, beans, onions, peppers, asparagus, melons, citrus fruits, grapes, olives, almonds, figs and mountain-loving herbs grow well in the area. Calabrians tend to focus on the high quality of their ingredients, so that virtually everything picked from a garden is useable and worthy of praise.
Calabrians use the mountainous area covering most of the region to raise pigs, goats and sheep and comb the woods for chestnuts, acorns and wild mushrooms to add rustic flavors to their cooking.
Fishermen have little trouble finding swordfish, cod and sardines and shrimp and lobster are common on their tables. The inland freshwater lakes and streams offer trout in abundance.
Due to the humid climate and the high risk of rapid molding and spoilage, food preservation has become a fine art in Calabria. Oiling, salting, curing, smoking – almost all of the area’s food products can be found preserved in some form or another. Calabria’s many varieties of cured meats and sausages are served alongside fresh produce and the local pancetta pairs perfectly with plump melons in summer.
Calabrians do their best to utilize the entire animal, so the fact that the organ meats are so prized by locals comes as no great surprise. The spicy-hot tang of nduja (also known as ‘ndugghi) is both a complex and singularly unusual flavor. Made from pig’s fat and organ meats mixed with liberal local pepperoncinis, this salami-style delicacy is a testament to the Calabrian patience in waiting until foods have reached their perfection. In this case, waiting for the salami to cure for an entire year. Other salamis such as capicola calabrese and soppressata di calabria also come from the region and are served alongside local breads, cheeses and Calabrian wines.
Breads, cheeses and pastas are all important to Calabrian cooking. Cheeses lean toward the goat and/or sheep milk varieties, though cow’s milk cheeses are becoming more common. Pane del pescatore (“fisherman’s bread”) is a local specialty rich with eggs and dried fruits. Focaccia and pita breads are popular in the region, due to Greek and Arabic influences. Greek influence still pervades in eggplant, swordfish and sweets by incorporating figs, almonds and honey into the preparations. Similarly, special pastries and desserts take on a Greek flavor with many being fried and dipped in honey.
Calabrian pastas are hearty and varied, with the names of some of the more creative cuts, like ricci di donna (or “curls of the lady”) and capieddi ‘e prieviti (or “hairs of the priest”), belying a whimsical spirit of the region’s people. Fusilli is a common pasta component in Calabrian dishes, as are scilateddri, lagane, cavateddri and maccheroni.
Wine is not produced in huge quantities in the region, though the small batches are excellent in flavor and heavily influenced by Greek varieties. Ciró wines are produced using the same ancient varieties of grapes, as wines produced in antiquity for local heroes of the Olympic games. The grapes are still grown primarily in the Cosenza province of Calabria and Ciró wines often take up to four years to reach maturity. Calabria also turns out sweet whites, such as Greco di Bianco.
Calabrian hot pepper is found in many Calabrian dishes – toasted bread with n’duja sausage or sardines, pork sausages, pasta sauces and fish dishes will have hot pepper added. A fondness for spicy food shows in the popularity of all types of peppers and, unusual for Italy, the use of ginger (zenzero), which is added to spice up sauces (along with hot pepper). Some Calabrian chicken and fish recipes also include ginger.
Ricotta Stuffed Mushrooms
- One dozen mushroom caps
- 1 cup well-drained skim milk ricotta
- 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
- 2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
- Olive oil for drizzling
- Fresh parsley or basil, chopped, for garnishing
Preheat the oven at 400 degrees F.
Remove stems from mushrooms and set the caps side. Use the stems for soup or other recipes.
Thoroughly combine the next five ingredients -ricotta through pepper- in a mixing bowl.
Coat a baking dish just large enough to hold the 12 mushrooms with olive oil cooking spray.
Stuff each cap with ricotta filling. Sprinkle the tops lightly with breadcrumbs.
Place the stuffed mushroom caps in the baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake at 400 degrees F 20 minutes for large caps, 15 minutes for small caps. Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.
Calabrian Sugo – Tomato Sauce
Makes 2 ½ cups
This is a basic Calabrian sauce that is the foundation of many dishes. It can be served on its own with any pasta shape. It can also be the starting point for the addition of many other ingredients. You can use fresh tomatoes or canned.
- 28-ounce can of peeled tomatoes in their juice or 3 ½ cups of peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 5 large basil leaves
- 1 fresh or dried hot red pepper or a large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound rigatoni
If you are using canned tomatoes, break them up by hand. If you prefer a smoother sauce, puree them in a food processor or blender.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt and hot pepper.
Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Combine pasta with sauce and serve.
Trance di Tonno alla Calabrese (Tuna Steaks Calabrese Style)
- 4 tuna steaks (about 2 pounds and 1 inch thick)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Place the tuna in a large large dish in a single layer, sprinkle with three tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and freshly ground pepper.
Add bay leaves and garlic cloves and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the tuna to marinate in the refrigerator for at least six hours, occasionally turning the tuna.
Remove the tuna from the marinade.
Heat a large skillet until very hot and cook the tuna together with the lemon wedges, for approximately six minutes depending on thickness of the fillets or until the fish done to your likeness.
Sprinkle with black pepper and extra virgin olive oil before serving.
- One head of fresh escarole, washed thoroughly
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons raisins
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the escarole and cook until the stem pieces start to soften, about 2 minutes (the water needn’t return to a boil). Drain.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic browns slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the garlic with tongs and discard.
Add the pine nuts, raisins, capers and crushed red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the pine nuts are golden and the raisins puff, about 1 minute.
Add the escarole, increase the heat to medium high, and cook, tossing often, until heated through and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and season to taste with salt or more hot pepper.
Devil’s Tart (Crostata del Diavolo)
Sweet and hot are popular combinations in southern Italy, as evidenced by this tart. Chile jam is readily available from mail order sources. You can also roll the top crust out and fit it over the filling instead of making a lattice top.
- 5 ounces soft butter
- 5 ounces sugar
- 1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 11 ounces flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 5 ounces orange marmalade or apricot jam
- 4 ounces red chile jam (Marmellata di Peperoncino)
- 4 ounces almonds, blanched and chopped
- Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and mix well. Add the egg yolks, egg and lemon peel.
In another bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and slowly add to the butter-sugar-egg-mixture.
Divide the dough in half. Roll one half of the dough on a floured surface to fit a tart or pie pan and fit the dough into the pan.
Spread the fruit jam evenly over the dough in the pie dish and, then, spread the chile jam evenly on top of the orange jam. Sprinkle with the almonds.
Roll the other half of the dough to the size of the top of the tart pan on a floured surface. Cut the dough into one inch strips and lay the strips on top of the filling in a lattice pattern.
Bake the tart for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on a rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving.
Eggs poached with n’duja, peppers and tomatoes (frombootlewithlove.wordpress.com)
Mangia! Mangia! (mylifelivedfull.wordpress.com)
Calabria: An Ideal Holiday Spot (gateawayblog.wordpress.com)
A Sicilian Style Christmas Eve Dinner (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Calabria is one of the oldest regions of Italy with the first evidence of human presence in the region dating as far back as 700,000 years BC. Around 3,500 BC, the first villages in Calabria were settled. By the eighth century BC, the Greeks had control over the region and, in the second century BC, Calabria was conquered by the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire the region was conquered by the Goths, the Byzantines and later the Longobards. It wouldn’t be until 1860 that Calabria would consolidate and became part of the larger region of Italy.
Calabria’s economy is based mainly on agriculture. Chief agricultural products include olive oil, onions, mushrooms, wheat and other cereal grains, wine, eggplant, figs, chestnuts and citrus fruit. Calabria is the largest producer of bergamot oranges in Italy. The rinds of bergamot oranges are used to manufacture perfumes, teas, and other aromatic creations. Despite its small size and low population, Calabria is responsible for producing a third of all the olive oil produced in Italy.
Calabria is fortunate to have a great deal of forested land and, as a result, most industry is developed around construction and building. Textile, clothing and chemical industries are also present in the region. A substantial portion of the region’s economic resources stem from the production and sale of handicrafts by individuals and very small family businesses. Tourism, which is increasing, also plays a major part in the Calabrian economy and is the motive behind some of the region’s most recent technological advancements.
It is a place of contrasts, with high mountain villages seemingly built on the sides of mountains in the interior to red roofed villas on the coast, clustered around an ancient castle or church. Calabria hosts several world class seaside resorts, as well as, mountaintop resorts dedicated to winter sports. Tourists also enjoy watching local artisans produce any number of handicrafts, with pottery and ceramics being the most common.
The Food of Calabria
Calabrians use the mountainous area covering most of the region to raise hill-loving pigs, goats and sheep and comb the woods for chestnuts, acorns and wild mushrooms to add rustic flavors to their cooking. Adventurous fishermen have little trouble finding swordfish, cod, sardines, and shellfish. The inland freshwater lakes and streams offer trout in abundance.
Most of the cuisine of Calabria is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean and is often spicy. Pasta dishes with peppers, onions and sausage sauteed with or without sauce are very common. Frittatas made with pasta and sausage are also prevalent. Eggplant is a favorite dish in the region and is served in a variety of ways.
Due to the humid climate and the high risk of rapid molding and spoilage, food preservation is important. Oiling, salting, curing and smoking – almost all of the area’s food products can be found preserved in some form or another. Calabria’s many varieties of cured meats and sausages are served alongside fresh produce. The local pancetta pairs perfectly with summer melons.
Calabrians do their best to utilize the entire animal letting nothing go to waste. The spicy-hot tang of nduja (also known as ‘ndugghi) is a singularly unusual flavor, made from pig’s fat and organ meats and mixed with liberal amounts of pepperoncinis. This salami-style delicacy (left alone to cure for an entire year) is a testament to the Calabrian patience of waiting until foods have reached their perfection before eating. Other salamis such as Capicola Calabrese and Sopressata di Calabria also come from the region and are served alongside local breads and cheeses.
Breads, cheeses and pastas are all important to Calabrian cooking.
Pane del Pescatore is a local bread specialty made with eggs and dried fruits. Focaccia and pita breads are popular in the region, reflecting the Greek and Arabic flatbread influences. Similarly, special pastries and dessert breads take on a Greek flavor with many being fried and dipped in honey.
Cheeses lean toward the goat and/or sheep milk varieties, though cow’s milk cheeses are becoming more common. Sciungata (a sheep’s milk cheese similar to ricotta), ricotta calabrese (a ricotta with the addition of milk and salt), butirro (a buttery cow’s milk cheese) and the prized, caciocavallo silano, a cow’s milk cheese hung to dry thus developing its signature teardrop shape, are just a few of the cheeses found on the Calabrian table.
Calabrian pastas are hearty and varied, with the names of some of the more creative cuts like ricci di donna ( “curls of the lady”) and capieddi ‘e prieviti ( “hairs of the priest”) belying a whimsical spirit of the region’s people. Fusilli is a common pasta component in Calabrian dishes, as are Scilateddri, Lagane, Cavateddri and Maccheroni.
Make Some Calabrian Inspired Recipes At Home
Serve with Italian Bread
Serves 4 to 6 people
- 2 large eggplants, peeled and cut into slices
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 roasted chili peppers, packed in oil, minced
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of fresh oregano, minced or 1 tablespoon dried
- 3 tablespoons of white vinegar
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Cut the eggplant slices into one inch strips and place in a bowl.
Salt the fresh cut eggplant and let it set for an 1 hour.
Rinse the eggplant thoroughly under cold water.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the eggplant for 4 to 5 minutes until tender. Drain.
Lay the eggplant out on a towel to dry.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, chili peppers, garlic, oregano and pepper.
Lay the eggplant out on a plate and drizzle some of the oil mixture on top.
Place another layer on top and repeat until all the eggplant is used.
Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours and serve chilled.
Pasta with Sardines
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs, made from stale bread
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound long, thick pasta, like perciatelli or bucatini
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 2 cans of sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil, undrained, (or 1/2 pound fresh, boned)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente; drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
Put 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, less than 5 minutes, and then remove.
Add the remaining oil and the onion and garlic to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Turn the heat under the onions to medium-high and add the lemon zest, capers and sardines with the oil the fish was packed in; cook, stirring occasionally, until just heated through, about 2 minutes.
Add the pasta to the sardine mixture and toss well to combine. Add the parsley, most of the bread crumbs and the reserved pasta water to moisten. Taste and adjust seasoning, garnish with parsley and remaining bread crumbs.
Lamb Chops Calabria Style with Tomatoes, Peppers, and Olives
- 1 large red bell pepper, cut into bite-size chunks
- 8 lamb chops, each about 1″ thick
- Sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 cups Italian chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi
- 3 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup green olives in brine, pitted and coarsely cut up
- freshly ground black pepper
Cut each pepper lengthwise, remove the stem, seeds, and core. Cut into approximately 1 1/2″ squares.
Salt lamb chops on both sides. Pour olive oil into a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add lamb chops. Brown thoroughly on one side, turn, and brown thoroughly on the other side (cook to your liking). Remove from the pan to a plate (cover with foil).
Add chopped onion to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it becomes soft and golden. Add the tomatoes, stirring occasionally, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, parsley, olives, salt and black pepper.
Turn the heat down to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, until the peppers are tender but firm.
Sprinkle the chops with freshly ground pepper and put them into the pan with the sauce. Turn the chops over several times to coat them well and after a minute or so turn the full contents of the skillet onto a warm platter and serve.
- Pristine beaches and wild scenery: welcome to Calabria (mylittleitaliankitchen.wordpress.com)
- Calabria: Time Will Tell (acevola.blogspot.com)
- Completing The Map of Calabria (relijournal.com)
- A stellar Italian food experience in Calabria (acevola.blogspot.com)
- The Cuisine Of Italy – Catanzaro (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The Cuisine Of Italy – Cosenza (jovinacooksitalian.com)