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The Food of CalabriaCalabria is one region in Italy that has remained true to it's roots. Unlike other areas of the country where you come across throngs of tourists, much of Calabria seems to have been ignored by time. Driving along it's rough roads, it is not unusual to come a cross a donkey loaded down with firewood, or a shepherd leading his flock, lazily across a "highway".
In small cities and towns across the region, old men spend hours playing cards at tables in the main piazzas, while grandmothers still dressed in black, sit on their doorstops to gossip with those who pass by. The region's landscape, although very rugged, has something for everyone. Surrounded by water, it has miles of beautiful beaches, and seas that contain almost every kind of fish imaginable. Moving inland towards La Sila Grande, one finds an area unlike any other in Italy. It has snow capped mountains, lively streams and waterfalls, and miles of evergreen forests.
The food of Calabria, despite the abundance of fresh fish, is primarily a diet of simple fresh pastas, homegrown vegetables cooked in a myriad of ways, and meats, particularly pork. Although pasta is important to all Italians, in Calabria it is treated with an almost reverence. Each city or town has it's own pasta specialties, from chewy fusilli, to various types of lasagne. Calabrians seem to know by instinct, the best sauce to pair with each pasta to create the most delicious dishes. Sauces include many seafood and meats, as well as various vegetables, with tomatoes playing an important role. One rich, baked lasagne, consists of layers of delicate egg noodles blanketing a spicy tomato sauce. Spaghetti alle Vongole, the "white" version of pasta with clams, is also a popular dish commonly found in Calabria. Orecchiette con Cima, a simple pasta made with broccoli rabe, is typical of Calabrian cooking, using just tasty, sautéed greens mixed with pasta.
Polenta is another important staple in the Calabrian diet, often replacing pasta at a meal. Polenta Verde Calabrese, is a wonderful dish served with cheese or sausages.
When it comes to meat, pork is particularly important, with every part of the pig being used. It is turned into sausages, made into hearty pasta sauces, or roasted whole over a spit. Black pepper and peperoncini are widely used as seasonings, explaining why Calabrian food is often described as "spicy". For a great recipe to make Calabrian style sausages, my Homemade Sausage recipe is a good choice. Roast Pork With Fennel, is another typical recipe one might find across Calabria.
The rich abundance of fresh seafood is another advantage to living in Calabria. Calabrians feel simplicity is important when preparing seafood, and often add very little to the dish to prevent masking the delicate flavor of the fish. Fish is often grilled whole as in my Grilled Whole Fish recipe, fried or roasted. Baccala, or dried cod is another important seafood staple that has been around since Roman times, when there was no easy way to transport seafood inland without refrigeration. This recipe for Baccala con Polenta is a great way to try salted cod for the first time. Seafood Salad is a recipe that is popular in Calabria every Christmas Eve, although it would be a nice start to any meal year round.
Since Calabria has a history of being an impoverished region, many poor Italians depended on gardens to help supplement their food source, which led to them having an affinity for preparing vegetables in various, delicious ways. Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables grown, and it is indeed now difficult to imagine southern Italian cuisine without the tomato. Tomatoes are in fact a staple, grown throughout the summer, then canned for sauce the rest of the year, or sun-dried and packed in oil. Anyone can prepare tomatoes for canning year round as the Calabrians do, by following the simple instructions in my Canned Tomato Sauce recipe. Despite the importance of the tomato, the eggplant can be considered the queen of Calabrian vegetables. Eggplants are grilled, fried, roasted or stuffed to name just a few methods of preparation. One of my favorite Eggplant recipes, obtained from a Calabrian friend is my recipe for Polpette di Melanzane (Eggplant Croquettes). A great way to preserve eggplant to enjoy it year round is this recipe for Melanzane Marinata (Marinated Eggplant).
Desserts are an indulgence after a full meal, and like most Italians, in Calabria one would most likely be served seasonal fresh fruit rather than a rich dessert. Calabria is famous for both it's citrus fruits, and figs, both fresh and dried. Typically elaborate sweets are saved for holidays and special occasions. Often, a sliver of a rich buttery tart, made with nuts or jam will be enjoyed with mid-afternoon coffee, and cookies, or biscotti are eaten for breakfast. One simple biscotti recipe that would be delicious any time of day is Pignoli Biscotti. Another Calabrian cookie made for holidays throughout the year, is the dense, honey sweet Mostaccioli. At Easter, a traditional sweet bread that is enjoyed is Ciambellone.
Family life in Calabria centers around the dining table, where food is considered more of an expression of love and tradition than it is for simple nourishment. I hope you now have a better understanding of the foods of Calabria, and that you'll try a few of the recipes offered.
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|Last update: 27 Jan 2012, 08:26:51|