CALABRIA, LUCANIA, and APULIA
Calabrian cookery is based mostly on pasta, many varieties of vegetables, and cheese. Most coastal towns have their own specialties in fish dishes and these are usually types of fish soups which may be based on fish and/or seafood: brodetto, zuppa di pesce alla marinara, and zuppa di vongole, using mussels, clams, or vongola, a shellfish similar to a snail.
Tomatoes, artichokes, and peppers find numerous expressions in filling dishes but none so often as eggplant. Spinach is another favorite but wild greens may also be used when available. Bread is so important and so revered that it is identified with Christ the Life Giver and often pieces of bread are offered to beggars rather than money. Bread doughs are leavened by saving a small piece from the previous batch. So entrenched is the tradition and reverence for bread baked at home that it is easy to understand the Italian resistance to commercially baked bread.
While Naples-Campagna indulges itself with ancient symbols, rituals, and superstitions sometimes with a “why not?” or a “just in case” attitude, here in the deep south, ancient customs, so closely intertwined with poverty and the ancestral history of conquests by the Turks, Greeks, and others, have left a distinct mark on the inhabitants. Time has stood still. Yet orchard groves, olive trees, and lean cattle producing milk contribute at least to physical nourishment.
Pork is the most important meat, and pig-killing is a festive occasion fraught with tradition and great rejoicing. Local hams and fine pork sausages in many varieties, including capocollo and pezzente (made from sinews, livers, and lungs), are well spiced with pepper and garlic. Lard is an important fat and the children love the crisp cracklings called frittoli or ciccioli. Chicken, kid, or rabbits add variety to the menu as well.
Apulia’s cuisine is similar to Calabrian but the inhabitants consider themselves the champion pasta eaters of Italy. They add cabbage, turnips, broccoli, and cauliflower to their casseroles, soups, and even sauces more often than others in Italy. Vegetables, bread and pasta, with cheese in and on almost everything, is the staple diet, but around the coastal areas there is also abundant fish and seafood and the oysters are considered special. Fish soups, stuffed shellfish, and squid stew are among the specialty dishes. Almonds are so abundant that some say there is an aroma of bitter almonds even in the local olive oil. The specialty cheeses include Caciocavallo, Scamorza, Mozarella, Ricotta, and Parmesan. Apulian wines are known for their heavy-rich flavors and some are even used for blending with other Italian wines of lesser stature.