The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Calabria: Part I
This region occupies the southern extremity of the Italian peninsula between the Tyrrhenian Sea and Ionian Sea, a region which is almost entirely mountainous, with relatively few flat and marginally arable areas (Piano di Sibari, Piano di Gioia, and Piano di Santa Eufemia). The geography of this region is linked, in the north, with the mountain range of Monte Pollino (2,248 meters, 7,375 feet), which proceeds to the attach to the "backbone" mountain range of the entire Italian peninsula. The Pollino range branches off from the main mountains towards the south, taking a jog towards the Tyrrhenian Sea and continues for nearly fifty miles with the chain of Monte Serre (1420 meters, 4,658 feet) and the Calabrian Aspromonte (1,956 meters, 6,417 feet). Although much can be said of the geography of Calabria, this one phrase always easily sums it up in the minds of almost anyone on the planet: It's the tippy toe of the Italian boot!
There is a certain something in the essence of Calabrian cuisine that is sacred and ancient, evolving from the observance of rules of behavior and culture that have been held virtually untouched for many centuries. In Calabria you are clearly aware of the connection between the needs of nutrition and of the spirit: every religious feast in Calabria has its own very special devotion to food, and every event of family life whether weddings, deaths, or baptisms, has its own particular gastronomic fulfillment. The byzantine local cultural and culinary rules were that for Christmas you should put on the table thirteen table settings and that the same should be done at the Epiphany; the celebrations of Mardi Gras required a menu based on macaroni and pork; Easter could not be celebrated without the ritual bread and roast lamb; for the Ascension you served tagliolini pasta in a cream sauce; for the feast of San Rocco you served cookies depicting parts of the human body that could be cured through the intercession of miracles; plus the unleavened bread on the feast day of Santa Chiara, lagane (lasagne) and chick peas on All Hallows, fried cod on the feast day of Saint Martino, and so on and on and on.
The rigor of this culinary calendar has been weakened over time, but has left visible traces in the region's food repertoire. The food of Calabria is still essentially what was once determined by the local customs, beliefs and history. Jutting out towards the middle of the Mediterranean, Calabria's gastronomic profile has collected and metabolized the influences of both east and west. Some crops were transplanted on the soil of what was once called Enotria by Greek settlers, founders of a civilization of which many Calabrians still feel the pride. In fact it can be said that some Calabrians consider themselves more Greek than Italian!
It is not possible to dispute, for example, the Greek origin of laganoi, the wide fettuccine loved in the area of Sibari. Furthermore, Arab influences are also clearly felt as in the name of Mustica which describes the extraordinary and savory dish that is prepared by layering tiny anchovies in extremely hot red chili pepper and olive oil. Mustica is particularly prized as it is a food that can be preserved almost indefinitely. In the mountainous villages of the Appennino range the availability of non-perishable supplies was until just a few decades ago the only wealth any local would ever want. For the people of the poverty ridden South of Italy, sausages, lard, Mustica, cheese, pickled eggplants and sun dried tomatoes were the key for ensuring survival in periods of famine which were not infrequent in this corner of the country.
Continued in Calabria Part II
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