The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Calabria Part II
Historically, the preparation of these preserved foods followed ritual and precise schedules, and was always accompanied by prayers, omens and superstitions of which now only the memory remains. It is certainly not sophisticated cuisine or one which benefits from a cornucopia of different ingredients, given the ancestral poverty of a remote rustic region, far from major cultural centers and subjected for centuries to a feudal type of economy that has impoverished the entire area.
The culinary tradition of Calabria remains robust, with the intense flavors of ancient recipes, and typically relying on a flavoring profile that can only be described as violent. Vegetables are always the key players in Calabrian cuisine, along with the pasta and all imaginable derivatives of the pig which form the triad basis of the cookery of the region. To these three ingredients is added, on the coast, a myriad preparations for fish. Fishing has a long tradition on the Strait and Reggio, where the prized catch is huge swordfish.
Queen of the vegetable constellation in Calabria is eggplant, which was introduced in Europe after the Spanish conquest of South America, and took hold in southern Italy in an absolutely magnificent manner. The Calabrian soil, high of silica and low in calcium, is especially suitable for the growing of this vegetable because it allows the development of a number of aromatic substances that give flesh a very specific and wonderful taste. A connaisseur of eggplant can easily tell just by taste if the vegetable was grown in Calabria, Campania or Puglia! It is interesting to note that, while the eggplant for many years has formed the basis of culinary traditions of southern populations, in the north of Italy up until a few decades ago, it was virtually non-existent. Many people even believed that eggplant was bad for you: the name of Melenzana derives from "malum insanum", or, the fruit that predisposes to madness!
These taboos were overcome and today, eggplant is served in every region in Italy, although it will always be associated with the sunny climes of the Mediterranean shores. Even its most famous preparation called "alla parmigiana" was born in the South and not in Parma, the name derived from the abundant dose of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese that the dish requires. In Calabria it was always pecorino that went along with the eggplant, but one day someone somewhere used parmesan cheese, and thus it remained in perpetuity. Calabrians know an infinite number of ways to cook eggplant (in agrodolce, in scapece, stuffed, fried with tomatoes and eggs, etc.) and each one more delicious than the next, although I do have to admit that once you've tasted a Calabrian eggplant which has been preserved in a jar filled with garlic, red chili pepper and olive oil over an entire year, it will spoil you for life for any other way of savoring this marvelous vegetable.
Other vegetables are almost ubiquitous, such as tomatoes, peppers and onions with the characteristic reddish purple skin.In the Calabrian region bread is central to every meal: it is consumed with each dish and its preparation is taken very seriously, especially in the countryside. Calabrian bread is known around the world but bears very little resemblance to the ubiquitous crunchy lump prepared by supermarket bakeries in Manchester, Indianapolis or Adelaide.
Continued in Calabria Part III
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