The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Calabria Part IV
Particularly interesting from the gastronomic point of view, the mountainous Sila region is extraordinary because it is looks like a piece of Canada's Rocky Mountains transplanted by a whim of nature to the midst of the Mediterranean: An Italian Banff. Firs and pines, lakes and pastures, dense evergreen forests, and an alpine climate of high mountains is found just a few miles from the beaches and dazzling turquoise waves of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Sea: truly a geographical paradox.
If you are a fan of wild mushrooms then you should start booking your vacation in Sila, which regarded by mushroom experts as the richest area in all of Italy. Often the "culinary boutiques" of Turin or Milan have mushroom products on display from the Sila woods, while due to their elevated price it is not at all easy to find them in the markets of Calabria itself!
The growth of these pricy fungi is assisted by a climate featuring abundant rains in summer and autumn and a geography that averages 1,300 meters or 4,250 feet in altitude, Sila mushrooms are in season almost all year round. May is the time for the fragrant "marroccu" which are usually cooked in a stew with goat meat or a ragu sauce. Then come the "sillu" or porcini, often used in the local timbales of rice and the ubiquitous ragu sauce. Near the end of summer is the time for the "vavusi" which are usually fried up with the hearty, meaty, colorful peppers of the region. The most well known of the mushrooms in the Sila area is the Lactarius deliciosus, (Latin for milky delicious) which is called "rossito", due to its rosy pink color. During its season, you will rarely find a Calabrian home where these delectable mushrooms are not being roasted on the grill with garlic and bacon.
The other tasty products that the Sila area is famous for include its sausages, trout and cheeses. The dairy products are of particular interest: pecorini, caciocavalli, provole, "butirri" (tiny cheese with a core of butter), and "piticelle" (mozzarella with butter on the inside). Among the recipes for fish, the most original is the "mestica", or "caviar of the poor", where baby anchovies are united with red chili peppers in oil and soaked in a very spicy sauce that is widely produced by small local food industries. A jar of "mestica" can be a very tasty gastronomic souvenir of a trip to Calabria.
On the subject of souvenirs it is not possible to leave Reggio without taking home any of the wonderful traditional sweets, first of all the various species of Calabrian nougat with almonds, and of course the dried figs, and citrus jams and marmalades. As in neighboring Sicily on the other side of the Strait, ice creams and gelato are a subject of high art. Calabrians engage in the ritual of morning brioche buns, fragrant and hot from the oven, filled with freshly homemade ice cream. Hmm... and we think that gobbling down a quick bowl of cardboardy cereal constitutes a breakfast?
Calabrian cuisine countless centuries ago was established with the strong flavors of the various local herbs, especially the red chili pepper, in which the layering of flavors of each recipe is emphasized. Calabrian gastronomic tradition combines sea and mountains in a magnificent, if salty and spicy, blend that is to be found nowhere else in Italy, and proves the point that the more rustic and local a cuisine is, the more enjoyable it can be.
Continued In Campania Part I
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