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The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Basilicata Part II

Updated on March 28, 2009

Of the various products that are derived from pork, the most famous since the time of the Roman Empire, is the humble but delectable sausage. It is interesting to note that the name of lucanica which is now so widespread in Northern Italy as a generic name for all sausages, refers to this land, the ancient Lucania. One of the many literary works of classical Roman writer Marco Terenzio Marrone eloquently described the features and characteristics of the perfect sausage, noting that the soldiers of Rome "have learned from the Lucani the ways to prepare it."

The Lucanica sausage, flavored with black pepper and red chili pepper, presents a bold, savory taste that is both breathtaking and aggressive, and is generally is eaten grilled or fried. However, the sausage also lends itself to curing via a dry smoke process as well as long term preservation submerged in the superlative olive oil of Basilicata.

The Lucan pig is generally thin, indeed almost fat free, due to the fact that it is usually found in the mountains grazing alongside sheep and lambs, not waddling around pens vacuuming up slop all day long. These pigs provide a prosciutto ham with a consistency that is dry and substantial while being memorably tasty and spicy; finely minced delicious sausage; rich cold cuts such as soppressate and the typical capocollo; and the "pezzenta" or pauper, so called because it was the poorest of salami made from scraps of slaughter (lung, liver, heart), which are minutely ground up and flavored with generous doses of pepper and garlic.

Beef and veal is missing in the traditional cuisine and to this day is still rather rare, as the locals replace it with sheep, lamb, mutton and goat. An ancient recipe for lamb and mutton is the "pigneto" or pine forest method, where pieces of meat along with potatoes, tomato, onion, red pepper, pecorino cheese, and crumbled sausage are placed in an earthenware pot that is closed and sealed with clay and then placed into a very hot oven, and the heat is gradually decreased until the cooking is complete. In Basilicata as throughout the South of Italy the internal organs of the sheep are highly prized, particularly the intestines, or as they are called in the Lucan dialect "gnumaredd".

The sheep is prepared preferably on the spit or grilled, demonstrating that Basilicata's food is rustic, rugged, and full of character. The other famous Lucan food staple is the region's extravagantly delectable bread. A few local bakers' recipes call for soft wheat flour, for example for the "friselle" or "frisedde", which are essentially huge melba toasts in the shape of a split donut and eaten after being soaked in water and vinegar, as a rich summer salad with tomatoes, onions and other vegetables sprayed with the fine oil of the region, or get to the bottom of the pot of vegetable soup, a minestrone, or other similar stews. However, hard durum wheat semolina flour is the almost absolute basis of all the traditional baked items in the form of a wide variety of breads as well as pastas.

Continued in Basilicata Part III

Check out the entire tour of Italy's Historical Regional Cuisines!

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