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The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Basilicata Part III

Updated on March 25, 2009

 One of the most famous bakers' goods is the renowned bread of Matera, which alongside that of Altamura, is generally acknowledged as being the most extraordinary to be found anywhere the Southern Italian peninsula. It is made of semolina flour exclusively in large round loaves almost two feet across and is thus able to remain soft and tasty for several days. In its traditional and original version, the Matera bread is baked in a stone oven with oak as the only firewood in enormous loaves sometimes exceeding five kilograms (11 pounds).

It was common custom up to just a few decades ago that every housewife would prepare her own loaf of bread in the home and then to bring it to the bakery to be placed in the large oven. To recognize it, the loaf would be imprinted with distinctive markings, usually made of wood carved with symbols or the initials of the family. These "stamps for the bread" have now almost completely disappeared from use and can primarily be found in local museums dedicated to peasant history.

An inescapable presence on the Lucan table is the omnipresent red chili pepper which takes on a variety of malicious and devilish names as "Frangisello", "Cerasella", "Pupon", or "Diavolicchio". It is used in large amounts, so as to be exceptionally aggressive and smother any other flavor, especially to those palates which were not brought up on this overwhelming level of spice.

The red chili pepper is found alongside fennel seeds, salt ,and pork fat in the "sugna piccante" or spicy lard, a distinctive, widespread seasoning, preserved in glass jars and eaten spread on bread. It was traditionally used to combat diseases such as malaria as well as hide the flavor of meat that had begun to turn bad in the heat, and thus it has maintained its prominent presence in traditional Lucan cuisine ever since. It is important to note that consuming red chili peppers to this extensive degree provides an exceptionally strong flavor to any dish, even the most insipid, and those who become accustomed to this level of strong flavor can no longer appreciate delicate cuisine as it literally burns your tastebuds out. Finally, there is a Lucan proverb that a man must be "an ox in the daytime, a bull at night" as obviously the chili pepper was considered an aphrodisiac at night: Thus the "Diavolicchio" or little devil, is considered the king of this substantial peasant cuisine.

We are in the South of Italy and therefore handmade pasta is obligatory. "Strascinari", "orecchiette", "manate" and the Lucan version of lasagna are the most popular forms. The pasta is made utilizing ancient techniques and the use of special tools such as "cavarole", which are used to make the "strascinari." These "cavarole" are small wooden cutting boards milled and manufactured by the shepherds during the long hours of solitude in the grassland. The "minuich" is one of the most ancient examples of pasta. The dough is made from semolina flour and boiling water, and is then cut into pieces which are wrapped around a stick of sorghum or another square cross section tool. The pasta is flattened with your finger until you obtain short spaghettini with holes through them which are left to dry. They are seasoned with tomato sauce, boiled turnip tops and grated pecorino cheese.

Continued in Basilicata Part IV

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

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