The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Basilicata Part IV
The "lagane" is an ancient form of homemade pasta that has kept its name in connection to the Mediterranean's history. Lagane were what lasagne were called in ancient Greek and Roman times and there are abundant references to them in the works of the classical authors. The basic preparation of the dough uses only durum wheat semolina, water and salt. The sheet of pasta is pulled and cut to form a lagane in whatever format you prefer, or you can create narrow rectangles that are wrapped around a thin stick of wood or iron wire. Once they are left to dry in this way are transformed into "minuiddi", a sort of rudimentary small penne. The interesting characteristic of this type of pasta is that, once cooked and drained, it maintains its perfect consistency al dente.
The most widely used condiment for pasta is the sauce featuring the "ntruppicc" (blocks), which are pieces of mutton or veal, cut with a knife, and never chopped. Sprinkled over the sauce you put the usual red chili pepper fried in oil, then sprinkle it with pecorino cheese or "forte", aged strongly flavored ricotta for a fragrant, vivid, and robust pasta. Ricotta forte is a specialty of the cuisine of Matera, and is also found in the Puglia region: the ricotta from sheep milk is stirred once daily for at least thirty days gradually adding small amounts of salt, so that it becomes more and more spicy. When ready to eat, it can be spread on bread or used for seasoning pizzas, cakes, or soups.
Among the desserts, most traditional is the "scarcedda", typical of the Easter period. It is a base of shortbread pastry filled with ricotta and contains within it, hidden amidst the stuffings, a hard boiled unshelled egg. Tradition states that whoever finds in their slice of scarcedda the egg (or a piece of the egg) will have a lucky year.
Fish is virtually non-existent in Lucan cuisine except along the tiny stretches of coastline, such as the one on the Tyrrhenian region which is bathed by the sea for a short stretch of beach which measures only a few miles. The most important center of the Tyrrhenian coastline is Maratea, a tourist resort which was built almost from nothing into a sea of hideously ugly, peeling concrete, and became internationally popular in just a few years.
This region has always practiced the art of preserving food. It is an art related to the need: the rare and generally inaccessible roads severely limited the possibility of obtaining supplies from the outside world, and the rough, extreme climate encouraged Lucans to accumulate supplies for long term storage, in order to survive the winters which can be quite Alpine in the higher elevations. Where and when it was possible the pantry was filled with salami, ham, sausages and soppressate, as well as aged cheeses of strictly local production.
Poverty stricken and isolated as it may have been, the Lucan peasant society has left to future generations a heritage of great magnitude, with the lessons of delicious ancient recipes still in use, and a variety of food habits related to the most ancient and traditional beliefs. Certainly the historical lack of aristocratic courts and their grand banquets prepared by great chefs have reduced the local spectrum of the art of cooking in Basilicata, but the characteristic poverty of the region has kept alive the delectable utilization of all that is offered by the local soil. It is that fundamental peasantry which distinguishes the cuisine of Basilicata as one of the most rustic and genuine to be found anywhere in Italy.
Continued in Calabria Part I
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