Speciali della Calabria
We are delighted to bring you specialties from the southern region of Calabria. Here we find the traditional Mediterranean diet with lots of seafood, fresh veggies and olive oil. As with much of southern Italian cooking, eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers predominate, but the Calabrese also like to spice up their dishes with plenty of peperoncini, or red chili flakes. This being a very mountainous region, farmers raise mostly hill-loving pigs, goats and sheep.
Calabria, the “toe” of Italy’s boot, is a very mountainous region surrounded on three sides by ocean and separated from the rest of Italy by the Pollino Mountains, part of the southern Apennines. Across the Strait of Messina lies Sicily, only two miles away at its narrowest point. Like Sicily, Calabria has been a crossroads of migration or invasion by many cultures over the centuries. One of the earliest tribes to migrate to the Italian peninsula were the Oenotrians, probably in the 11th century BC. In Greek their name means “the people from the land of vines.” From this we get the English words oenophile, a wine lover, and oenology, the study of wine and winemaking. When the Greeks colonized southern Italy in the 8th century, they found hillsides covered with vineyards. The Arabic influence can be found in the Calabrian “pitta bread,” which is stuffed like a calzone. As in much of southern Italian cooking, Calabrian cuisine uses lots of eggplant, tomatoes, artichokes, bell peppers, olives, and figs. The citrus in Calabria is considered of exceptionally high quality, and much of it ends up candied for use in desserts. About 80% of the world production of the arancia calabrese, or Bergamot orange, is grown here. Bergamot essential oil is produced from the rind of the bergamot orange and then used in perfumes and, of course, Earl Grey tea. One item much sought out throughout Italy is the sweet red onion from the seaside resort of Tropea; every year in August the Tropea Red Onion Festival is held. It is generally agreed that the Tropean onion also has exceptional therapeutic qualities, including alleviating colds and flu. Food preservation has been honed here to a fine art. The humid climate and high risk of rapid spoilage, the arid landscape and unpredictable rainfall, as well as a tradition of poverty have contributed to the evolution of this practice. Oiling, salting, curing, smoking – almost all of the area’s food products can be found preserved in some form or another. Particularly beloved are Calabria’s many varieties of cured meats and sausages, served alongside fresh produce.