At the southern tip of the Italian peninsula lies an Italy that few people know: a land of fragrant citron and bergamot orchards, ancient olive groves and terraced vineyards; a place of persistent tradition and ritual where the annual swordfish catch and hot pepper harvest are celebrated with elaborate festivals, and where women still roll pasta dough around knitting needles.
The land is Calabria, the long, skinny toe of Italy. In her stunning new cookbook My Calabria, author Rosetta Costantino seduces us with the food and heritage of the region where she was born. Hers is the first English-language book to document la cucina Calabrese.
Costantino, with the assistance of co-writer Janet Fletcher and photographer Sara Remington, casts a spell on readers, enabling us to practically smell and taste these wonderful rustic foods.
Calabrian cooks and Calabrian cooking are intimately linked to the land and the sea. In a region that has known its share of poverty, the legacy of foraging and agriculture is rich and diverse . . . sweet red onions from Tropea, noce pesca gialla (thin-skinned yellow nectarines), diavoletti (hot peppers), pepe rosso (elongated sweet peppers), fico dottato, (golden-fleshed fig), fico del paradise (red-fleshed fig), elegant purple melanzane, wild asparagus, tuna, swordfish, shrimp, anchovies, sardines.
Dietary staples include breads, hand-made pastas, and cheeses.
One rustic bread is the friselle, a dried rusk that is often rehydrated with juicy sweet tomatoes and fruity olive oil.
Pastas are myriad. Dromësat, a specialty of Calabrians of Albanian descent, resembles couscous. Cannaruozzoli is similar to ditali while schiaffettoni are small squares usually rolled around meat filling like a small cannelloni.
The cheeses are localized and depend upon the terrain. Coastal pastures and mountain meadows nurture cows who give milk for the luscious butirro, which is like caciocavallo on the outside with butter in the center. Sheep and goats cling to the steep mountainsides to produce milk for Pecorino Crotonese and the ricotta that’s made from its whey. Unlike other parts of Italy, Calabrian pecorino is not necessarily all sheep’s milk. It can contain goat’s milk as well.
Pork is the king of meat, as Costantino writes in an essay called, “From One Hog, Food for a Year.” Fresh meat, fresh salsiccia, lardo, pancetta, and assorted dried cured salumi are some of the appetizing by-products. [Read more…]