The hillside area
The hilly area of Basilicata corresponds roughly to the province of Matera, furrowed by the middle and lower watercourses of the Ionic rivers of Lucania.
At its most extreme corners, to the north and east, the territory already presents the tabular forms and the karstic-calcareous nature of the Murge of the Puglia region. The pastoral-agricultural activity developed in the whole of the area and has determined the alimentation and cuisine of this land. This, in fact, bases itself on what is produced and over the centuries, for geographical, historical and cultural reasons, the methods elaborated are very similar to those in Puglia.
A characteristic speciality of the cuisine of Matera is the «ricotta forte» cheese (which is also found in Puglia). The ricotta cheese made from sheep’s milk is adjusted once a day for at least thirty days, adding small quantities of salt little by little so that the cheese becomes increasingly more spicy. When it is ready, it is spread on bread or is used for flavouring pizzas, flat breads and soups. The cheese has a strong and special flavour which also has a natural tendency to creaminess. But there are also plenty of derivatives from sheep’s and goats’ milk in this area of Basilicata, where cheeses are presented at table both as hors d’oeuvres and as a dessert. Naturally, they are always accompanied by an exquisite type of bread: the one defined as being of Matera is exceptional, being made only from bran, in large-sized loaves and maintaining its softness and flavour for a number of days.
The vegetables – thanks to the nature of the land – are of good quality and are often used for dressing pasta dishes.
First of all, we wish to indicate the «lagane e fagioli» which an ancient recipe suggests to prepare with the following ingredients: five hundred grams (one pound two ounces) of fresh beans, two cloves of garlic, powdered red chilli pepper, lard, six hundred grams (one pound five ounces) of hard durum wheat flour and salt, proceeding as follows: husk the beans and boil them in salted water. .Put the flour on the pastry board, add a pinch of salt and pour in some warm water and work into a smooth dough of the correct consistency. Roll out a thin layer with the rolling pin, leave to dry and cut into wide tagliatelle. Cook these tagliatelle in boiling salted water and drain when al dente. Transfer the pasta to a bowl, add the drained beans and the lard which has been put in a pan and sautéed with the garlic and chilli pepper. Mix and serve.
But the vegetables also offer the possibility for dishes in their own right; we remember, for example, the «ciaudedda» and the «ciammotta».
For the first, you should use two kilos (four and a half pounds) of fresh broad beans, one kilo (two pounds four ounces) of potatoes, five hundred grams (one pound two ounces) of onions, two hundred grams (seven ounces) of pancetta (Italian spiced bacon), ten tender artichokes, olive oil and salt and prepare as follows: shell the beans, peel them and slice the potatoes, trim the artichokes removing the external leaves and the points and cut into four sections. Then slice the onions and put into a casserole dish with the pounded pancetta and half a glass of oil. Sauté over high heat; when the onions are golden, add the broad beans, the artichokes and the potatoes. Season with salt, stir, cover and cook over a low heat adding, if necessary, a little hot salted water. Serve hot.
The «ciammotta» requires the following ingredients: two hundred and fifty grams (nine ounces) of potatoes, two hundred and fifty grams of sweet peppers, two hundred and fifty grams of aubergines, two hundred grams (seven ounces) of tomatoes, one clove of garlic, olive oil and salt and is prepared as follows: wash and slice the aubergines, sprinkle with salt and put in a plate allowing the water to drain out of them, then wash and dry. Cut the potatoes into pieces, peel the tomatoes, removing the seeds and chop into pieces. Wash the peppers, dry and cut into strips. Heat a frying pan containing plenty of oil and when very hot, add the aubergines. Fry the potatoes and the peppers separately, mix all together in a saucepan, add the tomatoes and the garlic, season with salt, stir and cook for one hour over low heat.
The «melanzane al forno» (baked aubergines) are superb and require one kilo (two pounds four ounces) of aubergines, one hundred and fifty grams (five ounces) of black olives, one hundred grams (three ounces) of salted anchovies, fifty grams (two ounces) of capers, two ripe tomatoes, one stale bread roll, olive oil, oregano, parsley, garlic and salt. They can be prepared following an ancient recipe which we now give: wash the aubergines, cut in half and make some cuts in the internal pulp, salt and leave to drain for an hour. Stone the olives and finely chop the parsley, wash, bone and cut the anchovies into small pieces. Remove the soft bread from inside the crust of the bread roll, crumble it and put it into a mixing bowl with the olives, the parsley, the finely chopped garlic, the capers, the anchovies and a pinch of oregano, mixing all ingredients together well. Wash and dry the aubergines and put into an oven dish with the open part facing upwards and fill the hollow with the mixture. Cover with the fillets of tomato, sprinkle with plenty of oil and put into a preheated oven, cooking for about one hour.
Like in Puglia, it is possible to begin a meal with «pure' di fave con cicoria» (broad bean purée and chicory), which is a simple but tasty dish.
The meats are reserved mostly for the important meals, and are pork, lamb, kid and chicken, barbecued or cooked in the pan with a very spicy hot sauce.
Also in this land, as in most parts of the South of Italy, the art of confectionery does not offer original products; it should be said, however, that there is no lack of cakes and desserts, even if they take much from the Neapolitan, Pugliese and Sicilian cultures and are very much tied to religious festivals: and so the «cucci'a» which is eaten on the day for the commemoration of the dead and which is made with pearl wheat which is first boiled and then dressed with vino cotto (mulled red wine), finely chopped walnuts, chocolate and pomegranate seeds. And also the «mustazzuoli» which are typical for the Easter celebrations, made with a dough of eggs, flour and oil; they are first briefly boiled and then baked in the oven and covered with a sugar-based icing.
The «focaccia cannellata» (‘cinnamon flatbread’), however, is a traditional family cake which has been extended to the daily production of confectioners and bakers. The dough of flour, eggs, milk, sugar and yeast is flavoured with cinnamon and then laid out in a baking tin and baked in the oven. Once cooked, it is cut into diamond shapes; it is soft and pleasant and the custom is to dip it into vino cotto (mulled red wine).
On the whole, this cuisine is characterised by the richness of the products supplied by the fertile land and by the particular attachment of the Lucana people to the most ancient traditions: and this is a great quality; we can, in fact, confirm that today, the foods of poverty are everyone’s riches, the most secure refuge against the homogenisation of customs and flavours.