The mountainous area
The mountainous area of Basilicata belonging to the Lucano Appenines corresponds roughly to the province of Potenza, the main town which is situated at over eight hundred metres above sea level on the northern side of the upper valley of the river Basento.
The whole of the region, but in particular the mountainous part is still today a mysterious and secret land which is poor and forgotten and where life goes on according to ancient rhythms.
Due to its geographical conformation, there are no fish recipes in Basilicata’s traditional gastronomic heritage. But, for a very short and beautiful stretch of land, the sheer cliffs of the mountains become a sea which is of a deep and solid blue, pretty inlets, small towns stranded up on the slopes and stretches of soft, sandy shore. The most important town along this coastline is Maratea, a tourist location which has developed relatively recently, and where it is possible to try fish dishes which are characterised by the generous use of chilli pepper, garlic and the strong flavours of this land.
The main alimentary source of this area is, however, the pig which – given the poverty of the resources – is used in its entirety. Once, the slaughtering of the animal, like a kind of rite, was controlled by a ceremony which became a kind of a bloody festival tied to particular legends, customs and traditions. The first cut of the knife which was to the throat of the victim, was entrusted to the head of the family. The innards were a particular object of interest since they could indicate good or a bad fortune for the whole of the year. The festival had its climax at the table where, on that day, an exceptionally rich meal was prepared, in the same way as for religious festivities and on the occasions of births and weddings. The Lucano pig is generally thin, or, indeed, very thin since it pastures on the mountains together with the sheep and lambs: it yields a ham which is dry and sinewy, wonderfully spicy and full of flavour, sausages made from a finely minced mixture, soppressata salamis, capocollo hams and the typical «pezzenta», so called because it was the salami eaten by the poorest people: composed of the scraps from the slaughter (lungs, liver, veins) which are chopped up into tiny pieces and then flavoured with generous quantities of pepper and garlic. The production of sausages and soppressata (a typical type of salami), which is one of the more particular characteristics of the Lucana pork butchering, goes side by side with the processing of the innards of the animal which are treated with the same method of salting and maturing, following the systems generally in use. The capocollo (typical type of ham) is worthy of note, but a taste of a Lucano prosciutto (cured ham) can be a real surprise, left to mature in the area of Vulture and made unique in flavour by the generous use of chilli pepper, used together with salt and the other spices.
Other meats of this area – where there is an almost complete absence of beef – are those of sheep, lamb and also (after particular treatments) of goat. An old recipe for lamb and mutton is the «pigneti»: the pieces of meat, together with potatoes, tomatoes, onion, chilli pepper, pecorino (sheep’s) cheese, crumbled salami are put into an earthenware amphora which is sealed with clay and then put into a very hot oven: the heat is diminished little by little until the dish is completely cooked.
As far as first course dishes are concerned, the «minuich» are worth a mention, and are one of the oldest examples of pasta. The dough, made from bran flour and boiling water, is cut into small pieces which are then wound around a dry sorghum stalk or a special square-shaped instrument. The dough is flattened down with the hands to obtain small and short, hollow spaghetti which are then left to dry. They are dressed with a sauce of tomato, boiled turnip tops and grated pecorino cheese. The «lagane» are also a very old form of home-made pasta which has maintained in its name its link with times past. Lagane was, in fact, in the Greek and Latin world, the name given to lasagne, and there are a great number of references to them by the classic authors. The base of the pasta dough consists exclusively of durum wheat semolina, water and salt. Once the pasta has been rolled out, the lagane are cut out into the preferred shape, or into quite thin rectangles which are then wound around a thin wooden stick or a metal wire. Left to dry, they become «minuiddi», a crude type of pasta quill. The characteristic of this type of pasta is that, once it has been cooked and drained, it remains perfectly firm. The most used dressing for pasta is the tomato meat sauce with the «'ntruppicc» (stumbling blocks), that is, small pieces of mutton or lamb or also beef which have been sliced with a knife, never minced. Then, on top of the meat sauce, there is the addition of the «forte» (‘strength’), or the usual chilli pepper fried in oil, and finally a sprinkling of pecorino.
In the area, the most wide spread vegetables used as side courses are beans, chick peas and potatoes baked in the oven or on the hob and then dressed for the most part with spicy pig fat, which is pig fat flavoured with chilli pepper and wild fennel seeds. This is a widely diffused, characteristic dressing which is preserved in glass jars and also eaten together with the home-made type of bread. It was once a daily food for the shepherds: the use has not waned.
There is practically no difference between the traditional desserts and cakes of Basilicata and those of the bordering regions. Everywhere, the main characteristic of all these cakes is the link they have with particular, and above all religious, ceremonies, confirming the fact that one allowed oneself richer foods only on important occasions. And hence, a cake like the «scarcedda», an Easter cake which is reminiscent of the Neapolitan «pastiera»: short pastry base is filled with sweetened ricotta cheese: the «scarcedda» is typical in that it contains a boiled egg. It is thought to be a sign of good luck for whoever finds the egg. We also bring to mind the «paparotta», a rare and traditional cake which is typical of the Avigliano area, in the province of Potenza. This is a true kind of polenta obtained by cooking in sugared water a mixture of common wheat and bran, with the addition of boiled grape must. The result is a dessert which, depending on its density, can be either a kind of blancmange to be eaten with a spoon, or a more solid cake which can be cut into slices.