The sun which ripens aubergines and tomatoes especially well, the abundance of olive oil and the need for stocking up supplies in a region which practically only consumes what it produces, have all lead to the development of the art of preserving food in oil.
In Calabria, the panorama of preserved seafood includes the usual production of salted anchovies and, in some cases, tuna fish in oil; recently, there has also been the addition of a sizeable production of both smoked tuna and sword fish.
A unique regional characteristic is, however, mustica, a special way of preserving anchovy fry, the whitebait of Liguria. This is a speciality which is typical of the Ionian coast. The base is made up of the whitebait, the newly born anchovies which appear in the gastronomic repertory of many of the regions of Italy. The Calabrians process them using a special kind of procedure: first they are laid out on wooden tables in the sun, covered with chilli pepper, and then, when they have dried out well, they are put into glass jars filled with oil for their preservation. Mustica is also known as rosamarina, and can usually be found for sale in delicatessens and grocery shops in the whole region.
Mustica is a spicy-hot hors d’oeuvres which is eaten spread onto slices of toasted bread.
These are one of the main protagonists of Calabrian gastronomy, prepared in all kinds of way and, above all, for preserving. Sliced and first left under salt to drain, they are washed, dried and then kept in a marinade of vinegar until they are then put in glass jars containing oil, chilli pepper, garlic and aromatic herbs.
The aubergine has its moment of glory in the annual Sagra della Melanzana Ripiena (the festival of the stuffed aubergine). This takes place at Castrovillari on the day of San Rocco, that is on 16th August, around the church of San Rocco on the banks of the river Cosciale. It is a picnic for which all the families prepare the tasty local aubergines stuffed with fresh white breadcrumbs, tomatoes, pecorino cheese, garlic and basil, and baked in the oven. The recipe is always the same, but there are infinite ways of interpreting it. The exchanges and tastings are the dominating theme of the festival.
Calabria is one of the more qualified centres for the preparation of these tomatoes, which are common in the whole of the South of Italy and also along the Adriatic and Tyrrheanian coasts. The tomatoes used are the bunches of small tomatoes which are usually used for making tomato sauces. They are cut in half, the seeds are removed and then they are left to dry in the sun. Once they are well dried out, they are put into glass or terracotta jars with garlic, basil, oregano, chilli pepper and covered with oil.
They are served at table along with the hors d’oeuvres, but, put into a blender, without draining them of their oil, and blended into a paste, they become an extraordinary dressing for a plate of spaghetti which then only requires the further addition of some grated pecorino cheese.
More than any other region of Italy, Calabria boasts an ancient and wide spread tradition for preserving olives.
Today, in the grocery shops of the region, at least ten different kinds can be found: salted olives from the October harvest; carolei or galatresi from the plains and tamborelli from Rosarno preserved in brine; ripe olives heated up, salted and dressed with oil, oregano, sweet peppers and fennel; baked olives; crushed olives, harvested in September and left for a few days in water to lose their bitterness; cumbité olives from Grotteria preserved in vinegar; 'mpassuluti olives, that is, withered in the sun; zunzifarichi olives from the area of the Ionian; black olives, crushed heated up and left for a few days to lose their bitterness and then dressed with salt, oregano and parsley.