Catanzaro and its territory
The city of Catanzaro is located approximately 10 kilometres from the Ionian Sea, on a long, narrow rise bordered on the East and on the West by two valleys embanked by the flow of the Mosopalo and Fiumarella Rivers. Its territory, which is in central Calabria, is bathed by the Tyrrheanian and Ionian Seas and includes important towns such as Tropea, Castrovillari and Lamezia Terme.
The cuisine of this area is particularly rich due to the abundance of fish from the two seas, which supply a large variety of seafood. Some of the most typical types of fish are swordfish, which is prepared in various ways, as well as anchovies and other fish which are cooked, with vegetables and herbs, mostly in the oven.
Along with seafood, there is also cuisine based on cheeses, vegetables and meat, mostly pork. A traditional dish is of pork chops with the addition of chitterlings, know as “morseddu”, as it is called in the local dialect of the Catanzaro area. The ingredients are numerous and, according to an ancient recipe, include: two hundred grams (7 oz) of pork chops, two hundred grams (7 oz) of lungs, two hundred grams (7 oz) of liver, two hundred grams (7 oz) of heart, two hundred grams (7 oz) of spleen, one hundred grams (3 ½ oz) of lean meat, five hundred grams (17 ½ oz) of tomatoes, five hundred grams (17 ½ oz) of lard, one cup of red wine, oil, chilli peppers, oregano and salt. The cooking time is long. All the meat and the chitterlings are cut into cubes and put in a terracotta pot with the lard, also cut into pieces. It is placed on the stove, browned in a small amount of oil for a few minutes, then wet with the wine. When the wine has evaporated, the chopped tomatoes, chilli peppers and oregano are added. Add the salt, cover and cook over low heat, mixing frequently and adding a small amount of hot, salted water if necessary. The mixture should be very dense. It should be served between two pieces of bread as if it were a sandwich.
Among the cheeses, abundantly produced thanks to flourishing pasturelands, there are such well-known products as pecorino Crotonese, a hard cheese, semi-cooked, produced from the whole milk of sheep fed with fresh fodder for at least sixty days. It is used grated, at the end of a meal, or cut into pieces and added to a salad.
The most common vegetables are onions and aubergines. The onions from Tropea are famous. They are cultivated mostly along the coastal strip between Capo Vaticano and Vibo Valentia, with its centre at Tropea, from which the onions take their name. They are tender onions, sweet and reddish-violet. It seems that they were brought to this area on the Phoenician ships more than two thousand years ago. They are eaten raw, dressed and mixed with pieces of cheese, or baked in the oven or preserved in oil or sweet and sour dressing.
The aubergine, a solanaceae fundamental in the cuisine of this area, came many centuries ago from the very Far East, probably India. The terrain of Calabria, poor in water and calcium, is well suited to the cultivation of this vegetable, which for many years was the main food product of this population, since it allows the maturation of a complexity of aromatic substances which give the pulp of the vegetable a stupendous flavour. The most famous way of preparing it, though there are many other ways, is “alla parmigiana,” so-named due to the abundance of cheese needed to prepare the dish. Once upon a time, pecorino (sheep’s) cheese was used, but in recent times Parmesan cheese has been used, and slowly became the preferred cheese for this dish.
Other common vegetables, ever-present, include tomatoes and peppers with sweet, meaty pulp and vivid colours, which decorate the table prepared in various ways. Every family preserves vegetables in oil, flavoured with an abundance of chilli peppers which make them spicy, their exuberant vitality always ready to be brought to the table. The preserved vegetables are eaten accompanied only by local bread (the bread made by the farmers has an exceptional flavour) as a memorable snack. And, along with the bread, a series of focaccia (flat) breads, called “pitte,” full of imagination and herbs, since the leavened dough is accompanied by different flavours, from tomatoes and sardines, to onions and ricotta cheese or sausage and caciocavallo cheese. These robust “pitte” have very remote origins since they were probably a ritual food.
As far as desserts are concerned, they are the same desserts found all over the region. “Passulate,” a particular speciality, is memorable. An ancient recipe suggests the following ingredients: five hundred grams of raisins (17 ½ oz), two hundred fifty grams (9 oz) of almonds, two hundred fifty grams (9 oz) of walnut kernels, powdered clove and cinnamon, refined honey, white flour, one lemon and lemon leaves. To prepare the dessert, the recipe suggests softening the raisins in warm water. Blanch the almonds and walnuts in boiling water, peel them and cut them into pieces. Place all of it on a pastry board along with the grated peel of the lemon, the squeezed raisins and half a teaspoon of cloves and half a teaspoon of cinnamon. Mix all these ingredients together, add warm honey and white flour, enough to make a hard dough. Make a rather thick layer and form squares or diamonds shapes. Each piece should be placed on a lemon leaf, placed on an oiled baking sheet and baked in a hot oven.