For the purposes of this website, the cuisine of Southern Italy includes the regions of Abruzzo, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, and Calabria – no small task when one is attempting to describe a culinary heritage as rich and diverse as the territory itself. The Abruzzo, a land that is both wild, yet gentle, brings dishes that reflect its silent mountains, seaside cliffs, and peaceful meadows. The ingredients the land so generously gives appear pure and undisguised in simple dishes – such as leg of lamb pressed under hot, wood-fired bricks, a puree of fava beans, and most classic, Maccheroni alla chitarra, pasta rolled out over a wooden box fitted with six thin wires (hence the reference to the guitar).
To think of Campania, it is only natural to envision the seaside metropolis of Naples, and the many fishing villages along the Mediterranean Sea. First imported by sailing ships from America, the tomato became central to the cucina napoletana. Paired with herbs and spices and simmered into delectable sauces or dried in the heat, their flavor bursting with aroma, they paired well with the bounty from the sea. To eat anywhere in Campania is to experience the taste of sunshine itself. Famous for its pizza, of course, Naples originally enjoyed a crusty dough which was smeared with a little olive oil, garlic and herbs, but when they began to add tomato sauce and a sprinkling of pecorino, that was amore! Then there are the sun-kissed lemons of Sorrento, nearly 70% of which are used to made Limoncello.
It is almost impossible to cover in a few words the cuisines of Puglia and Basilicata, regions so greatly influenced by their Greek and Arab past. Olive trees cling tenaceously to this rocky, tortured land, a poor land that has inspired a cuisine that is nonetheless rich in flavor and nutrition. Pastas become works of art when made with humble ingredients such as chickpeas, bitter greens, wild asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, or not surprisingly, olives. Nothing becomes more festive that lamb sausages grilled over a wood fire or suckling pig braised in milk.
Moving south to Calabria, untamed and savagely beautiful, it is a region unto itself, clinging to ancient rites and rituals, it own language, with a deep appreciation of its ancient roots, the ever-changing topography of the land, and the various civilizations that have contributed to its culture and its cuisine. The deep red-purple onions of Tropea are renowned, showing off their sweetness in many simple dishes from antipasti to main courses. Pork is often braised in a bath of zesty lemons and oranges from their orchards, and many dishes would not seem complete without the added and much loved chile pepper! A Calabrese is content if his pasta is dressed simply with aglio, olio e peperoncino – garlic, oil and chile pepper.