Saturday night we had a meal from Basilicata. As references on this region are so very few, it definitely gets the short end of the stick and as of right now I only have two meals from this region planned for the month.
Calabria and Basilicata are two of the poorest (economically) regions of all of Italy. In doing more research on these areas, I have to reiterate what I had said when asked about them a few months ago: they have notoriously difficult soil and so lack the abundance and range of vegetables that Puglia, Campania, and Sicily have. This is not to say that they don’t grow them or that there aren’t traditional vegetable dishes: Mary Amabile Palmer, in Cucina di Calabria
, acknowledges the difficult soil, but then goes on to say that it makes vegetables even more dear to their hearts: they have to make the very most of what they get out of the ground.
Where was I going with this? Oh yes. Well, what can grow, and abundantly, in these two regions are chilies, and they figure prominently into the cuisine: both are considered the spiciest regions of all of Italy, as well. And all those chilies serve another purpose: with so much going on in each dish, you feel more satisfied, even if you’re eating less.
So, with several antacid tablets already lining my stomach and a couple more on standby, we plunged in.
Primo: Bucatini with chili paste.
When I realized that I had so little to go by in way of cooking references for Basilicata, I rushed to the store to see what was out there. I did a little skimming through Rusitco
, by Micol Negrin (and will purchase it soon). Here’s another cookbook that outlines each region of Italy and then gives some dishes from it. I remembered the title but not much in the way of preparation or ingredients, so I may not be doing it much justice.
But here’s how I prepared it: taking a tip from the famous Mexican cuisine chef Rick Bayless, I pan-toasted some sweet dried chilies (pasilla
and I can’t remember the other kind; they are the two on the left in the pic below) in a skillet, then tossed them into the boiling water that would be used for the pasta. Let them reconstitute for half an hour, then put them in a blender with a fresh jalapeno, garlic, and basil, along with some of the soaking water (the rest was brought back to a boil and used to cook the pasta in) and olive oil to make a paste. Cook the bucatini the full package time, then toss with the paste and serve. Oooh boy, did it sting.
These are the various types of chilies I’ll be using this month. The two on the left are a sweeter, dried kind commonly used in Mexican cooking. The third kind are chile de arbol
, a spicy pepper that is stands in for the Italian peperoncino
. One will give a dish a nice, pleasant tickle, two will definitely give it a kick. The last is a spicy fresh red pepper, I forget the name.
The secondo were patties of Lucanian sausage. Calabria and especially Basilicata are renowned for their love of pork and have particular skill in making various salumi and fresh sausages. Basilicata’s original name was Lucania, and it has been postulated that their fresh sausage, called Lucanica, is a forerunner of the famous Luganega sausages, sold in one long coil as opposed to twisted into links. I don’t have a meat grinder and sausage extruder (yet!) and so I have to make the sausage into patties:
It’s hard to see much similarity in ingredients between this product and Luganega. Lucanian sausage, or at least this recipe, is mixed with ginger, ample chilies, and red wine; Luganega is sweet and mild, lacking even the ubiquitous fennel seeds.
With the grilled sausages we had wild mushrooms (trumpet and shiitake) braised with chilies, red wine, and tomato paste.
So, yeah, chilies in every dish last night. We definitely did feel “full” afterwards, were blanketed in sweat, and even a little dazed and dizzy from all the spice. This is going to be fun!