Basilicata is a region of vast horizons and deep silences,
Where green pastures contrast with yellow fields of grain.
Where the countryside has its own nostalgic and bitter beauty,
With places still unchanged that appear to have been forgotten by time.
— Andrea Cerreteli
A timeless charm envelops the Basilicata region (formerly known as Lucania). This silent land, rich in aromas and unforgettable scenery transports those who visit it to a parallel dimension in which thriving metropolises seem to belong only to a far-off future. The natural countryside is interspersed with enchanting city centers. For example, Matera, the city of stones, entered into the UNESCO world heritage. Yet, every corner from this region is unique in its simplicity from the Castelmezzano mountains and Pietrapertosa that the heat of the sun has tinged red. To the ruins of Craco, the ghost city that has become a true museum to the open sky. Including the Literary Park of Valsinni dedicated to Isabella Morra—one of the most important lyric voices of the sixteenth century—and the coast of Maratea, true landscape jewel.
Yet Basilicata, land of pastures and farmers, also boasts a rich tradition of food and wine. Simple yet extremely versatile recipes that recount stories of the land and its authenticity continue to receive recognition on an international level. Unmistakable flavors, candid and intense, just like its countryside. Are you ready to immerse yourself in this exclusive tour of Lucanian flavors?
A Small Region with An Enormous Gastronomic Offering
Lucanian cuisine is humble, but with strong flavor, in which one feels the hand of the farmer, teeming with salt and (sparingly) DOP extra virgin olive oil with its characteristic yellow amber color and green reflections. Of all the products that Basilicata has to offer, you can’t overlook the lucanica, a local sausage generally made from lean pork, as the pigs are left to graze in the mountains with the sheep. The bread is made with durum wheat semola. Then there’s the crunchy, sweet, sun-dried peppers fried in extra virgin olive oil. In addition, you’ll find stewed red eggplant, and white beans from Rotonda, accompanied with seasonal vegetables—perhaps in capriata, an exquisite legume soup—a standard plate in the tradition of Matera. Cheese, cold cuts, red meats, and wine. Flavors from home that meet the tastes of everyone.
The First Lucanian Course and Matera Bread
Homemade pasta is surely the star of the show. In Potenza, for example cavatelli, ferretti, and strascinati are typical shapes of fresh pasta, made with a technique that consists of dragging the dough with the fingers against a wooden board. In the past it was served with vegetables, but today the recipes include a range of meat sauce, fresh ricotta, and cabbage with toasted bread crumbs.
Then there’s minuich, not unlike spaghetti, and best served with tomato and cabbage. In addition, lagane, of ancient origin, are made from a dough of water and durum wheat semola which is shaped into small bands about a fifth of an inch long, served in soup with chickpeas.
When you talk about Matera, you have to talk about its bread, which boasts an important denomination of protected geographical indication. The dough is made from durum wheat semola with the addition of salt and sourdough. Even to this day it is cooked in an ancient wood oven. The typical croissant shape (but also exists in the form known as high bread) is reminiscent of the Murgia Materana, the centuries-old seat of grain cultivation. In addition to accompanying other dishes, it can be eaten by itself, sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and oregano. Otherwise, it can be used in dishes of the local tradition, such as an extremely simple common dish made from egg and bread softened in broth that is flavored with fried peppers and scallions. Furthermore, with the bread one of the most popular dishes in Basilicata is made. Fusilli with toasted bread crumbs in a pan with garlic and oil is a real delicacy! The warm bread salad (cialledda calda) made with slices of bread on which egg, olives, and garlic are placed, or the cold bread salad (cialledda fredda) with slices of bread and tomatoes and garlic.
On the subject of oven dishes, it’s worth mentioning the “fucuzazza cu la prmmarora,” which is focaccia of natural sourdough yeast and the addition of a drizzle of extravirgin olive oil, baked in a wood oven and smothered with tomato sauce and oregano.
Cold cuts and cheeses of Basilicata
In the classic trattorie – which are typical italian diners – of Basilicata you find cheese and cured meat in abundance. Among the latter, capocollo, soppressata (preserved in lard), the ventresca of Rionero, and the beggar’s sausage—so named for its origins—are all worth mentioning. There was a time when the beggar’s sausage, was the salumi of the less wealthy classes, because it was prepared with cheap, fatty cuts of pork. Today, however, it is a highly sought-after cut of meat, especially for flavoring ragù.
Among the cheeses of the region are DOP Filiano pecorino with a strong and intense flavor, and Canestrato di Moliterno, which is spicy and aromatic. The maturation process for both still occurs, as it did before, in woven rush wood baskets as they are left to rest in natural caverns to enhance the aroma. Last but not least, Padraccio del Pollino is a common Lucanian cheese that takes its name from its spherical shape, “padda” in the local dialect. It is eaten fresh, spread on bread, or accompanied with an arrangement of local vegetables.
Wines of Basilicata
Our flavor journey continues with a brief mention of the vast wine-making tradition of the Lucanian territory. Prestigious labels such as Grottini di Roccanova, Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri, Matera DOC, provide decisive yet highly refined aromatic notes.
However, the most famous wine that comes to mind when one thinks of Basilicata is Aglianico del Vultura. Its uniqueness and its distinctive flavor derives from the fact that its grapes are harvested from vineyards grown on volcanic terrain. The Aglianico del Vultura is a wine that’s well worth trying, especially accompanied with meats or roasts, like Cutturiddu di pecora—shepherd’s boil—a type of meat stew that, thanks to the cook time in the broth and a terracotta pot, becomes extremely tender. Flavored with fresh vegetables, like onion, tomato, potatoes, and bacon, it remains a favorite meat course of the region.
In Basilicata, the products from the Metapontina source are world-renowned: fish, strawberries, and apricots decorate the summer tables of Basilicata natives and of many of the patrons who fill the inviting trattorie of Matera and the surrounding area. In addition, dessert lovers must try biscotti with anise seeds, a wine cooked with honey, grape pastries, and sweet turnovers. The latter’s recipe is virtually identical to the salted version, but with a filling of chocolate, chickpeas, sugar, and cinnamon to achieve a triumph of flavors and aromas.
For the more refined palates, there is scorzone, or black summer truffle, a product that has become widespread in Basilicata, especially in the western zones of the region, and is used specifically in risotto, but also to accompany beef carpaccio or vegetables such as black cabbage.
In short, a journey to Basilicata is sensory experience that extends from the countryside to the table. You just have to visit!