Flavors of Calabria

8.4.2022

A GREAT RANGE OF FLAVORS

When you taste for the very first time Calabrian Cuisine, you find a bountiful range of flavors.

Inside this geographical location you can feel a weather always getting warmer, days longer and your mind finding rest and peace.

The sea is vibrant, the land is rich in history, culture, and agriculture, even if it is non-touristy, the seafood is great, particularly swordfish, cod and sardines. Further, Calabria owns a great selection of cheeses made with both cow and sheep’s milk, for example pecorino Calabrese, which is made from sheep’s milk, can be eaten semi-soft and un-aged. Or you can taste “Provola”, a cheese mild, very similar to a hardened mozzarella.

Another great product is local “pancetta”. Together with many varieties of salumi—like Capicola Calabrese and Sopressata di Calabria—”pancetta” makes perfect local breads and cheeses, also accompanying Calabrian wines.

Further, Calabrian pastas are varied, for example “ricci di donna” (or “curls of the lady”) and capieddi ‘e prieviti (or “hairs of the priest”). Also “Fileya”, “Fusilli” scilateddri, lagane, cavateddri and maccheroni are very common

Breads and cheeses are a fruit of Greek and Arabic influences, for example “Pane del pescatore” (“fisherman’s bread”), which is a local specialty enriched by eggs and dried fruits. Focaccia and pitta breads are also popular in the region, directly coming from Greek flavors, together with “Sciungata” (a sheep’s milk cheese similar to ricotta), with “butirro” (a buttery cow’s milk cheese) and the well known caciocavallo silano (a cow’s milk cheese hung to dry, providing its signature teardrop shape).

At the contrary, wine is not produced in huge quantities in the region, but is a fashioning product, given that here the tradition of winemaking  is heavily influenced by Greeks. In fact, Ciró wines are produced by the same ancient varieties of grapes produced in antiquity for local heroes of the Olympic games.

UNIQUE GEOGRAPHY

The region is the most southerly toe of Italy, rich of coasts flanked by highlands and rugged mountains.  From north of the Pollino massif, to the plateau of the Sila and the south by the Aspromonte, the geographical shape influences the variance of Calabrian products.

The most varying products are fruits and vegetables, they are also unique, as the famous ‘Red Onion of Tropea’, delicious eaten raw or used for making jams.

The always different panorama of this Southern Italian region influences also the spicy and robust cuisine,  full of ingredients like garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and red-hot chili peppers.

At the same time, only a small waterway separates Calabria from Sicily, so that the cooking methods have been changed by many cultures: Arabic, French, Spanish and Greek. The richness is also historical.

Further, the long coastline produces huge quantities of tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, artichokes, beans, onions, peppers, asparagus, melons, citrus fruits (particularly the arancia calabrese, also known as bergamot, an orange grown only in Calabria), grapes, olives, almonds, figs and mountain-loving herbs grow well in the area.

This abundance of local food enriches many Calabrian dishes, so that many cities have their specific festivals (“sagra”) for each products. For example, Bagnara has a festival celebrating the region’s staple fish, the town of Diamante hosts a peperoncini festival in September, Caria celebrates the simple Sajuca bean in August. In July, Tropea celebrates red onions.

TRADITIONAL FOODS OF CALABRIA

Given that the cuisine is pastoral-inspired, the region owns an ancient identity, expressed with aromas and colors belonging to the meadows and the refuges inside the mountains.

We will mention a few of more representative foods of this tradition.

Capocollo di Calabria Dop

This salami is subject to a drying period, then, capocollo is smoked for a few days, receiving a delicate flavor transformation. It becomes ready to eat after 4 months. It is obtained from the neck muscles of the pig, is DOP marked and  brushed with vinegar, while the non DOP products will be brushed with wine.

Cedro di Diamante

This fruit is often candied and used in sweet preparations, at Christmas time in many areas along the coast.  It is very common on the Tyrrhenian shores in the area between Tortora and Cetraro (Cosenza province, especially in the territory of Diamante),  its pulp is intensely aromatic, sweet and acidic, while the plant is very delicate with a peak maturation between October and December.

Red onion of Tropea

This onion is full of Vitamin C and Vitamin E, iron, selenium, zinc, magnesium and iodine. Therefore it gives many health benefits.  It is made into preserves and jams that can be paired to cheeses and meats, it becomes also a delicious gelato. Grown in the area of Nicotera (Vibo Valentia) and Campora San Giovanni, in the Amantea municipality (Cosenza) and along the medium-high Tyrrhenian coas, this onion has a unique color comings from elevated quantities of polyphenolic compounds.

“Limone di Rocca Imperiale”

It is a lemon, also known as “limone rifiorente”. It  grows in the town of Rocca Imperiale, in the territory of Cosenza. The lemon, of the variety “femminiello”  has a juicy pulp, intensely rich of scents. It is used for sweets preparation, cakes and jams or honey.

Licorice of Calabria DOP

In Rossano there is a very special licorice, extract of a perennial herbaceous plant that can grow 3 feet tall. It has digestive and detoxifying effects, is mostly used in confectionary to make cakes, candy and gelato. In Calabria, in particular in Rossano Calabro, is the only Italian museum dedicated to licorice, with displays of tools and machinery used over the ages to describe its history.

“Musulupu”

It is a cheese of Greek-Albanian origins, it is spreadable and ivory colored, mostly  used as appetizer, added to salads, served along with vegetable side dishes.

Potato of Sila IGP

Potatoes from Sila are cultivated above 1000 meters, are knows the following varieties: Agria, Désirée, Ditta, Majestic, Marabel, Nicola. Delicious and nutritious, these potatoes owe their flavor to the high altitude plateaus where they grow.

Butirro

It is a cheese, also called manteca, piticelle or burrino, coming from the uplands of the Sila and the areas of Pollino, using cow’s milk. This cheese was however conceived to conserve a precious product like butter long before refrigeration. The rind is thin and shiny, and conceals a core of cream colored butter which becomes yellower with aging. It can be eaten as is as an appetizer, or used as seasoning in pasta dishes.

The gastronomic culture of the fifth quarter: “Morzello” of Catanzaro

02.03.2022

From North to South in Italy there are many gastronomic traditions linked to the culture of the fifth quarter: we are talking about the Morzello of Catanzaro, flat symbol of the cuisine of the capital city of Calabria. Poor cuisine has become gourmet: a return to the peasant world made of simple and genuine dishes but also very tasty, increasingly sought after and re-proposed by renowned restaurants and starred chefs.

Morzello with “pitta” bread

Perhaps the fifth quarter gastronomic culture is the best example evident of the revenge of these preparations which literally took transformed from scraps into delicacies. But what is meant by ‘fifth quarter’? The fifth quarter groups together everything that is not part of the four parts defined as “noble” (front and rear) of the meat of cattle, pigs and sheep.

The animal is split symmetrically into two parts and then back into another two; everything left over represents an extra quarter. The fifth quarter is therefore what is edible among offal, liver, heart, lungs, kidneys, small intestine and tripe (i.e. forestomach ). In addition to the internal organs we find the head, tongue, tail and legs. The fifth quarter also includes giblets from wild and poultry. delicacies for gentlemen, other than for poor cuisine.

Now “we also eat eyes and ears ”. So, with a clear turnaround, the fifth quarter is not only now it has become a fine food, but also a tale and an emblem of various regional cuisines and street Italian food. Morzello of Catanzaro is one of these.

Quinto quarto” (“fifth quarter”) tab

The morzello (in dialect ‘u morzeddhu catanzarisa) is the gastronomic pride of the capital city of Calabria. A very spicy and fragrant mixture of offal and parts of tripe of calf, the dijuneddhi, of which rumen, abomasum, reticulum and omasus (the so-called “centupezzi“), esophagus, lung, spleen and heart (optional) facts in small pieces. The morzello cooks slowly in a large tiana (large pot) in tomato, generally with bay leaf and oregano.

After having fooled for a few hours, once ready, it soaks in classic Catanzaro pitta. It is bread in the shape of a flattened donut, narrow and with very little crumb called ‘wagon wheel’, specially prepared by bakers. Morzello is eaten strictly hot, that is before it hardens.

It was traditionally the snack of the workers around 9-10 in the morning they refreshed themselves after the first efforts in the fields, in the streets, or in the ‘putiche‘ (shops called morzeddhara years ago). There are several opinions on its origins: there are those who think it was born at the time of the Spanish domination of the region and the roots are to be sought in the hinterland of Catanzaro.

The name morzeddhu would derive from the Latin past participle morsus, ‘bitten, eaten’. In Spanish almuerzo, is the mid-morning meal (from admordium, composed of ad more bite); also in Spain there are dishes based on offal called morzilli.

Foreground of morzello

In this regard, the linguist Gerard Rohlfs (Rohlfs 1977, p. 444) translates with mursiellu (murziellu, mursillu, murzeju, morsiellu, murzeddu etc.). ‘The frugal breakfast that farmers have in the early hours of the morning’.


Always the Rohlfs with morzeddhu then also indicates the calf entrails. Morsello then in the Italian vocabulary is a piece of food, a bocconcino (in French morsel) and in Catanzaro dialect morzha morzha really wants “a small pieces”, such as those of morzello. In many Calabrian dialects the term morzu (muorzo, morsu, muorzu) means ‘bite, piece, squat’ (nu morzu and pane’).


Others believe that the morzello can date back to the period of domination of Saracen, between the ninth and tenth centuries, or coming from Jewish culture. Popular folklore tells a legend about the birth of the morzello , told by the Borgese poet and writer Achille Curcio in the early years of ‘900. It speaks of a poor woman from Catanzaro who lived in the Tùvulu district, Chicchina.


Widowed with two children to support, she was during the Christmas holidays in charge of cleaning up the courtyard where the animals were slaughtered. Having nothing to eat for the holidays, he collected all the leftovers from the meat, took them home and cooking them with other ingredients like soup, giving birth to the morzello.

Morzello dishes

Another protagonist is the ancient pitta: in vulgar Greek it is πίττα, in Serbian pita and in Albanian pite and for everyone it is a focaccia, a flatbread of bread; some think it comes from the Latin picta , meaning “painted”.


In some areas of Catanzaro they also call it cuddhura; that casareccia is made with wheat flour and was once exposed, tied to a wall or door, in front of inns to call customers back, as if to say “Here we eat and drink well”. To eat morzello you used to follow some rules: the pitta is divided into four parts which are then opened halfway, but not completely, like if it were a pocket. Then you have to soak the inside of the pitta with a little sauce, fill it with meat and after having wet the two sides, you can finally eat.


The people of Catanzaro like to say that “‘u brodu t’à dde school gargi gargi” that is, that the gravy must drain from the sides of the mouth at the first bite given to the sandwich. The poet Giovanni Sinatora defines him as the illustrissimu morzeddhu, sovereign undisputed of the now few taverns and trattorias in the city (the old ‘putiche’) we can define it as a real social dish that yes handed down from generation to generation.

Morzello tiana

For years, it has represented a symbol of identity and sharing, which recalls the rituality of food that unites us so much. Morzello is that street food that unites all peoples, above all of the Mediterranean: food is prepared, sold and consumed outdoors and col its smell that spreads through the streets attracts all passers-by. In Catanzaro, sauté is also prepared, ‘u suffrittu, made with meat pork (leg, bacon, heart, lungs, tongue and liver) made a small pieces.

It is fried and cooked in red wine with the addition of oregano, chilli, tomato concentrate, bay leaf and salt and always goes with the pitta. During Lent, and especially on Good Friday, the alternative is being prepared of the morzello of meat, that of cod. In the families of the capital, morzello is consumed on New Year’s Eve.

The fifth quarter and its tradition, as we said, are somewhat rooted everywhere in Italy. In Turin we find the Piedmontese financier, a mixture of offal from beef and chicken, in Florence the legendary lampredotto sandwich, in Rome there are succulent pajata and in Palermo the most famous of the streets food, the pani ca ‘meusa.