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


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.

The red gold of Calabria: saffron, treasure of King Alaric


In past centuries, the province of Cosenza was known for the production of saffron. The province of Cosenza was one of the largest exporters in the world. There are historical sources that tell of its production in Presila in 1500.

Some people, in the wake of this tradition, have even believed in the precious spice, linking the business to the legendary figure of the Gothic king Alaric.

Saffron and its flowers

Many loads of saffron went all over the world, in the very middle of the Renaissance, from the city of Cosenza, replying to a global demand.

This happened since the past. The most expensive spice on the market, it has come a long way from Cleopatra to Calabria. The Egyptian queen used it every day to brown her skin. And so we rediscover it as the ancestor of today’s cosmeticians treatments.

King Alaric


There is a moment, between October and November, when the hills of the province of Cosenza are tinged with purple, just as soon as autumn has turned off all its colors.


It is the time for saffron to bloom, and it lasts about 15 days.
“Let’s go and pick the flowers one by one – explain the growers – a job we do personally because it requires extreme care”.

The harvested flower must arrive intact at the “brushing” stage, a word full of charm since it contains within itself the act of removing the flower from the stem, but also the need to do it with extreme delicacy.

A Saffron field on the hills

The customers of Calabrian saffron companies are mostly restaurateurs.

Spice, dear to Sardinia and indispensable for the famous Milanese risotto, is today the perfect ingredient of gastronomic laboratories of starred chefs who enhance Calabrian traditions.

«Our research – explain the producers – has allowed us to trace a strong link with the territory and to make a story out of it. And it is a fundamental aspect, because the average type of consumer wants to appreciate its qualities but also to know its history ».

The partner friends of Calabrian saffron are great chefs. They say: «The real treasure, the one we have under our eyes, is the earth. We believe in it. In a territory, rather than chasing something non-existent, we need to seek and preserve what really exists ».

A saffron flower


That of saffron is a very simple production: the bulbs are planted around mid-August, when the temperature begins to change.

The plant grows in a few months, in late October it blooms. This is the most important moment, because everything must be done in a very short time and manually, in order not to damage the very delicate flowers, which must be placed in the baskets.

At this point the processing takes place in the laboratory, where the flower is separated from the pistil (this is the so-called “grazing”) which will then be dried.
The saffron obtained is finally stored in the glass, waiting to be bagged and packaged. Only 10% of what is produced remains in Calabria.

Saffron harvest


Saffron is the most counterfeit product in the world and the small Calabrian production must compete with the intensive ones of Iran, Morocco and Spain. These countries bring to the markets a saffron which costs two euros per gram, against twenty-five of the Italian one.

There is no resignation in the words of a young and stubborn businesswoman. “The way forward is certainly to join forces,” he says. «We small producers are many, and we all have similar difficulties that we can overcome by creating a network, a collaboration that allows us to stay on the market and become truly competitive. At the moment we are on the ground, but we are evaluating new strategies ».
Small but tenacious like the red gold crocus flower.

Saffron cultivation


In the past, saffron treated rheumatism, gout and strong inflammations such as toothache.
Also used as an abortion powder, it was better known as an aphrodisiac (Cardinal Richelieu was among the usual consumers).
For the Roman emperors and priests it was a precious perfumer of sumptuous salons and temples, the Calabrian peasants scattered it on the bed of the newlyweds’ first night.
A spice with a thousand uses, a world to discover.

Kardinal Richelieu