People everywhere love Italy for its foods and wines, and many believe it offers the best cuisine in the world. Dreaming of wood-oven pizzas or delicious gelato? Why not? But in truth the country offers so much more in food diversity. Every region has its own unique dishes that connect to local traditions and rich, colorful histories. In this post I will describe some of the traditional foods and wines you should try when you visit southern Italy – specifically, the regions of Sicily and Calabria.
Calabria is my adopted home in southern Italy. When it comes to travel, this place is still a bit of a well-kept secret. But that will change as the word gets out to more travellers. It is a beautiful destination with lush mountains and dreamy coastlines. Here the cuisine is strongly tied to the traditions. Once considered food for peasants - "cucina povera" - Calabrese dishes are now a specialty in many restaurants across Italy.
Arancini are quite popular in Sicily - not a surprise since they have been around since the 10th century. Arancini are fried rice balls with a filling of tomato sauce and mozzarella or a filling of meat tomato sauce with mozzarella and peas.
Eggplant is a vegetable common to many Sicilian dishes, and here it is the main ingredient. Caponata is usually served as an appetizer or a side dish although you may see it as a main course in some restaurants. Different versions exist throughout Sicily, but in it’s simplest form, the Caponata is a combination of chopped fried eggplant, onions, and olives in a savoury sauce. It's delicious!
Pasta alla Norma
Pasta is served everywhere, and that’s no different in Sicily. One of the most famous pasta dishes of the region is Pasta alla Norma. This dish originates from the city of Catania and was named after a famous opera by Catania-born composer, Vincenzo Bellini. The key ingredients are eggplants, tomato sauce and grated salted ricotta cheese.
If you love this yummy dessert then you must come to Sicily. Cannoli are fried, tube-shaped pastry shells that encase a creamy ricotta cheese filling often topped by pistachios, candied fruits or chocolate chips. This dessert is said to have originated in Palermo, which at the time was the capital of the Emirate of Sicily and under Arab control. Today it is a standard everywhere on the island.
Wines of Mount Etna
Mount Etna is located in the eastern part of Sicily and is the tallest active volcano in Europe. It still erupts on occasion. As far back as the 6th century BC, Greeks conquerors began using the fertile soils of Mt. Etna to plant grapes and make wine. The soil, the altitude, and the temperatures in combination results in some complex and fruity reds and whites that are favored by many international wine experts.
'Ndjua (Spicy Cured Meat)
Cured meats are a huge part of the cuisine in Calabria, and many families still make them at home. 'Nduja (pronounced "in-due-yah") is unique. It’s a spreadable spicy pork sausage that is commonly spread onto crusty bread or even used when cooking stews or sauces.
Lagane e Ceci
This pasta dish from Cosenza is characterized by the shape of the pasta. The egg-less pasta is cut into long wide strips that sort of resemble fettucine but are shorter in length. The pasta is tossed with chick peas, olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. This simple yet flavorful and filling dish is the perfect comfort food during the cold weather months.
Talk about taking ice cream to a whole new level! The traditional tartufo is a ball of homemade hazelnut and chocolate gelato with a thick gooey chocolate centre. This ball of deliciousness is then coated with a dusting of cocoa powder. Some shops offer other versions of the tartufo, like white chocolate, pistachio and even coconut flavours.
Come to Calabria and try a wine from the Cirò wine region. Cirò is located on the Ionian coast and its history of wine-making goes back to the Ancient Greeks. The soil, the sea breeze and higher altitude yield full-bodied fruity red wines. These wines pair well with red meats and the hot ‘Nduja mentioned above.
Vecchio Amaro del Capo (Digestive Liquor)
After lunch and dinner, many Italians will consume some type of digestive liquor. Amaro del Capo is one of these liquors that is served ice cold (-20 degrees Celsius) in order to enhance its flavor. The liquor is created using an intricate blend of flowers, roots, herbs, and spices, all of which are local to the region. Amaro means bitter, but the drink is actually quite smooth with an added kick to it.
Lulu Bianco is a Canadian-born blogger living in Calabria, Italy. Through her blog, Calabrisella Mia, she writes about her adventures as an expat and offers an insider's look at travel destinations in southern Italy. Visit: http://www.calabrisellamiablog.com/
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