Thursday, November 4, 2010

Keeping it local

A loaf of Pugliese and wine from Palama (more on the wine in the next post.
While in Calabria, Basilicata, and Puglia, I have been eating in my hotel and hostel most often. I do this to help me stay within my budget, but there is also a lot of great specialties I want to try that are available at local bottegas. In fact, our American concept of Italian cuisine is really not very accurate because the classic food combinations of Italy we tend to think of do not span the country's borders. Rather, every region has its own specialties which make up their "cucina tipica." While its true that you can get some foods anywhere in Italy, like good pizza, this doesn't make it their national fare. That would be like saying that a sandwich in America constitutes our national cuisine. So, with this in mind, today's post is about my "self-catering" meals in the south. I'll go through the fundamentals of these meals: wine, bread, and cheese.
Calabrian dining-in.
First, the "vino locale." From a budget standpoint, its great! Its always the cheapest wine in an enoteca or bottega. A liter is between 1 and 2 euro! That's cheap folks. One liter will last me two nights (I have sacrificed one of my water bottles to a wine tote).
in Catanzaro
In Calabria, the vino locale was a mostly red (aglianaco grape) blended with some white grape (?). The wine experiences a second fermentation in the bottle that gives it just a hint of effervescence. Its served slightly chilled. Its refreshing and very easy drinking. It reminds me of the Gamay grape, which is used for most Perisian table wines. In Basilicata, the vino locale is a more full bodied wine. I think it is Primitivo (vino locale is not typically labelled). In Puglia, one of the wines I had was a blend of Sangiovese and Noegroamaro. Actually, this wasn't really a table wine as it had IGT status. IGT is like DOC and DOCG but allows for more flexibility in the grape selection and viticulture methods. I had a Salento IGT... but it was a vino locale as I was just down the road from Salento (and nicely priced at 2 euro/bottle).
Dark chocolate and sultana in a bite-size slice piece of heaven.
Next... bread. It is so essential. I love good bread and this love likely originated during my years at Lorenzo's, a bakery I worked at when I was in high school. In Calabria, I ate a lot of these bagel-shaped, hard cracker type things. I wasn't too impressed but I spent less time there eating self-catered meals so didn't have as many opportunities. In Basilicata, the quality of bread went up. In Matera, I found these amazing chocolate-sultana (raisins) treats and a really good Sultana Bread that was to die for. In Puglia, I hunted down Pugliese. This is a style of rustic bread that I ate a lot of at Lorenzo's. Classicly, Pugliese has a thin crust with a bit of char and a relatively closed structure inside. Its like Ciabata, but is shaped in rounds and is much more dense. The most distinctive quality of Pugliese is its pull. The bread really takes some pulling to pry off a piece. After the prying, a layer of flour remains on your hands. I kind of feel like its criminal and the flour residue ties me to the crime.
in Aradeo, Puglia
Now onto cheese. There tends to be more sheep's-milk cheese than cow in the south. And in Campania, the bufalo rule (but I won't be talking more about it). I discovered that the world of pecorino is huge, ranging from a semi-soft, mild cheese to the tangy, hard stuff we you probably have had. Both styles are "produtti tipici" in the south. In Matera, I discovered Caciocavallo, another variety of Pecorino. What I bought there was a hard, tangy cheese. In Aradeo, Puglia, the Caciocavallo I bought was much milder. In bottega's, its really hard to know what you are going to get (there are a ton of cheeses on display). I usually state "pecorino" or "caciocavallo" and make a gesture with my hands and mouth indicating I am eating something hard and tangy.
After that, I usually get some prosciutto crudo or salumi, tomato, and some kind of vegetable (basil, arugula, or spinach). All this, on average is about 5 euro. And that is the recipe for an amzing, simple, very satisfying dinner! Va bene!

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