Calabria is a food-lover’s paradise. Thanks to the climate and the landscape, everything that you taste is delicious (It’s no wonder gym memberships are so popular here). Meal time is sacred and there’s no such thing as leaving a table still hungry as your Calabrian hosts will ensure that your plate is piled high and you have tried at least every plate on the table! If you are visiting Calabria this summer (see the reasons why you absolutely should here) make sure you sample some of the best Calabrese food below, trust me you’ll be thankful.
Stroncatura (or Struncatura in Calabrese dialect) is a pasta heaped in tradition with a slightly unsavoury history. This long dark pasta was originally made from the scraps of flour and grain that were swept up from the floors of pasta merchant. It was then mixed back together with the worst, or most acidic being fed to animals and the best being sold off incredibly cheaply to the poor. It was then cooked with a very spicy sauce or with salty anchovies in other to cover the taste. These days it is made with slightly better ingredients, getting its colour from wholegrain flour for example but is still prepared in the same way with garlic, chills, anchovies, olives, cheese and breadcrumbs.
Becoming popular the world-over and nick-named the Calabrese aphrodisiac, ‘Nduja epitomises this region: strong, fiery and full of unforgettable flavour. This spicy mix of pork and chilli is one of Calabria’s proudest exports and it’s easy to see why as it’s the perfect accompaniment to many recipes. On bread, pizza, with pasta, in arancini, you name it ‘nduja goes with literally everything. If you are visiting Calabria you will find at least one dish with nduja on every menu and it often takes centre stage during antipasto. A word of warning though, a little goes a long way as it can be incredibly spicy! Different variations are sold with names such as “bomba” which really will explode in your mouth! Read my article for more information and recipe ideas based on this spicy sausage.
Pesce Stocco alla Calabrese
Ask a Calabrese child about pesce stocco and you are guaranteed to see them wrinkle their nose in response. Pesce Stocco is one of the most popular foods in Calabria but it is renowned for being a bit on the stinky side. For those who have never heard of it, it is stockfish (an entire cod hung outside to dry naturally) which is then rehydrated and used as the base to hundreds of different dishes here. It was introduced to Calabria by the Normans in the early twelfth century and now, considered a delicacy it is the staple of many Calabrese dishes. One of the most famous is pesce stoco alla ghiotta, a dish which originates in Reggio Calabria (though the Milanese will fiercely debate otherwise) and is made with olives, potato and capers. Lots of people fall in love with stocco for its tender consistency and full flavour. I sadly am not one!
Pasta con funghi porcini
Another delicious pasta dish that you must try when in Calabria is pasta with porcini mushrooms. Calabria is Italy’s main source of wild mushrooms and they are added to a wide array of earthy pasta dishes. Sila, the Aspromonte and Pollino are where you can find some incredible porcini mushrooms and they are cooked up with pasta in either a creamy sauce or a tomato based spicy sauce. Yum.
Aubergine, Aubergine, Aubergine
The last thing I’m going to tell you about today, because hunger is getting the better of me, is the abundance of melanzana (aubergine, or eggplant for my American friends) in Calabrese cooking. It is in everything and it’s phenomenally good. Whether it’s aubergine balls (a vegetarian version of meatballs), parmigiana di melanzane or stuffed with sugo, it is the vegetable of choice for the region and it is resourcefully adapted and prepared to suit everyone’s palate.
There are literally hundreds of specialities and delicious dishes from the region, I will have to write again soon. Which of these dishes would you like to try? Have you visited Calabria and tasted something particularly delicious? If so, leave me a comment below.