Many people describe Basilicata as a dark, solitary, silent place, a mountainous region which was once covered with forests and populated by shepherds. The name Basilicata was given to the region during Byzantine times, the name is derived from the Greek basilikus, the name given to the regions Byzantine rulers. But in Roman times the regions historical name was changed to Lucania, from the Latin lucus meaning wood. Wooded areas covered the region at one time, before the indiscriminate deforestation, a similar problem to neighbouring Calabria, opened the way for rivers, which each year spring from the mountains and descend down the eroding and scoring the landscape with gullies. These rivers caused multiple landslides, while roads, until recently, were virtually non-existent in the region. The bleakness of the region made it the ideal hideout where criminals, bandits, fugitives and honest men hid in Basilicata. In the seventeenth century, Christian monks from the middle east hid in Basilicata to escape the Arabs and Persians. The Christians from Sicily descended there when the island fell under Arab rule. Today the region houses an archaeological wonder, it is now protected under UNESCO as its 137 churches house frescoes painted from the eighth to thirteenth century.
Basilicata is a land of poverty. It is believed that many of the regions farmers survived from autumn to spring on nothing but bread that they made in November then kept n the pantry. Historically Italian bread was hard, heavy round loaves, nothing like the fresh crunchy bread we have today. Despite being a region populated by shepherds, the people of Basilicata rarely ate lamb, only if someone in the family was ill or the village celebrated a wedding, the birth of a child or the feast of the patron saint. Even mutton was only eaten at Christmastime.
Today Basilicata is somewhat of a undiscovered region, tourists rarely visit there and even recipes are few and far between even in cookbooks. However, the Romans used to praise the Lucanian sausages and they even gave us an ancient recipe "Fill the casing with well-pounded pork, add some ground pepper, cumin, savory, rue, parsley, bay leaves and lard, then hang it close to the fire." Everyone in Basilicata raised pigs, the poor mans livestock, even today every farm raises a pig. From the meat come the excellent Lucanian sausages pezzenta and contechinata, the same sausages that have been made in the region since the seventeenth century.
In Basilicata pepper and spicy peppers reign. Hot chilli pepper, or peperoncino, which in turn are divided into two varieties - the small diavolicchi (little devils) and the long "cigarettes" ( red pepper, Indian pepper, paprika, chilies and tobasco. These were all introduced to the region from the New World, and today the cuisine of Basilicata would be nothing without them. Dishes created in Basilicata include penne all' arabbiata (with tomatoes, pancetta, onion, garlic, chilli and pecorino cheese), Potentina-style pepper chicken, peppered potatoes and the not-particularly nutritious vegetable soup with soft bread called pancotto (cooked bread) and acquasale (saltwater).
One of Basilicata's most praised products is honey. Bees create honey from lavender in Liguria, from acacia flowers in Lombardy and from rhododendron and heather in Calabria. However, in Basilicata there's the famous millefiori honey, which the bees make from the thousands of wild flowers and plants that grow in the flat meadows of Basilicata; citrus, chestnuts, eucalyptus, sunflowers and thyme, to name but a few.
The Wines Of Basilicata
Basilicata may have almost as many vineyards as the famous northern wine region of Trentino-South Tyrol, but unfortunately in terms of quality Basilicata only accounts for around ten per cent of its DOC production. Basilicata is a decidedly mountainous region, which goes down to sea level in the southeast and is probably one of Italy's poorest regions. In terms of quality wine, Basilicata only has one mark of origin, the great red Aglianico del Vulture, the rest of its wine production is sold as anonymous bulk wines which is mostly used to bulk out other more reputable table wines of the more northern regions of the Italian peninsula (click here to find out more about The Wines Of Basilicata ).
Typical Dishes Of Basilicata
Pancotto - fairly liquid bread soup with onions and peppers topped with hard boiled eggs.
Lagane - fettuccine with beans, also known as "bandits pasta".
Capuzzelle - lambs head roasted over coals.
Gnummerieddi - lamb intestines seasoned with pecorino, fatback, parsley and lemon wrapped in mesh to form cylindrical bundles.
Fava beans with potatoes, artichokes and onions.
Peas boiled with chicory.
Ciammotta - seperatly fried vegetables which are combined at the end.