Sapori ~ Flavors of Craco

Recipes from Regione Basilicata:

Reprinted with permission from Regione Basilicata, Dipartimento Agricoltura e Sviluppo Rurale.

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Recipes Shared by Members:

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From 1892 - 1922 over 1,300 Crachesi left to settle in North America, bringing with them ancient recipes from Craco that no one had ever bothered to write down.

Food and food preparation has always been an integral part of life for Crachesi. Seasons are not just about knowing how to dress for the weather, but for knowing when to plant the garden, when to can bushels and bushels of tomatoes, when to crush the grapes for wine, when olives should be pressed for the best oil, and for knowing when soppressata and prosciutto will cure best.

Flavors of Craco Recipes

The flavors of the local food, which enchants with its wholesome goodness, are robust, sharp, and intense. Pork, pasta, bread and vegetables are the stars of the table, and desserts are surprisingly good, especially those generously sweetened with the local honey.

The food gets its taste from its strong spicy ingredients. It is rich in flavors of wild herbs and tomatoes, silvery olives, and prickly pear cactus. Red peppers abound, as do strong sheep and goat cheese. There is sharp pecorino cheese, delicious caciocavallo, and creamy burrata. The cooking methods are simple with much baking and grilling.

In Craco, there is little land available for grazing, so animal protein has been enjoyed rarely and the killing of the family pig (or of the landowner’s pig, if the family couldn’t afford its own) every winter was a big event. What little meat was consumed was roasted or baked in hearty casseroles with potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and a scattering of herbs for flavor. Today, meat plays is more important role; pork is an integral part of the region’s cuisine, often made into sausages or roasted on a spit by home cooks. Mutton and lamb are also popular meats. The quality of the pork, mutton, or goat is excellent; however, the dishes remain simple and robust, as in centuries past.

Pasta is undoubtedly queen in this rocky landscape, cut and cooked a thousand different ways. Typical pastas are the lagane - small rough shaped lasagna, or the rolled miniuch - similar to spaghetti with a hole. The sauces use all the vegetables available, yellow with peppers, red with tomatoes, green with chards.

Heaping portions of vegetables, mostly baked rather than sautéed or fried, are a favored second course. These include local bitter onions, mushrooms, fava beans, artichokes, potatoes, and peppers. Peperonata is a local favorite consisting of sweet peppers, tomatoes and chili pepper, often mixed with chunks of pork. A custom in southern cooking is the liberal use of chili pepper.

Desserts are simple but delicious based on grain, nuts and a particular use of local cheeses.

The wines are rich and strong, full of hot sunshine. Basilicata boasts a grandiose deep red wine in Aglianico del Vulture, which carries the name of a vine introduced by the ancient Greeks and the volcano on whose slopes they planted it. When aged, it makes a towering match for lamb and cheeses. Refreshingly tasty are the sweet and often bubbly Moscato and Malvasia.

  • Antipasto – hot or cold appetizer
  • Primo – “first course” – usually consists of a hot dish like pasta or soup
  • Secondo – “second course” – the main dish, usually fish or meat
  • Contorno – “side dish” – may consist of a salad or cooked vegetables; a traditional menu features salad along with the main course
  • Formaggio and frutta – cheese and fruits: the first dessert, usually served together
  • Dolce – “dessert” – such as cakes and cookies
  • Caffè – coffee/espresso
  • Digestivi – liquors/liqueurs (grappa, amaro, limoncello)

Mangia! Mangia! – Eat! Eat! Meals are seen as a time to spend with family and friends instead of immediate sustenance; the regular daily meals can be a bit longer than other cultures. During holidays, many family feasts will last for many hours, if not the entire day.

Although the traditional menu is kept for high days and special events (such as weddings), the every day menu only includes the first and second course, the side dish (more and more often joined to the second course) and coffee.

Recipes from Regione Basilicata

Among all Italian Regions, Basilicata boasts the longest territorial identity. As far back as the 5th century B.C., the Lucani, ancient people, called the region Lucania. Till today, the people of Basilicata define themselves Lucani, expressing their profound ties with history. The Greek and the Roman civilizations greatly influenced the cultural roots of these ancient Italic people.

Basilicata has a surface area of approximately 10,000 square kilometres and a population of 640,000. This region, situated at the core of South Italy, is crossed by four rivers and borders on two seas. Some of the most interesting aspects of this region are ancient forests, green pastures, gentle slopes and fertile plains along the Mediterranean. This land, bathed by the sea and the sun, has developed modern and competitive agriculture.

Production of real gastronomic treasures is possible thanks to the natural climatic and altimetrical variability and to centuries-old experience of its people. The wine Aglianico del Vulture DOC, of Greek origin, dates back to the eighth century B.C. and is characterised by its typical red colour. It is considered one of Europe’s finest wines. In the same production area of this wine, in Northern Basilicata, along the slopes of an extinct volcano, there are many sources of natural effervescent mineral water. Amongst the cheeses, obtained by the transformation of local milk with traditional techniques, the region takes pride in the Pecorino di Filiano, the Pecorino di Moliterno, the Cacciocavallo Podolico and many others. The high mountain area favours the production of honey as well as fine salumi, according to typical southern tradition.

In three different homogenous areas, due to the climatic characteristics, the cultivation and processing techniques, three types of extra virgin olive oil of superior and unique quality are produced. Great prestige goes to horticultural production whose “Fagioli di Sarconi” (beans) and “Peperoni di Senise” (peppers) have obtained the Protected Geographical Indication from the European Community.
Strawberries, grapes, peaches and apricots grow in the coastal plains and apples in the valleys along the coasts. The fruits of the forest and the chestnuts characterise the internal regions that rise towards the mountains. The traditional craftsmanship of the peasant people has handed down from generation to generation, processing and preserving techniques of vegetables in extra virgin olive oil.

The deepest roots of the peasant civilisation relive in the home-made pasta, made with durum wheat, that takes different and original shapes, along with other oven baked goods. Pane di Matera (bread) is one of its most important expressions. The great varieties of typical food products boast an ancient tradition of quality and purity. The use of age-old techniques allows to preserve unaltered the tastes and aromas of the past. The regional gastronomy has sustained important influences throughout the centuries. It’s geographic position, in proximity of other regions, allowed the introduction of different traditions that have merged to create very original culinary elaboration.

The region consists of many small villages, agricultural centres, often separated by marsh, forests, watercourse and impenetrable geographic barriers. This determined the necessity to prepare and eat what was locally produced, according to tried local techniques. Even today, the most simple recipes, from one village to the next, have different characteristics and are prepared with different products. This impenetrable region has allowed unthinkable personalizations and modifications through the addition of local food products, either by wild greens and craft preserves or by animal products or local spices. The local peasant tradition as well as the necessity to preserve the seasonal produce, has called for preserving techniques that are both ingenious and original. They are presented again nowadays, amidst astonishment and curiosity. This has given birth to recipes that reserve gratifying surprises, simply by using basic food products. These recipes require mainly white meats, lamb’s meat, eggs, local spices like red hot pepper and a broad range of cultivated and wild greens. In the Basilicata region, there was never such a thing as a rich cuisine and a poor one. Everyone ate the same way using the same food products.

The regional gastronomy of every social class was based on proven techniques of utilization, recuperation and preservation of available resources. A gastronomy rich in symbology and mystical and religious rituals was developed. The slightest detail has a motivation that dates back to the most profound roots in history. Although several historical recalls from the ancient cuisine of these regions are possible, its particularity remains, in our opinion, in the evolution, mutation and constant change it has undergone throughout the centuries. The Lucanian gastronomy, as well as the region’s history, derives from a complex stratification of cultures, traditions and suggestions that originated from distant geographical regions and periods, which merged in their isolation.

A possible comparison can be made with the “Sassi” of Matera, symbolic city of the Region and of the peasants’ civilisation. They are of extraordinary importance because the result of a continuous stratification, through a constant, centuries - long evolution, has brought from the natural cave what the “Sassi” are and represent today. If man had not lived in those caves, for centuries modifying them as the need arose, the Sassi of Matera today, would have no meaning, no significance. An error often made in the past lies in the attempt to validate the culture, the tradition, the Lucanian cuisine and to relate it with that of other regions. These other regions have certainly influenced it, but have also often neglected to appreciate the novelty the people of this region introduced by personalising the results. A major possible error, in tasting our regional recipes, is to unroot the multiple external influences (Greek, Arabic, Italic) to name a few. Influences that were certainly present but completely combined and amalgamated.

There is no sense in wanting to examine each influence separately. The only thing to do is to appreciate each recipe as it is today, through its evolution in the centuries. It is this typical feature that distinguishes all our regional products. A perfect example is the oven baked products, hand-made pasta with durum wheat as in many regions of Southern Italy, whose shapes are always new and original. Shapes that these people created throughout generations, according to their changing needs.

The Department of Agriculture, with this booklet, intended to undertake an analysis of the profound roots of this region’s cuisine, from the typical food products to the most daring and creative gastronomic elaboration. The novelty of this collection of regional recipes lies in trying to rebuild an identity of the Lucanian gastronomy, without eliminating the differences or the palatable nuances that exist from one recipe to another or from different methods of preparation of neighbouring villages. On the contrary, we want to present them as the local people’s voice and experience. Nevertheless, such a collection cannot include all the recipes of our land. One shall read it with the knowledge that every small village of Basilicata has its own recipes that they treasure or pass on. If they are accurately interpreted, using the right typical products, will store unpredictable palatable experiences.

Recipes from Regione Basilicata:

Reprinted with permission from Regione Basilicata, Dipartimento Agricoltura e Sviluppo Rurale.

Click here