Have you ever been to Italy? Probably. Have you ever been to Calabria? Probably not. But here’s why you should.
Calabria is surrounded by the most striking coast in Italy and since it is one of the southernmost regions in the Mezzogiorno (the name for the southern regions of Italy which literally means ‘midday’, so called because of its climate, long lunches, siestas and laid back attitude to life) it arguably boasts the best menu.
Without its exceptional hospitality I would be unable to write this article during my year abroad as a language assistant; every other day I am invited to eat with a family who have ‘adopted’ me or their grandparents or the old mayor who lives next door, or the parents of a fellow teacher. Other than swimming in a bright blue sea and the odd hour teaching English I have simply been eating and recovering from food comas.
Due to a mix of Arabic, French, Spanish and Greek influences the cuisine is varied but unlike most other regions a lot of it is hot and so is the climate. It’s thanks to the heat that I managed to swim in a warm sea and sunbathe on the 20th of October, that I’m eating oranges from the grandparent’s garden and that I’m in a constant state of perspiration.
With perspiration in mind let’s start with ‘Nduja (pronounced en-doo-ya). This bright red mush is a delicious explosion of a meaty dish. It is hot. So hot it’s sometimes served in the shape of a bomb with an edible fuse attached. I ate it in a tomato sauce with pasta. It definitely packs a punch. Another chilli infused favourite is the homemade chilli marmalade that my adopted mother gave me, often eaten with fresh ricotta.
On the subject of homemade I’ll fast-forward to liquors. Chestnuts are a big thing here, there was a chestnut festival yesterday and last week I was offered homemade chestnut liquor which is rich and very sweet. Also hot on the list are homemade and eye-watering Limoncello, homemade chocolate liquor; a thick chocolate sauce with an alcoholic punch, and my favourite – fennel liquor.
What I love most about the food is that it all tastes like it’s meant to. Last weekend I was given Gnocchi ai Quattro Formaggi and the sauce was Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Fontina and Mascapone cheeses melted- nothing added. I made a tomato and tuna salad and added nothing – no salad dressing or olive oil (the tuna comes in olive oil) and it was delicious. It would have been a sin to eat last week’s buffalo mozzarella with anything; it tastes too good on its own. Fry up their courgettes which are at most half the size of our own with half an onion and some olive oil and boom, courgettes become exciting.
Here are some other greats: savoury fennel biscuits, homemade potato and rosemary pizza, fried courgette flowers, Pizzo’s famous Tartufo, cappuccinos with schiuma an inch think, fried rice balls, cornetti (croissants) that melt in your mouth and come in peach jam/honey/fruits of the forest/nutella flavours and many more, fresh walnuts that are sweet and chewy, grilled swordfish, olives from the grandmother’s garden, passionfruit, Indian figs and so much more……..
But the the Nocciola ice cream from a local Gelataria is what I dream about the most. Each Gelataria has its own unrivalled flavour; the Nocciola from SottoZero is the best ice cream I have ever had. This hazlenut indulgence is like the inside of a Ferrerro Rocher but richer, creamier and somehow smoother.
Sorry for all the superlatives St Andreans but needs really must!