Food of the Italian South
Recipes for Classic, Disappearing and Lost Dishes
Picture this. The sun reflecting off the sparkling Mediterranean, the water framed by rugged mountains, dotted with houses tucked into the hills. Think about the smell of lemon and orange trees lining the streets. Imagine tomatoes and eggplants bursting with flavour, the freshest fish, the fresh cheeses. That was my trip to the island of Ischia, in the Campania region of Italy. The place was wonderful and the food exceeded my high expectations. So I was very interested in Katie Parla’s new book, Food of the Italian South.
Katie Parla’s previous cookbook, Tasting Rome, won an award for best international cookbook. This book ventures further south, focusing on the cuisines of Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise and Puglia. While many of the ingredients will be familiar, the recipes are unique. The cuisine is rustic and not too complicated, although it would be better if I had a nonna in my kitchen. The flavours are strong, just the way I like them.
I like hearty soups, and there are many to try, with beans and grains and sometimes meat. I decided to make Minestra di Zucchine, zucchini, egg drop and Parmesan soup with fresh mint. Completely vegetarian, this soup was a wonder. I added some orzo and it totally worked. So easy and so delicious.
I considered Peperoni Imbottiti alla Beneventana (peppers stuffed with tomato, anchovy, capers, cheese and bread), or Melanzane a Scarpone (eggplants roasted and stuffed with a similar mixture, adding gooey mozzarella or smoky scamorza cheese). But I decided to try Pizz e Foje, polenta with wild greens. The polenta was a flat cornbread, baked and broken into pieces, tossed with greens sautéed in chili and lots of olive oil. My greens were not “wild”, although I added an assortment from my backyard. Again, completely vegetarian and completely flavourful. I have never had a dish exactly like this, and I loved it.
I couldn’t skip the pasta. We tried the Cicatielli con Pulieio, cavatelli with tomato and wild mint pesto. The sauce is made with basil and fresh mint, fresh and canned tomatoes. The mint was not too strong and the sauce was rich and clung to the pasta as it should.
There were lots of seafood recipes but I didn’t think they would compare to the fresh fish I ate in Italy. First world problems. The meat was less interesting to me, although I will try Pollo alla Potentina, chicken cooked in wine and tomatoes. And the pizza has got to be good, right?
Both a cookbook and geography lesson, this was an interesting read. If I had to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would be Italian for sure. But if I can’t get back to Ischia, I have my memories and now I have this book.