Wednesday, October 22, 2008

another of the less well-known Italian paths: Basilicata (#17)

Welcome to Basilicata . . .

This is one of the twenty-two guest rooms of the Locanda di San Martino, in Matera, the major city in the southern province of Basilicata. Basilicata is wedged between Campania, Puglia and Calabria. It is known as one region, two seas and a gastronomic melting pot. And it is also well known as the region chronicled in that masterpiece of Italian literature: Christ Stopped at Eboli, by Carlo Levi.

The Locanda lies in the heart of the "Sassi" (stones) historical district of Matera, and it provides an experience unlike any other. Inhabitants of this region, for perhaps thousands of years, lived in cave dwellings, carved into the hills. The rooms of the Locanda are also basically caves carved into the rock, but, obviously from above, they are beautifully adapted to the comforts of modern living. Another inn, the Locanda del Palazzo, in nearby Barile, is also a cave-hotel.

For a better understanding of this region, I commend you to Carlos Levi's classic. Levi, exiled to this region by The Fascists in the mid '30's, described the poverty, hardships of living and the topography of this incredible malaria-infested country in heart-breaking detail.

In the next blog, we will visit the gastronomic specialties and delights of Basilica. For the moment, it is important to note that the region is the home to one of the new stars of Italian wines: aglianico. The Etruscans planted the first vines of the region (Ellenico) and today the wines from this grape are gaining, finally, International renown. The best of these wines come from the volcanic soils of Mount Vulture, in the northern section of Basilicata. Paternoster is one of the major producers.

According to Eric Asimov, writing in the New York Times, the aglianico grape is somewhat tannic, but not as much so as nebbiola. The wines can, therefore, improve with five or more years of aging. According to Asimov: the subtlety of the fruit and the fact that the wine can be dry and intense without being heavy, makes it a good companion to a variety of meat, poultry and pasta dishes.

Next: the pasta (and other food delights) from Basilicata.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

less well-known Italian paths -- four in the south

True, it is fall. Travel time is generally past. However it is, perhaps, the perfect time to do a little armchair traveling -- to prepare for next year. So off we go: in the somewhat out-of-the-way category, here are four lovely regions in the south of Italy that have recently been featured in major magazines, that we want to share. (The map above is not necessarily a test, but you can make it so if you wish).

The first stop is in Campania (#15).

The Campania region is certainly hardly unknown, as anyone challenging the cliff-side roads of the Amalfi coast will attest. It is the very frequented home of Positano, Ravello, the eponymous Amalfi, and friends.

Writing in the August issue of Travel + Leisure, T&L's European editor, Maria Schollenbarger, takes us to a much less well-known area of Campania: the Cilento coast -- 45 miles south of Amalfi, and a very much untouched world. "This part of Campania is unique," she says. "Everywhere we went, the locals made sure we knew how proud they were to have the clean ocean, the regional delicacies and the ancient Greek ruins."

The Cilento coast is generally perceived as starting in Paestum in the north, and going to the border of Basilicata in the south. The region reeks of its Greek heritage. Paestum has some of the best-preserved Greek temples in Italy. Maria also reports in the article that the Cilentran villages are some of the most historically intact and culturally unchanged in the mezzogiorno.

Michelin lists several hotels and restaurants near C
astellabate, sort of the center of this part of the coast, and of course at historic Paestum. Check the Travel + Leisure article for Maria's special recommendations, and a more complete tour of this delightful coastal region.

For us gastronomies, there is even a more special reason for visiting the Cilento coast. This is the home -- the denominazione -- for mozzarella di bufalo. In theory only the cheese made from buffalo should be called mozzarella. (Cow's milk is fior di latte). Mozarrella di bufalo ideally should be eaten within 24 hours of being made, dripping with its own buttermilk. It is pure white with a wonderful taste all its own -- delicate and fragrant, and very fresh. It will squeak when you cut it. Af
ter the mozzarella? the wonderfrul figs of the region.

Our recipe for the region? Very simple. The best, most flavorful tomatoes you can find this year. Slice them. Add slices of mozzarella di bufalo, topped with some basil and drops of olive oil. Perfecto!

Next visits: Basilicata, Puglia and Molise.