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.

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