The traditional cuisine of the Graecanic Aspromonte area is frugal; it is the food of mountain-dwellers and yet, it is tasty and full of flavoursome surprises.
It stems directly from the pastoral, peasant culture and reflects the environmental conditioning of this harsh land, with its alternating vistas of the mountain and sea. The typical local dishes are simple, plain and seasoned by the strong and genuine flavours of the area’s long peasant and maritime tradition.
But the dishes are also closely associated with religious and spiritual life (at both community and private level). For example, during Christmas and the Epiphany it is the custom serve a thirteen-course lunch, while during Carnival you eat macaroni, meatballs and pork. Easter is celebrated with roast lamb and sacred breads, and so on, as are other festivities. The main event of the life cycle (baptisms, weddings, deaths, etc.) are observed by serving special dishes.
Some of the ingredients used up until the 1960’s are not always readily available today. Bread, for example, besides wheat, was often made from rye, acorn, chestnut and other “minor” flours. To make pasta, barley, rye, maize and so on, were sometimes added to wheaten flour.
Of the meats used two of the main ingredients were undoubtedly goat and pork.
The meat of goats, wilder and leaner than that of sheep, is the unchallenged “king” of the Aspromonte area’s archaic cooking tradition It is mostly stewed with onions and bay leaves only. Different cooking modes, that have practically died out today,
existed in olden times. Particularly archaic was a method whereby meat was cooked in the earth. The meat, chopped and wrapped in the animal’s stomach, seasoned with salt and spices, was cooked on a bed of sand and ferns, in a hole in the ground. It was then covered with a second layer of sand and ferns, above which a fire was lit and allowed to burn for ten to twelve hours. Lamb or kid was cooked in a manner still commonly used in the Balkans and known as “pot roasting”. The meat, in a closed earthenware pot, was put on top of a layer of burning embers with a second layer on the lid, and left to braise slowly in a kind of open-air oven.
Pig rearing and the use of pork was a very strong rural custom here and even today it is still common for a family to rear its own pig. The area’s charcuterie includes a variety of pork-meat products like sausage, “soppressata” salami, dry-cured shoulder called “capocollo”, pickled meat, blood sausage.
When the pig is killed, the offal (brains, liver, lungs etc.) is eaten immediately by the family, and the “trimmings”, boiled with herbs, are used for a frittolata, a simple domestic banquet.
The remains of the pig are boiled up in a traditional copper cauldron over a low fire to obtain rinds and greaves.
To find out more about the traditional cuisine of the Greek Calabrians we refer you to the following essay:
Salvino Nucera, “Usi alimentari dei calabrogreci” in the volume Sapori Antichi della Greek Calabria, Giuseppe Pontari Editore, Reggio Calabria, 1996