So this paper is pretty much right up my alley; something to do with my Italian heritage I think. I grew up with big family Sunday dinners and a large pot of gravy on the stove. Like most Italian-American families you grow up with meatballs, sausage, gravy (sauce), pasta, ricotta cheese, pizza, etc. But did you know Southern Italian cuisine did not touch a tomato until it was brought over from the Americas. In fact Southern Italian cuisine is associated with seafood, olive oil and spicy food. The Northern Italians are the ones who are associated with meat, butter and cream. So in retrospect all the fat belly Italian food we know and sometimes love does not represent true Southern Italian food.
Let us start with the history of Southern Italy cuisine; and the multiplicity. The country as a whole has been influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Normans and Arabs. It started around the twelfth century B.C. with the Etruscans; ancient Romans who named the land Etruria. They expanded through modern Italy and are descendents of Latins and Campania. They cultivated a local grain called farro (a type of spelt) which fed Mediterranean people for thousands of years. This grain was extremely difficult to produce so it led to the push and popularity of wheat. Spaniards brought the Grenache grape to the Sardegna region; it is now called Cannonau . A famous Genoan named Christopher Columbus brought back peppers, chiles, corn, potatoes and of course the staple of modern Italian cooking…the tomato. It is hard to imagine that Southern Italians waited over 2000 years to cook with a tomato. Tomatoes use to be considered dangerous and poisonous; I am so glad they figured out they were not poisonous. The meat herded in this mountainous, volcanic, hot region of Italy; are pigs, sheep, and lamb. Of course the Greeks left their mark in regards to churches and of course on the food. They taught Southern Italians how to cook seafood and how to work a good lamb.
Most of the food we enjoy in the United States today came from the boat loads of immigrants from Southern Italy. The country of Italy has had its problems between the North and South just like the US did in the 1800's. Northern Italy has always been the industrial part of the country and where all of the wealth resides. The South was always poor; because of this groups were created to help feed the families living in these neighborhoods. In fact the country was not united until the 19th century. This poor region however has created some amazing foods we eat today. Napoli or Naples is the birth place of the pizza; which was a peasant food that kept people warm in the winter when food was sparse. Along with the pizzas of Southern Italy came the great varieties of red sauces. Other nuances of Southern Italian cooking can be found in the pasta and the cheese. Most Southern cheeses are hard outside of mozzarella. Most of the cheeses are also made from the milks of all types of livestock; except for pigs . The pigs of course are definitely used for of course its meat, but Southern Italians of course love their sausage. I find this extremely ironic since Sicily was conquered in the 9th century by Muslims and was created into an Emirate. Muslim heritage, cuisine and the way of life is a large influence on Sicily today. The Muslims introduced spinach, almonds, rice; and when the Normans ruled Sicily they introduced casseroles, salt cod and stockfish. Refrigeration did not of course exist and the South was a warm climate; so meat and fish were smoked, dried, brined, pickled, etc. This led to of course using the pig again…the pig's fat was used to cook; mortadella, bacon, pancetta, and ham among other numerous dried sausages were created.
Dry Macaroni is another staple of Southern Italy because it is suitable for storing, trading and transporting . Shellfish and other seafood were extremely prominent in the South because of great fishing waters and climate. Major dishes using the shellfish and other Mediterranean frutti di mare; can be found cooked in wine, grilled over a fire, deep fried or tossed in pasta. One great recipe for frutti di mare is: Linguine ai Frutti di Mare the following is the recipe. I hope after reading this and trying out this recipe you will be inclined to try your hand at other Southern Italian cuisine; rather than just the fat belly lasagna, creamy cheese pastas and dressing drenched salads.
Linguine ai frutti di mare
This recipe makes four servings and the ingredients include:
1 tbsp olive oil,
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
Red Pepper flakes
½ cup of dry wine
dozen littleneck clams
10 oz of linguine
3/4 cup of tomato sauce (or your own homemade light gravy)
8 shrimp, shelled, deveined
4 sea scallops quartered, or 16 bay scallops
5 oz of calamari rings
1/4 cup fresh flat parsley, coarsely chopped
Boil water in a pot and cook the linguine; in a large pan heat the olive oil and cook the garlic slightly to release the aroma. Add the wine and bring to a boil to release the alcohol; add the clams, mussels, and red pepper flakes then cover. Make sure you do not over cook the pasta and only to al dente. Uncover the pan and add the tomato sauce; add rest of the seafood. The clams and mussels are done cooking when the shells are all open. Remove from heat toss in salt and pepper to taste, parsley and toss with finished linguine.