The cuisine of Catanzaro exemplifies both the Mediterranean diet and cucina povera. Using simple, local ingredients such as eggplant, olives, hot peppers and fish from the sea, the dishes are not only healthy, but highly flavorful. The entire region of Calabria has now become recognized for its traditional cooking that makes the most out of using the least. Extra virgin olive oil is the main condiment and is rarely replaced by lard. Pasta is primarily homemade and usually served with a simple fresh basil tomato sauce or just with olive oil.
Along the coast, fresh fish is cooked in many different ways. Swordfish is usually grilled and served with a salmoriglio, a sauce prepared with extra virgin olive oil, lemon, garlic and spices. Tuna is topped with la cipolla, the famous red sweet onions of Tropea. We feature a recipe for stuffed orata that can be baked in the oven or prepared on the grill. You will find that when preparing recipes from the Province of Catanzaro, eating healthy has never tasted so good. Even the desserts have a unique and unexpected quality. A good example of this is the recipe for chocolate eggplant – two wonderful foods that most people would never consider bringing together in one dish, but a dessert that is uniquely satisfying, especially during the hot summer months.
Bucatini with Anchovies
This recipe is a perfect example of cucina povera – simple and delicious. You will find it on the menus of high-end restaurants, but it is easily be prepared at home, as it has been for many generations.
16 oz Bucatini pasta
3 garlic cloves, minced
10 salt-cured anchovies
1 chili pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup bread crumbs
4 oz Pecorino cheese, grated
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the bread crumbs in a shallow baking pan and bake in middle of oven, stirring occasionally, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the bread crumbs to a bowl, then drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with bit of sea salt. Stir until crumbs are lightly coated.
Heat the remaining oil in a skillet and brown the garlic over a medium flame. Once the garlic begins to take on color, about 2-3 minutes, add the chopped chili pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Add the anchovies and breadcrumbs and cook for an additional minute, mixing the ingredients together.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of lightly salted water. Drain once the pasta is al dente. Add the pasta to the pan with the anchovies, season with Pecorino cheese and serve.
Orata is also known as Sea Bream and is extremely popular in Calabria. It is similar to sea bass, but with a slightly milder flavor. This recipe is usually prepared using the whole fish, but if you prefer to use orata fillets, make sure to reduce the cooking time accordingly.
4 small orata
5 oz ricotta cheese
3/4 tbsp honey
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tbsp chopped almonds
2 tbsp pignoli nuts
1 tbsp mint, chopped
2 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
3 oz arugula, chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tbsp lemon juice
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
almonds and parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°F. If using the whole fish, slice it open and remove the center bone and guts. Lightly salt the fish. Mix the ricotta cheese with the pignoli nuts, almonds, chopped mint, parsley, garlic, arugula, honey and a pinch of salt. Add enough lemon juice and olive oil in equal amounts to make the filling smooth, about 1- 1 ½ tablespoons each.
Stuff each fish with about 3 tablespoons of filling and then cover the fish with aluminum foil. Place the fish into a lightly-oiled baking dish and bake for 10-12 minutes. If you want to use the grill instead, grill for 8-9 minutes over a medium-hot grill, with the lid closed. When the fish is done, remove the foil and add a bit of crushed red pepper. During the summer, stuffed orata is served over a bed of greens, often with fruit such as orange slices and pomegranate berries and then garnished with almonds and parsley.
Melanzane al Cioccolato
This traditional dessert is popular in Calabria throughout summer. The dessert dates back to the 1700s when it was more common to combine sweet and savory flavors.
2 eggplants about 1 lb. each
flour for coating the eggplant
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
2 oz amaretto
1 lb fresh ricotta
1/4 cup sugar, plus more to taste
4-6 Amaretto cookies, finely crushed
1/4 cup almond slices, plus more as garnish
2 tbsp minced candied orange peel or zest of 1/2 orange
Peel and slice the eggplants lengthwise, about ½” thick. Sprinkle lightly with salt and let rest to draw out some of their moisture. Pat both sides dry with a paper towel. Traditionally the eggplant is fried, so lightly coat the eggplant slices in flour. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet and fry the eggplant until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon. Repeat until all the eggplant slices have been cooked.
Pour the cream into a saucepan and heat over a medium high flame until it just begins to bubble at the edges. Do not boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it dissolves. Add a splash of amaretto, about 1-2 ounces and stir to combine. Taste and add sugar and more liqueur, if you like. Reserve.
In a bowl, whisk the ricotta and sugar until smooth and creamy. Stir in the crushed cookies, almonds and candied orange peel or zest with a fork until well blended. Assemble the dessert as you would lasagna. Place one layer of eggplant on the bottom of a baking pan at least 2” deep. Spread one third of the ricotta filling over the eggplant slices and top with a drizzle of the chocolate sauce. Repeat for 2 more layers.
Finish the dessert by topping with a fourth and final layer of eggplant and any remaining chocolate sauce and a sprinkle of sliced almonds. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the ricotta sets and the dessert is cold, about 2 hours. Serve cold.