Surrounded by the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian Seas, Calabria boasts 500 miles of coastline (the longest of any Italian region) yet it also boasts some of Italy's highest and wildest mountains, where boars, wolves, and other animals freely roam. Over the centuries, Greek, Arab, and Albanian influences have shaped the Calabrese kitchen: characteristic dishes are laced with chili pepper, sweet-and-sour notes mingle in savory preparations, and desserts are often deep-fried and drenched in honey.
Tuna- & Tomato-Topped Bruschetta
The flavorful tuna and tomato topping also makes a fabulous (and superbly easy) pasta sauce.
- 8 thick slices country bread
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, diced
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Pinch chili flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- One 5-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil, drained
- 1 tablespoon salted capers, drained, rinsed, and chopped
Heat a nonstick grill pan over a high flame for 5 minutes. Grill the bread until browned on both sides but still soft inside, about 3 minutes per side, turning once.
Rub the warm grilled bread with the garlic.
In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, salt, chili flakes, and oregano. Stir in the tuna and capers, and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon atop the grilled bread and serve immediately. Serves 4
Simple Chickpea Crostini
Garnish the topped crostini with boiled shrimp for a more elegant and substantial presentation.
- One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- juice of 1 lemon
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 24 thin slices baguette (1/4-inch-thick)
- 1 tablespoon snipped chives
Place the chickpeas in a food processor. Pulse to purée until chunky, then add the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, cayenne, salt, and pepper, and process to a smooth paste, adding a little cold water if necessary. Refrigerate until needed (up to 48 hours); return to room temperature before using.
Preheat the oven to 450°. Brush the bread with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and place in a single layer on an 11- x 17-inch baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, or until golden on top.
Top the warm bread with the chickpea purée and sprinkle with the chives. Serve within 15 minutes, before the crostini get soggy. Makes 24
Focaccia with Tomatoes and Thyme
Scatter a few anchovy fillets over the tomatoes for a seaside taste.
- 3 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra if needed
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl and pizza pan
- 2 tablespoons minced thyme
- 6 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Mix the flour, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of the salt in a food processor. With the motor running, add 3/4 cup of warm (110°F) water, then pour in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and add enough warm water (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup) to make a soft dough that forms a ball. If the dough is dry, add a little more water; if it is sticky, add a little more flour.
Process 45 seconds, or until smooth and satiny; transfer to an oiled bowl and shape into a ball. Wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour. Transfer the dough to a generously oiled round 18-inch pizza pan and push with your fingers until it extends to the sides of the pan (you might need to wait 5 minutes for the dough to relax and stretch more easily).
Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1/4 cup of room-temperature water. Pour over the dough, spread to the edges, and dimple with your fingers, using the pads rather than the nails so you don't tear the dough. Top with the thyme and tomatoes. Sprinkle with the garlic.
Let rise at room temperature 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500°F (preferably with a baking stone in it).
Bake the focaccia on the bottom rack of the oven (or place the pizza pan on the baking stone if you have one) in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden on the top and bottom and lightly crisp. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 8
Clams in Light Tomato Sauce
Italians enjoy seafood like clams in bianco (white) or with tomatoes. Either way, a bit of white wine is usually added to lend acidity to the dish--and garlic and parsley frequently make an appearance. Serve the clams below on their own, with grilled bread to mop up the juices; or serve with long pasta as a satisfying first course.
I prefer to use cockles (a New Zealand bivalve) rather than clams since cockles are smaller, sweeter, and more similar to Italian vongole (clams); look for cockles in well-stocked seafood markets or use littleneck clams if unavailable.
- 2 pounds cockles or littleneck clams
- 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 4 basil leaves, torn
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes
- 4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
Soak the cockles in cool water to cover with 2 tablespoons of the salt for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse several times. This step is essential to removing sand and sediment from the cockles.
Place the olive oil in a 2-quart pot. Set over medium heat and add the garlic, parsley, basil, and pepper, and cook 2 minutes, or until the garlic is aromatic. Watch out that the garlic doesn't burn.
Add the tomatoes and cook 2 more minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine, cockles, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook until the cockles open, shaking the pot often, about 8 minutes. Discard any cockles that remain closed. Serve hot, in bowls, with the cooking juices. Serves 4
Torta con Cime di Rapa e Salsiccia
Broccoli Raab and Sausage Pie with Mozzarella and Pecorino
This rustic pie makes the most of the timeless duet of broccoli raab and sausage... a pairing that is delicious with pasta, but arguably even better encased in fragrant focaccia dough. For this pie, you will need:
For the dough:
- 1 and ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the bowl
For the filling:
- 1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled
- 1 large bunch broccoli raab, tough stems removed
- 2 tablespoons plus ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- ¼ pound fresh Mozzarella, cut into ¼-inch cubes
- Extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the pizza pans
- 1 large egg, beaten to blend
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Make the dough: Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. With the motor running, add ½ cup of warm (110°F) water.
If the dough is sticky, add more flour by the teaspoon; if the dough is dry, add some flour by the teaspoon. Once the dough forms a ball around the food processor blade, process 45 seconds. Transfer to an oiled bowl, and shape into a ball.
Wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Cook the sausage until it is no longer pink in a 12-inch skillet over a medium flame, about 6 minutes, stirring often and breaking up with a spoon.
The sausage does not need to brown at all; it just needs to lose its raw color and texture, and start to lose its fat.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of the salt and the broccoli raab. Cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
Drain the broccoli raab and cool under running water, then squeeze gently to extract most (but not all) of the water from the broccoli raab. The purpose of boiling the broccoli raab prior to sauteeing is to tame its notorious bitterness.
Chop the broccoli raab coarsely and season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt.
Add the garlic and broccoli raab to the sausage in the skillet, and sauté 5 minutes, stirring often to mingle the flavors. If the mixture sticks to the skillet, add a bit of water, and reduce the heat slightly to prevent scorching.
Transfer the sausage and broccoli raab mixture to a bowl and cool to room temperature; stir in the Pecorino. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. The filling should be quite savory and intense.
When the filling is ready, preheat the oven to 475°F, preferably with a baking stone in it. The baking stone will ensure that the pies bake up crisp and crusty, similar to how they would bake in a wood-burning oven.
To order a baking stone and other baking supplies, click here.
Grease two individual 6-inch pizza pans with the olive oil.
Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece out with a rolling pin into a 10-inch circle on a lightly floured counter.
Line the pans with the dough, letting the excess dough hang over the sides.
Spoon in the broccoli raab filling and spread it evenly over the dough. Top with the Mozzarella.
Lift the excess dough up to enclose the filling, and using your fingers, pinch the dough to seal it closed where it meets in the middle. If you do not seal the dough, the filling will leak as the pies bake.
Brush the top of the dough with the egg and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Let the pies rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. This allows the dough to relax and will result in a lighter crust once baked.
Place the pizza pans in the oven on the baking stone and bake the pies for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and lightly crisp and feels firm to the touch.
Serve the pies hot, as a hearty main course accompanied by a green salad tossed with olive oil and a hint of white wine vinegar.
The pies can be baked a day before serving, refrigerated, and reheated in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes; or they can be assembled and frozen without baking, wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap and aluminum foil for up to 1 month, then defrosted and baked as above. Makes two individual pies
Additional Recipes from Calabria
Published in Rustico: Regional Italian Country Cooking by Micol Negrin, published by Clarkson N. Potter:
- Roasted Tomato Spread on Grilled Bread
- Cornmeal, Fennel, and Olive Flatbread
- Broccoli Raab and Sausage Pitta
- Golden Pasta Pancake with Melting Cheese
- Bucatini in Chunky Eggplant Sauce
- Long-Simmered Onion Soup
- Tuna in Herbed Olive Oil Bath (pictured)
- Pork Loin in Honey-Chili Glaze
- Braised Sweet Peppers and Onions
- Chocolate-Covered Roasted Figs