The region of Basilicata was known in Roman times as Lucania – a name some residents still use today. Basilicata is in southern Italy and sits between the boot’s ‘toe and heel’, with Puglia to its north, the Ionian Sea to the south-east, Calabria to the south and southern Campania to the west. Basilicata may be a small region, but its landscape is diverse, ranging from the eroded hills called ‘Calanchi‘ in the Matera area (where the Sassi, ancient cave dwellings, are a World Heritage Site), to the higher mountains of the interior and the coastal beaches. Basilicata may be sandwiched between the two principal regions of mainland southern Italy – Calabria and Puglia, but it has retained its own cultural identity. Summers are very hot here, but the National Park of the Pollino, located in the central mountainous area, is popular with tourists wanting a respite from the heat. Medieval castles, including those built by Federico II, are important cultural monuments.
The region remains rural and agricultural, with excellent cheeses due to large areas of pasture that are still used to graze sheep, goats and the pale cattle of southern Italy, of the Podolica breed. Pork products are popular too, with special salumi being made here. As for wine, the northern area of Basilicata is famous for its Aglianico del Vulture DOCG, made from the south’s most important and historic red grape, Aglianico. Other reds are made in the area near Moliterno, in the region’s west.
What to See
Matera is located in an area with many gorges and is famous for its so-called ‘Sassi’ in the lower town. ‘l Sassi’ (sassi means ‘stones’ in Italian) are rock dwellings which also contain 130 churches built into the rock dating back to the 8th century BC. Potenza is the region’s capital city.
Scenic sights include: Castelmezzano (a stunning cliff-side village built within stone peaks which is known for sausages), the Volo dell’Angello (a zip-wire through the rocks from Castelmezzano to Pietrapertosa, Pietrapertosa (another cliff-side village with an Arab quarter in the heart of the village), and Venosa (an ancient small town with an archaeological park at the northeastern edge), which was the birthplace of the Latin poet Horatio and, with Vulture, is now the centre of the winemaking area.
Metaponto and Heraclea are archeological sites with Greek remains. Maratea is known for its seaside position.
Basilicata is known for its cheeses, spicy food, lamb, pork, tomatoes, and wild herbs. More chillies are eaten in Basilicata per person than anywhere else in Italy – except parts of nearby Calabria. The most common varieties of chilli (called peperoncino in Italian) are Diavolicchi and Sigarette. In Basilicata, as throughout the south of Italy, most people hang strings of dried chillies in their kitchens so they’re always readily available. Extra virgin olive oil is used for cooking; butter rarely appears here.
The traditional dishes of Basilicata are based on rural simplicity. Bread and pasta are popular; simple pastas are handmade in many imaginative shapes of just flour and water, without egg. Typical pasta shapes include strascinati (made with the indentations of two or three fingers), tagliolini (long thin noodles), triid (long pasta strips rolled by hand), orecchiette (little thumbprints of pasta shaped like ‘ears’), tapparelle (large orecchiette), lagane (tagliatelle), and ferrettini or fusilli (pasta strips rolled around a thin metal rod).
Vegetables are often prepared in place of meat in Basilicata. Characteristic vegetables are aubergine (including a red variety), artichokes, tomatoes, broccoli rabe, carrots, turnip tops, potatoes, onions, lampascioni (wild grape hyacinth bulbs), peppers, chicory, mushrooms, and broad beans. Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans are also grown locally and feature in the recipes of most households.
Fresh fish is readily available in coastal areas but inland meat dishes are more popular, of lamb, pork, goat, or beef. There is still a strong tradition of shepherding in this region, on the slopes and pastures of the mountains. Young lamb is a delicacy and was historically considered to be a remedy. Today it is served for Christmas and Easter family meals. At Christmas, even poor families still feast on as many as 13 different dishes. Pigs are raised by families and spit-roasted during festivities or made into salumi, which may be piccante (from the added chillies) or not. Sausages are sometimes also preserved in rendered pork fat.
“crisc’ lu purch’ca t’ung’ lu muss” is a saying in Basilicata which means “a pig gives you a full belly”
Local pork products include: ventresca di Rionero, pancetta, lardo, prosciutto, the famous lucanica sausage praised even in Roman times, pezzenta (seasoned head meat), sopressata (made here from offal), vecciareddra (lungs, skin, and cartilage sausage), and cotechinata.
Basilicata’s cheeses are famous thoughout Italy, especially the exceptional caciocavallo Podolico, which is formed in the shape of a giant teardrop. Provolone, scamorza, burrata or butirro, mozzarella and caciota are other cow’s milk cheeses from the region. Sheep and goat’s milk cheeses are also popular including the Pecorino di Filiano, Canestrato di Moliterno, and the salted cacioricotta.
Other local ingredients include: prickly pears, figs, capers, and honey; patelle (limpet, a type of mollusc), anchovies, truffles, liquorice, durum wheat, and many cultivated fruits: strawberries, raspberries, peaches, pears, grapes, asparagus, oranges, tangerines, clementines, grapefruits, and nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and chestnuts).
Basilicata produces fine extra virgin olive oil in several parts of the region. Some olives are salt-cured for table eating.
The typical dishes of Basilicata include pasta dressed in tomato sauce, herbs and chilli, or pecorino cheese and olive oil. Meat, when cooked, is usually grilled, braised, or baked. Vegetables often feature instead of meat in elaborate dishes such as melanzane al forno (aubergine cooked with olives, anchovies, capers, and tomatoes), ragnante (potatoes cooked with onions, tomatoes, pecorino, and olive oil), and piatto d’erbe (a mix of many vegetables like onions, aubergine, peppers, tomatoes, parsley, basil, and garlic cooked together). Meals often end with cheese, followed by nuts and oranges. Desserts are sweet; some include honey.
A local gem is red wine made from Aglianico grapes in Aglianico del Vulture DOC. Look for producers such as Carbone, D’Angelo, Paternoster, Tenuta Le Querce, Terre degli Svevi, and Vigne Mastrodomenico.
Basilicata is famous for its Amaro Lucano, a bitter after-dinner liqueur made from alcohol infused with wild and medicinal herbs.
What to Eat
A list of typical dishes from Basilicata (the most classic dishes are written in bold):
Mescuotte (a hard bread flavoured with anise and shaped in to rings, knots, or M’s)
Panella (a bread made of durum wheat and cooked potatoes)
Ruccul / Ruccolo (focaccia topped with olive oil, garlic, chilli, and oregano)
Picciulatieddu cu frittuledde (a filled dough pocket with pork crackling)
Pipu (baked pasta dough topped with oregano, pecorino cheese, and tomato sauce)
‘A Ruscedda’ bruschetta alla pancetta (grilled bread with bacon, chilli, tomatoes, and cheese)
U pastizze or cuzzola (baked filled dough with lamb, beaten eggs, and grated cheese, for Easter)
Primi (First Courses)
Acquasale (soup with onion, beaten eggs, and chilli, served with fresh breadcrumbs and grated ricotta salata cheese)
Lagane e Ceci (chickpea soup with garlic, rosemary, and chilli, served with fresh lagane pasta)
Maccheroni di fuoco (long pasta with chilli, garlic, and olive oil)
Minestra strascinata (pasta squares with tomato sauce and pecorino cheese)
Pancotto (bread soup with cherry tomatoes, broccoli rabe, onions, wild chicory, and cabbage boiled with bay leaf and chilli, dressed with olive oil)
Pasta con ragù alla potentina (strangulapreuti or orecchiette pasta dressed in meat gravy from braising pork or beef rolls filled with garlic, parsley, and pancetta in tomato and white wine, served with pecorino cheese)
Penne all’arrabbiata (penne pasta with a spicy tomato sauce made with garlic or onion)
Ragnante (potatoes with onions, tomatoes, pecorino, and olive oil)
Ravioli alla potentina (ravioli pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese, prosciutto, eggs, and parsley, served with meat sauce and grated salted ricotta cheese)
Spaghetti di Maratea (spaghetti pasta with tomato garlic sauce)
Strangulapreuti (strangulapreuti pasta with meat sauce)
Strascinato con la menta (strascinato pasta dressed with mint, lardo, oil, garlic, and chilli, sometimes with crushed chilli)
Secondi (Main Courses)
Agnello alla pastora / Pasturale (lamb with potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, garlic, onion, and pecorino cheese)
Agnello ai cardoncelli / Agnello e funghi al forno (baked lamb cubes with king trumpet mushrooms, oil, garlic, and chilli)
Agnello sott’aceto (marinated lamb in vinegar)
Baccalà alla Lucana (fried salt cod with preserved peppers and olive oil)
Baccalà alla potentina (stewed salt cod with black olives, olive oil, onion, raisins, and tomato, often served with fried peppers)
Beccacce alla Lucana (woodcock flavoured with bay leaf, barded with prosciutto, cooked in white wine, and served with toasted bread and a sauce made from the giblets, capers, anchovy, and Marsala wine)
Cazzmarr / Marretto di agnello alla Lucana (roulade of lamb or kid goat innards wrapped in caul and secured with intestines, with prosciutto)
Cutturiddi / Agnello in casseruola / Cutturidde (Lamb stew with onion, tomato, celery, rosemary, bay leaf, olive oil, pecorino cheese, and chilli)
Gelatina di maiale (terrine of pig’s trotter, ears, and snout with almonds, pine nuts, raisins, and spices)
Gnumerieddhi / Gnumarieddhi / Gnumereddhe (barbecued rolled kid goat or lamb organs flavoured with parsley, pecorino cheese, and lardo, wrapped in caul, soaked in water and vinegar, and secured with intestines)
Migliatello (baked lamb or goat innards flavoured with garlic and parsley, wrapped in pancetta or prosciutto, secured with intestines with oil, salt, rosemary, and bay leaves)
Pecorelle in salsa / Lumache (snails with tomato sauce)
Pignata di pecora (clay pot mutton stew with vegetables)
Pollo alla potentina (stewed chicken with tomato, basil, white wine, parsley, and chilli)
Scapece (fried preserved anchovies in vinegar, garlic, mint, and chillies)
Spezzatino di maiale (pork stew with chilli, tomato, rosemary, and garlic)
Testina d’agnello al forno (baked lamb’s head)
Tortiera di baccalà e patate (potato and salt cod cake)
Zuppa di pesce (fish soup)
Contorni (Side Dishes)
Calzone di verdure alla Lucana (stuffed pizza with chard, chilli, and raisins or black olives)
Cappelle di porcini al forno (baked porcini mushrooms with parsley, garlic, chilli, breadcrumbs, and oregano)
Ciammotta (stewed, deep-fried potatoes, peppers, and aubergines with tomato and garlic)
Cialdedda /Cialledda (bread soup with tomato, onion, and oregano or parsley)
Funghi a fungitiello (mushrooms sautéed with tomatoes, parsley, garlic, and chilli)
Lampasciuoli sott’olio (grape hyacinth bulbs preserved with chilli, parsley, and mint or garlic)
Melanzane al forno (aubergine baked with black olives, anchovies, capers, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, oregano, bread, and herbs)
Patate raganate (baked potatoes with onion, oil, tomatoes and gratinéed with pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs, and oregano)
Patate lessate con diavolicchio (pan-fried potatoes garnished with chilli oil)
Patate e sedano (potatoes with celery, garlic, tomato, chilli, and parsley)
Piatto d’erbe alla Lucana (sautéed vegetables onions, aubergines, peppers, and tomatoes with basil and parsley)
Copete (almond and cinnamon nougat baked on wafers)
Fritelle alla Lucana (bay leaf flavoured doughnuts)
Grano dolce / Cuccìa (boiled wheat berries sweetened with walnuts, pomegranate, wine must, and chocolate)
I dolci di noci (walnut cakes)
Miele e ricotta (honey with ricotta tart)
Strangolapreti fritti (deep-fried lemon flavoured dumplings dusted with sugar)
Torta di latticini alla Lucana (cheesecake)
Uova ripiene al cioccolato (chocolate filled eggs)
Burrata (an extremely creamy mozzarella)
Burrino / Manteca / Butirro (stringy paste of caciocavallo cheese around a ball of butter, produced in Basilicata, Campania, Molise, and Calabria
Caciocavallo (a stretched or pulled-curd cow’s milk cheese, a provolone shaped like a bowling pin, produced in Potenza and Matera but a highly sought after version is the caciocavallo Podolico della Basilicata. Caciocavallo is sometimes served with honey.)
Cacioricotta (a mixed ewe’s and goat’s milk cheese)
Casieddu di Moliterno (a soft goat’s milk cheese, strained through ferns and wrapped in nepitella, from Val d’Agri, particularly the Moliterno area. Moliterno means “the milking place”. This cheese is only made in the summer.)
Canestrato di Moliterno (a hard mixed ewe’s and goat’s milk cheese placed in baskets made from reed (fuscedd’) hence the name ‘Canestrato ‘(in the basket) and seasoned for 6 to 12 months in storerooms (fondaci))
Mozzarella (a soft, fresh, mild cow or buffalo’s milk cheese)
Pecorino (a hard ewe’s milk cheese)
Provolone (originating from Campania, it is a stretched-curd cow’s milk cheese formed into a teardrop or sausage shape)
Ricotta (traditionally made from the whey, this low-fat curd cheese is sometimes enriched with cream. When salted and aged it hardens and becomes ricotta salata, which is used for grating, as a table cheese, or as an ingredient in first courses and desserts)
Scamorza (originating from Puglia and Campania, this is usually a smoked version of mozzarella in the stretched-curd, teardrop shape)
Amarello (liquorice liqueur)
Amaro lucano (a herbal bitter spirit)
Nocino (green walnut liqueur)
Punch al miele (honey punch)
Rosolio (rose petal, citrus fruit, and wild berry liqueur)