A couple of weeks ago we traveled into remote Basilicata accompanied by two cousins. It was an astounding trip in many respects, not the least of which because we connected with distant family members there in my great-grandfather’s hometown. Michele and his wife Milena, generous and welcoming, treated us to a feast the likes of which I had never experienced before. This was a meal to remember which lasted for three and a half hours. We sat and dined for three and a half hours! Such gluttony! I felt like we’d stepped into the film, Big Night (a worthy rental if you’ve never seen it). Platters laden with food arrived constantly. It was amazing! So, without further adieu, here is the menu.
Prosciutto and coppacolla. Grilled veggies delicately seasoned. Anchovy-stuffed hot peppers that put a fire into even my mouth, a seasoned New Mexican chile-eater. Air-dried sweet peppers that were fried to a crisp in olive oil. Another type of prosciutto and a seasoned lard (the only piece of food that day that I didn’t care for), cured sausages laced with fennel. Olives, three cheeses, and semolina bread. And that was just the antipasto!
Out came a heaping bowl of cavatelli, the pillowy-soft pasta melt-in-the-mouth delicious, topped simply with those air-dried peppers, breadcrumbs and peppery olive oil. More forks and a bowl of ravioli, the ricotta cheese having been made that morning “or last night at the latest,” Melina informed us, slightly laced with mint and the lightest of tomato sauces. More forks and a huge platter of stewed lamb over top of oven-roasted and perfectly seasoned potatoes. All of this was, of course, accompanied by home-made wine and bottles of water that came from Monte Vulture, probably the food item that traveled the longest distance to reach our table. More forks and I was about to roll out of my chair when Michele assured us it was simply for fruit, not a heavy dessert. “Just fruit” was an enormous platter of the most beautifully arranged, luscious produce that it should have been placed on a banquet table in front of a dignitary. I later realized that we were considered the dignitaries, the American family come to Basilicata.
Cousin Rose reminisced throughout the meal, as each plate brought a childhood memory and her face showed the joy of it all. We reveled in these dishes, which sound so simple but were so utterly delicious, I’d make the trip again in a heartbeat just to taste the goodness of those items.
Read more about the trip in my monthly column on Slow Travel and on my 2 Baci blog.