Matera, queen of Basilicata
Greeks, Byzantines, Lombards, Saracens, Normans, then Frederick II and the Aragonese: over the centuries different civilizations took leadership of Basilicata, a land set between mountains and sea, with different landscapes that create unforgettable color contrasts. Think Pollino, that part of the region that stretches into Puglia and laps the provinces of Potenza and Matera; then the area of the Apennines and the Little Lucanian Dolomites, jewels of the regional natural park. But among all, Matera is the undisputed queen of this land, especially this year, boasting the title of European Capital of Culture 2019, a goal that will allow the city to unleash all its charm, a bewitching beauty that exudes centuries of history.
Matera in 2019
Matera and its Sassi, the Caveoso and the Barisano. Matera and its natural quarries that guard its soul, the murals that have marked its international fame and the hidden crypts that reveal the traces of a cultural mix yet to be discovered. Among alleys and churches carved out of rock, hermitages, cave dwellings and baroque buildings, Matera is presented in all its glory for this 2019 with an offer that's full of novelties. A unique place in the world that, from Saturday 19 January, will be in the spotlight with a series of exhibitions, events, shows, guided tours, events and projects designed to highlight all the good and the beautiful the city has enchanted over time with its solid and austere character, from Carlo Levi to Mel Gibson, by way of Pasolini.
A city that boasts an authentic and robust culinary tradition, made of extraordinary products that have remained intact over time, thousand-year old traditions handed down through generations, genuine flavours of a simple, peasant cuisine inspired by the soil, agriculture and pastoralism. Think crapiata, an ancient legume and cereal soup that's perfect nourishment on the coldest days, and then dishes based on lamb, peperoni cruschi (dried sweet peppers); lagane, a fresh pasta similar to tagliatelle but thicker, broader and shorter; the cialledda, also known as the "reaper's breakfast", a mixture of wet bread, tomato, cucumber, peppers and olive oil.
What to taste
Preparations based on simple ingredients with an intense flavour, which compose a rich and varied gastronomic offering. There are cured meats, lucanica in primis, made with pork shoulder from free-range animals bred in the wild, coarsely chopped with a knife and seasoned with wild fennel and then stuffed into a natural casing and hung to dry. Then there's wild boar sausage; Rionero ventresca (innards sausage); and then cheeses, truffles (like scorzone); strazzata, a typical local focaccia, and the pride of the region's production: the bread of Matera. Emblem of local gastronomy laden with symbolic meaning: until the '50s, the bakers of Matera used to mark loaves with a wooden stamp that depicted their family, to distinguish them after collective baking. In the shape of a croissant, Matera bread is reminiscent of the maternal Murgia ravine, and is made with durum wheat flour and natural "mother" yeast.
What to drink
Basilicata confirms itself more and more as a point of reference in the Southern Italian wine scene. Starring role goes to Aglianico del Vulture, a wine of the homonymous grape cultivated in the province of Potenza. Among the volcanic areas of the Vulture, also Doc Matera, which includes both red and white wines, plus other two important names of the province of Potenza: Terra dell'Alta Val d'Agri and Grottino di Roccanova.
Extra virgin olive oil
Equally important is the area's production of extra virgin olive oil, a product that continues to spark interest of local olive growers, who are increasingly committed to bringing increased value to local cultivars. Among all, the Ferrandina maiatica is the absolute protagonist, a historical double-relevance variety, but there's also ogliarola del Brandano and the ogliarola del Vulture, protected by the only denomination of protected origin of the territory, the Dop Vulture.
Recommendations extracted from the Ristoranti d'Italia 2019 guide
This historical venue continues to offer good home cooking featuring local ingredients, from cruschi peppers to local wild mustard greens and broad bean puree. Among the must taste dishes, there's leg of lamb from the Lucanian Dolomites. A good Basilicata-themed wine cellar with an excellent selection of Aglianico. Our advice is to always book a table in advance.
L'Abbondanza Lucana – via Bruno Buozzi, 11 - www.facebook.com/LAbbondanza-Lucana-115335065175812/
Local ingredients and original dishes served in the heart of the Sassi district. We start with a pleasant welcome spread, based on Matera bread and local olive oil, followed by a triumph of antipasto tastings, home-made pasta and substantial mains. Plus a rich wine selection.
Baccanti – via Sant'Angelo, 58 - www.baccantiristorante.com/
A cuisine made of local knowledge and imagination, traditional recipes and the most advanced gastronomic preparations. This means appetizers may include watermelon, raw scallops, teriyaki and pumpkin flower in tempura, and then pasta dishes like potato gnocchi with moscardini octopus sauce, lime butter, creamed goat cheese and escalope of foie gras of duck, or a pasta tube stuffed with seafood, fresh cream and seasonal herbs.
EGO – via T. Stigliani, 44 - egogourmet.it/it/ego-ristorante-gourmet-matera-2/
After a long pause, Vitantonio Lombardo opened his restaurant in the Sassi, on the road that runs along the entire gravina ravine and connects the two districts of Barisano and Caveoso. Try the cialledda made with bread, tomato, carosello cukes, onions, friggitelli and gin; or the broad beans and chicory, oyster and green apple; and the spaghetti with aubergines, buffalo mozzarella and marinated shrimps.
Vitantonio Lombardo – via Madonna delle Virtù, 13/14 - www.vlristorante.it/
A good family trattoria where diners can taste traditional dishes, made with fresh prime quality ingredients. Meals can start with broad beans and chicory topped with fried onion, and continue with tripolina pasta dressed with meatballs and tomato sauce. Among the mains, do not forgo the pignata, sheep's meat stewed with potatoes, chicory, celery, salami and pecorino.
Stano – via Santa Cesarea, 67/69 - www.stanoristorazione.it/
Proof of the gradual rebirth that is taking place in Matera is this noble palace renovated with taste and furnished with meticulous detail and elegance, where gourmands can taste modern dishes that make excellent use of local ingredients. Egg in ciambotta, for example, made with peppers and onion; or the Sunday sauce, both personal interpretations of traditional classics. Great service, modern and precise.
Dimora Ulmo – via Pennino, 28 – www.dimoraulmo.it
Recommendations extracted from the Pasticceri&Pasticcerie d'Italia 2019 guide
A few steps from Piazza Vittorio Veneto, there's a solid bakery: Pashtello, pastry temple that offers creations focussing on refined aesthetics and balanced flavours. Rocher with chocolate and crumbled hazelnut; Bavarian mignons with dark chocolate and semi-candied raspberry; fruit tartlets made with frangipane cream and dacquoise coated in crispy sesame and coconut: these are just some of the house specialties. Also, excellent artisanal gelato.
Pasthello – via Don Minzoni, 7 – www.pashtello.it
Consolidated business that for over half a century is characterized by a classic high-level offer, which also leaves room for regional and traditional specialties. Don't miss tasting the tette delle monache, soft little cakes stuffed with Chantilly cream; or the shortcrust tartlets filled with cream and fresh fruit, plus their zeppole and bigné.
Schiuma – via T. Stigliani, 92 – www.loungecaffe.it
Schiuma dal 1946
Historic address in business for over seventy years, a simple and welcoming environment, where treats can be enjoyed at any time of day. Krapfen and fried donuts are a real treat, but equally tasty are the house bigné, puff pastry tubes and assorted biscuits. Good selection of cake design options for any occasion.
Schiuma dal 1946 – via XX Settembre, 10 – www.pasticceriaschiuma.com
Recommendations extracted from the Bar d'Italia 2019 guide
Equally valid as a coffee bar, Pashtello is the ideal place for a hearty Italian breakfast: on the lower level of the room, inspired by the essential lines of Scandinavian design, there's a convivial table where patrons can enjoy 100% Arabica coffees, paired with fragrant croissants that can be piped with silky smooth cream fillings.
Pasthello – via Don Minzoni, 7 – www.pashtello.it
Schiuma also competes in the best coffee bar category, with its range of tasty brioche to cakes, that best pair with a frothy cappuccino and a smooth cup of espresso.
Schiuma – via T. Stigliani, 92 – www.loungecaffe.it
The aromatic and persistent espresso perfectly pair with the classic artisanal sweets in this historical coffee bar, a reference point for all the local Materani. Cream-filled croissants and brioches, puff pastries and slices of cake: the choice is wide and focuses on simple and genuine flavours.
Tripoli – piazza Vittorio Veneto, 17 - m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=260259570670361
Recommendations extracted from the Pizzerie d'Italia 2019 guide
Located inside the 17th century Palazzo Malvezzi, this high quality pizzeria offers well-leavened pies seasoned with the best local ingredients, with some specialties hailing from nearby Puglia. Top choices include the pizza with tomato, mozzarella, cardoncelli mushrooms and dry or fresh sausage, and equally deserving is the simple Margherita.
Da Mario – via XX Settembre, 14 - www.ristorantepizzeriadamario.it
Typical Neapolitan pizzas baked and served in the elegant Barisano district: light and digestible pies feature the thick rim, enriched with quality ingredients. There's classic Margherita and then the Oi Marì, topped with tomato, buffalo mozzarella, Pezzente sausage and truffle; equally good is the pizza with three tomatoes. Desserts are also excellent.
Oi Marì – via Fiorentini, 66 – www.oimari.it
Panzerotti lovers, this is the place for you. Here the typical dough pockets are well fried, non oily, golden and cooked to perfection. The mezzaluna crescent alone is worth the stop, but the offer is wide and varied, and also includes pizza with tomato sauce, potato croquettes, arancini and stuffed sandwiches.
Bar Sottozero – via XX Settembre, 51 - www.facebook.com/Bar-Sottozero-1044037878968092/
Last summer's project born in the South has planted firm roots, first in Vallo della Lucania and then in Agropoli, and also consolidated in the North, with a Milan opening in the spring of 2017. DaZero is the pizzeria brainchild of three partners: Paolo De Simone, Giuseppe Boccia and Carmine Mainetti, who together have brought high-level pizza to Matera, and which has already conquered the palate of many.
DaZero – via Madonna delle Virtù, 13 - www.cominciadazero.com/