Explore Food of the Italian South

In most cultures, exploring food means exploring history, and the Italian south has plenty of both to offer. Most people think of tomato-based sauces with pasta as being representative of all of Italy and “Italian food,” but this is not true. These beloved and widespread culinary traditions hail from the regional cuisines of the south.

Acclaimed author and food journalist Katie Parla takes you on a tour through these vibrant destinations, including Molise, Puglia, Campania, Basilicata and Calabria in her book, “Food of the Italian South: Recipes for Classic, Disappearing, and Lost Dishes” (Clarkson Potter/Publishers) and lets you sink your teeth into the secrets of their rustic, romantic dishes. Parla shares rich recipes, both original and reimagined, along with historical and cultural insights that encapsulate the miles of rugged beaches, sheep-dotted mountains, quiet towns, and most importantly, culinary traditions unique to this precious piece of Italy. Along
the way, you’ll discover what makes the food of the Italian south unique and get to enjoy being an armchair traveler.

Parla is a New Jersey native who is now a Rome-based food and beverage journalist, culinary guide, author of numerous books and educator. Follow her on her award-winning food and travel site, KatieParla.com, or on Instagram and Twitter@katieparla.


Orecchiette with Burrata, Tomatoes, and Almond Pesto

Reprinted from “Food of the Italian South,” ©2019 by Katie Parla
Photographs ©2019 by Ed Anderson
Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC

Serves 4 to 6

For the roasted tomatoes

1 1⁄2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
Sea salt

For the pesto

1⁄4 cup almonds, finely chopped
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
Sea salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for the pasta
1 pound fresh Orecchiette al Grano Arso or dried orecchiette
7 ounces Burrata di Andria

Make the roasted tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 250°F. In a medium bowl, combine the cherry tomatoes, olive oil and dried oregano. Season with salt.

Transfer to a medium baking dish and roast until the tomatoes are shriveled and dry, about 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the pesto: In a mortar, crush the almonds, 1⁄4 cup of the basil, and a heavy pinch of salt into a paste with the pestle. Add a bit of olive oil, but only as much as the herbs need in order to hydrate into a paste, no more than 3 tablespoons. If you add too much oil, the pesto will quickly turn from green to a blackish-olive color. When you have a smooth paste, stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and set the pesto aside.

Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Heavily salt the water. When the salt dissolves, add the orecchiette and cook until they lose their raw flavor, about 3 minutes. Drain the orecchiette and transfer to a large bowl. Add the pesto, stirring to coat. Stir in the tomatoes and the burrata. Plate and serve immediately, garnished with basil.


Fried Polenta Fritters

Serves 4 to 6

2 2⁄3 cups instant polenta
1⁄3 cup small-diced cicioli
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup boiling water
Neutral oil or lard, for frying

Line a large platter or baking sheet with paper towels.

In a medium bowl, mix together the instant polenta, cicioli, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the boiling water, about 1⁄4 cup at a time, mixing vigorously to incorporate all the ingredients until a compact mass has formed.

In a medium frying pan or cast-iron skillet, heat 2 inches of oil to 400°F. When the corn mixture is cool enough to handle, grab a fistful and squeeze it between your palm and fingers, creating a crescent-shaped fritter with your fist. Repeat. Fry the manell’, working in batches as needed, turning once for even browning, about 4 minutes. Drain on the lined platter and serve hot, sprinkled with salt.

Note: Cicioli are a common ingredient in the south, but they come in various incarnations depending on where you are. Sometimes they are pressed fat, layered and sliced to be used like fatback or pancetta. In this case, they are the fatty and meaty substance that has been left behind when pig fat is rendered. The remaining material is pressed into tiles and used to impart savory flavor. If you cannot find cicioli, you can substitute pancetta, guanciale or lardo.