Last updated on November 23rd, 2023
Basilicata is perhaps one of Italy’s most underrated regions, considering it’s chock-full of history, culture, scenery – and delicious food!
Are you going down to southern Italy but looking to stay off the beaten path? Tired of waiting in lines at top-rated trattorie or osterie in major cities? Maybe you are traveling with kids and need something a little more laid back and less crowded.
Well, Basilicata is the region for you! The food is absolutely amazing, there are plenty of vegetarian options, it’s a pasta lovers’ paradise, and you won’t have to worry about getting the short end of the stick by missing out on top restaurants. They are all amazing, all authentic and all undiscovered!
Keep reading for our guide to Basilicata’s best foods, flavors and treats to bring home. We will include short descriptions, including pronunciation (although we make no promise to include all dialects as they are so complicated and a very well-kept secret language among themselves!), and any tips and facts that will help you during your travels.
Mangiamo – let’s eat!
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Food from Basilicata vs Italian Food
Basilica is overshadowed by its neighboring regions. Puglia, Calabria, and Campania have their world-famous cheeses and pastas, but Basilicata has also made a name for itself in Italy for its prized primi piatti (first courses).
Basilicata is historically an extremely poor region, so they have developed ways to make practically anything out of durum wheat (and other hearty grains), which grows very well in the fertile soil.
The warm climate also provides optimal growing conditions for fruits and vegetables, a primary source of vitamins and minerals. This produce is also their main way to add flavor and depth to pastas and stews. You will see a lot of tomatoes, leafy green,s and artichokes!
The practice of bread making has been around since ancient times; records show as far back as 7000 BC! Even the oldest documented records of pasta in Italy come from Basilicata. If that isn’t good enough proof that they are the masters of carbs, then I don’t know what is!
Fish is common on the coast, and less common meats such as lamb, goat, and even horse are more popular as you move inland. Rearing and raising livestock is a large part of Basilicata’s way of life and a means by which to feed their family and friends.
Like the rest of Italy, Basilicata food incorporates a lot of olive oil, cheeses, and cured meats into their dishes. The region also borrows spice from its neighbor, Calabria, and we also see Sicilian influences here and there.
And, of course, what would a meal be without a good glass of wine?
Let’s take a look at some of Basilicata’s best ingredients and dishes:
(Pronounced pehz-zehn-tah in Italian)
This is known as the “poor man’s sausage” because it is made using the less expensive cuts of pork, veal, and lamb that are all mixed and flavored with wild fennel, various spices and hot chili. It has a dark red color.
Learn More: Read all about the Different Types of Italian Sausage.
(Pronounced sohp-prehs-sah-tah in Italian)
Although this is a common cold cut eaten throughout Italy it was first invented in Basilicata. Pork meat is seasoned with salt, peppercorns and chili peppers before being packed in a natural casing and left to dry. It is then preserved in olive oil.
Ventresca di Rionero
(Pronounced vehn-trehs-cah dee ree-oh-nehr-oh in Italian)
This salami is a by-product of pancetta production. The pancetta is rinsed and seasoned with chili and garlic before being rolled up to age for about two months. It is enjoyed as a cold cut on charcuterie boards.
Lucanica di Cancellara
(Pronounced loo-cah-nee-cah dee cahn-chehl-lahr-ah in Italian)
This pork sausage, dating back to Roman times, is made in the mountains in the Alto Bradano area. Distinguished by its “U” shape, this sausage is seasoned with wild fennel, black pepper, sweet dried pepper and salt. It is then aged in large rooms equipped with fireplaces, giving it a distinct smoky taste.
Don’t Miss: Cancellara celebrates the lucanica di cancellara during the annual food festival in September.
Canestrato di Moliterno
(Pronounced cah-neh-strah-toh dee moh-lee-tehr-noh in Italian)
The particularity of this mixed milk cheese is that it’s made in many areas of Basilicata, but the aging process only happens in the area of Moliterno. It can either be enjoyed fresh or aged; like most cheeses, it becomes sharper the older it gets.
Padraccio del Pollino
(Pronounced pah-drahch-choh dehl pohl-lee-noh in Italian)
This is a fresh unpasteurized goat’s milk cheese from the Polliano area. It is mellow, creamy, and best served spread on bread with bitter greens and/or pickles.
This cheese is made fresh or slightly aged in Lucano. It is made with Calamintha Nepeta Sav, an aromatic herb that grows locally. The cheese is kept in fern leaves until it is eaten.
Pecorino di Filiano
(Pronounced peh-coh-ree-noh dee fee-lee-ah-noh in Italian)
This PDO-protected hard sheep’s milk cheese from Filano is aged for at least six months in traditional tufa stone caves. The rind is very hard and brownish, while the inside is white or yellow. It is great with either fruits or vegetables and you will also see it grated over pasta.
(Pronounced cah-choh-cah-vahl-loh poh-doh-lee-coh in Italian)
This cheese gets its name from its shape resembling saddle bags draped over a horse. This rich cheese is made with milk from the Podolico cow, making it one of Italy’s most expensive cheeses you can buy!
(Pronounced pah-stah mohl-lee-cah-tah in Italian)
This is the region’s most famous dish born from nothing. Onion, tomato, red wine, and oil are cooked with stale bread to make a sauce that is then served over long pasta, most likely bucatini. You can’t leave without trying this!
Strascinati con Mollica e Peperoni Cruschi
(Pronounced strah-shee-nah-tee cohn mohl-lee-cah eh peh-peh-roh-nee croo-skee in Italian)
Strascinati is a homemade pasta shape formed with wooden boards in the shape of olive leaves. They are either dried or cooked fresh and served with a sauce made from crispy flakes of crumbled, locally-grown red peppers and bread crumbs (of course, handmade with stale bread!). The peppers are sweet, not spicy, so don’t be afraid!
(Pronounced cah-vah-tehl-lee in Italian)
This pasta is made by hand by every nonna on the block by pushing bits of dough across a pastry board with three fingers to create little pockets, ideal for holding sauce. You will find this pasta dressed in any way, from meat ragù to fish to chickpeas and bitter greens.
(Pronounced strah-shee-nah-tee in Italian)
This is a common pasta shape you will also see in Puglia, but here it is larger, similar to orecchiette in shape but more oval with one smooth side and a rough backside. They used to be served with vegetables, but now you see them with all sorts of sauces, including ragù, with breadcrumbs and vegetables, with ricotta, and also fish.
(Pronounced ah-qwah-sah-leh in Italian)
A simple yet delicious soup created to use up stale bread. The broth is made with just onions, tomato and peperoni cruschi, ladled into bowls lined with stale bread, and finished with a poached egg.
Lasagne e Cicciari
(Pronounced lah-sahn-yuh eh cheech-chah-ree in Italian)
Lasagna here doesn’t refer to the oven-baked pasta dish but the shape of this pasta, similar to tagliatelle but short and thick (also called sagne in other parts of Italy). In this dish the pasta is cooked with chickpeas flavored with rosemary, onion, garlic, celery and sometimes breadcrumbs.
(Pronounced crah-pee-ah-tah in Italian)
This is an ancient stew of various legumes and grains, including lentils, fava beans, wheat berries and chickpeas, dating back to Roman civilization. Every year on the 1st of August, it is tradition to eat this soup together in Matera, followed by dancing late into the night as a symbol for the importance of this dish for poor communities throughout history.
Fact: Matera is one of the oldest known human settlements in the entire world!
Minestra di Patate e Verza
(Pronounced mee-neh-strah dee pah-tah-teh eh vehr-zah in Italian)
This is a heartwarming stew rather than a soup made primarily from cabbage and potatoes flavored with chili peppers, olive oil, garlic and onions. The ingredients are cooked down into a mush and until almost all the broth has evaporated. It is all then mashed up like a lumpy mashed potato and drizzled with olive oil.
(Pronounced pahn-coht-toh in Italian)
Translating into “cooked bread” this is one example of poor man’s cooking in the region. Every family has their recipe, but the idea is the same: onion and spicy peppers are sautéed in olive oil to which broth is added. The mixture is poured onto slices of stale bread, turning the whole thing into a filling meal. Sometimes eggs are added.
Agnello alla Pastora
(Pronounced ahn-yehl-loh ah-lah pah-stoh-rah in Italian)
Also known as pasturale, this is a one-pot lamb stew cooked with potatoes, tomatoes, local herbs, onion, garlic and pecorino cheese.
Cutturiddu di Pecora
(Pronounced coot-too-reed-doo dee peh-cohr-ah in Italian)
This is a typical way to prepare lamb for the Easter holidays originating from the ancient pastoral traditions of southern Italy. Mutton is slowly stewed with onions, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, celery and garlic in ideally earthenware pots until the meat has tenderized and the vegetables are falling apart.
Carne di cavallo
(Pronounced cahr-neh dee cah-vahl-loh in Italian)
Perhaps not the most popular meat nowadays but you can still find specialty butchers who will sell horse meat and serve it for supper in the evenings when they fire up the grills. Choose what cut you want and leave the experts to cook it perfectly!
Pollo alla Potentina
(Pronounced pohl-loh ahl-lah poh-tehn-tee-nah in Italian)
This stewed chicken dish from Potenza is enriched with lard, onions, white wine, chili peppers, tomato, parsley and basil. The lard gives an extra depth and with a side of roasted potatoes, you will stay nice and full until the next morning!
Baccalà alla Lucana
(Pronounced Bahk-kah-lah ahl-lah loo-chah-nah in Italian)
Sometimes called baccalà all’aviglianese, you will find this salt cod even on the mainland as it was and still is a dish that can be prepared months after the fish is caught. It is made with the famous peperoni cruschi, parsley and olive oil. A local favorite on Christmas.
Tip: Baccalà alla Lucana is celebrated during the annual Sagra or food festival in August in Avigliano.
We Recommend: Osteria al Casale for seafood
(pronounced rah-rah-nah-tah in Italian)
Rafanata is large egg omelet also known as a frittata in Italian with potato, pecorino cheese and grated horseradish (known as ‘poor man’s truffle in the south). It’s traditionally served around Easter time.
A simple yet hearty stew of artichokes, pancetta and fava beans. In some towns the artichokes are served whole stuffed with potatoes, broad beans and pancetta, and then braised in a vegetable or chicken broth.
(Pronounced chahm-moht-tah in Italian)
A smoky vegetarian stew made from fried eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes and peperoni cruschi.
Pane di Matera
(Pronounced pah-neh dee mah-tehr-ah in Italian)
The bread to eat in Basilicata from Matera. Need we say more?
Read More: about pane di matera and about all of Italy’s bread in Bread in Italy – Types of Italian Breads & Where to Eat Them
(Pronounced strahz-zah-tah in Italian)
Local focaccia that is meant to be torn with your hands instead of cut with a knife. Sometimes it will be made with lard and bits of bacon.
(Pronounced peez-zah roo-stee-cah in Italian)
Actually not a pizza but a perfectly flaky pie filled with eggs, cheese and cured meats. Here in Basilicata it is made on Good Friday to be enjoyed for the Easter celebrations.
Calzone di Verdura
(Pronounced cahl-zoh-neh dee vehr-door-ah in Italian)
Just as Americans know them, this one is filled with a combination of swiss chard, mozzarella, pine nuts and raisins (here is your Sicilian influence), creating the perfect combination of salty and sweet.
(Pronounced peht-toh-lah in Italian)
Bites of fried dough stuffed with locally grown cauliflower and anchovies.
(Pronounced moh-stahch-choh-loh in Italian)
A popular diamond-shaped cookie made with vino cotto, or cooked wine, honey, almonds and flour and covered in chocolate.
(Pronounced sang-gween-ahch-choh in Italian)
Its name references the pig’s blood that is traditionally used to make this chocolate pudding-like dessert. Made during carnival and served with lady fingers, you won’t find a dessert more local than this one!
Anginetti di Lauria
(Pronounced ahn-gee-neht-tee dee laow-ree-ah in Italian)
These anise-flavored cookies are glazed with sugar and lemon made for wedding celebrations.
(Pronounced scohr-zeht-teh in Italian)
Meaning “bark” in the local dialect, these meringues are made from egg whites, hazelnuts or almonds, and dark chocolate. I love them!
(Pronounced strahz-zah-teh mah-tehr-ah-neh in Italian)
A crunchy cookie made on Christmas with almonds, eggs, and cocoa powder.
Tip: Strazzate materane are a fantastic cookie to bring home with you because they can last for months if made well. They usually don’t make it past the gate for me though!
Frittelle alla Lucana
(Pronounced freet-tehl-leh ahl-lah loo-chah-nah in Italian)
Essentially fried dough or small doughnuts flavored with bay leaf and dusted heavily with powdered sugars
(Pronounced strahn-goh-lah-preh-tee in Italian)
These are little bites of fried dough, looking similar to large gnocchi flavored with lemon and dusted with powdered sugar.
(Pronounced pah-pah-roht-tah loo-chah-nah in Italian)
Sometimes called pan minisc’ made from grape must, flour and sugar, locals first ate this sweet treat for an extra energy boost during long days working in the fields.
(Pronounced bohc-coh-noht-tee in Italian)
Short-crust individual pastries filled with black cherry jam, orange jam or even custard. Great for breakfast!
(Pronounced chee-chehr-ah-tah in Italian)
A traditional Christmas dessert made of small, fried pieces of dough that are stacked into a pyramid shape and covered in warm honey. You will see this throughout the south, not only in Basilicata.
Notable Flavors and Crops of Basilicata:
- Marroncino di Melfi: larger than normal and very prized chestnuts growing around Vulture. Don’t miss: Melfi annually celebrates this chestnut at the Sagra della Varola.
- Fagioli di Sarconi: a slightly sweet legume that grows well with the warm southern Italian weather.
- Melanzane Rosse di Rotonda: an eggplant variety similar in looks to a tomato that grows only in the province of Potenza.
- Patate (Rossa di Terranova del Pollino e patata di montagna di Muro Lucano): a soft and delicate potato that cooks well with lamb.
- Cavolfiore dell’Ofanto: grown in the Ofanto river valley, this cauliflower is used in many local recipes.
- Peperone di Senise: this is what defines so much of Basilicata’s cooking. They are long, red sweet peppers that you often see hanging from balconies or windows. They are then crumbled or crushed to make peperoni cruschi, the flavoring that is used in so many dishes. They are so popular, in fact, that they are known as “red gold” by the locals.
- Scorzone (Tartufo nero): this black truffle is grown exclusively in the western part of Basilicata. It is not as prized as other varieties but it lasts much longer.
- Olio Extra Vergine di Vulture: a prized olive oil produced in Potenza with an amber–yellow color. A great item to bring back with you!
Aglianico del Vulture
The grape used to make this wine (Aglianico) grows in the volcanic soils of Monte Vulture in the province of Potenza, lending a rich and tannic wine. The wine tends to be very dark with aromas of darker fruits that age incredibly well. It only gets better as it matures, so get a good bottle and drink it ten years from now!
- Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri and the Grottino di Roccanova
- Matera Greco