Published: Oct 12th, 2012
words by Sharon Rogers
Chef Federico Valicenti is a real people person and when you visit his restaurant Ristorante Tipico Luna Rossa in Terranova di Pollino, the main town in the eastern part of the Pollino National Park in Basilicata, you experience so much more than just a meal. Apart from the stunning views from the restaurant terrace and the fantastic food featuring local produce and homemade pasta such as the pasta bruna made from a mix of chick pea, barley, wheat and oat flours, one of the highlights of eating here is Chef Valicenti himself. During our lunch, which consisted of 9 courses, he came to our table during each course to explain what we were eating, especially the historical or traditional significance of the dish.
Modern day Basilicata was once part of an ancient area of Southern Italy known as Lucania. The restaurant features Lucanian cuisine and also what is commonly referred to as cucina povera or peasant food although Chef Valicenti prefers to refer to it as traditional food and he has fine tuned ancient regional recipes to include on his menu.
We had the tasting menu which consisted of 3 taster portions of anitpasti, 2 of primi piatti (literally ‘first plate’, but difficult to translate exactly as meals in the UK and many other countries are in a completely different format, but which I’m sure we all know refers to what is usually a pasta or rice course), 2 of secondi – often the meat or fish course and 2 of dessert. If you want to try this tasting menu or menù di degustazione go hungry because the ‘taster portions’ are generous.
The first antipasto, “ciambottella nella sportella” was a dish conceived of in the past as an easy way to transport a meal away from home and into the fields to be eaten during a short break in the working day. It is a hollowed out bread roll filled with peppers, tomato, egg and salsiccia (sausage) and capped again with a bread ‘lid’. A convenient meal in an edible container! There are probably many international examples of this type of dish. From the UK the Cornish pasty springs to mind which was exactly the same concept; meat and potatoes inside a pastry case, the pastry being the edible container, which was a meal that Cornish miners used to be sent down the mines with, now widely enjoyed all over the UK.
Indeed, Chef Valicenti will tell you that there is a story behind every dish on his menu, for example the “coscia della sposa” or the “bride’s thigh” is a slow cooked leg of lamb. Legend has it that this dish was served to the bridegroom during the wedding dinner to compensate him for the upholding of a past rule known as "lo ius primae noctis" which stated that the Count or Lord of the area had the right to the first night with his bride! Then there’s “maiale alla rabatana” - pork cooked with orange peel. This was a dish devised by the Lucanians to prevent Arab invaders from eating their oranges as, once cooked with pork, the oranges would no longer be appealing to them.
The Chef is also willing to accommodate special diets whilst maintaining the main flavours of the dish, and was able to produce, for example, a vegetarian version or alternative of all the 9 courses of the tasting menu for me which I requested with a day’s notice. Another nice surprise is the bill at the end of the meal which we found to be more than reasonable at €40 a head for 9 courses, a bottle of wine, coffee and liqueur.
Chef Federico Valicenti - image courtesy of lafamevienmangiando.com
Not only a great talent in the kitchen, but also a font of knowledge of the region, Chef Valicenti came and sat at our table at the end of the meal and asked about our plans for the rest of the day. We were in fact heading back to our hotel in Matera and had been planning on returning via the same route we had arrived by. Thanks to the Chef, who produced a hand-drawn map for us and took the time to explain what we could see along the way, we took a different route back through the National Park enjoying some of the sights we would have otherwise missed. This level of service and attention to detail is not such a common thing these days and was a real treat, although I have to say that in general the service and hospitality was of a very high standard everywhere we went in Basilicata, even at the little supermarket round the corner from where we stayed in Matera who presented us with a 3 or 4 generous free samples of local cheeses when we were trying to decide which to buy.
Tip: If you have the chance to go and eat at Luna Rossa and you don’t speak Italian yourself, bring along an Italian speaking friend to translate for you. If that’s not possible, come anyway, put yourself in the hands of the Chef and let the food speak for itself!
Chef Valicenti will soon be opening a new restaurant in Rome offering a menu that celebrates Italian excellence whilst leaning towards mediterranean cuisine and street food.
For more information visit: www.federicovalicenti.it
85030 Terranova di Pollino(PZ)
Telefono fisso 097393254
Telefono cellul +39 347 8567385
TERRANOVA DI POLLINO
Terranova di Pollino è situato a 926 metri s.l.m., con una popolazione di circa 1200 abitanti è il paese più all'interno nel Parco Nazionale del Pollino. Si arriva dalla Val Sarmento e la strada interna continua con una dorsale verso la Calabria Ionica che affianca le grotte del Raganello, ed un'altra dorsale verso la Calabria Tirrenica attraversando boschi e pianori popolati da cavalli liberi e orchidee selvatiche. Situato sotto il Monte Calvario, protetto da una timpa a cui ha "rubato" le pietre per le costruzioni delle proprie abitazioni, Terranova di Pollino si porge come un terrazzo che volge lo sguardo alle vette maestose del Parco Nazionale del Pollino. Ingresso naturale di accesso al Parco, l'aria pura, le fresche sorgenti, i territori incontaminati fanno di Terranova di Pollino uno scrigno di sapori e saperi dove le tradizioni e le usanze, tramandate da generazioni in generazioni, offrono al visitatore sacra ospitalità e cultura dell'ambiente sano e pulito. Il paese "dell'Arte Zampognara" da secoli coltiva la passione per la musica e la danza popolare. Maestri "zampognari" costruiscono a mano "zampogne e surdulline", "ciaramelle e tamburelli", tramandando i segreti dei suoni e degli accordi di questa nobile arte alle nuove generazioni. La gastronomia e i prodotti tipici abilmente trasformati da mani esperte, intrisi di tipicità, riempiono le cucine dei ristoranti, delle trattorie, delle osterie e degli agriturismi di profumi e odori che raccontano l'unicità dei prodotti del territorio. Maestri di sci e guide ufficiali attraverso le escursioni guidate, itinerari in mountain bike, nordic walking, ciaspole e sci da fondo completano l'offerta per un turismo eco-sostenibile. La vegetazione, unica nel suo genere, si distingue per la grande ricchezza delle specie presenti che testimoniano la varietà e la vastità del territorio tra cui il Pino Loricato (Pinus Leucodermis Ant.), nome che deriva dalla corteccia che l'avvolge, ricorda la corazza dei guerrieri romani, la Lorica. Il suo nome scientifico deriva da Leuco che significa bianco e dermis che significa pelle. Albero ultracentenario, qualcuno addirittura con più di mille anni, per la sua bellezza è stato scelto quale emblema del Parco Nazionale del Pollino. In questo stupendo territorio, luogo di grandi meraviglie naturalistiche, geologiche, ambientali e culturali, sorgono le Murge, di recente inserite nella rete dei Geoparchi tutelati dall'Unesco.
Terranova di Pollino......in questa parte di mondo dove sembra che la strada finisce, comincia la vita!