No one had a simple name in the Canarsie neighborhood and culture that surrounded my fathers butcher shop in Brooklyn.One of the characters that worked in the store for a couple of years was Freddie the Actor.I didnt know him by any other name.All I remember is that he was a handsome guy in his late twenties or early thirties and he was Calabrese.The butchers in the store were all Italian except for my Greek dad, but if you know about Italians, you can never just say you are Italian.You must be identified by your region of origin.Well the butchers in the store were Calabrian, Sicilian and Neapolitan.Naturally in the store and around the neighborhood these were pronounced the Italian way, Calabrese, Siciliano, Napolitano.While the crew loved one another and would have fought to the death on the street to defend each other if there was ever trouble, this did not stop the daily sniping that went back and forth from butcher block to butcher block inside the store.So my entire knowledge about Freddie and the Calabrese was that they were thick-heads, you know stubborn.Freddie was constantly accosted with this label.He gave as good as he got, but he was permanently labeled thick-head, and he kinda was.
Now move forward in time 40 years.Diane and I are cruising with our church group through the Straight of Messina in the early morning.Thats the spot in the Mediterranean between the toe in the Italian boot and Sicily.I walk out on deck immediately following morning mass that was conducted by our priest and our deacon from home who were both on the trip with the group.I look over the port side and there was Calabria unfolding before me and for the first time in 40 years I understood.Understood what? you might say.I understood why the Calabrese were the most stubborn of the Italian people.The landscape seemed to rise almost vertically from the sea into high mountains.You had to be stubborn if you were going to live in a place like that!So I turn to my companions, tell the story of Freddie the Actor, and how the Calabrese got the rap of being the most thick-headed and stubborn people of Italy.Joey, our deacon, was standing there, looking at me with a bit of a blank stare and he says, I am Calabrese.Naturally, I say, Oh, not you, Joey!Meanwhile his wife, Marie, is standing behind him, tapping her finger on her temple and mouthing the words, He is thick!So it must be true.Freddie the Actor and Joey the Deacon were separated by 40 years, but peas in a pod.The Calabrese are the most stubborn and hearty people of Italy, and they pass the traits to their offspring.
Their food is hearty, too.Simple, but hearty.You will love it.It seems to unite and balance the cuisines of the nearby Italian regions of Campania, Basilicata and Apulia.The land produces pigs, sheep and beef.The eggplant is the king of vegetables; the sunny warm climate yields all sorts of citrus, olives and herbs; and the abundant sea surrounding on three coasts provides seafood of all types.
This meal will be spread over a bit more time because there are so many good tastes to experience from Calabria.I am suggesting smaller sized portions so you can taste everything.We will eat the sausage, cheese, olives, citrus, lamb, fish, herbs, eggplant, nuts and simple sweets.We will even sample the famous Caviale dei Poveri or Poor Mans Caviar of the region, although some of you may have to plug up your nose to have this strong smelling and tasting treat.There will be soup.There will be salad.There will be pasta.Before our double dessert, we will have two main courses!So settle in for a good old fashion big Italian family meal.