Basilicata Dinner at Felidia

29 Jan 2010, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in chefs & restaurants

In his latest ReMARKable Palate episode, Chef Mark recapped some of the delicious discoveries we made at a recent dinner at Felidia highlighting the flavors of Basilicata, Italy, which lies between the Apennine mountains and Tyrrhenian Sea (or the “instep” of Italy’s boot). The event was hosted by Lidia Bastianich and our dear friend Lou DiPalo, whose ancestral roots can be found in Basilicata.

Lou’s son Sam was recognized as an ambassador to the region that evening, and it was delightful to see the pride on papa’s face as they both enjoyed that special moment. DiPalo’s (both the store in little Italy and the online store) features the products we tasted at this event should you find your mouth watering.

We would be remiss if we didn’t share images of the dishes from the menu, as the regional flavors came together at the hands of chefs Mario DeMuro, Rocco Cristiano Pozzulo and Francesca Rondinella to emphasize the beauty of simplicity. We were very taken with the dried Senise peppers (left side of photo below), which we were initially hesitant to bite into lest they be fiery hot. Much to our surprise, they had a delicious sweetness that would replace most snack foods for us. They were crunchy like a potato chip, but flavorful and sweet like a natural food should be.

Our first course featured a selection of Basilicata cheeses including Caciocavallo Silano DOP (one of my favorites) and Pecorino de Filiano DOP, served with regional honeys, preserves and olive oil. The orange blossom honey was my absolute favorite, with acacia following at a close second. The dish was accompanied by pickled eggplant slices that packed a tart punch, so our mouths were dancing before we reached the last forkful.

Next was a dish of comfort food at its finest. Rich yet surprisingly light, the cavatelli with Fagioli di Sarconi IGP, this flavorful bowl of goodness was perfect for a chilly winter’s night. Pasta e fagioli is a classic combination (“pasta fazool” for those who insist on using a dialect…sigh).

Our next pasta course highlighted those lovely dried Senise peppers, sprinkled over stracinati pasta with cacioricotta (a sheep’s milk cheese) and toasted breadcrumbs.

A surprise awaited us with the next dish. As it said “flan” on the menu I was expecting the typical flan texture as one might find in a dessert flan; this, however, was firm, composed of Canestrato di Moliterno DOP cheese and with flavors that mimicked the taste of the inside of a ravioli. Decadently rich, the flan’s accompaniments of tomato sauce and crispy fried basil leaf provided a lovely counterpoint to make for a dish that, for me, screamed Italy.

I get a little bit excited about figs. Dessert had me writhing in my chair a little bit, as the honey dessert (described as a tart, but much more like a Madeleine texture) was served with a pistachio sauce and caramelized fig. I would trade chocolate and any other candy for these figs, and must now have them in my pantry. They would be perfection served with a light creamy accompaniment — even vanilla ice cream.

Many thanks to the region of Basilicata, Lou DiPalo, Lidia Bastianich and Felidia for inviting us to be a part of this evening. As Lou DiPalo likes to say, Italy is a region of 20 different countries, and we are learning the unique components of each as we taste our way around the boot. There is never a dull flavor moment.