Basilicata, whose name originally derived from Luciana, which allegedly came from the Latin word lucus for “wooded area,” or from lykos, from the Greek meaning “wolf.” Called Lucania throughout both the Greek and Roman empire, the name changed to Basilicata after the empires fell and the Byzantine Empire came to the forefront. Fred Plotkin, a man who “knows these things,” speculates that the name may have derived from the term basileus, which is basically the Turkish title for the man-in-charge of the particular hinterland.
Hinterland it was, and hinterland it remains. With more than ninety percent of the entire region encompassed by hills or mountains, the rest of the land being two, small shorelines and the flat plains that stretch from both shores, the “la terra” of the Basilicata in 2013 has not changed much from “la terra” of the Basilicata in 1910. Unlike the region in 1910, it now has telephone lines, roads, cars, refrigeration, and some spotty Internet access, but the food remains magnificently rustic. Considered a poorer region, the people reserve cow meat and pork for special occasions and tourists, leaving the cuisine filled with famed diavolicchi chilis and locally foraged ingredients like lampascioni (tiny, bitter red lily bulbs), broad beans and porcini mushrooms of all varieties, and wild fennel. A typical meal here would have one or two grains or dried pulses, a pasta or two, and finish with grilled, local cheese and a piece of prickly pear. Chickens and rabbits fit into the regular diet, but mutton is traditionally served for those dying of old age, and typically eaten in a cutturiedde or a pigneto, cooked at a pace that varies with each cook. This is the food of the Old West, risky, wildly varied, and yet extremely tasty and completely unique to its “terra.”