“When riches didn’t have anything else to steal to poor, they stole their cooking”: the Morzello of Catanzaro story

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Morzello catanzarese | The Morzello of Catanzaro

Morzello catanzarese | The Morzello of Catanzaro (Calabria, Southern Italy) | Ricetta a fondo pagina (Recipe below)

by Angela Rubino

A people history is the base of its existence and, if archaeology, art and literary sources are the tools which lead us to the knowledge of our past, also dialect, proverbs, traditions and gastronomy can tell us, in their own way, who we were and how we lived in times gone by.

That’s gastronomy the field I want to focus on, by involving a delicious but modest dish: the Morzello of Catanzaro. It’s a meal cooked with bovine tripe and offal, tomato concentrate, hot peppers, salt, oil, laurel and oregano to eat with pitta, a typical kind of bread in the shape of a flattened doughnut and with little crumb.

Although his humble origins, this enjoys food conquered a whole people’s palate, becoming one of the most representatives dishes of Catanzaro gastronomy and receiving also the certification De.C.O. (Municipal denomination of origin). Being not happy about this success, which has gone on for a long time, Morzello has had a leading role in the TV program “Unti e bisunti” (Filthy and Greasy), broadcast on DMAX.

But what is the story of Morzello? What are its origins?

It has been suggested that it dates back to the period of the Saracen domination (IX- X century), that wasn’t limited to just little raids and periods of occupation, but broadened to the creation of a veritable Arab emirate in the capital of Calabria, which started in 906 and lasted about thirty years, how also shows the discovery of coins and jewels with Arab inscriptions on the occasion of the works for the construction of the Catanzaro Municipal Building. To support this theory there’s the existence, in the Middle East, of a meal similar to Morzello. It’s a kind of flattered bread prepared like pitta and covered by a tasteful, spicy food that is almost an ordinary meal. Furthermore we need to underline that offal used to prepare Morzello must be bovine, not pork.

Morzello origins are poor and it was made of that offal disdained by riches. But the Catanzaro people’s inspiration in cooking made it succeed and it arrived on the aristocrats tables and was included in their diet. Today we even have a trend reversal that is a return to traditional foods that was considered unrefined and suitable for the peasant class. And so – quoting Achille Curcio – “when riches didn’t have anything else to steal to poor, they stole their cooking and called it Mediterranean Diet”.

How can we blame him? After all, during the television limelight in Catanzaro, people were treated like spectators and under the spotlight there were only the “favorites”.

THE ORIGINAL RECIPE

Ingredients for 1 kg of morzello (for 4/6 people)

200 gr of calf’s tripe (rumen, fourth stomachs and graticule) – 400 gr of third
stomachs ( the so called “centupezzi”).
200 gr of mixed calf’s meat: lung, spleen and heart (optional).
200 gr of stomach.
animal fat (to obtain from boiling) that will be the dish dressing
100 gr of tomato concentrate.
Flavourings: laurel, oregano, hot Calabrian peppers.
Salt to taste

Directions:

After have cleaned very carefully tripe with warm water, join it to “centupezzi” and other calf’s bladders (heart, lung and spleen) if you have decided to use it; boil it for 15 minutes, pull out ingredients from water and chop them in little pieces. Pull out from water even animal fat obtained from boiling. Put ingredients and animal fat in a pot big enough to occupy ¼ of its height, then join some red wine and stir-fry it very carefully. After that join tomato concentrate and water until you fill the pot. And finally, join hot Calabrian peppers, some laurel and oregano. Cook on a low heat, without covering, for at least 2 hours, mixing from time to time with a wood spoon and joining some water if necessary. Morzello will be ready when dressing will get to the surface. Serve it hot in pitta (characteristic Catanzaro bread with a doughnut shape) or directly in the dish, with pitta aside.

PITTA (recipe)

Ingredients:

500 gr of flour 0
350 gr of warm water (where dissolve yeast + half a teaspoon of sugar)
12 gr of yeast ( about half a cube)
30 gr of extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt (put it in the flour before kneading the rest)

Directions
Dissolve yeast in warm water, pour it on the flour and mix, add some salt and oil, mix again and knead for about 10 minutes, until you obtain a homogeneous, smooth and elastic dough.
Put the mixture in an oiled terrine, cover it with a rag and make it rise for 4-5 hours. After this time, take the dough again, reduce the swelling and give it a doughnut shape. Then cover it with a rag and make it rise again for about 2 hours. At this point, put the doughnut on a baking tray covered with parchment paper and bake it, in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees for 20 minutes or until the pitta surface will be golden. When it will be well-done, let it cool, then cut it horizontally and stuff it with morzello.

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