Italian flavors: Red aubergine from Rotonda
- WTI Magazine #119 Sep 15, 2019
The Rotonda Red Aubergine DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) made its appearance in the small municipality in the Polino National Park in the early twentieth century, when the necessity of finding work and the dream of building a new life drove many of the inhabitants of Rotonda to set out on the adventure instigated by the Fascist regime: Ethiopia.
The families that managed to return home before the advent of the Second World War brought a curious aubergine with them. Its story is still told today by the elderly, who were the children born in Africa at that time who went on to accompany their families on their return to Rotonda.
The adaptation of this plant to the local area was such that it brought about a differentiation of the African species from which it originally came.
Around the 1990s, efforts were made to re-launch the cultivation and commercialisation of the aubergine, with targeted promotion and communication projects that led to it receiving Slow Food protection in 2000.
Strengthened by the knowledge that the Rotonda Red Aubergine DOP represents a truly unique product on the national gastronomic scene, in 2011 its producers decided to form a consortium. The objective of the consortium is to promote the DOP and reinforce the distinctiveness of the Rotonda Red Aubergine DOP.
The elements that make this vegetable unique are its characteristic orange colour verging on bright red and the typical shape, which is reminiscent of a tomato. Its fruity aroma recalls the prickly pear, and its flavour is spicy and pleasantly bitter.
Rarely consumed fresh, it is generally preserved in oil or vinegar.
The hardiness and versatility of this aubergine have made it a vegetable particular appreciated by farmers, to whom it represented a precious everyday staple during the Second World War.
Unlike other aubergines, its pulp does not brown when cut thanks to its low content of chlorogenic acid, which is what causes fruit to darken.
Moreover, the Rotonda Red Aubergine DOP has also been included in a plant-breeding programme because it is thought to be capable of transferring resistance to various pathogens.
The cultivation of the Rotonda Red Aubergine DOP is characterised by its traditional technique and by the product’s final destination, which involves its transformation “in oil” in accordance with the typical recipe from the region.
The growing techniques used for the Rotonda Red Aubergine DOP do not differ substantially from those adopted for other species belonging to the same genus.
What makes this process stand out is the preservation of the seeds, which takes place in the fruits themselves, which are left whole and “nzertate” (sewn together in a kind of necklace) and left to dry under the canopies.
The local area
The municipality of Rotonda represents the original farming area of the Rotonda Red Aubergine DOP. From there, its cultivation spread to various surrounding towns, all falling within the Valle del Mercure: Castelluccio Inferiore, Castelluccio Superiore and Viggianello. The climatic conditions and the features of the soil directly influenced the organoleptic and qualitative properties of the Rotonda Red Aubergine DOP, differentiating it from the original African species.
The gentle climate with abundant rainfall in the period ranging from October to May together with the land, which is silty-clay, fresh, deep, fertile and with good water retention, make the Mercure valleys ideal for growing it.
By Consorzio di tutela della Melanzana Rossa di Rotonda with MiPAAF