Puglian Cuisine

Chickpeas & Greens

Chickpeas and Greens

In kitchens in the heel of Italy’s boot necessity has long been the mother of invention.

In a rural and traditionally hard-up part of Italy, Puglia’s cuisine is classic cucina povera (cuisine of poverty). This term might sound bleak and austere, but the spirit of cucina povera is improvising and making the best of what you’ve got from season to season. This limited palate gives rise to wonderful creativity in the kitchen. In summer the emphasis is on greens and fish, while in winter homemade pasta is preferred.

It also helps that the region’s staples like olive oil, vegetables, bread, pasta, seafood and lamb are of impeccable quality, which shines through in simple dishes.

Often flat and stark, Puglia is perhaps the most fertile agricultural region in the country. Here, through fierce summers and soft winters, olive groves, vines and durum wheat crops thrive.

Puglia contributes a hefty proportion of Italy’s wine and pasta, and also produces fantastic seasonal vegetables. As a rare Italian haven for vegetarians, a hallmark of the cuisine in Puglia is the unusual combination of fresh greens with pasta.

But the true symbol of Puglia’s food culture is the olive tree. Puglia produces 40% of Italy’s olive oil. Olive groves cover vast swathes of the landscape—there are 240,000 farms and 60 million individual trees—and if you wander through one of these farms you’ll see wizened and twisted old trees with thick and knobbly trunks that give you an idea of just how old this industry is.

Puglia, Olives

Olive tree cultivation in Puglia dates back to the start of the region’s colonization by the ancient Greeks, some 5,000 years ago. But the industry really took shape in the 1700s when tax breaks were handed down by Charles of Bourbon to any landowners who made space for olive trees. There are four EU Denomination of Origin of Production areas (DOPs): Collina di Brindisi, Dauno, Terra D’Otranto and Terra di Bari.

What’s exciting is the way the flavor of the oil changes from place to place. Collina di Brindisi oil is often a pale yellow hue and has a slightly fruity taste, while Terra d’Otranto’s product is a darker green and has a herby bouquet.

When it comes to pasta, the most popular variety in Puglia is orecchiette. It is shaped like Orecchiette_al_Pomodoroa small ear, hence the name, and is great at holding sauce. Traditionally, orecchiette pasta is served with anything from horsemeat sauce to turnip greens. Strascinati has the shape of dry curled up leaves and once only furnished the tables of poor families, but is now served at the top restaurants. It goes best with a broccoli and chili pepper sauce.

On the coast, of course, the cuisine draws from the Ionian and Adriatic seas. In Bari for instance the local specialty is a baked rice dish with mussels and potatoes.

Puglia, Puglia BreadIn the interior, where the land is rockier and less arable, herds of sheep are a common sight. Here in winter, warming lamb stews are served with crusty bread such as the the DOP Altamura, which comes in rustic circular loaves.

Puglian Cuisine

Chickpeas & Greens

Chickpeas and Greens

In kitchens in the heel of Italy’s boot necessity has long been the mother of invention.

In a rural and traditionally hard-up part of Italy, Puglia’s cuisine is classic cucina povera (cuisine of poverty). This term might sound bleak and austere, but the spirit of cucina povera is improvising and making the best of what you’ve got from season to season. This limited palate gives rise to wonderful creativity in the kitchen. In summer the emphasis is on greens and fish, while in winter homemade pasta is preferred.

It also helps that the region’s staples like olive oil, vegetables, bread, pasta, seafood and lamb are of impeccable quality, which shines through in simple dishes.

Often flat and stark, Puglia is perhaps the most fertile agricultural region in the country. Here, through fierce summers and soft winters, olive groves, vines and durum wheat crops thrive.

Puglia contributes a hefty proportion of Italy’s wine and pasta, and also produces fantastic seasonal vegetables. As a rare Italian haven for vegetarians, a hallmark of the cuisine in Puglia is the unusual combination of fresh greens with pasta.

But the true symbol of Puglia’s food culture is the olive tree. Puglia produces 40% of Italy’s olive oil. Olive groves cover vast swathes of the landscape—there are 240,000 farms and 60 million individual trees—and if you wander through one of these farms you’ll see wizened and twisted old trees with thick and knobbly trunks that give you an idea of just how old this industry is.

Puglia, Olives

Olive tree cultivation in Puglia dates back to the start of the region’s colonization by the ancient Greeks, some 5,000 years ago. But the industry really took shape in the 1700s when tax breaks were handed down by Charles of Bourbon to any landowners who made space for olive trees. There are four EU Denomination of Origin of Production areas (DOPs): Collina di Brindisi, Dauno, Terra D’Otranto and Terra di Bari.

What’s exciting is the way the flavor of the oil changes from place to place. Collina di Brindisi oil is often a pale yellow hue and has a slightly fruity taste, while Terra d’Otranto’s product is a darker green and has a herby bouquet.

When it comes to pasta, the most popular variety in Puglia is orecchiette. It is shaped like Orecchiette_al_Pomodoroa small ear, hence the name, and is great at holding sauce. Traditionally, orecchiette pasta is served with anything from horsemeat sauce to turnip greens. Strascinati has the shape of dry curled up leaves and once only furnished the tables of poor families, but is now served at the top restaurants. It goes best with a broccoli and chili pepper sauce.

On the coast, of course, the cuisine draws from the Ionian and Adriatic seas. In Bari for instance the local specialty is a baked rice dish with mussels and potatoes.

Puglia, Puglia BreadIn the interior, where the land is rockier and less arable, herds of sheep are a common sight. Here in winter, warming lamb stews are served with crusty bread such as the the DOP Altamura, which comes in rustic circular loaves.

More Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Olive Oil, Benefits of Olive Oil, Puglia Olive Oil

The Mediterranean Secret of Health

Now I know why I lose weight in Italy! There is now yet another reason to consume olive oil. Yesterday there was an article in the NY Times about yet another advantage of this healthy oil – “The research found that compared to other oils and fats, extra virgin olive oil was more likely to increase a person’s feelings of satiety after a meal. But another phase of the study showed that just imparting the scent of olive oil to food – by adding an aromatic extract – reduced the amount of calories people in the study consumed and improved their blood sugar response.”
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/is-the-secret-to-olive-oil-in-its-scent/?emc=eta1

80% of Italy’s olive oil comes from Puglia, the Mediterranean’s elixir for health…a perfect reason to join Unique Backroad Journey’s trip to Puglia in October. We will visit a olive tree farm that makes organic olive oil on the premises.

Is Global Warming Responsible For Rise in Black Truffle Prices?

Found mostly in the Perigord Noir, an area of southwest France, the black truffle is prized for its pungent flavor and aroma and is added to just about everything in this region of France. Often called black diamonds and dreadful looking, slices of them are placed under the skin of end of year holiday food like geese, chickens or capons, added to home-made fois gras, or grated over potatoes or eggs.  Consequently, they are in demand during the days leading up to December 24th when larger quantities of the black truffle are sold more than any other time of the year.  According to a New York Times article, the price for this black, subterranean mushroom is now about $1,200 per pound.  

The up turn in price is the result of the down turn in harvest, according to the paper.  A group of British Scientists have discovered a correlation between amount of rainfall and the size of the truffle harvest.  Over the past several years, temperatures have been hotter in the Mediterranean basin and rainfall has declined.

Truffles have been eaten for centuries.  Still rumored to be an aphrodisiac, the Catholic Church banned their consumption during the middle ages! They grow around the roots of oak and hazelnut trees and, when ripe, produce a strong scent.  Pigs have traditionally been used to find the gnarly, black mushroom.  They have a strong sense of smell and love truffles.  All too often however, the pigs would eat the truffle before the hunter could harvest it.  Pigs are large, strong and difficult to control.  Today, trained dogs are more the norm; they are much easier to manage and don’t care for the taste.

During the trip to the Dordogne in June, 2013, we will visit our renowned truffle-hunting friend, Edward, on his property and learn the art of finding black truffles with his trained dogs.  After our truffle hunt, we will have a glass of wine while tasting some delicious black truffle delicacies.  Buon appetit!

Is Global Warming Responsible For Rise in Black Truffle Prices?

Found mostly in the Perigord Noir, an area of southwest France, the black truffle is prized for its pungent flavor and aroma and is added to just about everything in this region of France. Often called black diamonds and dreadful looking, slices of them are placed under the skin of end of year holiday food like geese, chickens or capons, added to home-made fois gras, or grated over potatoes or eggs.  Consequently, they are in demand during the days leading up to December 24th when larger quantities of the black truffle are sold more than any other time of the year.  According to a New York Times article, the price for this black, subterranean mushroom is now about $1,200 per pound.  

The up turn in price is the result of the down turn in harvest, according to the paper.  A group of British Scientists have discovered a correlation between amount of rainfall and the size of the truffle harvest.  Over the past several years, temperatures have been hotter in the Mediterranean basin and rainfall has declined.

Truffles have been eaten for centuries.  Still rumored to be an aphrodisiac, the Catholic Church banned their consumption during the middle ages! They grow around the roots of oak and hazelnut trees and, when ripe, produce a strong scent.  Pigs have traditionally been used to find the gnarly, black mushroom.  They have a strong sense of smell and love truffles.  All too often however, the pigs would eat the truffle before the hunter could harvest it.  Pigs are large, strong and difficult to control.  Today, trained dogs are more the norm; they are much easier to manage and don’t care for the taste.

During the trip to the Dordogne in June, 2013, we will visit our renowned truffle-hunting friend, Edward, on his property and learn the art of finding black truffles with his trained dogs.  After our truffle hunt, we will have a glass of wine while tasting some delicious black truffle delicacies.  Buon appetit!