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E - 154 : Cucina Povera - Food in Puglia

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Typical Landscape in Puglia - Italy's heel

Almost a week ago I blogged about Calabria's mountain food, a diet rich in vegetables with a bit of pork here and there. Today I will focus on food in Puglia which we will circumnavigate during our third week of sailing. Over the last few years, I have been to Puglia a couple of times but the only food I remember are the many varieties of pasta dishes. Did I eat local food or was this imported fast food from other parts of Italy? What I also remember are the miles and miles of olive tree orchards when you drive from Brindisi to Bari. There is nothing comparable anywhere else in the world. According to Wikipedia, Puglia produces almost half of Italy’s olive oil. What an amazing fact for such a small region.

Olive trees for miles and miles

Contrary to Calabria, Puglia is flat. It was part of the African plate that split off by a fluke and attached itself to the folding floor of the Tethys Sea which became the Apennine 15 million years ago. The soil is crystalline and unfolded limestone which furnished the stones for the wonderful Baroque buildings I talked about in the last two blogs. Puglia is more arid than Calabria as it gets less rain during the winter months. The summers are equally dry. Durum wheat grows well here and Puglia must have been part of the big Hellenic grain trade albeit I could not find any sources to corroborate. But if wheat grows well today, it grew even better during the times of Magna Graecia. The Puglia Peninsula is surrounded by Greek harbours. The Greek colonists would not have settled here for nothing.

As always, when looking for Italian food, the site "Great Italian Chefs" is the best. I found everything I was looking for. It is so well done. Have a look:

With abundant wheat, Puglia is indeed a bread and pasta country.Have not tasted the famous Pane di Altamura though which apparently stays fresh for over two weeks. But chef Konstantinos who just confirmed his participation in our sailing this summer has a canny ability to source local food. Am sure he will find it.

There are many types of pastas. Orecchiette which I believed were from Liguria – always learn something new when writing – Troccoli (kind of a fat spaghetti) and Sagne (ribbons of fettuccine) are the most prominent varieties of Puglia.

As Calabria, Puglia was extremely poor after it lost its export markets for wheat and became a border region to the Ottoman Empire. Wheat and vegetables thus dominate the diet, there is no meat in the traditional dishes. It was far to expensive and a privilege for the local aristocracy only. The plant diet was supported by the ever present olive oil and local wines.It is said here that on bread and olive oil one can survive forever. It has all the human body needs. Many pasta dishes are thus made with local vegetables which include wild chicory, a local type of broccoli called Cimi di Rape, Lampascione, a type of onion, and tomatoes of all sorts.

Won’t have time and space here to talk about all of them but here a few dishes to illustrate above:

Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa is made by blanching the Rapa in hot water for not more than three minutes. Then it is fried in olive oil – add some spicy red peppers or some garlic if you like – and then mix the veggies with the pasta. The dish takes less than half an hour to cook and is light and delicious. Cime di Rapa are a tad more bitter than broccoli but if you like the flavour of rocket salat you will like it.

The second dish I want to mention is the Calzone di Cipolla, an onion pie, made with local young onions or the red onions I talked about a week ago, the sweet Tropea onions. I know it is a bit of a sacrilege, but I buy the dough from my local shop. Preparing dough is just so time consuming. But it works and is almost as delicious as the original. The pie's filling are onions roasted with anchovies in olive oil, with a few raisins and olives added plus a handful of grated Pecorino. I use Pecorino since the local cheeses from Puglia are not available in Switzerland. Bake for 30 minutes in 200 Celsius and serve with rocket salat. It is delicious!

The last dish I want to talk about is Tiella which reminds me of the Spanish Paella - maybe it came from there? It is typical left-over food where everything left in the kitchen is used. You will need a sauce pan for the oven - Le Creuset is excellent. To assemble the Tiella lay onions, potatoes, tomatoes and rice on top of each other, repeat once and top it with left-over seafood – mussels or shrimps or pieces of fish. Then cover your Tiella with crumble made from Pecorino, breadcrumbs and chopped parsley. Bake for 45 minutes et voilà! There is a perfect recipe at the bottom of the "Great Italian Chefs" site I mentioned above.

Now have to research the wines of Puglia – was a bit disappointed when researching wines for Calabria but Puglia seems to be much more promising. More to come!

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Feb 07, 2021

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