Puglia, a region long contested by rival and competing civilisations throughout history, is where their cultures and tastes have collided.
Each has left their culinary imprint on this land, which together with the ingredients and crops they brought with them, the sun drenched climate, fertile soils, the surrounding seas and the long tradition of peasant agriculture with feudal overlords has interwoven into an impressive cuisine unique to this region of Italy.
The flat plains of the lowlands are carpeted with extensive groves of olive trees, producing a high quality, rich green oil comprising 70% of Italy’s total output. The uplands further north yield heavy harvests of hard durum wheat prized for making pasta such as Puglia’s indigenous “orecchiette” and the range of thick crusted breads, baked in traditional wood-fired ovens and often eaten just sprinkled with salt and dipped in olive oil.
Throughout the region, vineyards hanging with grapes, produce 10% of the entire wine output of Europe. Deeply coloured, rich and strong Puglian reds were traditionally mixed to improve and fortify the blander labels of northern Italian output. Scorning this custom today, discerning cantinas and wineries are producing excellent ranges of wine under Puglia’s own labels.
The iron rich, fertile red soils produce vast quantities of fresh vegetables and fruits, the 800 km coastline, strung with little fishing harbours with their fleets of bright blue, wooden fishing boats reap bountiful catches of seafood, all these factors combine to yield the ingredients of “La Tavola Pugliese”
A history of feudalism with exploitation of the inhabitants created the legend of “La cucina Pugliese nasce come cucina povera” translating as “The Puglian cuisine is born from the cooking of poverty” Even today, Puglia is one of the few places in the world where wealthy people eating in up-market restaurants, and the patrons of more humble establishments, still order, savour and enjoy the same dishes that were created in peasant kitchens long ago… there is little distinction between rich and poor in the home kitchens throughout Puglia nowadays as one finds plates of pasta with beans, cavatelli with cime di rapé and chicory with broad bean puree typical of them both.
With little summer rainfall and less wealth, the cuisine of Puglia was created to use whatever was available to the inhabitants gone by.
Food was eaten in season or dried, salted or stored for use in leaner months. The summer gluts of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and courgettes, were eaten in more and more inventive ways to use up whatever was plentiful at the time. When creativity and imagination were exhausted, suddenly the season was over and other produce appeared, such as beans, chicory, artichokes, fennel, broccoli and rape, and the skills of the cook for producing further new dishes from the same ingredients was tested yet again.
Dry summer grasslands provided poor grazing, resulting in sheep and goats – not cows – being the main farm animal, and with meat scarce on the menu, these herds turned dry grass and scant pickings into the famous mozzarella, ricotta, scamorza and pecorino cheeses that feature in so many Puglian dishes.
Nearly surrounded by seas , the kitchens in Puglia were supplied with squid, molluscs, prawns and octopus together with fish such as tuna, anchovies, bream and mullet when available.
Troccoli con frutti di mare, fishermans risotto and spaghetti with mussels are typical of the combination of ingredients from land and sea, whilst fresh swordfish, tuna steaks, frittura mista of fried squid and prawns or grilled fish are enjoyed by workmen and bankers alike.
Modern Puglia and its people have kept this inheritance alive, and food is a unifying factor throughout the area, with everyone knowing the “proper” way that a dish should be cooked, and their way is of course – the right way !
Today people generally start in the morning with a light breakfast, normally just a cappuccino high and frothy with whipped milk and a sprinkling of chocolate dust, accompanied by a hot crisp cornetto, fresh from the local bakery, stuffed with molten chocolate, stewed fruit or a vanilla cream, or perhaps the famous pasticiotti so synonymous with Puglia.
Lunchtime is still a serious meal down in Puglia, and could comprise a light version of the renowned Puglian antipasti, a selection of many varied dishes giving a range of textures and flavours to prepare for the main meal, which would comprise a primo dish of pasta such as penne with cherry tomato and basil, or rice such as maybe risotto with porcini mushrooms. Following the primo would be the secondo, a course of meat – perhaps an escallop of veal in a lemon sauce, or grilled/roasted fish either of which would be served with a side salad. Fruit would generally follow, whatever was in season…perhaps a combination of two or more from watermelon, grapes, peaches and figs, ….and …. the whole meal served with baskets of bread.
Bread is eaten throughout Puglia at nearly every meal, throughout the meal, from start to finish. Towns pride themselves on being called “Citta di Pane” …translated as “The City of Bread”.
The catch is, – so many towns make so many different and delicious breads there are literally dozens of towns locally nicknamed the “City of Bread” throughout Puglia that it can be confusing.
Evening meals tend to be lighter, bread again, with salad, mixed cold meats, salamis and cured ham, a plate of mixed cheeses and maybe hot or cold parmigiana – a type of tomato and cheese lasagne but made with sliced aubergines instead of pasta sheets.
Coffee invariably finishes the meals. What coffee ? Good question. The only thing more confusing than Italian driving is Italian coffee,… cappuccino, expresso, macchiato, latte macchiato, caffé amarro, expressino, orzo, caffé, caffé freddo, caffé con giacco, caffé lungo the list is nearly endless and to confuse it more, many Pugliese don’t seem to have a specific favourite but will alter their choice of coffee throughout the day.
On special occasions, a Puglian meal can last for over 5 hours, and a full blown traditional Antipasta Pugliese could feature as many as 25-30 different plates put on the table for each of the guests to share and enjoy… and that’s just the starter !
To fully understand, savour and enjoy the Cuisine of Puglia, it is necessary that you experience it first-hand yourself, and what better way to do so than when staying in one of our luxurious Villas, located just 20 minutes drive from Brindisi airport – Southern Puglia’s International entrance gateway.