Peer into the Pleasures of Puglia
Puglia, the elongated region, known as Italy’s “heel,” is located all the way on its east coast, and has as its neighbors Molise in the north and Campagnia and Basilicata on the west. Puglia is bordered by the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, and has the longest coastline in all of Italy. This long Mediterranean coastline is conducive for trading with Greece and other European countries. The region is divided into six provinces: Bari, Barletta-Andria-Trani, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce and Taranto. The province of Lecce is often referred to as the “Florence of the South” due to its magnificent baroque architecture on all of its churches and palazzos. Taranto functions as the region’s port. Several different dialects are spoken in Puglia, including an Albanian dialect, due to the settling of Albanian refugees (similar to its neighbor Molise). Although the least mountainous region in Italy, the region of Puglia is certainly picturesque, with its mountains and hills in the north and plains, natural parks and beaches down below. The view is spectacular and a truly pleasing to the eyes!
|Basilica Santa Croce, Lecce|
I decided to speak with a friend of mine who I knew would be happy to join the conversation on Puglia. Why? Because Puglia is her hometown. I spoke with my friend Rosa, and asked her the following questions:
|Rosa T. From Puglia|
TWH: Rosa, what comes to your mind when I mention Puglia?
ROSA: Joy. Pure joy.
TWH: What part of Puglia are you from? Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
ROSA: I am from Bari. I was born in Mola di Bari, where olive oil is a specialty. (Terra di Bari PDO)
TWH: I’m going to get right into the good stuff. Tell me about your favorite things to eat and drink in Puglia.
ROSA: Where do I begin? There’s the mozzarella, fresh la trecia di mozzarella…and ricotta. The bread-il pane di Altamura, or the bread from Altamura (Pane di Altamura PDO), is the most famous. The delicious focaccia…and I cannot forget the taralli (a crispy pretzel). Mmmm, the cavatelli and orecchieti al ragu con sugo di agnello, ole braciole di cavallo o cime di rapa (oreccheieti pasta with lamb ragu, beef rolls with, cheese, tomato and spices or broccoli rabe). The fruits and vegetables-everything is so fresh. We have delicious seafood. Le triglie (red fish) is so tasty. Mmm, everything tastes so good! Il polpo vivono di scoglio, the octopus that lives in between and under the rocks, is scrumptious. (Rosa explained how this type of octopus is different from the ones out at sea. They are more flavorful and tender due to the algae on which they feed.) The black mussels, the fish and everything is rich. And now…we have to talk about the wines. I am not a fan of wine, but Apulia has great wines from the north to the south of the region. Primitivo and Locorotondo (white wine varietal) is known by everyone. I can go on and on,..
TWH: Wow! I see. Well thanks for that. I see that you really love all of the food and produce. I’m coming over to eat soon. Now, what, would you say, is something unique to the culture of Puglia?
|House in Salento|
ROSA: I would say art. Puglia’s art is very unique. All of the old cathedrals demonstrate the uniqueness of our art. Puglia has beautiful fantastic art, throughout the whole region. There are many antique castles, such as Castel del Monte.
TWH: What must I see when I am in Puglia?
ROSA: That all depends on what you like. If you like nature, Apulia has it all. The region is a peninsula by itself and has the most beautiful beaches and parks. If you like art, it is necessary that you visit Salento. Once again, Puglia is a region full of beautiful art and unique scenery!
|Santa Cesarea Terme, Salento|
As we conversed about her beloved home, Rosa beamed with fondness and pride for her Puglia, as she reflected on its abundant goodness and beauty. It could not be denied. We continued to peer and discover more about this region.
Puglia’s Gastronomy and Wine
Puglian cuisine is, like many other regions, characterized by pork, lamb, beef and poultry. Rosa spoke of the olive oil and fresh fruits and vegetables, and it was interesting to learn that Pulia is one of Italy’s biggest producers of fruits and vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes, olives, artichokes and more. Common dishes include stuffed or grilled eggplant, artichokes and/or other green vegetables, such as arugula. Clearly, agriculture plays a huge role in Puglia’s gastronomy.
Naturally, since Puglia has a coastline on each side, Rosa did not hesitate to mention the abundance of seafood and alluded to the variety of seafood dishes that include fish, octopus, oysters, mussels and other frutti di mare. A typical dish could be baked mussels, roasted fish, stewed octopus or zuppa alla tarantina, a spicy fish soup.
Puglian gastronomy most certainly includes their local formaggio and salume. Local cheeses of importance are caciocavallo Silano and canestrato Pugliese, both with PDO designation. As pork is big in Puglia and hams are apart of the tradition, their is a long list of salume, including capocollo, pancetta and soppressata. Puglian desserts often include honey and almonds. Purcedduzzi, which is fried gnocchi with honey and bocconotti, cookies with marsala and almond paste, are popular desserts in the region.
Additionally, wheat is also grown throughout Puglia, which leads to three of its other staples, pasta, bread and rice. From lasagna and spaghetti to orecchietti and cavatelli and more, the Puglians know pasta. Orecchiette con cime di rapa or orecchietti with broccoli rabe is popular. Semolina bread, focaccia and pizzas topped and/or stuffed with tomatoes, meat, cheese, olive oil, oregano and other spices is common. Rice is usually cooked in a tiella, or earthenware dish. Tiella Barese, a Puglian rice dish that layers rice, mussels, potatoes and onions and cooks up in a similar fashion as a paella or casserole. For our tour of Puglia, we decided to make a pasta dish: Shrimp & Eggplant Arrabiatta with Cavatelli. Now, let’s mangia!
1 lb Cavatelli
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Garlic Cloves, thinly sliced
1 lb Shrimp
1 large Eggplant
3 Med-large Tomatoes
1 cup Breadcrumbs
3 tbsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Garnish with fresh Parsley
Slice eggplant into thin, even slices. Beat up the egg in a dish and pour the breadcrumbs into another dish. Heat olive oil in a frying pan or grill. Coat the eggplant with the egg and then breadcrumbs. Fry or grill the breaded eggplant slices until brown, turn over and repeat. Add olive oil as necessary so that they do not burn. Remove and dice the eggplant. Put aside. If using the same pan, be sure to remove segments from pan, or in a another saucepan, add 2 tsp of olive oil. Saute garlic, but do not burn. Add diced eggplant, chopped tomatoes, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. The tomatoes will water and create their own sauce. Add a 1/2 cup of water if necessary. Cook on medium heat for 30 minutes, the eggplant continues to soften and the tomatoes get saucy. Reduce heat to low, add shrimp and simmer for 20 minutes. Put on the water to make the cavatelli. Cook the cavatelli until al dente. When the pasta is ready, drain. On the serving dish, put the pasta and top with the arrabiatta, shrimp and eggplant sauce.
Cooking/Prep Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
The Wining Hour’s Puglian Selection:
Regarding the wine, Primitivo, Bombino Nero and Negroamaro are the main grapes used to produce red wine. Primitivo is a relative of the Zinfandel that everyone loves, so this tends to be the most notable. There are four DOCG wines: Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale, Castel del Monte Bombino Nero, Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva and Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva. Then, there are 29 DOC’s produced in Puglia. Further, the region produces six excellent IGT wines (Daunia, Murgia, Puglia, Salento, Tarantino, Valle d’Itria).
|Photo Credit: Wines of Puglia
Our Puglian wine selection was between Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale (DOCG) and Primitivo di Manduria (DOC). We chose to go with the latter for a few reasons. First, we are not into sweet wine…and we are watching our sugar intake. Dolce naturale, means that the wine is naturally sweet, but the production requires a minimum residual sugar level of 50g/litre. That was a bit much for or tastes. We really wanted to taste this varietal, and we are big fans of zinfandel. Additionally, we have already tasted and love the Puglian IGT’s made with Uva di Troia or Nero di Troia, one of the oldest known grape varieties in Puglia, as well as Negroamaro, made from grapes of the same name. Therefore, we decided to go with Primitivo di Manduria (DOC).
Feudi Di San Gregorio Primitivo di Manduria 2012 was a great choice. It was a ruby red, with purple hues in appearance. Initially this wine was very tannic. Yet, after decanting for an hour it began to open up. Surprisingly, another half hour made even more of a difference. On the nose were hints of clove and spicy dark fruit. On the palate was black pepper, black cherries and ripe plum. This Primitivo was medium bodied, (eventually with fine tannins) smooth and well balanced. It accented the spices in our Shrimp & Eggplant Arrabiatta. Other pairings suggestions are lamb, rich red pasta sauces, stews, casseroles, and cheeses like Puglia’s caciocavallo or canestrato. This wine was aged for 14 months in new French oak after maceration.Feudi Di San Gregorio Primitivo di Manduria 2012 is 100% Primitivo and has 13.5% ABV.
Per leggere in Italiano: Piacere Dell’Apulia
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Food Wine Click – Primitivo and Pasta from the Heel of the Boot
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Vigneto Communications – Indigenous Grapes of Puglia
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The Wining Hour – Pleasures of Puglia: Primitivo, Cavatelli and Shrimp & Eggplant Arrabbiata
L’Occasion – A Night In: Celebrate Puglia at Home
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