This summer we spent ten days in Southern Italy in the region Puglia. As we were eagerly anticipating our trip, we were looking forward to both the clear water beaches and the Pugliese cuisine, which we had been hearing Italians rave about for over a year. One reason we were especially excited to try la cucina pugliese is because the typical dishes in Puglia are completely different than those in Emilia-Romagna where we live. Emilia-Romagna prides itself on egg-based pasta like tagliatelle and tortelloni, while in Puglia they enjoy water-based pasta like orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) and cavatelli. The egg-based pasta in Emilia-Romagna is made by combining egg with 00 flour, also known as grano tenero, a super fine flour made from soft wheat. The water-based pasta in Puglia is made by combining water and a little olive oil with semola rimacinata di grano duro, a fine durum-wheat semolina which is a hard wheat. In Emilia-Romagna it can be a challenge to get a vegetable on your plate in restaurants. Emilia-Romagna is one of Italy’s wealthiest regions and it shows in their rich cuisine in which meat is used liberally, like in their signature ragù sauce. Puglia’s cuisine is known as la cucina povera (“poor cuisine”) because the region has been historically poor. It uses less meat and relies more on fresh, local vegetables as well as seafood to create simple dishes.
Here’s a peek at what we ate on our trip:
At the end of our vacation as we started to drive back north we stopped in Martina Franca to visit an olive oil mill (frantoio) for an olive oil tasting. Puglia produces the most olive oil out of all of the regions in Italy. I wanted to taste genuine extra virgin olive oil while we were in Puglia in order to educate my palate. There is rampant fraud in the olive oil industry and the only fool-proof way to know that you are buying high quality oil is to know what good oil should taste like. At the frantoio, we tasted three different extra virgin oils and discussed which foods each pair best with.
A pleasant surprise on our trip was a last-minute overnight in Polignano a Mare, a seaside town in Northern Puglia. There we had a refreshing meal at the year-old restaurant Mint, owned by couple Farbrizio and Liu (he’s from Trentino and she’s from Brazil). The restaurant’s dishes used ingredients and techniques not typically seen in Italy, like raw zucchini ribbons, bean burgers, quinoa, and raw dessert cakes. It reminded me of California’s vegetarian cuisine and quenched some of my recent cravings for American food. I half-jokingly asked Liu to open up a second location in Bologna.
The ten days flew by. We could have easily stayed put in Puglia for three weeks allowing for carefree days at the beach as well as days for site seeing and exploring the restaurants. We made a small dent in what Puglia has to offer in terms of food and, like we were promised, it was all good.
Thanks to those who pointed us in the direction of good eats in Puglia — including Katie Parla, author of the blog Parla Food (see her Puglia Wrap Up), the Gambero Rosso Ristoranti iPhone app and Gianni, the owner of our vacation rental. Grazie a tutti!
Ever been to Puglia? What was the best dish you ate?
You might also enjoy:
Top 15 Savory Food in Puglia you cannot miss! by Beautiful Puglia