What we ate in Puglia

Orecchiette

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:

Orecchiette

Orecchiette at A Casa tu Martinu in Taviano. In Salento, the southern part of la Puglia, le orecchiette are bigger and thicker compared to those from closer to Bari.

Burrata Puglia

Burrata, mozzarella’s creamy cousin, at A Casa tu Martinu. Burrata is a thin skin of mozzarella filled with cream and shreds of mozzarella.

Torta di ricotta Puglia

Torta di ricotta at A Casa tu Martinu

Cavatelli mantecati

Cavatelli mantecati alla menta e gameri (cavatelli pasta in cream with mint and shrimp) at the Vecchia Oria in Oria

Gamberoni alle erbe (prawns with herbs). At the Vecchia Oria in Oria.

Gamberoni alle erbe (prawns with herbs) at the Vecchia Oria

Torta di ricotta

More torta di ricotta at the Vecchia Oria

Pasticciotto at bar Alvino in Lecce

Pasticciotto at bar Alvino in Lecce. Pasticciotto is a typical Pugliese pastry. It’s a mini custard pie: shortcrust pastry filled with a sweet custard.

Alvino’s rustico, puff pastry filled with besciamel, mozzarella, tomato and black pepper.

Il Rustio at bar Alvino in Lecce: Il Rustico is a puff pastry filled with besciamel, mozzarella, tomato and black pepper.

Orata Puglia

We did a good amount of grilling at our rental house.  We grilled whole fish like the orata pictured here (sea ​​bream) as well as gamberoni (prawns).

Mussels: we gave a go at cooking mussels for the first time, though we cheated and bought them pre-cleaned

Mussels: we gave a go at cooking mussels for the first time, though we cheated and bought them pre-cleaned.

Figs straight from the tree: there was a fig tree located at our vacation rental

Figs straight from the tree: there was a fig tree located at our vacation rental

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.

Olive oil tasting at the L'Acropoli di Puglia in Martina Franca

Olive oil tasting at the L’Acropoli di Puglia in Martina Franca

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.

Mint pogliano a mare

Raw zucchini tagliatelle with avocado mousse at Mint in Polignano a Mare

Mint pogliano a mare

Black chickpea veggie burger at Mint

Mint pogliano a mare

Raw chocolate cake at Mint

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

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3 thoughts on “What we ate in Puglia

  1. BeautifulPuglia

    It looks like you had a really good time in Puglia and managed to try many different dishes :-). They all look fantastic. I lived in Bologna myself for 6 years…what an amazing city.
    Ciao, Marco

    Reply

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