Puglia is a flat, fertile, sun soaked region in southern Italy which, together with its iron rich soil makes it one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. It is famous for its olive oil and produces between 250,000 and 300,000 tons each year. Puglia provides around 40 percent of the country’s extra virgin olive oil.
Durum wheat grows in abundance and is used for making pasta and bread. The pasta from Puglia is made without eggs as they were once considered to be a luxury. The most famous pasta made in Puglia is ‘oricchiette’ (meaning little ears) which is still made daily by the elder women in most of the small villages.
The bread in Puglia, which accompanies all meals, is more diverse than many other regions in Italy and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. It is cooked in traditional wood burning bread ovens and some of the villages still have a communal bread oven where the locals go to bake their bread every day.
Vegetables obviously grow well in the warm climate and are used in abundance, always fresh and always seasonal. Tomatoes are used for making sauces to go with the local pasta and aubergines, peppers and courgettes are roasted and grilled as an accompaniment to meat.
The interior of Puglia is rocky and many sheep and goats are bred there for their meat as well as their milk which is used for a variety of cheeses. Lamb is the most popular meat, followed by pork.
Puglia has many delicious local cheeses, perhaps the most famous being Burrata which is made from mozzarella and cream. Others include Cacioricotta – a seasonal Ricotta cheese made from unpasteurized ewes’ milk, Canestrato – a hard cheese which is a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk, Fallone di Gravina and Caciofiore.
Fish plays a large part in the cuisine of Puglia and the long coastline offers a large array of fresh fish on a daily basis. Sea bass, red mullet, anchovies, mussels and cuttlefish are among the favorites.
In spite of this excess of food, the daily cuisine in Puglia, as in the other southern regions of Italy, tends to be simple, fresh and wholesome with most locals growing, rearing and making enough for their individual needs.
Dinner Party Menu For Six
Pepperoni al Forno (Baked Peppers)
- 6 sweet bell peppers (green and red)
- 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 3 tablespoons capers
- 8 anchovy fillets, chopped
- 10 tablespoons bread crumbs
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Place the peppers in a hot oven (400 degrees F) for about half an hour or under the broiler until the skins start to blacken. Take them out of the oven, cool and then peel off the skins.
Cut the peppers into strips, about 2 inches wide.
Grease the bottom of a baking pan with olive oil and place a layer of peppers. Sprinkle a few capers, a few slices of garlic, some of the chopped anchovy fillets, a sprinkle of bread crumbs and a little salt and pepper on the peppers. Repeat the layers until all the ingredients are used.
When the top layer is finished, drizzle with olive oil. Then place the pan in a 400 degree F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the peppers are tender and the bread crumbs are brown.
Taralli Scaldati (Dry Bread)
- 7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 14 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 5 tablespoons fennel seed
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Warm water
Combine the all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix until thoroughly combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for a few minutes. Soften the dough by adding a little warm water, if it seems too dry.
Turn the dough out onto a bread board and roll pieces of the dough into long thin stripes about 4-5 inches long. Loop the ends around to form circles or pretzel shapes and space them out on wax paper to rest for to rise for 15 minutes covered with a clean kitchen cloth.
Heat the oven to 400° F.
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan and drop a few of the taralli in the boiling water for a minute, turn with and cook another minute. Remove the boiled taralli with a slotted spoon to a wire rack to dry for a minute or two.
Place them on an oiled baking sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until brown and crispy. Cool completely.
Tubettini con le Cozze
(Small Pasta Tubes with Mussels)
- 2 lbs mussels
- 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- A handful of chopped parsley
- 1 lb tubettini pasta (little tubes)
Wash the mussels well under running water and pull out the beards (the stringy bits hanging out of the shell) and place them in a bowl of cold water.
Heat a large pot of water for the pasta and when it comes to the boil add salt and the pasta tubes.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet with a cover and add the chopped garlic. Cook for a minute and add the cherry tomatoes. Once they soften, add the white wine and bring to a boil so the alcohol evaporates. Season with salt and the crushed red pepper and add the mussels. Cover with the lid and cook until all the mussels open.
Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the mussels in the skillet, along with the chopped parsley and reserves pasta cooking liquid. Mix well on a low heat for a minute and serve.
Roasted Striped Bass
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 4-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large fresh fennel bulbs with fronds attached, trimmed; bulbs quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced; fronds chopped and reserved for garnish
- 1 large red onion, halved lengthwise through root end, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
- 3 – 1 1/2-pounds whole striped bass or fish that is available in your area, cleaned, gutted, scaled
- 1/4 cup (about) all-purpose flour
- 6 large garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, divided
- 3/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
- 1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted, halved
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F.
Boil wine in a medium saucepan until reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.
Generously brush an 18 x 12 x 1 inch baking sheet with olive oil. Arrange fennel slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Top with onion slices in single layer. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle 3 tablespoons oil over the vegetables.
Rinse fish inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle fish inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lightly dust outside of fish with flour. Pour enough olive oil into extra-large skillet to cover the bottom of the pan; heat over medium-high heat until pan is very hot.
Working with one fish at a time, add fish to the skillet and cook until a golden crust forms on the skin, about 3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining fish. Add more oil, only if necessary.Carefully place fish on top of the vegetables on the baking sheet. Gently stuff the cavity of each fish with 2 crushed garlic cloves and then 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Pour reserved wine over vegetables on the baking sheet.
Roast fish uncovered until vegetables begin to soften, 35 to 40 minutes. Scatter tomato halves and olives around the fish; bake until fish is just cooked through, about 15 minutes longer. Transfer fish to large platter; cover with foil to keep warm.
Increase oven temperature to 475°F. Continue to bake vegetables uncovered until tender and tomatoes are very soft and beginning to color in spots, about 15 minutes more.
Arrange vegetable mixture around the fish on a serving platter. Sprinkle chopped fennel fronds and serve.
Ingredients for the pastry dough
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- A pinch of salt
- 2 cups of water
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 6 large eggs
Ingredients for the custard filling
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 cups milk
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- Confectioner’s sugar
To make the pastry:
In a heavy saucepan, heat the water. Add the butter and the salt and remove from the stove once the butter has melted. Add the flour all at once. Beat with a wooden spoon. Return the pan to medium heat and beat the mixture until it forms a ball. Remove the pan from the heat again. Add the eggs in one at a time, beating the dough with a wooden spoon or hand mixer.
Note – make sure to blend in each egg well before proceeding to add in the next one.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Drop 1 1/4-inch portions of dough about 1/2 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake the puffs about 15 minutes at 400 degrees F and then for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Transfer the pastries to cooling racks.
To make the custard:
In a medium bowl, mix the cornstarch and sugar for the filing. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until it’s almost boiling. Add the 6 eggs to the sugar and the cornstarch and gradually add a couple of large spoonfuls of the warm milk. When it’s well-blended, pour it into the pot with the rest of the milk and continue to cook until the mixture thickens.
Use a small knife to cut each zeppole in half. Fill each zeppole with some custard, replace the top half and put the zeppole on a serving dish. Add a teaspoon of jam to each zeppole and dust them with confectioner’s sugar.
- Delicious Everyday Puglian Wines (selectitaly.com)
- Calzone di cipolla alla pugliese (Puglian Onion Pie) (memoriediangelina.com)