The province of Taranto is located in the Puglia region of Italy. The city of Taranto is the capital of the province and an important military and commercial port. It has well-developed steel and iron foundries, oil refineries, chemical works, some shipyards for building warships and food-processing factories. The ancient city of Taranto was situated on a peninsula and the surrounding islets and coast were strongly fortified. The islets S. Pietro and S. Paolo protected the bay where the commercial port is now located and because of the presence of these two bays, Taranto is also called “the city of the two seas”.
Taranto was founded in 708 BC by Spartan immigrants, who named the city after the mythical hero Taras. Taranto increased its power by becoming a main commercial port in southern Italy, with the largest army and fleet. In the early 3rd century BC, Roman legions entered Taranto and plundered it. The Tarantines called for help from Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, who decided to help Taranto because he was in debt to them. In the spring of 280 BC, he landed in Italy with 20,000 phalanxes, 500 peltasts, 2,000 archers, 3,000 elite cavalry from Thessaly and 20 war elephants. The Romans mobilized eight legions totaling about 80 000 soldiers. The battle of Heraclea was won by Pyrrhus, but the casualties were very high. Eventually Pyrrhus and the Tarentines were defeated by the Romans in the battle of Beneventum.
In the 8th century AD Saracens began their raids against Southern Italy, occupying Taranto for forty years, until it was reconquered by the Byzantines in 880. The city suffered from other Saracen raids in 922 and again in 927 when the Saracens conquered and destroyed the city, enslaving and deporting the survivors to Africa. The 11th century was characterized by a bloody struggle between the Normans and the Byzantines. The region was conquered by the Normans and became the capital of the Norman principality for almost 4 centuries. In 1465 Ferdinand I of Naples incorporated Taranto into the Kingdom of Naples. In March 1502, the Spanish fleet of Ferdinand II of Aragon, allied to Louis XII of France, seized the port of Taranto and conquered the city. With the fall of Napoleon, Southern Italy and Taranto, returned to Bourbon rule, forming the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Then in 1861 the whole of Southern Italy was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia, which became the Kingdom of Italy. During World War II, the Italian ships at anchor in the port were severely damaged by British naval forces as part of the Allied invasion (Operation Slapstick).
A fascinating landscape makes up the beautiful countryside of Taranto: sometimes green and lush with large vineyards and olive groves, sometimes rocky and rough with ravines, caves and gorges where ancient civilizations settled. The “city of many caves:” as Grottaglie is called, is an ancient village in the province whose first settlements date back to the 1st Century AD. It is famous worldwide for its handmade pottery. The province is also known for its numerous ceramic finds that trace back to the Classical Age and are kept in the National Museum of “Magna Grecia” in Taranto.
Considerable amounts of clay are a natural resource in the surrounding territory and the ceramic industry is important in the province. There are many ceramic shops that are actually located inside some of the province’s caves. Also, noteworthy, is the presence of prehistoric ruins in the Village of Triglie. In the north, Martina Franca is a charming town that overlooks the Itria Valley, with its lush green nature contrasting with the white trulli homes and ancient farms.
The Traditional Foods of Taranto
Mussels and oysters are the pride of Taranto and fish and shellfish pastas are usually served for the main course. Vegetables and legumes are plentiful, as are burrata cheese, sausages and capocollo from Martina Franca. Grapes, oranges and the famous clementines of the Gulf of Taranto are the usual desserts. Meals are paired with the excellent wines of the province, such as Primitivo di Manduria, Martina Franca and Lizzano.
Crostini with Burrata Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Serves 4 as an antipasto
- Burrata: 1 grapefruit sized ball (usually 200-300 grams in weight, 8-10 ounces)
- Bread: Small loaf or half of an Italian rustic bread
- Sun-Dried tomatoes: 8 marinated sun dried tomatoes (from either a deli or from a jar with oil)
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
Slice 4 pieces of bread lengthwise about ½ inch thick. Lightly toast the bread in the oven or on the grill.
Slice the cheese into 8 portions. Cut each slice of toasted bread in half.
Drizzle the bread lightly with olive oil. Spread the burrata slices on top of the bread with a spoon to get all the creamy interior.
Slice each sun-dried tomato into 3 strips and lay on top of the burrata. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve.
Taranto Baked Oysters
6 main dish servings
- 2 slices white sandwich bread
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup sliced green onions
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup dried Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 24 oysters on the half shell
- 6 lemon wedges
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Place the bread in a food processor, and pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs form.
In a medium nonstick skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, parsley, and garlic; cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove the pan from the heat; stir in fresh breadcrumbs, Italian bread crumbs and the next 4 ingredients (Italian breadcrumbs through black pepper).
Place oysters on a jelly roll baking pan. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over the oysters.
Bake the oysters for 7-8 minutes or until the edges of the oysters curl. Serve with lemon wedges.
(Montena Taranto Cheese Company)
- 1/2 lb pizza dough, at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons pesto
- 1 zucchini, grated
- 1 cup packed fresh spinach
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Marinara Sauce, optional
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Combine the spinach, zucchini and ricotta in a bowl.
Divide the dough into four equal balls and roll each into a circle.
Spread a thin layer of pesto on one half of each circle.
Place a quarter of the spinach/zucchini mixture on top of the pesto half of the dough.
Top with a 1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella.
Fold and crimp the eggs with fork. Bake 20 minutes until brown and crusty. Serve with sauce, if desired
Green Peppers with Taranto Mussels
- 500 g/1 ⅛ lb Taranto mussels
- 500 g/1 ⅛ lb green peppers
- 1 clove of garlic
- 5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt, if needed
Clean the peppers and remove the seeds and the stalks and cut them into strips. Sauté the pepper strips in a pan with some oil and the garlic. When the peppers have softened and are lightly caramelized, add the tomatoes.
After a few minutes, add the raw, well-cleaned mussels, cover the pan and let them cook over high heat until the mussels open. You may not need to add any salt since the liquid from the mussels could be salty enough. Stir and serve with bread.
Makes 5-6 dozen cookies
- 1/2 lb butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 lb ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Frosting, recipe below
- Colored sprinkles, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream the butter in an electric mixer bowl, add the sugar and continue beating.
Add the eggs, ricotta, orange zest and vanilla; beat well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; fold into the batter.
Drop by a rounded teaspoon of dough onto an ungreased baking sheet or line the baking pans with parchment paper.
Bake about 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool.
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Beat ingredients together until combined. Spread on the top of the cookies. Add sprinkles, if desired.