Bari, Italy, the second largest city of Southern Italy, is capital of the Apulia (or Puglia) region, located on the Adriatic Sea. Named the fifth largest province in Italy, Bari carries a population of about one and half million. The area is composed of limestone hills, near the edge of the Bari basin, a depression formed when the underlying limestone is eroded by underground water and collapses.
As a very prominent seaport, Bari’s port faces the Adriatic Sea and connects to other Adriatic ports via railways, boats and roadways. Bari has become one of the top commercial and industrial leading areas in Italy.
Believed to be originally Illyrian, Bari was controlled by Greeks, and then later, Romans. During the Roman era, Bari was a connection between the coast roadway and the Via Traiana, and was thought to be valuable as a seafood asset. As early as 181 BC, Bari’s harbor is noted in recorded history.
Bari was conquered and ruled, at various times in history by the Goths, Lombards, Byzantines and the Normans. Crusaders often sailed from Bari and during the Middle Ages, Bari was ruled by lords such as Hohenstaufens and the Sforzas of Milan. All these influences created the culture of Bari.
The city suffered damage in World War II. Through a tragic coincidence intended by neither of the opposing sides in World War II, Bari gained the unwelcome distinction of being the only European city to experience chemical warfare in the course of that war.
On the night of December 2, 1943, German Junkers Ju 88 bombers attacked the port of Bari, which was a key supply center for Allied forces fighting their way up the Italian Peninsula. Several Allied ships were sunk in the overcrowded harbor, including the U.S. Liberty John Harvey, which was carrying mustard gas; mustard gas was also reported to have been stacked on the quayside awaiting transport. The chemical agent was intended for use, if German forces initiated chemical warfare. The presence of the gas was highly classified, and authorities ashore had no knowledge of it. This increased the number of fatalities, since physicians—who had no idea that they were dealing with the effects of mustard gas—prescribed treatment proper for those suffering from exposure and immersion, which proved fatal in many cases.
On the orders of allied leaders Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower, records were destroyed and the whole affair was kept secret for many years after the war. The U.S. records of the attack were declassified in 1959, but the episode remained obscure until 1967. The affair is the subject of two books: Disaster at Bari, by Glenn B. Infield, and Nightmare in Bari: The World War II Liberty Ship Poison Gas Disaster and Coverup, by Gerald Reminick.
Bari is divided into parts which include a modern area called “quarters”, which was developed in 1820, and an ancient district, located on a peninsula to the north, which contains many beautiful Romanesque-Pugliese structures and churches where tourists can relive history, such as the Cathedral of San Sabino (dating back to 1035). There is also a major shopping district: the famous Via Sparano and Via Argiro are located there.
Besides being a major seaport in Italy, Bari also has much to offer from an industrial point of view. Chemicals, machinery, printed materials, petroleum and textiles are among the city’s economic contributions. Agriculture is notable in Bari, which includes cherries, tomatoes, artichokes, grapes, table wine, olives and almond production. Bari also takes great pride in its seafood industry, which provides delicious local cuisine.
The ancient district is the place to visit for a historical perspective. Chiesa di San Giacomo is a church which is worth seeing. Other great sites in this district are the Lungomare (promenade), a railway station which was constructed in 1875, the Fiera del Levante, which is one of the largest fairs in Italy. The fair takes place in September and is located close to the shore. The ancient seafaring center is located here as well. On the more modern side of Bari, there are villas and supermarkets. Buses are available for travel in the city. There’s plenty to do during every season: from spending a day at the beach to going horseback riding through the countryside. Cinemas, theaters, museums and churches are abundant in Bari, combining modern entertainment with a taste of history. Winter days are filled with festivals and nativity scenes.
The Cuisine of Bari
Bari offers many creative dishes with colorful vegetables such as turnip tops with orecchiette pasta or cavatelli. Red-yellow peppers stuffed with meat or rice and baked in the oven are another specialty. The cuisine also includes seafood, such as, bass, clams, cuttlefish, mussels, oysters, cod, prawns, sea bream, lobster, anchovies and sole, which are cooked in a variety of methods. There are pizzerias for every type of pizza.
Pasta is made with simple ingredients such as water, flour and salt and is the star of most main courses. Handformed orecchiette, cavatelli and fricelli have the right shape and consistency to absorb the traditional sauces of the area based on vegetables, fish or meat.
The artisanship of bakers here is evident in the preparation of pizza, focaccia, spicy taralli and the famous Altamura bread (see recipe below), protected by its DOP label and delicious when seasoned with the area’s extra virgin olive oil, Terra di Bari DOP, and garnished with the famous Apulian vegetables and greens.
Among some of the other treats are barattiere, small vegetables, to eat raw in salads, table grapes and sweet Termite olives, seasoned with salt, vinegar, olive oil, spices and natural herbs.
Make Some Bari Inspired Recipes At Home
Pane di Altamura
Yields 2 Loaves
- 2 cups cold water
- 1¾ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2–3 cups bread flour
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
To create the sponge:
Combine in large bowl of electric mixer: 1 cup water and yeast, stir to dissolve, and let stand 5 minutes. Add all-purpose flour and beat for 1 minute. Cover and let stand at room temperature 8–12 hours.
To make the bread:
Add to the sponge 1 cup water, olive oil, semolina, salt, and enough bread flour to make a soft dough. Mix with the paddle attachment until the ingredients come together in a ball. Switch to the dough hook and knead 8–10 minutes. Add more flour to reduce stickiness. Dust with flour, cover the dough in the bowl with plastic, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch dough down, fold it in half, and let it rise again, until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Turn risen dough onto a floured surface, and divide into 2 equal portions. Shape into round loaves, place on prepared pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Dust the top of the risen loaves generously with flour. Using a serrated knife, cut decorative slash marks into the surface of the dough, about ½″ deep. Place a pan of cold water at the bottom of the oven to create steam. Bake until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 30–40 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before serving.
Pasta With Sardines, Bread Crumbs and Capers
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs, ideally made from stale bread
- 1 onion, chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound long pasta, like perciatelli
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 2 cans sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil (about 1/2 pound)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
Put half the oil (2 tablespoons) in a medium skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, less than 5 minutes, and then remove. Add the remaining oil and the onion to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just tender; drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Turn the heat under the onions to medium-high and add the lemon zest, capers and sardines; cook, stirring occasionally, until just heated through, about 2 minutes.
Add the pasta to the sardine mixture and toss well to combine. Add the parsley, most of the bread crumbs and some reserved water, if necessary, to moisten. Taste and adjust seasoning, garnishing with more parsley and bread crumbs.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
Pork Chops Pizzaiola
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 center-cut loin pork chops, cut 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
- ½ bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 1 cup drained canned tomatoes pureed through a sieve or food mill
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ pound green peppers, seeded and cut in 2-by-1/4-inch strips (about 1-1/2 cups)
- ½ pound fresh mushrooms, whole if small, quartered or sliced if large
In a heavy 10-to 12-inch skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until a light haze forms over it. Brown the chops in this oil for 2 or 3 minutes on each side and transfer them to a plate. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, bay leaf and salt to the pan and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the wine and boil briskly to reduce it to about ¼ cup, scrapping in any bits of meat or herbs in the pan. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and return the chops to the skillet. Baste with the sauce, cover, and simmer over low heat, basting once or twice, for 40 minutes.
Heat the remaining oil in another large skillet. Cook the green peppers in the oil for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and toss them with the peppers for a minute or two, then transfer them to the pan with the pork chops. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes longer, until the pork and vegetables are tender and the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon heavily. (If the sauce is too thin, remove the chops and vegetables and boil the sauce down over high heat, stirring constantly). To serve, arrange the chops on a heated platter and spoon the vegetables and sauce over them.
Braised Peas with Prosciutto
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¼ cup finely chopped onions
- 2 cups fresh green peas (about 2 pounds unshelled)
- ¼ cup chicken stock, fresh or canned
- 2 ounces prosciutto, cut in 1 by ¼ inch julienne strips (about ¼ cup)
- Freshly ground black pepper
In a heavy 1 to 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and cook the onions for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring frequently until they are soft but not brown. Stir in the green peas and chicken stock, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. When the peas are tender, add the strips of prosciutto and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes more, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Taste for seasoning, Serve the peas in a heated bowl.
NOTE: One 10 ounce package of frozen peas may be substituted for the fresh peas. Defrost the peas thoroughly before using them, and add them to the onions without any stock. Cook the peas uncovered, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, then add the prosciutto, heat through and serve.
- San Nicolo di Bari in Italy: Santa Claus is Coming to Town (vinoconvistablog.me)
- Italian pastry stuffed with combination of cheeses (triblive.com)
- How about some focaccia? (nickmalgieri.typepad.com)
- The Original Santa Claus in the Italian Language (becomingitalianwordbyword.typepad.com)
What is Italian country bread?
Italian country bread is known for its very chewy, coarse texture. The texture of this bread makes it ideal for dipping and sandwich making, because it holds moisture very well without becoming soggy. Italian country bread is also referred to as pan bigio, or “gray bread,” in a reference to the unrefined flour which is traditionally used to make it. Many Italian bakeries offer this bread, and it can also be made at home.
By tradition, pan bigio is made from minimally processed flour. Typically, this means that the flour is whole wheat that gives a very rich, nutty flavor to the finished bread. Some bakers prefer to use a mixture of lightly processed white flour and whole wheat flour so that the bread is not as heavy, creating a bread with a flecked texture and a slightly more open crumb. Cornmeal may be added as well to make the texture even more coarse.
Italian country bread is made with a biga, a traditional Italian starter. Breads made with bigas tend to be chewier and they have more complex, savory flavors as a result of the slow fermentation of the yeasts.
A starter usually consists of a simple mixture of flour, water, and a leavening agent (typically yeast). After mixing, it is allowed to ferment for a period of time, and then is added to bread dough as a substitute for, or in addition to, more yeast. So pre-ferments are critical for best tasting bread.
The primary difference, between making bread with a starter and making bread with the direct yeast method, is that starter breads require much more time to prepare, but the flavor and texture of the bread is almost impossible to achieve with other leavening methods. Bread made with starters (biga) also tend to keep better, compared to bread made without a biga. You will not find this type of great tasting bread in your local supermarket.
The bread recipes below are “Old World”, but I have updated them to make use of modern ingredients, techniques and equipment.
Puglia, or Apulia as it is also known, is in Italy’s boot heel in its south eastern most region off the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Puglia produces one-tenth of the wine drunk in Europe and its olive oil is well regarded. Puglia is also the breadbasket of Italy and home to the wonderful hearth breads, now gaining recognition in the rest of Italy and throughout the world. Today you can find these breads in bakeries and supermarkets throughout Italy.
The region is noted for its population density, mostly concentrated in populous centers, while the countryside is occupied by flourishing cultivation. Agriculture, which was very difficult in the past due to the dryness of the land, is now supported by the Aqueduct, so now, the region is among the largest Italian producers of tomatoes, salad, carrots, olives, eggplant, artichokes, almonds and citrus fruit. Also highly developed is sheep raising in the Tavoliere plain and fishing in the Gulf of Taranto. Tourism in the summer is another great resource, thanks to the beautiful beaches along the coast, and the many tourist villages and campsites.
The Pugliese bread is characterized by a moist dough which results in large holes in a well structured crumb, and a well-developed, crunchy crust. Heavier than a Ciabatta, and made with a higher gluten flour, Pugliese bread is typically shaped as a Batard (oval) slashed with a single cut running lengthwise and, sometimes, is shaped as a round loaf with a dimpled top.
Yield : A 6 ½ -by-3-inch-high loaf
Dough Starter (Biga) Ingredients:
- 1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/16 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1/4 liquid cup water, at room temperature (70°F to 90°F)
Bread Dough Ingredients:
- 1/2 cup bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup durum flour, (durum flour is finely milled and marketed as “extra-fancy” pasta flour or “farina grade). (Semolina flour is a much coarser grind and will not work for this bread.)
- 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup water, at room temperature (70°F to 90°F)
- biga from above
Six hours or up to 3 days ahead, make the starter (biga). In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients for the biga and stir the mixture until it is very smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The biga should still be sticky enough to cling slightly to your fingers. Cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap and set aside until tripled and filled with bubbles. At room temperature, this will take about 6 hours. Stir it down and use it, or refrigerate it for up to 3 days before baking. For the best flavor development allow the biga to ferment in a cool area (55°F to 65°F) for 12 to 24 hours.
Mix the dough:
In the electric mixer bowl, whisk together the bread flour, durum flour, and yeast. Then whisk in the salt (this keeps the salt from coming into direct contact with the yeast, which would kill it). Add the water and the biga.
Using the electric mixer paddle attachment, mix on low speed for about 1 minute, until the flour is moistened enough to form a rough dough.
Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium, and beat for 5 minutes to form a smooth, sticky dough. If the dough does not pull away from the bowl after 5 minutes, beat in more flour 1 teaspoon at a time. The dough should still stick to the bottom of the bowl and cling to your fingers. If it is not sticky, spray it with a little water and knead it in.
Let the dough rise.
Sprinkle durum flour generously onto a counter in a 6-inch square. Using a wet or oiled spatula or dough scraper, turn the dough onto the flour, and dust the top of it with more flour. (The flour will be absorbed into the wet dough.) Allow it to rest for 2 minutes.
With floured hands, pull out two opposite sides of the dough to stretch it to double its length, and give it a business letter turn. Dust it again with flour, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat the stretching, folding, and flouring a second time, and again allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat the stretching, folding, and flouring a third time, then round the edges of the dough.
Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, transfer the dough to a 2-quart bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Cover the container with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 75°F to 80°F) until tripled, about 2 hours.
Shape the dough and let it rise.
Dust a counter well with durum flour. With floured hands or a floured dough scraper, gently transfer the dough to the counter. Handling the dough very gently; round it into a ball.
Begin by gently pressing down the dough into a round patty, dimpling the dough with your fingertips to deflate any large bubbles. Draw up the edges to the center. Pinch them together and turn the dough over so that the pinched part is at the bottom. With cupped hands, stretch the dough down on all sides to form a tight skin, and pinch it again at the bottom.
Transfer the round ball of dough to an un-floured part of the counter and, with your hands on either side of the dough, push it back and forth while rotating it clockwise. You will feel the dough tighten and take on a rounder shape, with taut skin.
Gently set the dough seam side up in a colander lined with a floured towel for a round shape or a long bread basket with a floured towel for the oval shape. Pinch together the seam, if necessary. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour, and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap.
Allow the dough to rise until it has increased by about 1 ½ times, about 1 ½ hours.
Bake the bread.
Preheat the oven to 500°F 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place an oven stone on it and a broiler pan on the floor of the oven, before preheating.
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the plastic wrap covering the colander or basket, invert the lined baking sheet on top of the colander, and invert the dough onto the sheet.
Quickly but gently set the sheet on the baking stone. Toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes onto the pan beneath and immediately shut the door. Bake for 5 minutes. Lower the temperature to 450°F and continue baking for 15 to 25 minutes or until the bread is deep golden brown (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 205°F).
Halfway through baking, with a heavy pancake turner, lift the bread from the pan, remove the pan with the parchment on it and set it directly on the stone, turning it around for even baking. Remove the bread when done from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.
Rustic Whole Grain Italian-Style Pagnotta
Pagnotta is typically found throughout central Italy, a rustic peasant loaf with a hard, deep brown crust and a soft center. In northern Italy, this bread is made into small round rolls. These make ideal soup bowls. This bread can also be used to hold dips and spreads. The dough is oten used to make pizza crusts or focaccia. This is a three day process but the steps on the first two days are minimal.
Starter Dough (Biga) Ingredients:
- 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- generous 1/4 cup room temperature water plus an extra 2 teaspoons
- 1 1/4 cup bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
Starter Dough Directions:
On the night before you are going to make bread, in a small bowl, mix the yeast in the warm water and leave covered on the kitchen counter.
The next morning stir together the yeasted water, room temperature water and bread flour in the electric mixer bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon; be sure all the flour is incorporated.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the Starter Dough rise in a cool room for 6 to 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Bread Dough Ingredients:
- 1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- all of Starter Dough
- 2 1/2 cups room temperature water
- scant 2 cups whole wheat (white whole wheat or regular whole wheat) flour
- 3 3/4 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
Bread Dough Directions:
If the Starter Dough has been refrigerated, allow it to sit at room temperature for about an hour before starting.
In a small bowl, mix the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and wait until it bubbles (about 10 minutes).
Add the yeast mixture and the room temperature water to the Starter Doughl and mix well with the mixer paddle attachment. Add all the whole wheat flour and all but 1/2 cup of the bread flour to the mixer bowl.
Beat vigorously until there are no dry bits of flour left and you have created a rough dough. Cover with plastic and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Switch to the dough hook and sprinkle the salt over the dough which will be rather slack. (It should look a bit like porridge.)
Knead the dough with the dough hook adding in the remaining flour a little at a time. The dough should be quite moist. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.
Place dough in a clean dry lightly floured mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise on the counter for 20 minutes. Lightly sprinkle a board with flour and gently turn the dough out, trying not to disturb any bubbles.
Fold the left side into the center, then the top, then the right side, then the bottom. Turn the dough over and fold in half once more. Place it back in the bowl smooth side up. Cover with plastic. Let it ferment at room temperature for 20 minutes again.
Repeat this step twice. (This step is done at 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes after the first kneading.) After the final step, let the dough rise undisturbed on the counter until doubled – about 1 to 2 hours depending on the room temperature.
When dough has doubled, gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Flatten it gently (try not to disturb the bubbles); fold the outer edges to the middle.
Repeat the folding 4 or 5 times until you have formed a tight round loaf. Place on a parchment covered baking sheet – or peel if you have one. Sprinkle flour liberally over the loaf. Cover with plastic and allow to rise for about 1 hour until almost doubled.
To test, flour your finger and press gently on the edge – it should very slowly spring back.
Half an hour before you will be baking the bread, place a baking stone on the second shelf from the bottom of the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Put water into a broiling pan and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.
If you don’t have a baking stone, it’s still a good idea to preheat the oven for a substantial amount of time. Just before baking, spray the top of the loaf with water.
Slide the bread onto the baking stone using the parchment paper to get the bread in place on the stone. You can also leave the bread on the baking sheet and place the baking sheet on the stone, but the bread will not be as crisp as baking directly on the stone.
Immediately turn the oven down to 450 degrees F; bake the loaf for 45-50 minutes until hollow sounding on the bottom. Turn off the oven and leave with the door ajar for 10 minutes. Remove to cool on cooling rack.
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