Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

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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.

Puglia 6

Dinner Party Menu For Six


Puglia 1

Pepperoni al Forno (Baked Peppers)

Serves 6


  • 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.

puglia 5

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.

First Course

Puglia 2

Tubettini con le Cozze

(Small Pasta Tubes with Mussels)

6 servings


  • 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.

Second Course

Puglia 3

Roasted Striped Bass

6 servings


  • 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.


puglia 4

Baked Zeppole

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
  • Jam

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.

To serve:

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.

The Castello and Swing Bridge
in Taranto

The province of Taranto is found in the Puglia region of Italy, which is the region that forms part of the heel of Italy’s boot. The region of Puglia is divided into five provinces (Bari, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce, and Taranto) and includes the two island groups of Tremiti and Cheradi. The weather is typically hot and dry. The beaches on the coast of the Ionian Sea offer plenty of places to sunbathe, swim, and snorkel.

One of the charming and beautiful geographical features of Taranto is where three sides of land face inwards on the Mar Grande, the Mar Piccolo, and the Ionian Sea. The Citta nuova (New City) is located inland and is linked to the Isola della Citta Vecchia (Old City) by the Ponte Girevole and di Pietra Bridge.

Taranto is one of Italy’s oldest and most beautiful port cities. It may be the city of two seas, but it is also the city with two faces, because beyond the bridge, progress has redesigned the new Taranto, a city developed around a 19th. century village, facing the waterway. Housed in the former Convent of San Pasquale Alcantarini, the National Archaeological Museum is famous for its rich collection of rare finds.

The sea, though beautiful, is not the only attraction here. An extraordinary landscape makes up the beautiful countryside of Taranto: sometimes green and lush with large vineyards and olive groves and sometimes rocky and rough with ravines, caves and gorges where ancient civilizations settled.

Remarkable also is the presence of prehistoric ruins, including the Village of Triglie. Castellaneta lies in the heart of the Park of Ravines, a mix of natural environments made even more interesting by ancient ruins. North of Taranto, Martina Franca is a charming town that overlooks the Itria Valley, with its lush green nature contrasting with the white Trulli (limestone dwellings) and ancient farms that frame the old town’s Baroque architecture.

The Ravine of Laterza

Taranto was founded in 708 BC by Spartan immigrants, who named the city after the mythical hero Taras, shown in the coat of arms riding a dolphin. Taranto increased its power and became a major power, ruling over the Greek colonies in southern Italy under its statesman, Archytas. It also became the main center and commercial port in southern Italy, with the largest army and fleet of its time.

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 when the Saracens, led by the Slavic Sabir, conquered and destroyed the city, enslaving and deporting to Africa all the survivors. In 967 the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus II Phoca, realizing the strategic importance of the area, rebuilt Taranto. In the 11th. century a bloody struggle between Normans and Byzantines for the rule over the Tarentine and Barensis lands took plsce. Taranto was finally conquered by the Normans and became the capital of a Norman principality for almost 4 centuries.

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 under Bourbon rule, forming the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Then in 1861 Southern Italy was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia, which became the Kingdom of Italy.

Castel Sant Angelo which overlooks the sea


The Cuisine of Taranto

Seafood is a speciality in Taranto, and there are a huge number of excellent seafood restaurants throughout the region, many of which are family run, traditional Italian eateries. The most common meat on the menu is lamb, as elsewhere in the south: here it’s cooked Greek style, over a spit and scented with rosemary. Most of Italy’s fish comes from the coast, and specialities include roasted oysters with oil, lemon, garlic and marjoram, sea bream, and mussel and potato soup. Much seafood is eaten raw, with sardines, prawns and cuttlefish featured heavily.

Orecchiette (meaning ‘little ears’) pasta, made from flour and water, can be found everywhere in Puglia and it is not uncommon to see women sitting out in the street and making it during the day. This is teamed with sauces made from the abundance of vegetables grown locally. Much of Italy’s pasta is produced from the wheat fields of Puglia, as is excellent olive oil and vast quantities of sun-dried tomatoes. Taranto produces many varied wines, from red to white to sparkling wines, such as white Terra d’Otranto and Bianco di Train and reds, such as Castel del Monte Rosso. A wide variety of very sweet fruits round out the menu: grapes, oranges, and the famous clementines of the Gulf of Taranto.

Pugliese cuisine is based on olive oil, one of the great products of the region. In any given year, Puglia produces as much as two-thirds of all the olive oil in Italy, and while much of it is shipped north, more of it stays in the region to be used in Pugliese kitchens. Cooks in Puglia even deep-fry with extra virgin oil, something that comes as a surprise to Americans but is routine in many parts of the Mediterranean. Butter is rarely used in the traditional cuisine and even some sweets are made with olive oil and often fried. Sweets, moreover, are not an everyday occurrence but associated only with holidays, whether major ones like Christmas and Easter or minor ones like the Feast of the Dead (All Saints), Shrove Tuesday or locally celebrated ones like the feasts of St. Anthony Abbot and St. Joseph.

In this culture of sparsity, nothing is wasted. Stale bread is cut into cubes or crumbled and toasted in oil to make a garnish for pasta and vegetable dishes. Vegetables themselves, at the height of their season, are dried, pickled, or preserved in oil to use during the winter. Figs are dried or boiled down to make a syrup, and grape juice, after the first pressing, is boiled to make a thick molasses called mosto cotto, to be served at Christmas poured over fried sweets called cartellate.

Wild greens in great variety are still harvested, especially during the brief Pugliese winter,  when gardens are less productive. On misty days, when the damp soil yields wild roots more easily, you’ll see elderly men and women, stoop~shouldered, as they course intently over abandoned fields often accompanied by grandchildren.

Three dishes come to mind when one thinks of this cuisine:

1. ‘Ncapriata or fave e cicoria: A puree made from dried peeled fava beans (with or without a potato added), dressed olive oil and eaten with steamed bitter greens, preferably wild chicory.

2. Ciceri e tria: Homemade durum wheat pasta (no eggs) in the form of flat tagliatelle or noodles, cooked with chick-peas and mixed with about a third of the pasta that has been kept apart and fried in olive oil until it is crisp and brown.

3. Orecchiette con cime di rape: homemade durum wheat pasta, shaped in the form of “little ears,” cooked with the bittersweet vegetable, we know as broccoli rabe or rapini and dressed with oil, garlic, anchovies, and hot peperoncino.

It’s altogether likely that even five hundred years ago, the dishes on Pugliese tables were not all that different from what they are today, with one great exception the tomato. There are no early cookbooks to tell us when tomatoes were first introduced to Puglia, but it was probably after the explorers returned from America. Puglia’s tomatoes are sweet and acid, dense with flesh and bursting with juice. They are available year-round, fresh from the garden, sun-dried and packed in oil, put up simply in jars, whether whole or in a sauce, or strung in brilliant red clusters.

 Make Some Taranto Inspired Recipes At Home

Italian Mussels Taranto Style

Serves: 6 – 8


  • 4 pounds large fresh mussels, cleaned
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 thick slices Italian bread
  • Finely chopped parsley


Peel the garlic, leave one clove whole and finely chop the remainder.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until very soft and transparent, stirring occasionally.

Add the chopped garlic and cook for several seconds.

Stir in the wine, parsley and pepper to taste, cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the bread under a low broiler so it crisps as well as toasts.

Halve the reserved garlic clove and rub over the toast. Keep warm in the oven.

Add the mussels to the saucepan and cook over a high heat for about 6-8 minutes, until they open, shaking to distribute the heat evenly. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Place the toast in wide soup bowls or pasta plates. Divide the mussels amongst the bowls and spoon over the liquid from the pan.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Pasta with Broccoli, Tomatoes and Almonds


Servings 4

  • 3/4 lb. orecchiette
  • 3/4 lb. broccoli, blanched in boiling water
  • 3 oz. Pecorino cheese
  • 3/4 oz. salted anchovies, minced
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 3 oz.  extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/2 lb. cherry tomatoes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 oz. almonds


Heat the oil in a pan and brown the chopped garlic, then add the minced anchovies.

Add the broccoli previously blanched in boiling salted water, then the tomato, and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little oil.

In a pasta pot containing boiling salted water, cook the orecchiette pasta, stirring from time to time to avoid them sticking to one another.

Grind some black pepper into the pan containing the broccoli, drain the pasta, leaving them slightly wet.

Add the pasta to the pan with the broccoli, mix well and pour into serving plates and decorate with slivers of  Pecorino cheese and slivers of almond.



Oven Roast Lamb with Potatoes

Serves 6

The meat and potatoes should he crisp and brown, with very little sauce.


  • 2 pounds russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks, about 2 inches long
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut in chunks similar in size to the potatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix the potato chunks in a bowl with 1/4 cup of the olive oil, 1/4 cup of the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat well, then spread over the bottom of a roasting pan or oven dish large enough to hold all the potatoes in one layer. Sprinkle about 1/3 cup of grated cheese over the top of the potatoes.

In the same bowl, mix the lamb chunks with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 cup of parsley and more salt and pepper. Add the remaining cheese and the chopped garlic, again stirring to coat well. Arrange the lamb on the top of the potatoes.

Place the uncovered pan in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. The lamb should give off a certain amount of liquid, but if the potatoes are so dry they’re sticking to the bottom of the dish, add a little boiling water.

Bake another 15 minutes and remove the pan from the oven; turn the lamb pieces at the same time stirring the potatoes. Return the pan to the oven for an additional 30 minutes, then remove again and raise the oven heat to 425 degrees F. Stir the meat and potatoes so that most of the potatoes are on top and return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to crisp and brown the potatoes.


Sweet Rolls


  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup Amaretto liqueur


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the milk over low heat or in the microwave. Add the butter and let it melt.

Pour the butter and milk mixture into the bowl of a electric mixer. Add the remaining milk, sugar, flour, baking powder, and 1/8 teaspoon of the vanilla. Knead until a smooth dough forms.

Grease a baking sheet. Form the dough into disks, about 2 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. Place on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart.

Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Turn off the oven but do not remove the rolls from the baking pan.

In a saucepan, combine the powdered sugar with 1/2 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes until it begins to thicken.

Add the lemon juice, Amaretto, and remaining vanilla to the sugar mixture. Let simmer another 3 minutes. (The mixture will continue to thicken as you let it sit, so you can control how thin or thick you would like the glaze to be.)

Brush or drizzle the glaze onto the rolls. Put the rolls back into the oven with the heat off, but with the oven still warm, so that the glaze dries.


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