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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

Beaches

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions;

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

 


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.

The Basilica of St. Nicola 

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.

Via Sparano

Via Argiro

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.

Beach in Bari Italy

The Cuisine of Bari

Potato, Rice and Onion Casserole

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.

Pizza with Prosciutto and Sage

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.

Tiella of Gaeta

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

First Course

Pasta With Sardines, Bread Crumbs and Capers

Ingredients:

  • Salt
  • 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.

Directions:

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.

Second Course

Pork Chops Pizzaiola

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 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)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

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.

 



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