Puglia (or Apulia in English), the region that is the "heel" of Italy's boot, is a long, narrow peninsula with about 500 miles of coastline. It is bordered by two seas, the Ionian and Adriatic. Since Puglia is such a large region its cooking varies greatly from its coastline to the plains and mountains of the interior. With its long coastline, fish plays a major role in the local cuisine. Mullet, sardines, squid, tuna and swordfish are caught wild and mussels and oysters are cultivated in the warm shallow waters of the lagoons of Varano and Taranto. The interior of Puglia is rocky and here there are many sheep and goats which are bred 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 and horsemeat. The majority of regional cheeses are made with sheep’s milk, but there are some cow’s milk cheeses as well. Perhaps the most famous Puglian cheese is Burrata which is made from mozzarella and cream.
There are three things that are essential to a Puglian kitchen: vegetables, wheat and olive oil. Perhaps no region in Italy uses more vegetables than Puglia. Because the region was historically poor and farming was the main occupation, most people grew their own vegetables and invented dozens of ways to prepare them. Vegetables are featured not only in pasta sauces and as accompaniments to meat dishes but also in focaccia and pizza. Vegetables are grilled or braised or marinated or preserved in oil for an antipasto. Like all Italians, Apulians don't believe in undercooking vegetables; they prefer vegetables slippery soft, never crunchy. Bitter greens are typically boiled first in water, then sautéed slowly in plenty of olive oil; the result is a mass of tender greens with only a pleasant note of bitterness.
Plenty of fine quality durum wheat is grown and thrives in the hot, dry climate of Puglia and is used to make wonderful breads.
Puglia's bread is famous throughout Italy. It is prepared in many variations. Focaccia (flatbreads) might be flavored simply with herbs or olives in the dough or topped or stuffed with vegetables. Taralli are small crunchy bread rings that are served with an apertivo. Friselle are larger flat pieces of dough that are briefly soaked in water and often topped with diced tomatoes.
As with bread, the local durum wheat is also used in Puglia's delicious pasta. The pasta dough is made simply from durum wheat flour, water and salt. Eggs, once considered a luxury, are not used in traditional Puglian pasta-making. The most famous pasta in Puglia is orecchiette or "little ears." Their texture is rough to ensure that they trap and absorb the sauce. The classic accompaniment to orecchiette is a sauce made with broccoli rabe but it is often paired with beans, greens, or other vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini, or cauliflower; feast-day orecchiette are served with a robust meat sauce. Other varieties of pasta that are popular in Puglia are also usually small in size, such as cavatelli. In many of the small villages, fresh pasta is still made on a daily basis by the elderly ladies (signore) who sit outside their front doors making pasta and selling it right there to the locals.
1 bunch (about 12 ounces) broccoli rabe
Salt and pepper
12 - 16 ounces orecchiette pasta
7 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 - 5 slices Italian bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
8 ounces porcini or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 anchovies, minced
Red pepper flakes, to taste
6 - 7 large basil leaves, julienned
Trim the ends and coarsely chop the broccoli rabe. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Blanch the broccoli rabe for 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook the orecchiette according to the package directions, usually about 11 minutes. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.
While the pasta is cooking, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes and sauté until they are golden brown, turning often. Transfer the bread cubes to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside.
In the same skillet, heat 3 more tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes, or until they are starting to brown. Stir in the garlic, lemon zest, anchovies, and red pepper flakes; cook for 30 seconds. Add the broccoli rabe and season with salt. Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet and cook for 4-5 minutes. When the pasta is cooked and drained, add it to the vegetable mixture in the skillet, stirring to coat. Add the remaining reserved pasta water if it seems too dry.
Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Stir in the julienned basil leaves and toasted croutons. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve.
Every pasta shape has a hometown in Italy, the place where it was invented and where its heart still belongs. That’s why different shapes of pasta have traditional ways of being served-the recipes were created using the ingredients that grew best in that area to accompany the pasta. Orecchiette originated in the southern province of Puglia. Wheat flourishes in the region, making pasta and bread both important parts of the local cuisine. Orecchiette's round, concave shape led to its name, which means “little ears” in Italian. The ridged exterior and cup-like interior captures chunky sauces and scoops up small vegetables. In Southern Italy, orecchiette are traditionally made by hand from durum wheat semolina flour, and the characteristic shape of the small ear pasta is formed by pressing the thumb into cubes of pasta dough. While the pasta may ordinarily be handmade, there are several commercial manufacturers of orecchiette as well.
This recipe can also be made with another small pasta such as orecchiette. Serve it with a side of broccoli rabe, as its bitterness compliments the richness of the sauce.
In Puglia, one wheat field follows another and predominately it is durum wheat that is used to make wonderful Puglian breads and pasta. Durum wheat is the hardest of all the wheat species. Both semolina and durum flour are products rendered from milled durum wheat. The endosperm---the nutrients surrounding the wheat seeds---is separated from the grain through the milling process resulting in coarsely-ground flour known as semolina. The texture of semolina is heavier---like hard bread crumbs---and is more coarse than most milled flours. Durum flour is the fine ground powder left over from the milling process. Durum flour is much finer than semolina and is a yellow-hued powder that resembles more traditional baking flours. If you are making pasta using durum flour, the dough is less elastic than bread doughs and can be easily forced through pasta makers. Semolina flour on other hand, has a coarse texture similar to cornmeal that holds the dough of the pasta together and strengthens it when heated. Both semolina and durum flour are high in proteins and gluten. Commercially produced dry pasta (pasta secca) is made almost exclusively from durum semolina. Most home made fresh pastas (pasta fresca), such as orecchiette and cavatelli, also use durum wheat or a combination of soft and hard wheat flours.
Puglian pasta does not contain any eggs; it is made with a simple combination of flour, salt and water that yields great flavor.
As is the case with many Puglian dishes, the whole is a great deal more impressive than the sum of its parts.
PUGLIAN OLIVE OIL
Puglia is famous for many things but nothing defines Puglia as much as the 50 to 60 million olive trees that carpet the region from the north to the south. Millions of them are centuries old, some even thousands of years old -so old that they are protected by the government. The lime soils and dry climate offer ideal conditions for successful olive growing. With its intense flavor, the fruity acidic olive oil of Puglia is just as essential to cooking as it is to the region's economy. Olive oil production is the most important economic factor in the region of Puglia. The olive oil and table olives produced here account for 40% of Italian and 15% of global production. The cultivation areas extend over 3 strips of land: the province of Foggia, the province of Bari, and the Salento peninsula. Although there are many varieties, the olives grown in the south usually produce golden yellow oils that are robust with a slightly nutty aroma.
This condiment, olive oil made spicy with the addition of red peppers or crushed red pepper flakes is a staple on tables in southern Puglia. It is the perfect condiment for Puglian dishes such as potatoes, greens, beans, and roasted peppers. It is also delcious with fresh bread and cheese. To make olio santo, combine 1 part dried peppers or pepper flakes and 4 parts olive oil in a jar. Let sit in a cool place for several days.
Anchovies are commonly used in many Puglian dishes to add a depth of flavor. The anchovies are melted into warm olive oil. Their seemingly strong flavor is not noticeable in the final dish, the only thing that lingers is a mild saltiness.
Many southern pasta dishes are topped with toasted bread crumbs.
This custom probably dates back to a time when cheese was too costly for many of the locals to afford. The crumbs add a pleasing crunch and rich, toasty flavor to vegetable and fish sauces. In some recipes, they are first sautéed with olive oil and mashed anchovies for a salty tang and extra flavor.
PUGLIA IN CUCINA
This cookbook explores the gastronomic culture of Puglia with 80 recipes and an authentic insight into Puglia’s culinary art and culture, side by side with a photographic journey through the region.
Pasta from Puglia (Apulia)
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Mushrooms
Broccoli and broccoli rabe (also called rapini) are very common in Puglia. Broccoli rabe has a strong flavor and a slight bitterness. Orecchiette with broccoli rabe is probably the most famous Puglian pasta dish. It's unique flavor comes from the anchovy, a common ingredient in southern Italian cooking. This recipe is a little different than the traditional dish in that it also adds mushrooms. In Puglia the dish is not very spicy, but you can add more red pepper flakes if you like your food hotter.
Cavatelli with Sausage and a Red Wine-Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 spicy-hot Italian sausages, removed from skins and crumbled
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (28-ounce) can pureed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper
12-16 ounces cavatelli or similar-sized pasta
Grated pecorino cheese, for serving
Heat the olive oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add the crumbled sausage; break it up with a wooden spoon and cook until well browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the pureed tomatoes and red wine; season with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover, keeping the lid slightly ajar. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes.
In a large saucepan of boiling, salted water cook the pasta until al dente.
To serve, toss the cooked pasta with the sauce and sprinkle with pecorino cheese.
(Makes 1 pound of pasta)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
Salt, to taste
Water, about 3/4 cup
In a bowl, mix together the flours and salt. Gradually add the water, stirring to incorporate the water into the flour. Add more water as needed until the dough begins to come together into a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 4-5 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 20 minutes.
Pinch off a small portion of the dough and, using your hands, roll it on a lightly floured work surface into a long roll about 1/2-inch in diameter. Roll with your hands beginning at the center and working toward the edges to keep the rope an even thickness. Using an icing spatula or butter knife, cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Place a flat side of the spatula or knife on top of one of the pieces of dough on your work surface. Push the knife and pasta down and away from you so that the pasta flattens and curls over on itself. Spread the cavatelli on lightly floured baking sheets and allow to dry for 20-30 minutes. Cook the cavatelli in a saucepan of boiling salted water until they float to the surface, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the cavatelli and add your favorite sauce.
Linguine with Zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium zucchini. halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
12 ounces linguine or spaghetti
Grated pecorino cheese for sprinkling
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the zucchini and onions. Saute for about 4 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the garlic and saute for 1 more minute. Add the wine and increase the heat to high. Cook for about 2 minutes or until most of the wine has evaporated. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Cook the linguine in a saucepan of boiling salted water for the time indicated on the package, Drain and toss with the vegetable sauce. Serve sprinkled with pecorino cheese.