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Eat Your Greens

Olives infested with olive fly still on the tree during the last snowstorm here (Photo credit: Amanda Roelle).

Olives infested with olive fly still on the tree during the December 31, 2014 snowstorm here (Photo credit: Amanda Roelle).

The temperature here is dropping as I write. Snow flurries and high winds blew in last night, but today’s snowfall is almost an afterthought, with patches of brilliant blue sky behind ominous clouds. Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, but we welcome the chill if it will lay waste to the olive fly larvae that burrow in the soil of our olive grove. There’s little else to do but stay inside and cook while entertaining visions of insect death and destruction, hoping the incongruity of these two activities doesn’t indicate something troubling about my state of mind. Read more

Candelora

Candles in Taranto's Cathedral of San Cataldo

Candles in Taranto’s Cathedral of San Cataldo

Italy’s answer to the United States’ Groundhog Day came and went yesterday, confirming that we can expect another six weeks of winter here. This isn’t altogether bad news. We’re hoping for a proper freeze, enough to exterminate any dormant olive fly larvae wintering over in the soil of local olive groves. Nothing too extreme, though, since extreme cold at the wrong time (like early spring) represents another kind of trouble for olive farmers. So we’re hunkering down, but consoling ourselves with long walks, recipes that involve a long stove-top simmer and the occasional crunch of chiacchiere, those crackling, light-as-a-feather Italian carnevale sweets that are impossible to stop eating. Read more

The Worst Year Ever

We harvested the few olives that were on our trees early  this year, escaping olive fly infestation. Unfortunately, we just didn't produce enough this year.

We harvested the few olives that were on our trees early this year, escaping olive fly infestation. Unfortunately, we just didn’t produce enough.

Maybe you’ve been following the Italian and Spanish olive harvest news this year. If so, it won’t come as a surprise that 2014 will be remembered as one of the worst years in history for premium olive oil. For a variety of reasons, olive oil production is down by as much as 40% overall in Italy this year. And for premium extra virgin and organic olive oils, the situation is even worse. Read more

Benessere

Deep-fried yeasty dough balls called pettole are as Christmas-y as it gets in Puglia.

Deep-fried yeasty dough balls called pettole mean Christmas in Puglia.

After the eating endurance event known as a southern Italian holiday season, we’re tightening our belts. Or at least we’re making an effort in hopes of tightening them. Pasta al forno, that decadent layered masterpiece of the Christmas table here, has been banished from ours. Likewise the zampone, a pig’s trotter stuffed with, yes, more pork, is off the list. And the pettole? Those deep-fried puffs of yeasty dough immersed in vanilla-scented sugar are now just a guilt-tinged memory. But if you think we’re resigned to insipid plates of sad, boiled vegetables, you are dead wrong. We’ve embraced a world of flavor with the bounty of Puglia’s winter vegetable, fruit, grain, nut, seed and legume harvest. And Puglia’s seafood and farm players still figure in the equation, playing a supporting role to great effect. Read more

The Kids are All Right

The first snow of 2014 dances around us as we welcome 2015.

The first snow of 2014 dances around us as we prepare to welcome 2015.

2014 is drawing to a close. In Puglia, snow flurries blanket the cone-shaped roofs of this region’s iconic stone houses. The air is brisk as the sun sinks low in the sky, limestone-paved alleyways glow with the reflected light of wrought-iron streetlights and residents settle in for winter as they have always done. But there is disquiet here, a growing sense that so much of Italy’s infrastructure, the modus operandi that touches all aspects of life, is profoundly troubled. From the morning caffè chat in the local bar to the increasingly gloomy headlines in evening news, there is collective acknowledgement that years of “crisi,” the pervasive economic stagnation that is crippling Italy’s younger generation, is here to stay. But amidst the endless stories of despair, there is reason to hope. Read more

Le Feste

Cartellate, the iconic Pugliese Christmas sweet, is everywhere we look these days. And it's very, very hard to resist.

Cartellate, the iconic Pugliese Christmas sweet, is everywhere we look these days. And it’s very, very hard to resist.

Like just about everything else in Puglia, the holiday season arrives in exactly the same way it always has. From l’Immacolata (December 8th) to the vigilia (the night before Christmas) to Christmas Day itself, the growing excitement is palpable. Christmas markets in town squares are erected seemingly overnight, municipalities organize fanciful light displays and shops are open—gasp!—on Sundays to facilitate holiday gift buying. But unlike the U.S., the holiday spirit doesn’t flag on December 26th. In Italy, there is Santo Stefano (December 26th), San Silvestro (New Year’s Eve) and l’Epifania (the Epiphany, or more colloquially, la Befana) on January 6th still to celebrate. It’s an embarrassment of riches, particularly at the table. Read more

In the Kitchen with Rosy

Bosc pears are plentiful in fall and winter. They're also the best choice for desserts because they hold their shape in baking.

Bosc pears are plentiful in fall and winter. They’re also the best choice for desserts because they hold their shape in baking.

This won’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me, but some of the very best moments during our busy tour season this year were spent in the kitchen. Not unlike the way that dinner guests always end up converging right where the action is, our tour participants were drawn to the Italian kitchens we visited like moths to the flame. And in some cases, it really was a flame since we visited more than one glowing wood-burning oven heated to almost 700 degrees Fahrenheit. In the experience of diving into new ingredients with Italian home cooks, bakers, butchers and professional chefs, our guests deepened their understanding of this culture and its people. And they ate very, very well. Read more

Tour de Force

The Itria Valley countryside is dotted with trulli, circular stone dwellings with cone-shaped roofs and stone pinnacles on high.

The Itria Valley countryside is dotted with trulli, circular stone dwellings with cone-shaped roofs and stone pinnacles on high.

I know, I know . . . it’s been a really long time since you’ve heard from me. I don’t have a great excuse, except to say that late summer and fall have brought an embarrassment of riches this year in the form of visitors to our little corner of the Italian peninsula. We’ve hosted old friends and new friends over these past several months, touring from the tip of the heel of Italy’s boot to the sassi (cave) homes of the rocky Basilicata plains to the blue Adriatic seaside. Touring takes time and energy, not to mention the endless details to confirm, transportation to coordinate and follow-up post-travel that seems to consume every spare moment. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Yet somewhere along the way, we’ve fallen in love with Puglia all over again. Read more

Tiella Tutorial

Mussels from the Mar Piccolo near Taranto are briny, sweet and lie at the heart of tiella alla Barese.

Mussels from the Mar Piccolo near Taranto are briny, sweet and lie at the heart of tiella alla Barese.

Summer seemed to fly by in Puglia this year, and not only because of the weather. Along with partner Nancy Harmon Jenkins, we’ve been busy planning AmorOlio in Puglia, our food-focused tours that start this fall. We were almost too focused to notice the late spring rains and capricious thunderstorms that blew into Italy in June, effectively putting summer on hold. When it finally arrived in mid-August, the southern heat settled in as if to make up for lost time. So we took a time out and did our best to maximize the long, sunny days and balmy nights here. Aperitivi on the roof terrace, lunch at the beach and as many bike rides as we could manage, but only when the thermometer stayed on the cooler side of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. And we dove deeply into the sea of summer produce that swells the markets in late summer. We’re still making all our favorite fair weather dishes as often as possible before the gorgeous fruits and vegetables disappeared for another nine months. Read more

Ramasole

Regina tomatoes strung together like a bunch of grapes is called a ramasole in Puglia. They're preserved like this all winter long, surviving until the next season's harvest begins.

Regina tomatoes strung together like a bunch of grapes is called a ramasole in Puglia. They’re preserved like this all winter long, surviving until the next season’s harvest begins.

It’s a little trickier than it looks. You need nimble fingers, perseverance and a patient teacher. We had at least one of these attributes when we joined a workshop at La Casa degli Uccellini last week to learn how to make ramasole, Puglia’s iconic tomato bunches gathered together with thick cotton strings for long preservation. Thanks to cultural historian Teresa Acquaviva, the founder of an organization that develops events like this to acquaint Italians with their agrarian past, the evening we spent learning about this seasonal pastime was inclusive, engaging and lots of fun. It represents the very best kind of tourism in a place that deserves so much more focus in Italy and beyond for its culinary traditions among so much else. Read more

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