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Pugliafornia

November means it's time to harvest olives in Puglia, a job we welcomed with open arms after the disastrous 2014 harvest.

November means it’s time to harvest olives in Puglia, a job we welcomed with open arms this year after the disastrous 2014 harvest.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a l-o-n-g dry spell between posts, so I won’t offer any excuses (disabled computer, lack of good Wi-Fi, sudden finger paralysis . . . anything else?). No, it seems my utter failure to organize my thoughts isn’t particularly dramatic, but it is something of a metaphor for our lives lately. Let me elaborate.

Our first family grape harvest in Umbria spent with our neighbors in the tiny neighborhood of Montacuto ourside of Umbertide.

Our first family grape harvest in Umbria spent with our neighbors in the tiny neighborhood of Montacuto ourside of Umbertide.

If you’ve been following our adventure, you know that we left our home, our jobs and our family and friends over three years ago to live in a little, southern Italian town called Martina Franca. It wasn’t the first time. Over two decades ago, we spent a year in in the central Italian region of Umbria with our very young children, diving deep into local culture through elementary school, neighbors and so many memorable meals.

Puglia's stone dwellings, called trulli, are unmistakable with their cone-shaped rooflines and pointy pinnacle dotting the landscape here.

Puglia’s stone dwellings, called trulli, are unmistakable with their cone-shaped rooflines and pointy pinnacle dotting the landscape here.

At the end of that year, we kept going, traveling to southern Italy and, as it happened, the region of Puglia: the high heel that supports Italy’s boot. And that’s where it happened. We fell hard for Puglia, something like a colpo di fulmine (lightning bolt) that just about knocked us senseless. Before we knew it, we had bought five acres, 150 olive trees and a centuries-old stone oddity called a trullo—an architectural talisman of this UNESCO World Heritage-designated zone complete with a Hobbit-like, cone-shaped roof.

One of many summers spent in the warm glow of Martina Franca's limestone streets over the years before we moved to Martina full time.

One of many summers spent in the warm glow of Martina Franca’s limestone streets over the years before we moved to Martina full time.

Still slightly giddy and not just a little nervous about our flight of fancy there in the sun-kissed countryside, we returned to our American lives and dug back in. We raised our children, climbed our respective professional ladders and went to Puglia every summer, acquiring yet another property in the jewel-like, hilltop Martina Franca. And then every summer just wasn’t enough anymore.

Our nuovastoria turned out to involve olives—so many olives and oceans and oceans of organic extra virgin olive oil.

Our nuovastoria turned out to involve olives—so many olives and oceans and oceans of organic extra virgin olive oil.

So we leapt. Our children didn’t quite know what to make of it: “Children are supposed to leave home, Mom. Parents are NOT supposed to, though.” Although we sometimes found ourselves brought to our knees by a physical ache for our children, they were busy with their post-university lives, loves and their passage to adulthood. And we were consumed with living our nuovastoria.

In short order, we launched Pascarosa, our extra virgin olive oil export company with the certified

In September, we joined one of our favorite groups of guests as they prepare a dinner extravaganza in the kitchen of their rented villa.

In September, we joined one of our favorite groups of guests as they prepared a dinner extravaganza in the kitchen of their rented villa.

organic olives we grew on our property. Starting a business is always daunting, but starting one while deeply immersed in another country’s culture ushered in a whole new level of complexity. In for a penny, we decided to offer food and wine-focused tours of our beloved Puglia, acquainting olive oil customers with the food culture and traditions of the terroir that produced their olive oil. Through the eyes of our guests, we fell in love with Puglia all over again. Our circle of Italian colleagues and friends grew wider as our roots reached deeper.

Culture is a little like this tiny door: open, just a little, but never fully penetrable.

Culture is a little like this tiny door: open, just a little, but never fully penetrable to outsiders.

And yet.

Culture is sometimes defined as “  . . . a way of life of a group of people—the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.” Even though I speak Italian well and have lots of Italian friends who don’t speak a word of English, we will never become integrated. While our lives here are rich in just about every way that matters, we are still a novelty, sometimes an oddity—never just part of the landscape. Maybe that’s okay and maybe it isn’t, but the pull of our own cultural landscape is almost impossible to resist.

All the people we love the most are here. How could we stay away?

All the people we love the most live far away from our Italian home. Living so far away from them gets harder and harder.

So now we’re thinking about where our future lies. We will always be deeply, powerfully tied to Puglia. Our heads and our hearts are woven into the fabric of the very old piece of southern Italian cloth that has grown frayed, even torn, over time. Yet strong new threads are being interlaced through the culture, offering a ray of hope for the future of a place that has always defined itself through its ancient traditions. But we long to explore new cultures, expanding our reach beyond what we thought was possible when we were raising a family and working to support our future. We also long to explore the culture of our own next generation—that not-too-distant time when our children will become parents. And our own parents, whose lives have been so full, are becoming all the more precious, too.

One of our Pascarosa groups eating seafood on the shores of the Adriatic.

One of our Pascarosa groups eating seafood on the shores of the Adriatic during an unseasonably warm autumn.

This summer of weddings, anniversaries and new beginnings has passed in a whirl of emotion. In the fall, we hosted droves of delightful Pascarosa guests in Puglia, brought in the olive harvest, dipped our toes in Turkey’s Bosphorus and returned to California for the longest stay since we left three years ago. In California, talk of an El Niño year caused us to shore up an old farm cottage where we’re hunkered down for what promises to be a welcome, wet winter in the drought-ravaged western United States. We’re thinking about what’s next, too, while we make soup and feed friends. For better or worse, we’re deep in the embrace of our own culture, which feels like the right place to be right now.

MInestrone with borlotti (scarlet runners beans), carrots, Swiss chard and ditalini (very short penne) is a cucina povera staple. Drizzled with an extra virgin olive oil that is bursting with flavor, it is exceptional

Minestrone with borlotti (scarlet runners beans), carrots, Swiss chard and ditalini (very short penne) is a cucina povera staple. Drizzled with an extra virgin olive oil that is bursting with flavor, it is exceptional

We may be in California, but our culinary heart is still beating strong for Puglia. When the weather is blustery here, we turn to the warmth of the southern Italian kitchen to sustain us. Nothing beats this sturdy, simple soup from Altamura, a neighboring town known all over Italy for the quality of its bread. Called Cialedd’ in dialect, it defines the concept of cucina povera—making use of homegrown ingredients when money is tight—and without the eggs, it’s a perfect vegan supper dish.

Cialedd’ (Pronounced cha-LEDD)—Altamura-Style Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:

2 yellow onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

3 potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1” pieces

1 bunch of Swiss chard, roughly chopped (about 2 cups)

Broccoli rabe has an earthy, assertive flavor that promises loads of antioxidants in very spoonful of soup.

Broccoli rabe has an earthy, assertive flavor that promises loads of antioxidants in every spoonful of soup.

1 bunch broccoli rabe, woody stalks removed, roughly chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

1 leek, white part only, chopped into ½” pieces

1 large or two small tomatoes, quartered (or use 3 or 4 well-drained sun-dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil)

4 cups vegetable stock

6 eggs

The easiest, most satisfying bread you can make yourself is also perfect for Cialedd'. Here's Jim Lahey's recipe as it appeared in the NY Times.

The easiest, most satisfying bread you can make yourself is also perfect for Cialedd’. Here’s Jim Lahey’s recipe as it appeared in the NY Times.

6 pieces of artisanal country bread (make sure you use great quality bread to avoid soggy disintegration in the soup)

Extra virgin olive oil

Method:

In a large soup pot (preferably enameled cast iron), put all the vegetables and a scant cup of water over medium heat. Cover the pot and sweat the vegetables gently for about ten minutes.

You can buy vegetable stock, but it is cheaper and infinitely more satisfying to make your own. Here's a method that makes use of vegetable scraps you can save over time until you have enough to make a batch of stock.

You can buy vegetable stock, but it is cheaper and infinitely more satisfying to make your own. Here’s a method that makes use of vegetable scraps you can save over time until you have enough to make a batch of stock (Photo credit: ohmyveggies.com).

Add the vegetable stock. Make sure there is enough liquid in the pan—this soup is brothy. Bring the vegetables and stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the soup until the potatoes are tender. This may take up to an hour. Make sure there is at least an inch to two inches of broth above the vegetables at all times; it may be necessary to top off the soup with more broth during the simmering process.

Taste for seasoning; add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

Brush the pieces of bread with extra virgin olive oil, then place them on a baking sheet and toast for approx. ten minutes at 350 degrees until slightly crisp. Rub the surfaces with a cut clove of garlic if you like the flavor.

Poach the eggs in a separate saucepan of water (here’s a great method).

The finished soup is served over toasted country bread with a poached egg on top. The egg enriches the brothy soup; the bread absorbs it all.

The finished soup is served over toasted country bread with a poached egg on top. The egg enriches the brothy soup; the bread absorbs it all (Photo credit: Alicia Taylor).

To serve the soup, place a piece of the toasted bread in the bottom of a soup bowl. Ladle hot soup over the bread and top with a poached egg. Drizzle everything with extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Note: Although they wouldn’t think much of this idea in Altamura, you can puree half of the soup mixture and add it back to the vegetables in their broth. This step adds creaminess and heft, which seem especially welcoming to us on a cold night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cathey briggs #

    Lovely as always. We so understand why you fell for Puglia, for Martina Franca in particular. And the food. And the wine. Loved every minute of it.

    December 18, 2015
    • Thank you, Cathey! We had such fun with you in Martina Franca. You are the best guests: so engaged, full of interest in everything around you and game for it all. Come back soon! Hope to see you in Portland soon . . . perhaps February. Take care and enjoy the peace and warmth of the season. Our best to Tom, too.

      December 19, 2015
  2. Marnie Brady #

    Love reading your blogs Catherine. I met you both in May last year while walking the Camino. Would love to visit Puglia and especially Martina Franca … it’s on my list and hope to get there in the next year or two. Have a wonderful Christmas in California with all your family. I’m heading off after Christmas doing a walk in Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.

    Sending lots of love from Australia
    Marnie

    December 18, 2015
    • Oh Marnie, how wonderful to hear from you! So thoughtful of you to read the post and to write—you made my day! Please do consider visiting Puglia. We’d love to show you our very favorite places and, of course, all the wonderful walks through trulli country. Congratulations to you for your Cradle Mountain walk. So impressive! Have a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful, joyous new year.

      December 19, 2015
  3. What a wonderfully touching article. This was a pleasure to read, and the soup sounds terrific. Buon natale!

    December 18, 2015
    • Thank you, Adri. Your kind words mean so much to me. Lots to think about, but we’re having a wonderful time reconnecting with so many people we have missed. I wish you a peaceful Christmas and a new year filled with light and love.

      December 19, 2015
  4. Joan and Kirk #

    So much fun to read your story and remember our meeting in Martina Franca in September. Our stay in Puglia was so memorable and we continue to talk about it among ourselves and friends.
    We enjoy your delicious olive oil and have given it to friends as gifts.
    A trip to Portland may be in our near future so we hope to meet again someday.

    December 19, 2015
    • Hi Joan and Kirk–So kind of you to have read the blog post. We had so much fun with you and your friends in Martina Franca; we hope you’ll have another opportunity to return so we can show you more of the area. And thank you so much for the Pascarosa orders. We were so delighted to see that you had ordered and that you’re enjoying a small taste of Puglia in Kansas City. We are in Santa Cruz, CA now, but will travel to Oregon in January-February-ish. We’d love to meet up!

      December 20, 2015
  5. Very interesting soup recipe! Thanks for sharing, And best wishes as you recalibrate.

    December 27, 2015

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