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Posts tagged ‘Apulia’

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

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

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

Endless Summer, Italian Style

Nothing says summer in Italy like the clear, blue sea.

Nothing says summer in Italy like the clear, blue sea.

It’s August 15th, the day when ancient Romans rested, the Virgin Mary’s sinless soul and uncorrupted body ascended into heaven and modern Italians take to the nearest body of water to escape the inevitable August heat wave. Called Ferragosto today in a nod to its origins in antiquity during Emperor Augustus’s rule, this holiday marks the pinnacle of the summer season in Italy. And like every holiday here, it is celebrated en masse in exactly the same way all over the country. Read more

Kilometro Zero

All that's left of our favorite summer pasta.

All that’s left of our favorite summer pasta.

We always appreciate the scale of our town in Italy when summer rolls around.  Just about everything we really need is a short walk away from our front door. But we are especially grateful for all this proximity when the relentless Pugliese summer sun beats down, sapping every ounce of energy from our limbs. Then we summon ourselves into action early in the morning, making the rounds of the bar for a quick caffè ghiacciato (iced coffee), the pescheria (fish market) or the maccelleria (butcher) and, best of all, the fruttivendolo (fruit and vegetable shop) that is so mercifully close to us that we call down our order from our balcony. Italians call this shopping a kilometro zero, literally sourcing products at zero kilometers of distance. We call it incredibly lucky and we take advantage of the ease every single day. Read more

Piatto Forte

Peperoni Ripieni can be part of a selection of appetizers—or eaten all by themselves.

Peperoni Ripieni can be included as part of an appetizer selection—or eaten all by themselves.

Everybody has one. Whether you are a world class chef or a home cook with a week’s worth of dinner menus on regular rotation, you are inevitably known for one special dish—the one you never get tired of making. Friends always want the recipe, you count on it to be great every time you serve it and you can make it in your sleep. It’s your signature dish—your piatto forte.

An earlier contender for piatto forte: Braised Leeks.

Braised Leeks are a favorite piatto forte that rival Peperoni Ripieni for requested appearances.

You probably can’t remember how you came to be associated with your piatto forte. Maybe you found a recipe that intrigued you so much that you just had to try it. Your initial effort was met with enthusiastic approval, so you found yourself recreating the dish for guests, growing more confident with its execution with every repetition. Or maybe you learned it from your grandmother, adjusting the recipe over time to make it your own. By now, you never even look at the recipe, though, so ingrained is the process of crafting your signature dish. You can reproduce it when you’re away from home in someone else’s kitchen, even without access to familiar, go-to ingredients. Whether your piatto forte is as basic as guacamole or as complicated as paella, you’ve made it your own and the world is a happier place because of it.

My piatti forti always seem to come from the antipasto (appetizer) category. I love the way appetizers tease the palate, making way for the main

La Scarapaccia, a hybrid frittata from Tuscany, is another contender for piatto forte status. I make it every chance I get when zucchini is plentiful, especially when I can find zucchini flowers.

La Scarapaccia, a hybrid frittata from Tuscany, is another contender for piatto forte status. I make it every chance I get when zucchini is plentiful, especially when I can find zucchini flowers.

meal to come. Antipasti are a great vehicle for in-season vegetables, too. The best ones offer contrasting textures and flavors along with visual appeal. And antipasti can be designed to comprise an entire meal, offering intriguing tastes without overwhelming guests.

Peperoni Ripieni are versatile, easily prepared from readily available ingredients and very, very good to eat.

Peperoni Ripieni are versatile, easily prepared from readily available ingredients and very, very good to eat.

I have already shared my family’s all-time favorite—Braised Leeks— in another post, but Peperoni Ripieni (Stuffed Peppers) run a very close second. I learned how to make them when we visited Puglia for the first time almost 20 years ago and still make them for Italian friends here—a very tough crowd. Now that shiny, fleshy red and yellow peppers are dominating our local vegetable market, I am rediscovering why this recipe lives at the top of the list, ticking off all of the elements that transform a recipe into a piatto forte. Peperoni Ripieni can be made well in advance. Their baking time is flexible and they can be eaten hot from the oven or, even better, at room temperature. Their filling is equally flexible, rendering them highly customizable, which is how they could easily become your own personal piatto forte, too. Don’t be tempted to skip the pepper roasting and peeling process, though. In addition to creating one of the most addictive kitchen aromas ever, the flavor of freshly roasted peppers just cannot be replicated with jarred or canned peppers.

Peppers are abundant in the vegetable market now, making stuffed peppers are a perfect summertime piatto forte.

Peppers are abundant in the vegetable market now, making stuffed peppers are a perfect summertime piatto forte.

Peperoni Ripieni—Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:

4 large red and/or yellow peppers

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. roughly chopped capers

2 Tbsp. toasted, roughly chopped pine nuts

1 salt-packed anchovy, boned, rinsed and roughly chopped (If necessary, substitute 1 scant teaspoon of anchovy paste or leave it out altogether for vegetarians.)

½ cup toasted breadcrumbs

½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley

1 Tbsp. fresh oregano or marjoram (optional; if you don’t have any fresh herbs, just omit them)

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Roast peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet under the broiler until they're blackened on all sides.

Roast peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet under the broiler until they’re blackened on all sides.

First, roast the peppers. Set the oven to broil and cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the peppers on the baking sheet, then put the baking sheet in the oven about 4 inches from the broiler unit above them. Roast the peppers until the side facing toward the broiler is blackened, then carefully rotate each pepper and broiling until each pepper is thoroughly blackened. Place the blackened peppers in a resealable plastic bag and let rest for 15-20 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

After removing the seeds and membranes, the peppers are placed on paper towels to drain while making the stuffing mixture.

After removing the seeds and membranes, the peppers are placed on paper towels to drain while making the stuffing mixture.

Carefully remove the peppers from the bag, one at a time, as you peel the blackened skin from the flesh underneath. Remove all seeds and white, pithy membranes. Lay each pepper flat on paper towels to absorb excess moisture. Don’t be tempted to remove the skin by running cool water over the surfaces of the peppers; water dilutes the exceptional pepper flavor.

Sometimes the peppers will separate into sections. This is fine as long as the pieces are at least 2 inches wide. For each pepper, you should end up with four pieces, each of which will be stuffed with the filling mixture and rolled up.

Stuffing ingredients are moistened with extra virgin olive oil and mixed well.

Stuffing ingredients are moistened with extra virgin olive oil and mixed well.

While the skinned peppers are draining, mix the capers, pine nuts, anchovy, breadcrumbs, and parsley. Add the extra virgin olive oil and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If the peppers aren’t already separated in 2-3 inch-long pieces, slice them accordingly. In an ovenproof dish, swirl a little extra virgin olive oil into the bottom to coat thoroughly.

On the inside side, place a heaping teaspoon (approx.) of filling at end of each pepper piece closest to you. Carefully roll up the pepper piece to enclose the filling and place the roll, end underneath, in the baking dish. Repeat this process until all of the pepper slices are filled. Drizzle a little more extra virgin olive oil over the tops of the pepper rolls.

Peperoni Ripieni can be prepared to this point earlier in the day, then baked before serving.

Peperoni Ripieni can be prepared to this point earlier in the day, then baked before serving.

Bake the rolls in a hot over (400 to 425 degrees) until they are hot, with a golden toasty appearance on the top. Serve them hot, or let them cool to room temperature and serve as part of an antipasti selection. You can also prepare them early in the day, waiting until just before serving to bake them.

Serves 4-6 as part of an antipasto (appetizer) selection.

Note: In Naples and Sicily, it’s not unusual to find currants or raisins added to the filling mixture. To do this, soak 2 Tbsp. of currants or raisins in hot water for 15 minutes, then drain, chop and add them to the filling mixture.

Afloat

As twilight approaches, sailboats appear to float on the glassy surface of the Ionian sea in this quiet bay on Paxos.

As twilight approaches, sailboats appear to float on the glassy surface of the Ionian sea in this quiet bay on Paxos.

A week ago, we were bobbing along in the turquoise waters of Paxos, wondering just how we got so lucky. The sky was a brilliant, Greek blue and the sun was strong, but not punishing. Paxos’s olives, pines and cypress trees shone in the distance above the sweetest little port town we’d ever seen. Even the fish seemed to have a little extra joie de vivre as they darted underneath our wiggling toes. It was about as close to paradise as we can imagine. Read more

In the Swing of Summer

Creamy white and violet-striped eggplant have just started to appear in Martina Franca's fruit and vegetable market.

Creamy white and violet-striped eggplant have just started to appear in Martina Franca’s fruit and vegetable market.

When we’ve been away from Martina Franca for any period of time, we try to get ourselves to the weekly open-air market as soon as we can. Not only do we need to stock up on whatever looks especially gorgeous in the fruit and vegetable department, but meandering through the stalls and listening to the vendors confirms that we’re really home. Read more

Addio Summer

Goodby summer, but autumn is still looking pretty good.

We said goodbye to summer, but autumn is still looking pretty wonderful.

Autumn officially begins on September 21st, but in Puglia, September is arguably the very best time of the year for savoring the best of the summer. Even though the days are getting shorter, it feels like the atmospheric gods are conspiring to make the ever-waning daylight something truly special. From stunning midday skies and dreamy sunsets to sweet, grape-scented breezes, we’re reveling in these last moments before the darkening sky moves decisively into winter. Read more

Bontà

San Marzano tomatoes dry the old-fashioned way in the hot Pugliese sun on cane pallets.

San Marzano tomatoes dry the old-fashioned way on cane pallets in the hot Pugliese sun.

We never cease to be amazed by the sheer quantity of produce that springs forth from Pugliese soil. Perhaps more impressive than the quantity, though, is the quality or bontà. From season to season, Pugliese fruits and vegetables go from strength to strength in a yearlong parade of color, texture and flavor that is a wonder to behold. Yesterday we spent the day at an especially productive organic farm down by the Adriatic coast near Ostuni, returning to Martina Franca with boxes of treasures almost too beautiful to eat. But we ate them anyway. Read more

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