This is an excerpt from the book “Apulia”.
“La cucina pugliese nasce come cucina povera,” says Paola Pettini who for twenty-five years has directed a cooking school in her native Bari: The cuisine of Puglia (sometimes called Apulia in English) was born as the cuisine of poverty. What this means, she explains, is pasta made without eggs, bread made from the hard-grain durum wheat flour that flourishes locally, and a diet based on vegetables, including many wild vegetables like cicorielle, wild chicory, and lampascioni , the bulb of a wild tassel hyacinth, foods that are foraged from stony fields and abandoned terraces.
Meat is not much eaten and beef until a few years ago, was almost unknown on Pugliese tables, with horsemeat being preferred.
For Christmas and Easter feasting, weddings and baptisms, Pugliese cook look to what are called animale da cortile, farmyard animals, especially chickens and rabbits, although this rocky landscape being sheep country, lamb is the very symbol of feasting, as it is in most of the Mediterranean.
The food of Puglia is, in essence, a home-based cuisine, not marked by the influence of great chefs or restaurants.
Because it is based on home cooking, this is a cucina delle donne, created by women cooking at home rather than male chefs in professional kitchens. It is a cuisine without rules and regulations, based solely on what’s in the family larder, which is then stretched and expanded to feed those who may show up all’improvviso, at the unplanned last minute.
Pugliese cuisine is based on Apulian 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 right here to be used in Pugliese kitchens.
Source: Flavors of Puglia Nancy Harmon Jenkins Broadway Books
Compared to other Italian regions, Puglia cultivates most types of wheat, but durum wheat is its main crop. Most dried pasta is made from durum wheat, the hardest of all kinds of wheat. (The word “durum” comes from the Latin word “durus,” meaning “hard.”) Durum wheat’s density, combined with its high protein content and gluten strength, make it the wheat of choice for producing premium pasta products (Barilla pasta is made from 100% durum wheat).
Pasta made from durum is firm and provides a consistent cooking quality. Whether it’s the appetizing aroma of a steaming bowl of orecchiette pasta or the warm, sweet aroma of homemade bread, the Pugliese know how to produce magic from their bounty of wheat.
As essential to the Italian kitchen as a pasta pot, Apulian olive oil is one of the finest olive oils in the world. Olive oil and table olives are one of the main agricultural products of this region, which accounts for 40 percent of Italy’s output of olive oil. For a simple taste of Puglia, tear off a generous piece of local rustic bread, such as Altumura, and dip it into one of the many provincial varieties that range in flavor and intensity such as Coratina, Cima di Bitonto, Cellina di Nardo’, Cima di Mola, or L’Olio di Peranzana.
Pasta and bread play a fundamental role in Pugliese cuisine and in Puglia food – and Pane di Altumura DOP is at the helm of this tradition.
Altamura bread—a staple food of the peoples of the Alta Murgia region in Apulia—was traditionally made in very large loaves. In the old days, it was customary to knead the dough at home and then take it to public ovens to be baked. In order to distinguish the loaves, the bakers would stamp them with the initials of the head of the family that owned the dough before placing them in their ovens.
Pane di Altamura is a very crisp, fragrant bread. Its crumb, the soft part of the bread, is the color of straw and soft to the touch. Its most distinctive characteristic, however, is that it keeps for a long time, an essential quality for a bread that, dipped briefly in boiling water and dressed with olive oil and salt, provided nutrition to peasants and shepherds for a week or more in isolated farms scattered in the hills of Alta Murgia.
The earliest written document describing the Altamura bread is Horatio’s “Satires” in which the Roman poet recalls that during a trip to his native land in the spring of A.D. 37 he tasted “the world’s most delicious bread—so delicious, in fact, that the discerning traveler stacks up on it for the rest of his journey.”
In an era closer to ours, the 1527 statute of the town of Altamura dedicates numerous paragraphs outlining the duties of the town’s bakers, including the taxes they had to pay to the authorities.
Specialty Foods of Puglia
Agnello al cartoccio: lamb chops baked in paper or foil with lampasciuoli and olives.
Bocconotti: half-moon shaped pastry shells flavored with Marsala and filled with cream and jam and baked.
Carteddate: ribbons of pastry dough flavored with Marsala rolled and fried in olive oil and topped with honey and cinnamon; purciduzzi are similar.
Cavatieddi con la ruca: pasta shells with cooked rocket greens, tomato, and pecorino.
Ciceri e tria: chickpeas and noodle soup.
Cozze alla leccese: mussels baked with oil, lemon, and parsley.
Gniumerieddi: skewers of lamb or kid innards with slices of salt pork, pecorino and bay leave grilled over the coals of a wood fire.
Melanzane alla campagnola: eggplant sliced, grilled and served with olive oil, chopped garlic, basil, and mint.
Melanzane ripiene: baked eggplant hollowed and stuffed with its chopped pulp, tomatoes, breadcrumbs, capers, olives, anchovies.
Incapriata: thick soup of fava beans mashed with bitter chicory.
Orata alla barese: gilt-head bream roasted with potatoes, garlic, grated pecorino.
Ostriche alla tarantina: Taranto oysters breaded and baked with olive oil and parsley.
Seppie ripiene: small cuttlefish baked with a stuffing of chopped mussels and squid, capers, breadcrumbs, grated pecorino.
Tiella di cozze: mussels baked with rice, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, grated pecorino.
Zuppa alla tarantina: peppery soup of shellfish with grouper, eel, prawns, and cuttlefish simmered with tomatoes and served with toasted garlic bread.
Broccoli di rape all’aglio e peperoncino Bitter Broccoli with Garlic and Peperoncino
Frisedda alla pugliese Frisedda with Tomato Salad
Orecchiette alle cime di rapa Orecchiette with Broccoli rabe
Orecchiette baresi al sugo di involtini Orecchiette with meat sauce
Orecchiette pugliesi con rucola e patate Orecchiette with potatoes and arugola
Orecchiette pugliesi coi funghi Orecchiette with mushrooms
Pomodori essicati Sun-dried Tomatoes