Flavors of Puglia: Traditional Recipes from the Heel of Italy's Boot

Flavors of Puglia: Traditional Recipes from the Heel of Italy's Boot

by Nancy Harmon Jenkins



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Flavors of Puglia: Traditional Recipes from the Heel of Italy's Boot by Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Dazzling combinations of colorful, earthy vegetables.  Comforting soups with beans, grains, and fragrant herbs.  Simple seafood dishes prepared with fish and shellfish straight from the sea.  Pasta adorned with fresh, flavorful sauces.  Food that embraces the humble abundance of Puglia, from olive groves, wheatfields, vineyards, gardens, and the blue waters of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.  In this first-ever cookbook devoted to the foods of this bountiful region, located at the heel of the Italian boot, Nancy Harmon Jenkins combines her masterful knowledge of the Mediterranean with the recipes and traditions of Pugliese home cooks.

Featuring more than 100 recipes, for every course from the antipasti to dessert, Flavors of Puglia introduces American home cooks to the aromas and flavors of the cuisine of Puglia.  Taking a culinary tour of this remarkable region, Jenkins offers recipes for classic Pugliese dishes including tiedda, a casserole made with mussels, potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini; and orecchiette, Puglia's famous ear-shaped pasta, tossed with pungent broccoli rabe and dressed with a sprightly mix of oil, garlic, and red pepper.  Other recipes include panzerotti, deep-fried tarts filled with onion-olive stuffing or a spicy pork filling; stewed black olives served with chunks of country-style bread for sopping up herb-scented olive oil; calzone, a two-crusted pizza with olives, leeks, and a hint of anchovy; and fresh fish and shellfish served on their own, in casseroles, or seafood stews.

Jenkins offers graceful descriptions of Puglia's landscape andintroduces readers to local fishermen, bakers, pastamakers, olive oil producers, and winemakers who produce the best food the region has to offer.  A detailed section for travelers offers restaurant and hotel suggestions and provides a list of dishes and food products that are specialties of the region.  A resource guide and extensive notes on choosing ingredients round out this splendid cookbook, which will win readers over to this charming and, as yet, undiscovered region of Italy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553066753
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication date: 05/19/1997
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 7.28(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.37(d)

Read an Excerpt

Puglia, or Apulia as it is often called in English, is "the heel" of the Italian boot, including the steep and rocky spur of the Gargano peninsula projecting into the sea.  It is the easternmost region of Italy, eight hundred kilometers of coastline stretching down the Adriatic and around the heel into the high arch of the Ionian Sea and the Gulf of Taranto.  This heel reaches out toward the Eastern Mediterranean, and at times the landscape looks and feels more like Greece than the softer, gentler Italy of Rome and the North.  Especially under the harsh brilliance of the summer sun--il solleone, the lion sun of August--you sense the connection with the Balkans and the East.  Greeks were among the earliest settlers in this region, dominating the indigenous Messapicans, the Daunians, the Peucetians, as far back as Mycenaean times, perhaps even earlier.  Taranto on the Ionian was a Greek colony from the eighth century B.C., a flourishing capital of Magna Graecia, the great cosmopolitan Greek world beyond Greece itself; in Taranto's Museo Nazionale, you catch glimpses of the splendors of that lost world in the dazzling collection of antique vases illustrating in exquisitely painted detail the old stories of gods, heroes, and mortals, their lives so intimately entwined.

For all the richness of its history, Puglia is, has always been, a land of poverty, a land of emigration.  Thousands of Pugliese left their villages for America in the early years of this century, many of them never to return.  Almost everyone you meet in Puglia has cousins in America, and if you say you're from there, most peoplehave a tale to tell.

"The California of Italy" is the phrase that chambers of commerce and tourist development agencies use to lure tourists to Puglia, but Puglia has something California lacks--a depth of history, a sense of the chiaroscuro of tragedy and loss, of the harsh side of life that counterpoints moments of joy and sweetness.  There's a special poignancy to celebration when the ache of misfortune and sorrow underlies it: It seems significant that the pizzica, a woman's triumphal dance of seduction and conquest, is almost indistinguishable from the ritualistic rapture of the tarantella, the hypnotic trance-dance induced by the remorseless sting of a spider that lurks, one writer says, "in the labyrinths of a guilty conscience" and almost always attacks women, almost always those who have been unlucky in love or marriage.

"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 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 lampascione, 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 cooks 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.  Pasta manufacturer Benedetto Cavalieri says that even twenty years ago, in his home town of Lecce, there were only a handful of restaurants, mostly patronized by commercial travelers and others who had no home to go to--or, Benedetto adds with a discreet smile, were dining with ladies they could not bring home.  Restaurants like Concetta Cantoro's home-style Cucina Casareccia are newcomers to Lecce, even more so because of the chef-owner's rigorous insistence on serving that very home-based cuisine that is the glory of Pugliese kitchens.

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 al improviso, at the unplanned last minute.  Thus, a recipe becomes a manner of speaking rather than a rule.  "How much flour do I need for orecchiette for six people?" asks Adriana Bozzi-Colonna in a kitchen in Lecce.  And her assistant Silvana Camisa replies with a gesture: Using her hands as a cup she scoops up a double handful of semola.  "That's for one," she says, and proceeds to add five more scoops to the pile.

Pugliese cuisine is based on 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.  Cooks in Puglia even deep-fry with extra virgin oil, something that comes as a surprise to Americans but is routine in many parts of the Mediterranean (Sicily, Andalucia in southern Spain).

Butter is rarely used in the traditional cuisine, and even some sweets are made with olive oil and often fried.  And sweets, moreover, are not an everyday occurrence but associated only with holidays, whether major ones like Christmas and Easter, or minor ones like the Feast of the Dead (All Saints) or Shrove Tuesday, or locally celebrated ones like the feasts of St.  Anthony Abbot and St. Joseph.

In this culture of sparsity, nothing is wasted.  Stale bread is cut into cubes or crumbled and toasted in oil to make a garnish for pasta and vegetable dishes.  Vegetables themselves, at the height of their season, are dried, pickled, or preserved in oil to eke out the larder in the lean months of the year.  Figs are dried or boiled down to make a syrup, and grape juice, after the first pressing, is boiled to make a thick molasses called mosto cotto, to be served at Christmas poured over the fried sweets called cartellate.

Wild greens in great variety are still harvested, especially during the brief Pugliese winter when gardens are less productive and the wildings are at their best, tender and sweet.  On misty days, when the damp soil yields wild roots more easily, you'll see elderly foragers, men and women alike, stoop-shouldered as they course intently over abandoned fields, often accompanied by grandchildren who are learning to tell good from bad.  Lampascioni are so precious that in recent years, it's rumored, they've been brought in from North Africa to fill Pugliese market demand.  Even the green shoots of the vine, pruned in the springtime in order to concentrate the plant's energy on the developing fruit, are soaked for a few days in vinegar and water, then heated with oil and garlic, mixed with the ever-present purée of fava beans, and served with crusts of fried bread.

Spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes
Pasta con pomodori al forno
6 servings

This recipe comes from my landlord and friend Pino Marchese.  He makes this in the summertime when Puglia's pride, big plump Sammarzano plum tomatoes, weighing nearly a pound each, are at their peak.  Whatever tomatoes you use, make sure they are absolutely ripe, juicy, and full of flavor--this is one recipe where canned tomatoes simply won't work.  Pino uses spaghetti, but linguine, vermicelli, or bucatini will do as well.

8 large very ripe tomatoes
Coarse sea salt to taste
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
l/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
l/2 cup freshly grated bread crumbs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound thin spaghetti or linguine
Freshly ground black pepper
l/2 cup shredded basil leaves
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino, optional

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Slice each tomato in half and set, cut side up, in a lightly oiled oven dish that will hold all the tomatoes in one layer.  Sprinkle the halves with salt, garlic, and parsley.

Toast the bread crumbs in a frying pan over medium heat until they are light golden-brown.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the tomato halves and drizzle all the olive oil over them.  Place the dish in the preheated oven and roast for 30 to 45 minutes, or until they are very soft and juicy.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, timing it so the pasta will finish when the tomatoes are ready.  Add the pasta and cook, partially covered, until the pasta is done, about 10 minutes depending on its size and shape.  Drain the pasta well and turn it into a heated bowl.  Scrape in the cooled tomatoes fresh from the oven, together with any juices.  Mix furiously, taste, and add more salt if necessary, an abundance of ground black pepper, the basil, and, for those who wish, a handful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino.

Herb-marinated fillets of fish
Pesce alle erbe marinate
2 to 3 servings

A quick and simple but effective technique, this can be expanded almost infinitely and adapted to almost any kind of fish.  Moreover, you can vary the seasonings, using, for instance, more or less garlic, or other types of herbs--basil, thyme, even un-Pugliese herbs like lovage or tarragon.  I call for haddock, but the recipe can serve for almost any kind of white-fleshed fish--monkfish, weakfish, Pacific cod, mahimahi, or others.

3 tablespoons finely minced flatleaf parsley
1 bay leaf
l/2 garlic clove
1 small onion
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 pound haddock fillets about l/2 inch thick
3 tablespoons dry white wine, or a little more if necessary
l/4 cup golden raisins plumped in hot water for about 10 minutes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Chop together the minced parsley, bay leaf, garlic, and onion until very fine--almost a paste.  Mix with 2 tablespoons of the oil, add a little salt, and spread over the top of the fish fillets.  Set the fillets in a deep dish and sprinkle with the wine.  Cover and set aside in a cool place, or refrigerate, for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.

When ready to cook, add the remaining tablespoon of oil to a frying pan and set over medium-high heat.  When the oil is very hot, place the fish fillets in the pan, herbal side down.  Add the marinade juices to the pan with the raisins and sprinkle the fillets with pepper.  Turn the fillets once and cook on the other side--haddock fillets should take no more than 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side to be thoroughly done.  Remove the fillets from the pan and transfer to a heated serving dish.  Boil down the juices in the pan (adding a little more wine if necessary), scraping up any brown bits, and when the pan juices are reduced to a couple of tablespoons pour them over the fish fillets.  Serve immediately, garnishing, if you wish, with some freshly minced herbs and lemon wedges.

Double-crusted onion calzone
Scalcione di cipolla
(1 calzone about 12 inches in diameter)

Why this is called scalcione when similar savory pies are called focaccie is a question for a diagnostic dialectician and not for me.  Scalcione is typical of the region around Bari, especially during Lent, when the long, slender, white sponsale are in season.  Also called cipolle porraie (leek-onions), sponsale are a type of allium that look like thin leeks.  Don't be tempted to increase the amount of stuffing--it's a perfect balance to offset the delicious richness of the pastry itself.

Rosa Granozio, who lives in Triggiano on the outskirts of Bari, showed me how to make scalcione.  Rosa worked in Chicago for several years when she was a young woman, so we discussed what an American substitute for sponsale might be.  Scallions are, on the whole, too thin and too sweet, so seeking out the thinnest of leeks seemed to us to be the best solution.  While the dough differs quite a bit from those previously given, you may use one of them if you prefer.

For the dough:
1/4 teaspoon dried yeast
1 1/4 cups very warm water
4 cups flour plus a little more for rolling out the dough
l/4 cup dry white wine
l/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the filling:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds leeks, very thinly sliced to make about 5 cups
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon sugar
6 salted anchovy fillets, cleaned and chopped
l/2 cup pitted black olives, chopped
l/4 cup finely minced flat-leaf parsley
2 or 3 small tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins soaked in hot water to plump

About l/4 cup extra virgin olive oil for the pan and the top crust
1 teaspoon sugar

Sprinkle the dried yeast over l/4 cup of very warm water in a small bowl; when it has "bloomed," add the remaining water to it.

In a larger bowl, mix the flour with the wine, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Stir in the yeast water and work it into the dough with your hands.  Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead the dough just until it loses its stickiness.  Set aside, covered with a damp cloth, while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling, warm the olive oil in a sauté  pan over medium-low heat.  Add the leeks and sauté very gently for about 15 minutes, or until the leeks are soft but not brown.  Add the milk and continue cooking another 5 minutes.  Then stir in the sugar and cook 5 minutes more.  At the end of this time, the leeks should be very soft, almost melting into a sauce.  Add the anchovies, black olives, parsley, and tomatoes.  Stir to mix well and continue cooking until the sauce is thick and all the liquid has evaporated.  Remove from the heat and stir in the drained raisins.

Shape the calzone on a lightly oiled baking sheet or in a round shallow 12-inch pizza pan, lightly oiled.  Punch down the dough and divide it in two, one part slightly larger than the other.  Roll out the larger part on a lightly floured board until it is about 1/2 inch thick.  Set it on the baking pan--if using a pizza pan, the dough circle should come up over the sides.  Spread the filling mixture on the circle, leaving a border of about 1 inch or less around the edge.   Roll out the second portion of dough and top the filling.  Fold together the top and bottom edges of dough, pulling the bottom edge up over the top edge and pressing evenly to seal.  Brush the remaining oil over the top crust, sprinkle with the sugar (it will help brown the crust), and prick with a fork.  Set aside, covered with a damp cloth, while you heat the oven.

Turn the oven on to 450 degrees F. and heat for at least 30 minutes, then slide in the scalcione.  After 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 degrees F. and continue baking another 30 minutes.  May be served immediately or left to cool to room temperature.

Variation: Some Pugliese cooks add 1/2 pound of mozzarella or scamorza cheese, or baked ham, cut into small cubes or slivers.  Some also add about 1/2 pound of ricotta, dabbed here and there over the

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