Pugliese food is some of Italy's best. Whether it's twitching-fresh seafood on the Gargano Peninsula, or local wines and cured meat in the Valle d'Itria, this region bursts with the pleasures of the table. Puglian olive oil, of course, is world famous.
The Rich Flavours of Cucina Povera
In Italy’s less wealthy ‘foot’, traditional recipes evolved through economic necessity rather than experimental excess. Local people used whatever ingredients were available to them, plucked directly from the surrounding soil and seas, and kneaded and blended using recipes passed down through generations. The result is called cucina povera (literally ‘food of the poor’), which, thanks to a recent global obsession with farm-to-table purity, has become increasingly popular.
If there is a mantra for cucina povera, it is ‘keep it simple’. Pasta is the south’s staple starch. Made with just durum wheat and water (and no eggs, unlike some richer northern pastas) it is most commonly sculpted into orecchiette (‘little ears’) and used as the starchy platform on which to serve whatever else might be growing readily and inexpensively. For the same reasons, vegetables feature prominently: eggplants, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, olives and many other staple plants grow prodigiously in these climes and are put to good use in the dishes.
Meat, though present in cucina povera, is used more sparingly than in the north. Lamb and horsemeat predominate and are usually heavily seasoned. Unadulterated fish is more common, especially in Puglia, which has a longer coastline than any other mainland Italian region. Popular fish dishes incorporate mussels, clams, octopus (in Salento), swordfish (in northern Calabria), cod and prawns.
A signature Pugliese primi (first course) is orecchiette con cima di rape, a gloriously simple blend of rapini (a bitter green leafy veg with small broccoli-like shoots) mixed with anchovies, olive oil, chilli peppers, garlic and pecorino. Another popular orecchiette accompaniment is ragù di carne di cavallo (horsemeat), sometimes known as ragù alla barese. Bari is known for its starch-heavy riso, patate e cozze, a surprisingly delicious marriage of rice, potatoes and mussels that is baked in the oven. Another wildly popular vegetable is wild chicory, which, when combined with a fava bean purée, is reborn as fave e cicorie.
Standard cheeses of the south include burrata, which has a mozzarella-like shell and a gooey centre, and pecorino di filiano, a sheep’s-milk cheese from Basilicata. There are tons of bread recipes, but the horn-shaped crusty bread from Matera is king.