Many of the dishes I tasted while in Salento were centuries-old dishes, passed down from family to family, and plated in a rustic and casual fashion. At Bar Sette di Sette in Lecce, the same traditional Salentino cuisine gets a makeover. Here it's dressed up to complement the modern and upscale feel of the bar.
The interior is sleek with black, glass and silver as prominent colors. The staff is also dressed in all black. Here you would never think that Lecce's Baroque city center is just a few hundred meters away. Happy hour, where cocktails and aperitivi are served with a buffet of snacks, is popular throughout Italy, especially in the hot summer months. Bar Sette di Sette adds a bit of Salento flair to its array of finger foods.
In the upstairs kitchen, chef Paola Paiano adds some modern touches and plating to the traditional regional cuisine. In a similar way to the decor of the bar, one would never guess that this elegantly-plated fare was born from peasants and farmers. I was able to go into the kitchen and watch chef Paola at work. She even gave me a few of her reinvented Salentino recipes.
Take a look at some of the food I saw, and tasted.
Barley "risotto" with shrimp and arugula pesto - Chef Paola takes two classics of the region, seafood "risotto" made with barley and arugula pesto, and combines them. One key to Paola's dish, besides the addition of the arugula pesto, is a rich bisque she adds to the barley along with stock. Jeremy at DoBianchi challenged me to find out its official Italian name, but I have yet to find it. Until I do, I call it barley risotto. As barley is called "orzo" in Italian, maybe it's simply "orzotto?"
Fava bean puree with chicory is one of the trademark dishes of Salento. Bitter wild chicory of the region balances with the slightly sweet and very creamy puree. The dish is finished with crostini and Pugliese olive oil. Paola stuck to the traditonal recipe here, giving it a little more style by placing it in a champagne glass.
Potato crochettes (crochette di patate) - This might be my favorite finger food in all the south of Italy. (Well, this and arancini). Their size is a little longer than those in Naples. Paola adds only parsley and olive oil to the mashed potatoes and fries them without a bread crumb coating.
Polpettine and Pinzimonio - Pinzimonio and these little fried meatballs were also snacks on offer. Pinzimonio technically are raw vegetables in a salsa, but each time someone referred to pinzimonio, they seemed only to be referring to the salsa. You eat pinzimonio at the end of the meal, before the dessert, as a sort of digestive. Here carrots and fennel sat in a basic vinaigrette.
Shrimp with cannellini beans in a shrimp bisque - Yet another great dish, Paola uses beans, another Salento staple, and pairs them with some of the shirmp bisque from the "orzotto," adding shrimp to the top.
Along with the Salento cuisine, there was also typical bar fare, you know the salty & crunchy kind that makes you want to drink more cocktails. These included Paola's version of chicken nuggets, called pollo ai ceriali in Italian (chicken with cereal) and potato chips dusted with paprika.
Lucio, the man behind the bar, was just as creative making dangerously delicious and oh so pretty cocktails. His specialty is the orange drink with all the fruit. I think it's called a lucido, the opposite of what would happen if you drank too many.
Each dish I tasted was terrific, stylishly plated, full of flavor and from simple cuisine. And, yes, I came home with a few of Chef Paola's recipes!
Join me in Puglia in 2013! For this food lover's culinary tour, we'll be cooking with our beautiful Italian mamme and professional chefs and also be eating and exploring our way through the region. There are four tour dates available from which to choose! For tour details, check out this page: Culinary Tours in Puglia 2013!
***Early booking discount: Book and pay by check by January 31, 2013 and receive a $200 discount off the tour price.****
Bar Sette di Sette
Galleria Piazza Mazzini
Via Oberdan 13 A/B
This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesdays, a group of traveling food lovers who blog.
The first photo at the top and some other photos, each is noted, are used courtesy of Ylenia and with her permission. All other photos are mine, All Rights Reserved.