Much of the cuisine of Puglia and Salento has roots in cucina povera. Because of that, it's a bit ironic that in Salento's capital, Lecce, one of its most popular street foods is said to have nobile origins. It's name is Il Rustico Leccese, a little "sandwich" of bechamel sauce, chopped tomatoes and mozzarella cheese enclosed by two circles of puff pastry. And, there's also pepper q.b., shorthand for quanto basto (translated: an amount that is enough).
The story behind il rustico is vague, but legend has it that chefs from the nobile houses of Lecce created it as an interpretation of the French vol au vent. The puff in this pastry, however, comes from strutto (lard) not butter. With butter each layer is flaky and crisp; with lard, the pastry layers have a richer and softer, almost pillow-like, texture. You'll notice the difference in the first bite.
The layers of pastry, rich bechamel sauce, melted mozzarella and sweet tomatoes combine to make one of these little rounds a very filling snack. As Ylenia suggests, it's perfect with an aperitivo. Once from behind the baroque courtyards of Lecce, only chefs of nobility made these savory pastries, now you can find them at any forno in the city.
Like French breakfast pastries (Viennoiserie) or the Neapolitan sfogliatella riccia, the rustico is best hot and right out of the oven. Also like those pastries, it is labor intensive, especially when you want only a few at home. A "dish" that's particular to Lecce and Salento (the southern region in Puglia), you won't find them in northern Puglia. Rustico is one of those regional Salentine foods not to miss.
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. We'll 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.****