As most of you know from my wedding in Puglia post, I returned to Puglia (Salento specifically) this October. It was again so much more than a culinary journey. I was welcomed back by so many people that Salento felt like home. Again I cooked with Italian mammas, dined in homes and at local trattorie, and even spent time behind the scenes - in the kitchens of pastry shops, bread shops, restaurants and many other eateries and wineries in Salento. The trip has left me with many more great memories of these warm and welcoming Italians, and much more to share with you.
Today, I'm talking about traditional dishes of the region from a trattoria in Lecce. I met Antonella, the chef/owner of Locanda Rivoli, last March. She was one of the ladies who took me on a tour of the Baroque beauties of Lecce during the unification celebration of March 17th. This trip she invited us in to feast on some of the trattoria's specialties and also classic Salentine dishes. Antonella sat with us as we enjoyed dish after delicious dish, explaining how each was prepared, throwing in bits about the cuisine's history. She credited her purveyors - farmers, butchers, cheesemakers, breadmakers - as much as her cooks for the quality and taste of each dish.
"To understand a place, is to be familiar with its history, its culture, its traditions, but also its cuisine and its typical traditional dishes." ~ Sergio D'Oria
The cuisine of Salento, the southernmost part of Puglia, is based on cucina povera (poor person's kitchen). Historically dishes derived from the ingredients the land gave them. A land rich in vegetables, durum wheat, and olives, it was poor in meat and the best cuts went to the wealthy few. Because Salento sits between two seas, it has an abundance of seafood. These ingredients blend together to make up the traditional Salentine cuisine. While Locanda Rivoli does serve seafood, we focussed on the traditional dishes from la cucina povera.
Antipasti and Contorni -
Antipasti, literally translates to "before the meal." They are little plates intended to whet the appetite. Contorni are side dishes, vegetables, that go along with the main/protein course (secondo). Many times, the vegetable dishes can serve as either antipasti or contorni. We whetted our appetites with four little plates.
Ricotta mousse - local goat's milk ricotta folded together with whipped crem made a light but silky mousse, its soft sweet flavor heightened by a fig compote. Broccoli Rabe, called cime di rape in Italy, is a widely-known Pugliese vegetable. Instead of mixed with orecchiette, we had it braised and topped with Leccese olives and cherry tomatoes. Friselline are the miniature version of friselle, a hard bread that is dipped in water, gets a drizzling of olive oil and topping of chopped tomatoes. Braised bell pepers, peperonata, rounded out our antipasti.
Pugliese Breads -
Durum wheat is in abundance, and because of that, Puglia's pasta and much of Puglia's bread is made with it, either completely or in part. Along with pane di grano duro (durum wheat bread) we sampled more friselline, taralli (the hard little ring biscuits), and my favorite, the soft round bun called la puccia. Sometimes puccia contains tomatoes, onions & Leccese olives. We had the version with only olives. Be careful though. Those olives still have the pits in them!
Primo Piatto -
These sagne (long twirled ribbon-like pasta) have an addition of fried eggplant strips and Leccese olives, making the sagne schiattariciati a signature dish of Locanda Rivoli. Schiattariciati means bursted (don't confuse it with schiacciati -squished - like I originally did). Cherry tomatoes "poach" in the pungent Pugliese olive oil until they burst. The bitter olives and hint of meatiness from the eggplant add layers of flavor to an already rich dish.
Secondi Piatti -
For many years, before and after World War II, Puglia was a very poor region. Meat wasn't plentiful, and the poor got what was leftover, offal cuts and horse meat. I tried the Pugliese style meat rolls, involtini, one from Salento (turcineddhri) and the other from a little farther north, the Itria Valley (bombetta). Turcineddhri are the heart, liver, lungs, and spleen seasoned with salt, pepper, & parsley, then wrapped together with its intestines and grilled. Bombette are more suited for those who shy away from the offal bits. Those were the meat rolls at the wedding that were being devoured right off the grill. Bombette ingredients vary by town. Traditionally you roll pounded veal around breadcrumbs, seasoning, cheese and possibly some type of cured meat. Then you grill them.
Sometimes it's better not to know what your eating. I oftentimes think about leaving offal details out to someone who seems a bit squeamish and instead let them enjoy what they are tasting. Antonella might have been thinking this, too. She took a long pause before explaining how the turcineddhri were made. It was ok though, as I had already known and was looking forward to trying them. Both were delicious. We also sampled a very traditional dish, stewed horsemeat. Fall-off-the-bone tender, many would mistake it for beef.
When I was here in March, during St. Joseph's Day, everywhere I went someone offered me a zeppole (the traditional dessert of that holiday). This trip everywhere I went someone offered me a pasticiotto, THE dessert of Salento. A shortbread crust, typically made with lard instead of butter, encases pastry cream. Sometimes amarena cherries are added to the cream. It's delicious but heavy. I would advise you to eat only one, and a small one at that, a day. Usually you'll find pasticiotto at pastry shops and torta pasticiotto (the cake-size version) at restaurants. The spumone is a house specialty. It's a mix of vanilla and chocolate gelato with a thin layer of crumbled chocolate cookie between them. Figs split in half and dried then each is filled with a toasted almond. Simple and subtlely sweet, they are a perfect ending to any Salentine meal.
The Wine -
Locanda Rivoli has a large selection of wines from the region. Antonella paired our meal with nothing else but the big and local red, Negroamaro from Nero di Velluto
With each bite, I learned a little more, not only of Antonella, but also of that pointy end of land at the last tip of Italy's heel.
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. For tour details, check out this page: Food Lover's Culinary Tour in Puglia
Locanda Rivoli - Trattoria e Braceria (Trattoria & Rotisserie)
Via Augusto Imperatore, 13
Phone: +39 0832 231 678