Puglia the bread basket of Italy, home to the Trulli and Gallipoli, (though the battle was fought in Turkey not here), and my home for a week learning how to cook.
One might be forgiven for thinking that Puglia is particularly poor as there are so many half completed buildings. I think though that this is typical of many agricultural areas in Italy and in Europe. This area is normally responsible for 40% of Italy’s olive oil production. At this moment all the trees are pretty much diseased in this area, and are being dug up and replaced. This will take decades to do and an olive tree doesn’t produce fruit for 5/7 years. A tragedy of massive economic proportions; some of these trees are 2/3 thousand years old. The farmers have gone on strike evidently. I am not sure how that helps. But the EU is providing some help.
A day in Lecce, often called the Florence of the south, will reward you with many Baroque churches, a Roman amphitheatre and Pasticceria Natalie the best ice cream in town. €2.5 will buy you a cone, you can choose two flavours and you will have difficulty in finishing it. The churches, (buy a pass at the first one), which gets you into all the main ones. All examples of wonderful craftsmanship, in the Baroque style; so flamboyant, gilded and very over the top. St Matthews even has a Papier Mache´ ceiling.
Otranto Cathedral consecrated in 1088 has a mosaic floor, depicting the tree of life, with very weird looking animals, and an altar with 800 skulls. Actually, 3 glass cupboards much like anyone would have in their living room but instead of ornaments you will find a collection of bones and skulls. Martyrs who died for their faith (didn’t fancy Islam, and wouldn’t convert) so were murdered by the Ottomans in 1480.
The cooking is fun, I find I can make pasta and better still Orecchiette. The little ears famous around here and we put them together with some Cime di Rapa. This translates as turnip tops, though more like bits of broccoli and plenty of green leaves. All manner of Italian dishes follow, we are introduced to Lasagne using tiny meat balls instead of a ragout, and using cheese, mozzarella and provolone, rather than bechamel which makes the dish a bit lighter. Pasta isn’t drowned in sauce here, more dressed in it. Meat loaf, chicken and veal involtini, thin slices of meat stuffed with mortadella and cheese. Mortadella is used as a seasoning here and finds its way into all manner of things. As we are in the south a version of the Sicilian dish Caponata is conjured up, and what cannot be faulted is the unlimited quantity of wine that appears at mealtimes.
Having only had a tiny glimpse of Puglia there is certainly more to see. As a region they are proud of their local dishes, and I would happily go and explore more.