Travel Notes blog
Sunday lunch in Sicily and Puglia
by Max Lane
4 min read

Sunday lunch in Sicily and Puglia

Sunday lunch in Sicily and Puglia
In Sicily and Puglia, Sundays are a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate life, love and food with a long, convivial "pranzo della domenica" (Sunday lunch). Read on to see what's on the menu.

It’s midday on Sunday in the south of Italy, and the streets of the smaller towns and villages in Sicily and Puglia are quiet. White-washed walls shimmer in the heat, and church bells hang motionless, their morning’s work done. The few shops that were open start to lower their blinds.

Apart from the soft, minimalist symphony of the cicadas and the occasional drone of an ape heading home, the country lanes are silent too. Endless olive groves and vineyards soak up the sun, and the earth bakes. An atmosphere of summery languor suffuses the air.

Things are not so quiet in people’s homes, though, where families and friends are gathering for the event of the week - il pranzo della domenica. Kitchens are busy with the bustle of preparation, tantalising fragrances fill the air, and laughing chatter improvises over favourite songs. Out in the gardens, barbecues are up to temperature, wine bottles pop, glasses clink cin cin, and shaded al fresco dining tables are resplendent with sparkling cutlery and colourful, locally crafted ceramics.

The situation in our villas in Sicily and Puglia is the same. With one exception. Our guests are not in the kitchen but by the pool, enjoying a last swim and indulging in an appetite-raising aperitivo. The in-villa chef and her team have been at work all morning, shopping for the freshest ingredients, picking vegetables and herbs from the kitchen garden, and working their magic over stoves, ovens and barbecues. Now they’re putting the finishing touches to what will be an unforgettable feast.

A tavola!” comes the cry from the kitchen, and everyone takes their seat. The table is replete with antipasti: milky white burrata bursting with creaminess; bruschetta topped with sun-flavoured tomatoes and aromatic basil; succulent strips of red and green peppers roasted on the barbecue and tossed in a sweet-and-sour dressing; grilled aubergines served with mint, capers, garlic and a drizzle of golden-green goodness; veil-thin slices of blushing capocollo with figs from the garden; plump mussels topped with toasted breadcrumbs; silvery anchovies, zingy in their marinade; olives, freshly baked bread,beaded bottles of chilled vino rosato.

Conversations range far and wide, but laughter is the lingua franca. Then, oohs and aahs sound out, as the chef presents the primi, a triptych of pasta dishes: orecchiette ai frutti di mare, perfuming the air with Mediterranean magic; maccheroni alla Norma, the flavour-packed simplicity of a masterfully made tomato sugo infused with basil, enriched by silky aubergines, and topped with salty ricotta salata; and spaghetti con la zucchina fritta, medallions of courgettes fried with garlic and mint. Bottles of inky red and hay-hued white wine make an appearance, and a toast is raised to good fortune.

Il pranzo della domenica is now in full swing, but after the primi it’s time for a little break. The guests repair to a shady sitting area amongst the whispering olive trees to continue their conversations.

When they return, the table has been cleared and relaid, and it’s time for the secondi: five-hour-braised lamb with mint, freshly podded garden peas and fava beans; trionfo d’estate, a celebration of the kitchen garden’s abundance, combining courgettes, aubergines, peppers, and tomatoes, all exalted by a herby dressing; and lighter-than-air polpette coated in a rich tomato sauce.

After such a feast, dessert is a simpler affair, with a fabulous torta gelato and a selection of seasonal fruits - luscious melon, juicy figs and succulent apricots – all accompanied by a couple of bottles of honeyed passito.

As the clock strikes three, coffee is served and our traditional southern Italian pranzo della domenica is concluded with a round of applause for the chef and her team. As they return to the kitchen to clear up, the guests retire to the loungers around the pool, some to nap, some to read, some to reminisce already about what they’ve just experienced.