Puglia and its varied food and cuisine


For millennia Puglia has been predominantly an agricultural region, producing around 40% of Italy's olive oil and a large proportion of its wine. Vast tracts of the region's territory are given over to farming, whether it be crops or livestock, and many inhabitants continue to grow their own produce.

This essentially agricultural nature means that the region's cuisine is home-country inspired, predominantly using the abundant local produce such as durum wheat, tomatoes, artichokes, fava beans, rocket, courgettes, beans, fennel, peppers, onions, beef and lamb.

In terms of pasta, Puglians pride themselves on their orecchiette, little ear-shaped shells that are still produced by hand on a daily basis by many signore. It is usually served with tasty sauces such as meat ragu, broccoli and lard, mushrooms or turnip tops. The pasta itself is made rigorously from durum wheat flour, water and salt. Eggs, once considered a luxury, are not used in traditional Puglian pasta-making.

Puglia on a plate - recipes from Puglia >>

Another pasta speciality is maccheroni al forno. The maccheroni is mixed with meatballs, hard-boiled eggs and all manner of other ingredients. Finally it is topped with a pie crust and cooked in the oven! A sensationally rich and tasty treat!

As with pasta, the local durum wheat is also used in Puglia's delicious bread, which comes in all shapes and sizes and is a constant companion to meals. In more remote villages, communal wood-burning ovens still exist where local housewives can bake their own bread. Altamura, a small town in the north-west of Puglia was the first town in Europe to receive a DOP classification (Denomination of Origin of Production) for its bread. When McDonald's came to town, the locals gave it short shrift, continuing to prefer only sandwiches made with their own bread. Less than two years after opening, the great Ms were taken down and the global hamburger circus left town! A victory for food lovers everywhere!

Puglia's rocky interior is ideal for sheep-farming and, in terms of meat, lamb reigns supreme, a trait that Puglia shares with its near neighbour, Greece. Feast days are characterised by the fragrances of roasting lamb wafting through the streets and most restaurant menus will feature at least a couple of lamb dishes. Horse meat and pork are also popular while beef, traditionally a minor player in the region's cuisine, is more and more popular. One thing to look out for in the Valle d'Itria area, and especially in Cisternino are the rosticceria butchers where you can choose your meat and have it cooked there and then on a hot charcoal grill or in a wood-burning oven. While waiting, just take a seat at one of the tables and get stuck into a glass of local wine!

The presence of so many sheep also means that cheese is generally of ovine extraction. Puglia's pecorinos and ricottas are excellent and ubiquitous. Visitors should also try to find some burrata di Andria, a fresh, soft cheese that has to be eaten within 24 hours of production - absolutely delicious!

Puglia's long coastline and fishing tradition bring large quantities of seafood to the table. Red mullet, anchovies, gilt-head bream, mussels, sea bass and cuttlefish are featured in many recipes and the many seafront restaurants in towns like Gallipoli, Otranto, Brindisi and Taranto serve up feasts of just-caught fish.

If you still have room after the main courses, Puglia's desserts will certainly tempt you. Many are almond based (the region produces vast quantities of almonds), often combined with honey or vin cotto di fichi (a kind of fig concentrate), while sweetened ricotta cheese sweets are also a local favourite.

Puglia's comforting country cuisine may not be as famous as that of some other Italian regions, but it is full of goodness and genuineness and thoroughly local, a pure expression of popular traditions and the natural bounty of the land. 

Puglia on a plate - recipes from Puglia >>
Wine in Puglia >>
The Thinking Traveller villas in Puglia >>

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