7 posts categorized "Italy, Puglia"

29 July 2005

Cavatelli e Orecchiette di Grano Arso

I've just seen this recipe for Cavatelli e Orecchiette di Grano Arso on Potential Gold.  Although at first sight the recipe looks like it's for pasta with a big arse, it isn't.  It not only sounds delicious but there's an intriguing history behind the dish.  I'll let Ore (Potential Gold's author) explain further. 

If you like Italian cooking, I'd also recommend looking through Ore's posts on his site about his time at Slow Food Cittá di Jesi, otherwise known as the home of the Slow Cooking movement's school in Jesi, Italy.

03 July 2005

Star gazing

I thought I'd better explain my star rating when it comes to restaurants.  It's a simple range of one to five stars, one being piss poor, five being stonkingly good.

I do my best not to go to the sorts places where I reckon will end up with a one-star, so for the sake of my stomach I hope there won't be too many on here.  I'd expect most will be in the three-to-four star region.  Anyway, here's a quick guide to my thinking.  NB: As management, I reserve the right to change these rankings arbitrarily and more importantly appoint or deduct points as my whimsy takes me (power corrupts, absolute power etc etc.)

* - Ugh
** - In the words of Mr Creosote "Better...get a bucket I'm going to throw up"
*** - Not bad at all but nothing too special, middle of the road
**** - Better than average.  For a local restaurant it'd be considered the dogs doodoos, for somewhere posh, it's probably missing that little something
***** - Oh so good.  Not to be missed and full of superlatives

24 June 2005


It is pretty obvious that being kosher, or at least keeping the level of kashrut that I do, if I want to eat meat at a restaurant, it has to be a kosher restaurant.  Nonetheless, I took great delight in the macelleria that seemed to be on the corner of every street in every town we visited.  Macelleria What made these more noteworthy than other Italian butchers was that every night, they built enormous barbecues on the street outside the shop, and sold grilled sausages, chicken wings, steaks etc.  Unless I haven't been looking I haven't noticed anything similar elsewhere in Italy, so I think it is a Pugliese speciality. 

The quality of the food is obvious, if for no other reason than when customers decide what they want, the meat is put in a soft white bun and served.  There's no thought of sauces to mask or improve the taste - just grilled meat and bread.  The smell is fantastic - burning wood and grilling meat.  I wouldn't say I was tempted to buy one of the filled buns but the smell did make me stomp around like a hunger-crazed carnivore.  Suffice to say when we returned home to the UK, meat was the first thing I ate.

Da Tuccino ***

We arrived in Polignano a Mare to be greeted by a bishop in full flowing cassocks, leading a group of choir boys, down the main street and into the middle of what seemed to be a festival.  The streets were mobbed with Italians in their finest threads eyeing up each other and the tat being sold on the stalls by the side of the road.  The air was filled with scent of too much aftershave and grilling meat, as all the macelleria were getting ready for their nights business.

Da_tuccinoHaving had no luck in finding Da Tuccino, a helpful concierge told us it was about half a mile down the coast road, out of town.  When we got there a confusing car park attendent had us doing all sorts of acrobatics before we could park.  When we did park, our Avis rental Ford Focus looked somewhat out of place next to the latest Range Rovers and Jeeps.  It was quite obvious that unlike other areas of Puglia, this was a place to be seen - and frankly the food reflected that.

Da Tuccino seemed to be something of an institution, it had the air of knowing just how good it was and seemed to rest slightly on those laurels.  It also had the air of being in Cap Ferrat, rather than Puglia and was a little bit too haughty for its own good.  The restaurant is famous for its fish which is unusual in this part of the World as Pugliese cuisine includes very little fish, despite the lengthy coastline.  Why there's not more fish in the diet I can't explain, but by focusing on fish Da Tuccino is relatively unusual.  Given that, I'll skip any details on our starter (I can't remember what we ate anyway) and I'll move on to our seabass in salt. 

When the waiter brought over the fish for us to inspect before it was cooked, the thing I noticed most was the strong fishy smell and I thought that the freshest fish doesn't smell?   Go in to my favourite fishmonger, Steve Hatt on Essex Road and his seawater fish doesn't smell fishy, it smells salty, so I was slightly concerned.  Anyway, ignoring those concerns I waited for the fish to arrive, it was duly delivered in its saline crust which was removed with great ceremony.  But frankly, when I ate it I was underwhelmed - it didn't do anything for me.  I've had much better versions of the same dish at Locanda Locatelli and Sardo.  I can't even really explain what it was about it that I didn't like, it just wasn't very special.

Frankly, I think that Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of The River Cafe fame, were wrong when they recommended Da Tuccino's as one of the 10 best restaurants in Italy, in a recent Conde Nast article.  It's a good restaurant with excellent staff, but there are much better in the region, Del Tempo Perso and Alle due Corti being examples of this.  If one's in the area or particularly keen to see Puglia's finest dressers, then it might be worth a trip, otherwise, head for the hills.

Da Tuccino, via Santa Caterina 69/F, Polignano a Mare, 7044, Italy
Tel: +39 0804 241 560
Google Earth

What others think
Condé Nast Traveller - its interpretations of regional fish dishes really set it apart

23 June 2005

Alle due Corti *****

When, in April, I was planning our holiday to Puglia for mid-June, it didn't cross my mind that the weather would be anything other than scorchio.  I was wrong.  For two of our seven days it rained and was overcast.  With sitting by the pool ruled out, we decided on road trips and with the grim weather on Thursday we decided the trip down to Lecce the next day would be well worth it.  So full of high expectations for bad weather, we awoke on Friday to glorious sun shine and by 9am it was in the high 20s.  Not to be bowed by this turn of events we decided to go anyway.  The town itself is beautiful, which is why it's described as the Florence of the South and was great to wander round and stop off for an espresso here, a granita there.

With food never too far from my mind I decided to find somewhere decent to eat.  I thought I'd found a half decent pizzeria but despite the door being wide open it was totally empty - not a sole, not even a waiter.  So turning round I spotted the sign for Alle due Corti and bells rang loudly in my head that this had been highly recommended on egullet.  When we walked in, we were greeted warmly but apologetically told that the kitchens weren't quite ready (it was 12.30) so could we wait?  The dining room was large, white and had the domed roof common throughout Puglia - all of this ensuring it was cool, a relief from the sun, and so no, we didn't mind waiting.

FaveMy heart almost skipped a beat when I noticed that the card and paper menu, printed on a dodgy printer, clearly came from the same school of menu design as Osteria del Tempo Perso's, and therefore we must be in for a treat.  I was right, but I was also slightly surprised to see (badly) translated English below each dish and the odd ® sign dotting the menu. Anyway, the antipasti arrived and I was in heaven.  It wasn't the stodgy fried rubbish that seemed to be prevalent in the touristy places, this was fresh, juicy and life-affirming stuff.  The roasted tomatoes were so sweet and were only garnished with some onion, garlic and of course olive oil.  Similarly, some yellow peppers that seemed to have been marinated in wine vinegar were brilliantly tangy.  Also delivered to the table were some stuffed mushrooms that smelled great, but unfortunately were stuffed with some sort of meat.  We had tried to ask for nothing except for vegetables, but our Italian was as bad as their English and so the mushrooms went back to the kitchen untouched.  Somewhat stuffed from this feast, mopped up with copious quantities of bread I started to rock slowly in my chair - exercise was required before the next course.

Rc One of the many things that surprised me about Puglia was that the food is not particularly light, in fact a lot of it is downright stodgy our primi piatti being a good example: Fave nette cu le cicureddhe and Ricciareddhe® culipummitoriscattariciati.  Now, for the sake of bandwidth I won't repeat the name of the latter dish, here on in it will be RC.  I can't believe that the second word is all one word, I think they forgot to put in a space, especially as scattariciati is a local cheese, not dissimilar to mozzarella.  Anyway fave is a local speciality and it was served with what they described as chicory, but looked to me more like spinach, and olive oil.  It was thick, gloopy and delicious.  The chicory/spinach added a lightness to it, the olive oil thinned it out.  The more I ate, the more I wanted. 

The RC was similarly delicious, it was basically thick sheets of pasta with a thick sauce of tomato and liberally sprinkled with scattarciati.  I have to be honest that in some ways the sauce reminded me in flavour of some of the better pizza sauces you get in the States.  Although this might sound like sacrilege it really is meant as a compliment.  After all, this was little more than tomatoes, the sauces over there are no doubt full of E numbers up the kazoo and other preservatives and additives.  To be able to achieve such taste with so few ingredients is testament to their quality.

Alle due Corti was the meal I'd been looking for all holiday.  The food was fantastic, the staff friendly and the surroundings peaceful.  If you're in Puglia, no if you're in Italy, go there.

Alle due Corti, Corte dei Guigni 1, Lecce, 73100, Italy
Tel: +39 0832 242 223

What others think
I haven't been able to find any decent reviews on it, when I do I'll post them here.

22 June 2005

Osteria del Tempo Perso ****

It has to be said that despite the rave reviews I'd heard about the food in Puglia, some of it was appalling.  One dinner in particular I was thorougly peeved about.  We were in Ostuni, having already eaten once at Osteria del Tempo Perso and thought we'd try somewhere different.  This was a big mistake.  Instead of a delicious meal of simple ingredients of the best quality put together with care, we were served tourist pap that centred around a medieval theme.  I am ashamed to be so open here about this experience, especially when I mention that apart from the menu in Italian they also had one in French (although thankfully not in German or English).  In my defence the French menu and the medieval theme were not advertised, or obvious when we walked in.  Anyway, suffice to say this was deeply disappointing, especially when we knew that del Tempo Perso was less than 100m away.

Osteria_del_tempo_perso_cartoonOur one and only meal at del Tempo Perso was on our second night in Italy (the first night's dinner being a late-night pizza in Fasano) and I was ready to taste Italy's finest.  Because it had been Shavuot the previous two days, we needed to wait until Yom Tov was out and therefore we didn't get out until late and being still on stuck-up British time, we couldn't face a full meal at 10pm so opted for two courses.  Along with never having done a PhD, I regret this. 

The 15-dish antipasti menu looked astounding, the Polpette di Pane e Menta or Fiori di Zucca fritti in Pastella ensured much mouth watering.  But with cozze (mussels) included in the antipasti, we thought we'd better stick to the slightly less treyf primi piatti. Seeing bits and bobs of the 15 antipasti coming out to tables only compounded my conviction that I was to be the only visitor ever to Puglia not to have a decent meal.  Thankfully, at about that point our Maccheroncini freschi alla Crudaiola con Ricotta Salata and Fazzoletti di Ricotta con Pomodoro fresco e Basilico arrived at the table. 

Neither dish is that hard to translate, but you would be sorely incorrect if you mistook the former for mac 'n cheese. Crudaiola is basically chopped raw vegetables (think crudites) and in this case was simply sliced cherry tomatoes and some garlic. This dish was sublime. The tomatoes were so sweet, the garlic adding a bit of depth and the ricotta providing a contrast in textures. I would have been happy to have eaten that every meal for the rest of the holiday. The fazoletti was a bit like cannelloni, but frankly this does them a disservice. The were stuffed full with the mildest, crumbliest ricotta and the tomato sauce was fresher and zestier than Bill Clinton with a Cohiba.

The fantastic food is all well and good, but I shouldn't forget about the room. I did find the wall hangings of agricultural equipment and religious icons slightly incongruous, but possibly they were there to remind you of the dual binds in this part of Italy. The other strange thing is that in fact there are two Osteria del Tempo Perso's, one either side of the kitchen. I'm not sure what the significance is of which dining room one is in, we simply walked into the one we first came upon. Anyway, the food comes out of the same kitchen so there shouldn't be too much of an issue.

The restaurant itself is located in the back streets of the beautiful Ostuni, which with its wiggling streets and dim street lighting reminded me of Venice (although being several hundred metres above sea level it lacks the lido and canals). You do need to keep your eyes open when walking to the restaurant as there are signs and without them you'll be lost in the Labyrinth and might well come across the Minotaur.

Back to the food. For dessert we asked for a bowl of the cherries that we'd spotted sitting in an enormous bowl. We also had a plate of Pecorino semistagionato di Masseria, which for those with a lingual bent will know is an aged Pecorina (di Masseria, meaning “of the masseria/farm”). This was served with a fantastic, zingy orange marmalade. The cherries, were slightly disappointing, not as sweet as I'd hoped, I've just had some from M&S that dare I say it tasted better. The cheese was another matter, it was sufficiently stinky on the nose but subtle on the tongue. The marmalade added a bit of freshness and made it all a bit lighter.

Overall a great meal that set the bar particularly high for the rest of the holiday. It was a shame that not all of the meals lived up to it, but those that did were something special. The only reason I've given it a four, rather than five-star rating is because I was miffed that the antipasti was so long and therefore ruled it out for us, but frankly this was our fault for being up-tight Brits rather than getting into the Italian groove a bit earlier in our holiday.

Osteria del Tempo Perso, via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale 47, Ostuni, 72017, Italy
Tel: +39 0831 303 320

What others think
Conde Nast Traveller - Even they rub in the fact I didn't have the antipasti
The Independent - Yet more on the pleasures of the antipasti

19 June 2005

A week in Puglia

Garlic_2 I've just returned from Puglia and don't have the time at the moment to give the full run down of where we went and what we ate but some quick initial observations are:

  • The area where we were (nr Fasano) was far more industrialised than I had expected and so it took a bit more searching to find places that were out of the way.
  • I've read lots of things saying that Puglia is the next hot destination, which is worrying because given the number of tourists that were there when we went it will be mobbed.  PLEASE, PLEASE, don't let it turn into the next Tuscany or heaven forbid, the next Marbella.
  • It's a fantastic place for vegetarians or rather those of us who are picky about where we eat our meat.
  • You aren't assured of great food (blame the tourists) but when you get it, it knocks your socks off.
  • You can't see it all in a week - another visit is definitely necessary.

Highlights on the stomach filling front were:

  1. The first thing I ate at our hotel, Borgo San Marco: a salad of tomatoes, artichoke hearts and olive oil. 
  2. Dinner any night at BSM cooked by Peppino, who's voice at least meant he could have doubled for Barry White.  He is also one of Italy's nattiest dressers.
  3. Lunch at Alle due Corti in Lecce.
  4. The market at Alberobello, just a shame about all the tourist tat around the market.
  5. Dinner at Osteria del Tempo Perso in Ostuni.
  6. Any meal that included a tomato.

Cheese_1 I'll come back and add more flesh to these bones, just give me a couple of days to open the post.