Tonight it’s time for my first guest post! I’m very pleased to say that Frankie and Giuseppe from Mixing Oil and Water blog have written me a post on Puglian food. Frankie and Giuseppe are an Anglo-Italian couple based in Rome, who are discovering Italy through regions that are less travelled by foreign visitors – Puglia being one of them. Enjoy!
One of the cornerstones of Italian cooking is its strong sense of regional identity. That means egg-based pasta if you’re in Bologna, and simple flour and water pasta if you’re in Bari, for example. In the past, the South of Italy was an area traditionally blighted by poverty compared to the industrialised North. Therefore the ingredients used in its cooking were cheaper, simpler and always local. These characteristics have remained in Puglia’s cooking.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, aqueducts brought water to what was historically a very dry land that had to subsist on olive oil and whatever products the land could offer. Even today, olive oil and vegetables still feature heavily on the Puglian table.
Eking out what you can from the earth means you have to get creative with what nature has to offer you, and Puglians have certainly done that. Their fantasy-driven vegetable dishes of every kind are a vegetarian’s dream, and their incredible bread-based products will transport you to a sort of carbohydrate-induced ecstasy. Fine-tuning your recipes for generations using the same local ingredients however also means that there’s little room for improvisation. Variants of dishes might exist in different areas, but the general rules are the same and you don’t muck around with them.
I found this out to my embarassment when, on visiting a bakery in Puglia, I attempted to buy some ‘taralli’ (a sort of Puglian cracker/savoury biscuit) for a Roman colleague of mine. She had just one request; no fennel seed taralli- any other type would do. Little did I know that supermarkets in Rome sell all kinds of rainbow-coloured and flavoured taralli that have nothing to do with real Puglian taralli. I was sent promptly away with my tail between my legs by a very unimpressed bakery worker who promptly informed me with a raised eyebrow and condescending look that all taralli contain fennel seeds, and how did I not know that?
So there you have it. If you’re prepared to play by their rules, Puglia is a foodies’ heaven just waiting to be discovered. Go with an empty stomach and no assumptions, and for goodness’ sake don’t mention fennel seed-free taralli.
For more from Frankie and Giuseppe’s blog click here
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Oh, those taralli with fennel seeds! The ones that are sold in supermarkets are nowhere near the delicious crumbly delights that I tasted in Puglia last summer. Perhaps, it is true that food doesn’t travel, even within Italy!