The cradle of Cucina Povera
Puglia, running up the coast along the heel of Italy, has seen its fair share of strife. A favourite landing spot for invaders, Puglia has watched while everyone from Hannibal in 216 BC, Byzantines, Saracens, Normans, Turks, Austrians, Spaniards, the French, and most recently the Germans fought for its beautiful territory. Firmly Italian, Puglia is carpeted in long-established olive groves, vineyards, fields of durum wheat and sheep, tomatoes, artichokes, and aubergines.
Despite the now-abundant produce, Puglia has always been comparatively poor, and a cradle for some of the most delicious cucina povera; family-style cooking with simple, cheap ingredients, and an emphasis on vegetables, grains, and pulses. The glistening Puglian coastline also provides the most glorious seafood. Wandering the labyrinthine alleyways and Saturday markets of the white city of Ostuni, perched high on a hill, you escape the lunchtime heat by ducking into Osteria del Tempo Perso, to feast on octopus with onion, stuffed cuttlefish, fresh mussels, or stewed white fish with olives.
It is a long hot day, tripping amongst the cobbled streets of Ostuni, driving along the coastal road whilst snacking on Cerignola olives and taralli - fennel and black pepper flecked crackers twisted into a sort of pretzel. But eventually, you veer inland to visit the stunning limestone caves at Grotte di Castellana - stalactites and stalagmites, a twinkling relief from the late afternoon sun.
Back in your trullo for the evening, huddled in whitewashed clusters amongst the olive trees in the Itria Valley, you crave something simple and satisfying for dinner - one hand stirring the pasta into salted boiling water, one hand picking at a small plate of eggplant rolls stuffed with mozzarella and mint that you picked up at the market. The olive grove just outside your trullo is the perfect spot to watch the sunlight fade and savour a plate of orecchiette, doused in a simple yet vibrant pomodoro - the tomatoes here are particularly good, and render a delicious sauce. You begin to think about where to go swimming tomorrow after your long lie-in, and about the bowl of bright red Ferrovia cherries on the kitchen counter, calling to you.