The culinary delights of Salento area in Puglia, South Italy

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Now we are going to talk about places you may have never imagined existed. And they are in one of the most popular countries for tourism – Italy. You have probably heard of Puglia (Apulia) and some of you may have visited it already because it has many popular attractions. But when you drive to the south, pass by all large cities and find yourselves where the names of towns and villages are totally unknown to you, then you are in Salento.

The lighthouse of Santa Maria di Leuca
The lighthouse of Santa Maria di Leuca

Salento is a part of Puglia, on the heel of the Italian boot. From one side of the peninsula is the Adriatic Sea and on the other side is the Ionian Sea. On the heel of the boot is the second most important lighthouse in Italy – the lighthouse of Santa Maria di Leuca. This is the place where the two seas meet. To the east is the Adriatic Sea, to the west – the Ionian Sea.

I found myself at this wonderful place one late spring, just before the beginning of the summer season. There are almost no tourists outside the peak season and everything is very calm. Then I visited many interesting places.

One of my favourite places from my June visit - the Cipolliane caves
One of my favourite places from my June visit – the Cipolliane caves

And despite I did not expect to be back there anytime soon, I arrived in Salento on December day just a year later. And I was determined to try everything I am offered for eating and drinking.

Procession for St. Nicholas day in Salve, Salento
Procession for St. Nicholas day in Salve, Salento

The spirit of Salento and the small villages

When you travel through Salento, do not expect to feel like in Rome. However, I hope you will feel the spirit of South Italy or at least this part of it. You will see small towns with small population, mostly elder people, but very warm and smiling. You can see that younger people preferred to leave the calm life and move to the larger cities, like everywhere in the world. 

Christmas mood in Tricase, Salento
Christmas mood in Tricase, Salento

As you know, whole Italy is a culinary paradise or at least I think so. There is such a huge variety of foods and in this story I will not be talking about pizza at all. I will combine the memories from my two visits to give you a fuller picture. But I know that there is so much more to see and taste and I am determined to go there again.

The town of Salve

Population – 4700 people

Salve is a very nice and calm town with beautiful limestone buildings across the centre. We were here on 6th December – the day of St. Nicholas, because the church Chiesa di San Nicola Magno celebrates its patron day. In the evening we witnessed a beautiful procession with music and a statue of St. Nicholas, led by important citizens of Salve and both priests of the church. Along the way local people greeted the procession with open doors and windows and lit candles.

L’azienda agricola Sante Le Muse

In the outskirts of the town, between the two graveyards, is located L’azienda agricola Sante Le Muse. It might sound creepy from my description but it is actually a very nice place with house-grown vegetables and home-made products.

L’azienda agricola Sante Le Muse
L’azienda agricola Sante Le Muse
The warehouse with pumpkins and dried products
The warehouse with pumpkins and dried products

In front of the fireplace they had placed many different leafy green vegetables, all of them picked the same day from their garden. They explained a lot of things but only in Italian and I admit I did not understand everything. But it was great to see that rucola (rocket) and fennel can be picked from the garden in December.

Fennel
Fennel
I really do not understand all of the names in Italian
I really do not understand all of the names in Italian
The first thing every Italian has in his kitchen is La Moka – the typical coffee maker. Everybody has his own secret of making coffee. You shouldn’t leave the Moka to rest. If you have not made any coffee for 2-3 days, the first coffee after the pause should be thrown away because it is not good enough. At least my friends from Puglia say so. For them, everything in coffee making is important – how much water you use, how much coffee and the most important – what coffee! 
Moka coffee maker
Moka coffee maker

Lunch for gourmands

Our lunch here featured plenty of wine, water and delicious meals, all home-made. I tried to remember the basics of what you should try in South Italy. They always start with bread and cheese. Typical cheese for South Italy is Burrata, and also one of the most popular ones. It is white and soft and does not mature. In Salve we were served Primo Sale with jam.

Primo Sale cheese with jam
Primo Sale cheese with jam

Primo Sale is cheese from sheep milk that has matured for 30 days. It is more typical for Sicily and Sardinia, where they grow more sheep. The third cheese typical for Salento is La ricotta Marzotica. This is white and soft cheese, and was served with acacia honey. Very delicious again. Another thing you must try in Salento.

You probably know the main categories of food in Italy: antipasti (starters) which include formaggi (cheeses), then primi (first course), secondi (main course), contorni (side dish or salad) and dolci (desserts).
Potato pizza

Everybody was very hungry and they didn’t give me the chance to take photos of everything. But among the starters there was the typical Italian pizza with potato bread – Patato pizza. Another interesting starter were the eggplant rolls (Involtini di melanzane). I do not like eggplants but these were extremely tasty. And we are still on the starters. This whole feast is happening in the beginning of December, but in December the most important dish is Pittule, which I will tell you about later in this article.

Pasta for lunch – Minchiareddhi Salentini

In Italy pasta is usually served as a first course or starter. Minchiareddhi is a kind of pasta, very typical for Salento and Puglia. It is made only from flour (wheat or barley) and water. The pipe form is achieved by using a very thin stick, when the dough is rubbed around the stick with a palm.

Minchiareddhi Salentini
Minchiareddhi Salentini

Our Minchiareddhi were cooked in baking paper and foil and were incredibly delicious. I strongly advise you to try them if you are in the area.

Minchiareddhi Salentini
Minchiareddhi Salentini

The main course

There were two main courses. Filetto di maiale – pork fillet, cooked with red wine (negroamaro). Here I have to say that in our family we usually cook with the wine we serve on the table. We never use bad wine for cooking.

Filetto di maiale - pork fillet cooked in red wine
Filetto di maiale – pork fillet cooked in red wine

The second main course was Salsiccia – a sausage from home-grown pigs. As a side dish we had salad from poppy stems and olives, which was also very delicious.

Salsiccia - Italian sausage
Salsiccia – Italian sausage

Wine in Salento

Here is our favourite topic. When we speak about Italy, wine is an important topic. In Salento they grow mainly the red varieties Negroamaro and Primitivo (Zinfandel).

One amazing wine from Menhir winery - Primitivo 2015
One amazing wine from Menhir winery – Primitivo 2015

They both make high quality red wines and roses. In the region you can also find Sangiovese, but it is not very popular. From the whites we tried Falanghina (from Masseria Altemura – a winery somewhere between Taranto and Brindisi and their 100 % Falanghina) and white Malvasia from the region of Cutrofiano and the winery L’Astore Masseria.  

Limoncello, finocchietto, arancello and Amaro

After a heavy meal, South Italians enjoy digestives. These sweet liquors contribute to the good mood after the long lunch.

House-made finocchietto
House-made finocchietto

The drinks are usually house made in every restaurant. Limoncello is made from lemons and has varieties like citronello. Finocchieto is made with fennel and amaro is quite strong. In many restaurants they would just bring you several bottles with different digestives and you are supposed to sip from the one you prefer. If they do not bring you, you can order. Arancello is like Limoncello but from oranges and brings some Christmas spirit.

Restaurants in Salve

In this small town we have enjoyed two very nice places to eat: L’azienda agricola Sante Le Muse is the one I told you about in the beginning. The other one I visited during my first visit in Salve in June 2017 – Trattoria il borghetto. From the trattoria I have wonderful memories of delicious seafood.

Tina from Trattoria il Borghetto cooks pasta with seafood
Tina from Trattoria il Borghetto cooks pasta with seafood

Note that many of the restaurants in South Italy open only for dinner or for lunch and dinner. Lunch is usually from 12:30 to 14:30 and dinner is after 8 pm.

Delicious dish in Trattoria Il Borghetto
Delicious dish in Trattoria Il Borghetto

Patu village

Patu is a village with 1700 inhabitants, small cute houses, a big church at the centre and a wonderful flower festival in June. Besides the main church, there are also several smaller ones. A local attraction is the San Giovanni Battista church, in the yard of which you will also see the Centopietre. Centopietre literally means “100 rocks” and is a tomb – mausoleum, built from 100 rocks, of knight Geminiano, a messenger of peace killed by the Saracens just before the final battle between Christians and Muslims on 24 June 877. Nowadays the rocks of the tomb are 99.

The Centopietre in Patu
The Centopietre in Patu
Flower carpet in Patu, Salento, South Italy, during the Corpus Domini festival in June
Flower carpet in Patu, Salento, South Italy, during the Corpus Domini festival in June

But let’s get back to food and Patu. In the centre, just behind the San Michele Arcangelo church, is the Rua De Li Travaj restaurant. A fantastic restaurant with local cuisine where you can enjoy various local delights. Also a must-visit place to eat in the area. It is open only for dinner, after 8 pm.

The garden of Rua De li Travaj in the summer
The garden of Rua De li Travaj in the summer

Ortanto – a walk by the Adriatic coast

Otranto is a very sympathetic and beautiful town with a population around 6000. Here you can see many stone cannon balls, used nowadays for decoration, but reminding of the dark times when Otranto was conquered by Ottoman Turks led by Gedik Ahmed Pasha (1480). In the local church there is an ossuary of 800 local people who died because they refused to convert to Islam.

The ossuary in Otranto
The ossuary in Otranto
Streets of Otranto
Streets of Otranto

We had a walk by the sea and by the impressive fortress and headed to the amazing gourmet restaurant of Menhir Winery in Minervino di Lecce (another nice town with 3700 population). You can read more about the Menhir winery and the 5-course gourmet menu in: MENHIR – GOURMET AND WINE AT MINERVINO DI LECCE, SOUTH ITALY . The most important thing there was that every meal was served with pairing wine.

Osteria Origano, Menhir winery, gourmet restaurant in Puglia at Minervino di Lecce, Salento area in South italy

Menhir – gourmet and wine at Minervino di Lecce, South Italy

January 14th, 2019 Мария Андреева All walks in Italy eventually lead to food and wine. For several days in Italy I drank only wine and water, and a cup of cappuccino in the morning. Even the early lunch starts with wine and water. And again wine took us to Minervino di Lecce, a town some 40 km from Lecce in…
The gourmet restaurant of Menhir winery was an unforgettable culinary place and I will definitely have to write more about it
The gourmet restaurant of Menhir winery was an unforgettable culinary place and I will definitely have to write more about it

Pittule from Salento – Pittule salentine

In Salento it is an old tradition to serve Pittule as a starter for dinner on 7 December. On this date is celebrated the Immaculate Conception. Actually, the Pittule is often present on the Salentinian table, not only in December.

In its basic version, the Pittule consists of dough fried in olive oil. The small balls are made by extruding the dough between the thumb and the index finger of the left hand positioned in the form of a fist. There are also pittule with herbs, vegetables, fish..

La Pittulata - the feast of the Pittule in Tiggiano, South Italy
La Pittulata – the feast of the Pittule in Tiggiano
Pittule cooking during La Pittulata in Tiggiano
Pittule cooking during La Pittulata in Tiggiano

On 7 December in the town of Tiggiano, in the yards of the Palace of the Baron (Palazzo Baronale di Tiggiano), is held La Pittulata – the feast of the Pittule. It is a joyful event where all the citizens gather, children play around and everybody is enjoying the traditional dough balls which can be found in large quantities.

People waiting for their Pittule portions
People waiting for their Pittule portions
Tiggiano (population of 2900) is a small and cozy town where you can have a walk, see the churches and the recently renovated palace which now hosts the town hall.

Grappa

Grappa is a kind of Italian brandy, made entirely of grapes. We had a whole lecture on the grappa – from what grapes it is made, how it matures, in what barrels or amphorae. One of the best grappa producers is from South Italy – Distilleria Marzadro.

Grappa from Distilleria Marzadro
Grappa from Distilleria Marzadro

Триказе – churches, ceramics and the best gin with tonic

The town of Tricase is like a capital of the small region around it. With its population of 17 000, it is the largest town we are mentioning in this article. Tricase has a wonderful old centre with three churches – for the three houses that ruled the area.

People in Salento are also very proud of their pottery and we visited one pottery workshop in Tricase, just next to the local Juventus fan club. In Branca Ceramiche (the name of the workshop) they make amazing things, all by hand. We also tried to make and paint some. Their works are just perfect.

Ceramiche Branca, Tricase, South Italy
For us the most important thing when we travel is to experience many different things. Not that in Bulgaria we cannot go into a pottery atelier, but visiting one in South Italy and seeing the smiling craftsman showing his work is invaluable pleasure. And despite the purpose of this trip was to learn how to make pasta and some other food stuff, it was also nice to see how to make pottery. So we were not afraid to get our hands dirty, we had a lot of fun and we made some nice photos. In Salento they are very proud of their ceramics, so I am happy we got to know it, too. 
Our Italian friend Valentina learning how to decorate ceramic plates n the workshop - Ceramiche Branca, Tricase, South Italy
Our Italian friend Valentina learning how to decorate ceramic plates n the workshop

Gourmet dinner with Ipazzio Turco

In Tricase we also enjoyed one of the most hospitable places with house-made gin. Lemì bar cozze e gin is owned by chef Ipazzio Turco, who also owns the gourmet restaurant Lemi in the town.

Ipazzio Turco
Ipazzio Turco
Ipazzio Turco makes our salad
Ipazzio Turco makes our salad

In the bar we enjoyed his hospitality and company. Ipazzio Turco is a fantastic cook with huge experience and he experiments all the time. He had prepared an amazing dinner for us, even though we were not in the restaurant but in the bar instead.

One extremely delicious salad
One extremely delicious salad
Fish with potatoes in a jar
Fish with potatoes in a jar

The salad was so delicious that I forgot to ask what it is made of. The starter was fish with potatoes, all of it stuffed in a jar. For main course we enjoyed amazing octopus. The octopus of Ipazzio Turco is probably the best in the area.

Octopus in Lemi foodbar, Tricase, South Italy
Octopus in Lemi foodbar, Tricase, South Italy

After all that feast, we were served gin with tonic. The barman was very good at cocktails, too. So if you are around, Lemì bar cozze e gin is another must-visit place.

Crema di ricotta e mostarda agli agrumi
Crema di ricotta e mostarda agli agrumi – I am not sure how to translate this amazing dessert
One of the best gin with tonic I have tried
One of the best gin with tonic I have tried

How pasta is made?

In Italy pasta differs a lot from region to region. In Salento you may not see spaghetti in the shops. Instead, here the most popular kinds of pasta are Sagne Torte, Orecchiette and Minchiareddhi. They are made only from flour and water and I have a wonderful video how to make Sagne Torte. So if I do not publish a separate article about pasta anytime soon, feel free to write me and I will send you the video, in case you want to try to make Sagne Torte at home. The main difference between pasta in south Italy and north Italy is that in the south they do not put eggs in the dough.

Making Sagne Torte in Salento
Making Sagne Torte in Salento

Until I found a proper flour to try to make pasta at home, I look through my photos how we made Sagne Torte at the house of Yole Sammali – La Rivola, where you can learn how to make traditional meals from Salento. The house itself is a beautifully renovated old building in the typical local style, with tangerine trees in the yard.

The small details

As you may know, mortadella is incredibly tasty and its origin is Bologna. So if you are in Bologna, do not miss the chance to eat mortadella. However, you can find great mortadella in the small town of Tiggiano, too. In the town there is a shop where you can find Giuseppe Alessio – the local King of Mortadella.

Giuseppe Alessio - The king of the Mortadella
Giuseppe Alessio – The king of the Mortadella

The whole town buys mortadella from there and it is always amazing. Giuseppe is also a very joyous person and I overate with mortadella because of him. If you want to try a traditional salami from Puglia – ask for Capocollo di Martina Franca.

So, this was our walk among the culinary attractions in Salento out of the peak summer season and the popular holiday resorts. These were restaurants and places we found in an usual December week, when we ate tangerines straight from the tree and every morning we had fresh tulips on the breakfast table. Of course, Italy is spanless in terms of culinary tourism and if you have other suggestions for traditional meals from Salento, please share them with is. We will definitely try to find them next time we have the opportunity.

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