Puglia is the heel of the Italian boot, its coast running along the Ionian Sea. The region’s cuisine has for centuries been influenced by Greece, Africa, Europe and the Middle East (in fact, it was first colonized by Greeks in the 8th century), and it was a favorite summer destination for a few Roman emperors.
The cuisine naturally reflects this rich cultural mix: you’ll find recipes in this book for mashed fava beans and wild chicory, baked squid and potatoes, fried hyacinth bulbs, lamb with aromatic herbs and plenty of reverence for orecchiette, the region’s pasta standby.
In addition to the recipes, which are collected into chapters for each province, you get local history and color – vivid photography of rough Italian shores, delicate olive branches, stores in Bari stocked with beautiful cheeses.
This is not a beginner’s cookbook – you won’t find supplemental guides to bread dough or cooking with octopus. The instructions are simple and straightforward, but they assume you know how to roll out a tart crust or determine what “golden brown” means when frying.
You also won’t find recipes tailored for the gluten-free or vegan here, except via chance – this is a regional cookbook and its purpose is to celebrate Puglia, which includes a lot of high-gluten flours, meat and cheese.
Puglia’s cuisine is well-loved and sought out, and its foodways and traditions are built from generations of poor people developing meals from available ingredients. (A forest full of wild pigs and a sea full of eels, plus beautiful wild native greens, wasn’t always seen as a cornucopia.) The book’s introduction names this cucina povera, or “poor kitchen.”
Though, “far better, and more accurate, would be to regard it as a celebration of the prime ingredients that come from the land, forests and waters,” the book argues in its intro – words that sound familiar to anyone who knows the local food movement influencing cuisine in America right now.
Click here for a sample recipe: TORTA DI BIETOLINE E RICOTTA: Chard and Ricotta Pie.
The Silver Spoon: Puglia
Phaidon Publishing, 272 pages, Spring 2015