Tarallo, friselle, puccia, burrata. These are the only words you need to memorize before setting foot in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s proverbial boot and a land of sprawling farmland, gorgeous beaches and beautiful, century-spanning architecture. Puglia is a cornucopia of fantastic produce and delicacies like Brindisi artichokes, Taranto clementines, Altamura lentils, chickpeas, olives, tomatoes, seafood and more, ingredients of a deeply-rooted cucina povera tradition of simple deliciousness.
The holy triumvirate of Pugliese bread delicacies taralli, friselle and puccia. There is no mistaking the tarallo, a tiny oval-shaped cracker, so to speak, that has become ubiquitous with aperitivo. Dating back to the 15th century in a mix of wheat flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper, the tarallo also makes a a savory appearance with fennel, poppy seeds and peperoncino, and sweet with white wine and sugar. The quintessentially Italian aperitivo almost always includes a piattino (tiny plate) overflowing with taralli but dry crackers fans will note that taralli are great snacks any time of the day.
Don’t be deceived by the frisella. The bagel-shaped dry bread cracker made of baked darum wheat flour is tough to the bite when eating au natural but soak it in water, and it transforms into a delicious delicacy. Typically, the softened frisella is served with chopped tomatoes with garlic and olive oil, akin to a bruschetta topping. Served as antipasto or a meal unto its own, the frisella will win you over.
Puccia, or pucce salentine, is a traditional bread and street food classic from the Salentine, the region’s southern half. Made with pizza dough and baked in a wood-fire over, puccia is the ultimate sandwich bread and can be filled with whatever your heart desires.
Bountiful bread basket
Puglia is literally a bread basket and has bragging rights to Europe’s only origin protected (DOP) bread. Made from 100% durum wheat grown in the Bari area, Pane di Altamurahas been homegrown from the town of Altamura for millennia. According to the history books, first century BC poet Horace discovered the famous bread, calling it “the best by far” and advised that “wise travellers carry a load on their shoulders for later”.
For the sweet tooth is the pasticciotto, an oval-shaped short crust pastry filled with crema pasticcera, sweet pastry cream, and the Christmas-only cartellate, strips of dough that have been rolled out to a paperlike thinness and cut into strips with a zigzag edge. The strips are then rolled into a rose-shape and deep fried, only to be coated in vincotto, a wine syrup.
Puglia is more than a bontà of bread and pastry. It’s a vast land of IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) and DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) regional and local produce and products like cheese, fruit and olive oil, that if given the opportunity to enjoy in its native setting you must. And of those, the most important is burrata di Andria, considered the “Queen of Cheese”. Resembling a pouch of hand stretched cheese, the soft white burrata hides an even more incredible secret- stracciatella, the leftovers of cream and mozzarella.
Dishes to try
Ciceri e tria – the Pugliese interpretation of pasta with chickpeas
Cozze arraganate – baked and breaded mussels
Fav e fogghie – a fave bean puree with wild chicory
Frittata di lampascioni – a seasonal spring fritta made with potato, pecorino and wild hyacinth bulb
Gnumarieddi -delicious sweetbread rolls (liver, lungs and kidneys), wrapped and cooked in a casing of lamb, served on skewers preferably.
Orecchiette con le cime di rapa – handmade ear-shaped pasta with broccoli rabe
Tiella barese -baked rice with potato and mussels