The Deep South - Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and 'cucina povera'

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The food in this region of Southern Italy is often referred to as 'cucina poverta'.. literally 'poor man's food'.

Pasta made without eggs, bread made from hard durum wheat and greens gathered from the hedgerows. This is what makes Southern Italian food so welcoming, hearty and filling.

In the past few days we've eaten orecchiette pasta with wild horseradish in Matera - one of the oldest settlements in the world where the houses are built into caves; pureed fava beans and bitter chard in Alberobello - a village seemingly built for dwarfs where all the little white buildings have perfect conical stone roofs; and riso, patate e cozze (rice, potatoes and mussels, another classic regional dish) in Polignano a Mare - a town perched on the clifftops.

Matera - 46 degrees in the late afternoon. The cave dwellings are nice and cool though

Homemade pasta with wild horseradish (nose-burning!) at Le Botteghe in Matera
Polignano a Mare

riso, patate e cozze

Pureed fava beans with bitter chard and lashings of olive oil

Orecchiette with tomatoes and ricotta forte - strong, aged ricotta

The seafood in this region is of course outstanding too. And I ate a whole octopus in Bari.

One of the highlights of the trip through South Italy for me though has been stumbling across a side street in Bari where a team of old ladies were making fresh pasta outside their houses, to cater for the local restaurants. They were kind enough to let me take pictures - and get a few tips on technique as they proudly showed me how they made orecchiette by hand.

Next stop... Croatia...

The Amalfi Coast - a quick detour for Spaghetti alle Vongole

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The title of this post says it all really. I love the Amalfi Coast, I love spaghetti, I love clams.

I managed to get in a plate of spaghetti alle Vongole in Amalfi after arriving by train, bus, hydrofoil and ferry to Salerno via Lipari, Messina and Villa San Giovanni. It was worth it.

Farewell to Sicily - an ode to the land of plenty

Sunday, 22 July 2012

We are leaving Sicily with heavy hearts and even heavier bellies. The food here is incredible. The freshest seafood, purple shining aubergines, juicy sweet peaches and the best citrus fruits I have ever tasted. I will miss the freshly squeezed juice available on every street corner.

I bought capers on the Aeolian Island of Stromboli (which also happens to be an active volcano, see picture I took from a boat below!) to make a Sicilian classic - caponata on the BBQ (I know traditionally it's not technically made on a BBQ but that's all I have to hand and the aubergines did taste wonderfully smokey after being char grilled before being added to fresh tomatoes, charred red peppers, garlic, red wine and capers). This accompanied the freshest tuna steak - also done on the Barbie - straight from the fisherman in Lipari...

And here are some more pictures of Sicily and the beautiful Aeolian islands of Stromboli and Panerea... including an eruption...

Smoked swordfish and tuna carpaccio, Granduca terrace, Taormina

Next stop, Southern Italy. Our aim is to get across to the Adriatic coast as easily as possible. Watch this space.

Finding La Dolce Vita on the Aeolian Islands

Thursday, 19 July 2012

As well as the ultimate street snacks, the Sicilians have also perfected the art of pastry. Like me, they have a very sweet tooth.

I can't believe I've never tried a cannoli until now. Pastry tubes, filled with a sweetened ricotta and often flavoured with chocolate or pistachio.

We hired a moped for a near-death ride into Lipari from our campsite in order to pick up an array of sweet treats from the best 'pastriccerie' on the Aeolian islands - Bar Pasticceria Subba on Lipari. Totally worth battling oncoming Italian drivers on the narrow winding roads for these...

Sicilian street food

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

I have found a new obsession - arancini. Balls of rice, stuffed with ragu or prosciutto and oozing mozzarella. Coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. Utterly addictive and delicious. And so cheap too - the Sicilians have perfected the ultimate street food snack. I cannot handle how much I will miss these.

Arancini with ragu and a freshly squeezed orange juice. At Taormina on the Sicilian mainland with a view of Mount Etna

Arancini with prosciutto on the Aeolian island of Panerea

Catania, Pasta Norma, Mount Etna, and my first swordfish auction

Friday, 6 July 2012

Catania, at the base of Mount Etna, is a vibrant city bursting with life. The Catanian motto is apparently Carpe Diem (seize the day), very apt if you are living at the base of one of the world's most active volcanoes.

From the cafes surrounding Piazza Del Duomo (a UNESCO world heritage site), which serve incredible lemon-scented cornetti, wild strawberries and ricotta-filled canolli, to the bustling La Pescheria (the daily fish market), Catania's warmth, friendliness and spirit is intoxicating.

La Pescheria is something that cannot be missed. The catch of the morning is paraded by the local fishermen in front of the locals and restaurateurs. Whole swordfish are gutted and filleted in the square and auctioned off by weight. Clams, mussels, oysters, eels, prawns, squid and the largest selection of fish I have ever seen is on offer.

As well as the sights and sounds of the fish market, we were told not to leave Catania without tasting a traditional Pasta Norma - a dish that is meant to symbolise Mount Etna; tomatoes resemble the molten lava flowing down the sides, the dark skins of the aubergine are said to be the solid pumice, the snowy peaks are represented by crumbled, salted ricotta and the basil on top is the grassy slopes.

We ate Pasta Norma at Trattoria di De Fiore. A family run restaurant that served the most incredible homemade pasta I have ever eaten. A must if you are visiting the city. No photos of this I'm afraid. It was devoured too quickly.

Next post... discovering Taormina and my arrancini obsession
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