The remote heel of Italy’s boot is an alluring mix of whitewashed villages and flat, sundrenched terrain. The land is dotted with vineyards, centuries–old olive trees and fields of durum wheat. This breadbasket region of Puglia (Apulia in English) is a culinary paradise that produces more olive oil than any other region of Italy and is the country’s top grower of organic fruits, vegetables, olives and cereals. “It is one of the best places I’ve ever eaten,” says Barcelona–based photographer Salva López, who has made a habit of visiting the area over the past five years to indulge in the region’s cuisine. “I love the burrata, the seafood and, of course, the pasta – everything is just magic.”
A visit to one of Italy’s great agricultural regions is all about slowing down and indulging in simple culinary pleasures.
Southern Italy was historically a poor region and for that reason, vegetables, not meat, form the basis of traditional Pugliese cuisine, with fertile soils guaranteeing their freshness and flavour. Puglia’s olives and cherry tomatoes are particularly prized, but lesser–known staples include lampascione, a bitter–tasting bulb similar to an onion, and a local variety of cucumber called barattiere.
Burrata, like many things delicious, was an invention of necessity. The origin of this Pugliese delicacy, nicknamed the “Queen of Italian Cheeses,” dates back to the 1920s when it became a convenient way to use up the ritagli (scraps or rags) of mozzarella skin, filling them with fresh cream and stracciatella. The result is a flavour that’s rich, buttery, fresh and satisfyingly indulgent.
Related: Travel to Italy at Home Through Food — (And wine.)
Puglia’s small–scale artisanal producers are far removed from the industrial food production in other parts of the world. Many of its towns, like Lecce and Ostuni, are centres of the slow food movement, promoting traditional cooking and local ingredients. This cheese factory in Ostuni – part of the town’s dairy cooperative – specializes in organic mozzarellas, burrata and stracciatella.
With its Grecian–style homes, cobbled alleyways and hilltop sea views, Ostuni, like much of southern Puglia, has a flavour that’s as Hellenic as it is Latin. The town’s name derives from the Greek Astynéon, which means “new city” (it was rebuilt by the Ancient Greeks after being destroyed by Hannibal during the Punic Wars). The Salento peninsula, which begins south of Ostuni, is home to 20,000 descendants of the Hellenic settlers who arrived during antiquity and, later, Byzantine–era migrants, who speak Griko, a Greek dialect unique to this part of Italy.
Springtime and late summer are when local crowds gather around fishmongers on the Pugliese coastline to acquire another regional delicacy: sea urchins (or ricci di mare in Italian). The edible part of the urchin, commonly referred to as roe, is scooped out and eaten fresh on its own or used as a dip with chunks of bread.
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