Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pugliese Olive Oil

I can’t leave Puglia without a mention of the exceptional Olive Oil specific to the region. The only problem is that all of the images I have of the vast fields are characteristically similar; some better tended than others.

It is estimated that there are over 50 million Olive trees in the region which includes the DOP’s (denomination of protected origin) of Dauno, Terra di Bari, Colline di Brindisi, Terra d’Otranto. Only Extra Virgin Olive Oil is made here which is best used “raw”, to dress salads, coat Carpaccio, drizzle on Pizza, in bread and to preserve vegetables. It is the reason that the Antipasti’s remain the highlight of many meals. Below are some examples of Olive Oil in regional dishes...

To enrich a Carpaccio of pesce Spada

Olives fresh from a family farm

In homemade Pepperonata

Atop Pizza

As a central flavor in a Tratorria's lunch Antipasti Mista

In the exquisite local bread

The flavors of raw local Olive Oil range from a sweet taste with a light “itch”, spicy with an artichoke finish, nutty (almond) with a tomato scent, a green herb bouquet with a bitter bottom etc.

It's hard to resist elderly woman selling Panini’s out of her shabby casa on a hot summer day at the beach. Please all, give it up for "Mamma Uccia"!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The farmer mobile

My love for the ubiquitous 3 wheeled farmer mobile is not new, but I thought it was time to introduce you all…

I have heard stories of theft and wild chases (imagine ;), but the farmer mobile for me evokes a certainly tranquility. In the centro sotrico of Lecce, it chills by the side of the ancient streets peddling produce to pedestrians and making deliveries to local businesses.

I need a farmer to take me for a ride. One day at a time folks.

Cavallo and the “Food Clutch”

I’m an adventurous dude and have had no Americanized remorse for eating the local Horsemeat in Puglia. To be clear this meat is only served in Puglia and Veneto in Italy (as well as France and some Asian countries). Like the meat of the Buffalo it is significantly leaner than beef and served similarly; braised and stewed in a tomato gravy (pezetti), ground in Suasage or grilled. One problem…

I don’t like it. I have tried it on three occasions and each time have launched for the closest “food clutch” to help it go down (water, bread, contorni etc.). I derived this term to describe "digestive agents used in real time to disguise texture and/or flavor" when one HAS to eat what is in front of them. As much as I love food, my affair exists on the same spectrum of all love; I am able to equally detest as I am to love food.

Inevitably I have been questioning why Horsemeat is not prevalent (ok, nonexistent) in American kitchens. The answer comes down to connotative pet love and fairytale derivative ethics more than health or practicality.

For a broader discourse check :

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Red Peppercorns

In an otherwise overpriced but above average moment, there was a culinary revelation; Red Peppercorns.

Their slight crunch yields a cinnamon like subtly. They beautifully compliment the flavors of the Sea by resisting Peppers tendency to overshadow. Their pomegranate seed similarity works dually to provide both bright color and stylish garnish fodder. This distinguishing element of the above Taglietteli con Scampi has given me a new perspective on the spectrum of Peppercorns.

The waiter still owes me an apology though. He knows why ;)

Damn my mixtape…

…for being so personal and relevant (lyrics & music) 2 years post its compilation and distribution. Below are my lyrical highlights as they pertain to my life and the decisions I have made. When people ask me what I mean by "music informed my love of food", this is the best example.

If you don’t have it, ask somebody!

#1 “Music is love and love is you”, "This music is mine and I'm giving it all to you”
#2 “Don’t you be alarmed, cause' in time I'm gonna show you what I mean”.
#3 “See that you travel for me, ain’t nothing but travel to me”, “I got an inner voice protecting me”, “I got a voice in my head that says your coming around”
#4 “All to do is keep pushing on”.
#5 “If you can’t keep your eyes, keep your mind on me. Keep your mind on free”, “Fantastic, romantic, dynamic, magnetic…”
#6 “I love you and all of that, but what’s up with the intimacy?"
#7 “would you wish me well if I turned and walked away”
#8 “It sounds like a 50’s record, but that’s alright with me”, “the best part of me I gave you and it was sacrifice”,
#9 “Said nobody’s an ocean, it's as far as your eyes can see”
#10 Jazz interlude
#11 “Gotta keep it moving”, “haste makes waste, these are the breaks”
#12 “I dance to remember how to fly”, “dreams help me to remember where I have been”
#13 “just lie low”
#14 “Take it easy that’s m philosophy, keep your eyes wide open and one day you will see”
#15 “I love you for a reason”, “I need you”,
#16 “I love the way you love me”, "It’s unbelievable, unexplainable, undeniable, be surprised to know that…”
#17 “what do we do now, the potential in me is more than you see”. “this conclusion is my solution to what could be my delusion. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter the stakes”
#18 “There are things that make me smile everyday”. "I don’t want to have to think about the ways we’ll be bad, I don’t want to have to think about the days that we’ll be sad…do I?”

La Scapece

I circled the local fiesta infinitely until I found a “food discovery”. Behold "La Scapece", a Southern Italian version of Spanish "escabeche" made with respect to Arabic traditions of conservation and spice. It consists of small whole fish (not specified) first dusted with flour and fried. The fried whole fishes are then layered with Aceto (Vinegar, white or red), Saffron (Zafferano) and pulsated fresh bread! Its weighed on traditional scales and is profusely yellow and tangy. Im comforted by my find…

dont hate!

I drink supermarket branded Sangiovese, Puglian Red wine by the 5 liters! €4, it can’t all be glamorous…

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alle Due Corti : Cheese revisited

I have been meaning to return to Alle Due Corti since arriving in Lecce but had been waiting for the right moment. It had to either be an occasion or a night after street meat (one or the other, feel me?). While the millions descended elsewhere for cotton candy, I quietly made a reservation for 11pm on Friday night, just me “solo, grazie”. The whole family knows me; “Buono Sera’s” were now the less formal “salve’s”. They were flattered by my return…

The real reason for my return tho’ was their cheese plate accompanied by their signature homemade jams. But what came was pungently refreshing and dizzyingly different. When I noticed that they had homemade Rosoli, they brought me a tasting flight; the perks of returning and paying homage to their cucina. Below is what went down…

The cheeses: Scarmoza affumicata (smoked), Mozzarella, Ricotta, Pecorino morbida and aged Pecorino

A selection of 4 Rosoli’s (dessert liquor) consisting of Figindia, Nociro e Albicocca (Apricot), Orange Rind and Bitter Orange.

And then there was the Marmellate’s!!! Orange and Onion, Confettura di Sedano (Fennel) and Peperoncino (Chilli)! With each bite I smirked at the staff; my smile turning into a fixed grand emotion. I charged their cabinet to be sure these were not my last bites. For the first time since being in Italy, I made a purchase; one I would likely regret as my luggage took on new weight. I couldn’t resist. To be clear Alle Due Corti has an online shop. Check em:

After a family photo ;) I stumbled back onto the bustling streets past the Italian tourists, street meats and bright lights and stared familiarly at the Church of Santa Croce; a sight that each night informs my dreams. Its absurdity is stunningly original; a visual gateway to Lecce’s charm.

Dumb it down!

Italy is not all refined cuisine, tailored blazers and vineyards. The world becomes so small when the big fair comes into town!

Cheap toys, sausages, fake jewels, infomercial products, dangerous rides for kids and Candy being scoffed by overly tanned eager youth, obese adults, questionable tourists and out of control kids. The main difference was the abundance of Olives and the vast selection of nuts. The rest was on some Atlantic Antic ish.

The whole city of Lecce has been transformed to accompany the “fiesta”. Giant gaudy lights paint the town for the marching bands, religious ornate rituals and other “cultural” activities.

Still, this was a chance for me to eat cheaply. And so folks, I ate the giant slow roasted pig; a sandwich actually (Panini) with Vedura mista (pickled vegetables) and Mayonnaise accompanied by a beer. It was greasy fun!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Martina Franca : Ciacco

Past blazing crops, industrial zones, olive groves, carefully tended Negromaro vineyards, picturesque sunsets and outside of the province of Lecce I arrived in Martina Franca in “Trulli Country”, Puglia. Martina Franca is best known for its Trulli houses (above) and its abundance of Macelleria/Salumeria’s, otherwise known as MEAT. Upon arriving I counted approximately 2 per street, 46 in total. I also saw woman selling Salumi out of the back of their houses!! Every time a town is specific for one thing and is in no close proximity to a larger residential community I cant help but wonder who is eating the product, locally. The answer is unimportant, I was anxiously anticipating a better understanding of the Puglian diet, now securely north and inland, away from the Beach towns I have become accustomed.

Unfortunately the highlight of my night (not including the food!) was never properly documented with a photo. As I crept into the white walled Old Town I was greeted by a woman, not more than 3 feet tall; characteristically Italian and from another era (likely 60 years my senior). She shooed me away from her property with a hint of cheekiness, not believing I was American (not the first time, weirdly). When I asked for a picture of her she told me to simply, “Fuck off” and to "return when I was drunk from my meal", lol (clearly the reason I ended up on her doorstep). She was a gem and perhaps didn’t know the localized fame I could bring her in beloved Brooklyn. Still, she directed me towards my culinary destination. Ciacco.

Ciacco’s fa├žade was like a food fairytale. Housed in a steep 3 story house, with holy intricacies; pale pinks and oranges matched the sullen and distant mood. It has only 10 tables (all reserved), a roof terrace and a dumbwaiter. Its charm was dizzying and the front of house woman was equally stunning; bronzed and demure in a little conservative dress, she peeked down the steep stairs to greet me. Ahh, the man from Lecce “come on in”. And so I ate, beautifully…

The Antipasti Casa is one of the most important elements of a trip to Puglia. Every course that follows is almost a favor to the chef; it is an unspoken truth that the Antipasti will 9 times out of 10, fill you up! It is a medium which allows chefs to experiment, show off and play with presentation with respect to their locale. Let’s dance…

Polpettine of mixed meats

Lardon on a pita-like, olive oil drenched foccacia

Capicollo, served atop figs

Mozzarella di Fior di latte with Arugula and Pomodorini

A clay pot baked, mixed herb Omelet

A salivatingly superb pizza rustica of practically candied Onions with Capers, Oilives, Tomatoes etc

And then folks there was Eggplant; Eggplant so distinctly perfect my words cannot express. There was no taste of salt or rich olive oil, simply a moist cushion of pure unadulterated Eggplant. I have never/will never experience this taste again. I frantically tried to discern their approach, and even later when I talked with the chef, I knew the secret was not out. We shared a long smile; so much said with so few words. She knew she got me and I think I might have made her night. She certainly made mine…

Next were two primi’s, Handmade spaghetti with long beans, shaved Ricotta and fresh Ricotta, the other a tartino of Bulghar Wheat (?) and Ricotta Forte; a rich parmesan like tangy surprise. Both were exquisite; grand and savory.

A selection of Roasted meats followed. Sausage, involtini’s and chops of Pork, Lamb, Veal…and (?). Each distinct, charred with a perfect brown hued sizzle. Although rich, the differing textures and processes were apparent with each carnivorous bite. This is a dish that I have generally avoided. It is rarely served with any vegetables and I find its intrinsic solo-ness to be a gastronomic deterrent to what I like about food; variation. Here, after so many wondrous treats which preceded, it navigated my mouth with a rich local punch.

Coffee followed in beautifully ornate espresso cups.

I retraced my steps to find the old woman. She was nowhere to be found, but her memory crept into my dreams later that night. Her brazen energy greeted me into the soft arms of her offspring; the food of Martina Franca.