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Texts by Elisabetta D'Errico
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Food and Gastronomy in Salento
Wine - Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Home made pasta - Purea di fave - Muersi e cecamariti - Parmigiana - Pezzetti di cavallo
Turcinieddhri - Taieddhra - Fish Soup - Scapece - Pittule - Rustici - Friselle - Typical chesse
Pasticciotto - Zeppola - Bocca di Dama - Fruttone - Almond paste - Mustaccioli - Cupeta
Carteddhrate - Cotognata - Fichi secchi - Spumone - Vincotto
From Salento some of the finest Italian wines!
Salento is one of the most important wine production areas of Italy. On the national and international market you can find D.O.C. (territorial based certification) wines produced in Salice Salentino, Copertino, Leverano, Alezio, Matino, Galatina and Squinzano, as well as I.G.T. (indication of geographic territory) wines. Though in the past they were not so popular, some varieties of wine are very appreciated nowadays, for example Negroamaro. Some of the best rosés in the world, in fact, are made by mixing “malvasie nere” varieties from Lecce area and the Negroamaro. Another important species of vine is Aleatico, very sweet, like a liqueur.
Then there are Malvasia Nera, Malvasia Bianca and the Primitivo; Primitivo di Manduria has ancient origins and is used as a brightly coloured blending wine. Also many non-local varieties have become popular in Salento, such as the Chardonnay and Sauvignon. Wine cooperatives always try to improve the quality of their wines and to sell them at affordable prices.
The production is always growing and well-known wines are being produced by big private wine companies; some of them have also received lots of prizes and recognitions during events concerning wine production: Leone De Castris, Bacile di Castiglione are among them. Every day lots of local wines are exported, therefore we recommend you to taste them.
One of the tastiest D.O.C. wines of Salento is Leverano D.O.C., a wine produced from Negroamaro and White and Black Malvasia.
Lots of enteprising local wine producers are always improving wine production, investing largely to make their warehouses more modern and well equipped; this has increased the quality of wines, though keeping prices controlled.
Both in Italy and abroad important awards have been given to many producers, such as Leone De Castris, Conti Zecca, Masseria Monaci, Rosa del Golfo, Taurino, Cantele, Antica Masseria del Sigillo, Valle dell’Asso and Santi Dimitri.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the best
Extra virgin Olive Oil production is one of the oldest activities of Salento in fact olive oil is often called the “gold” of Salento; here there are more than ten million olive trees which contribute to a simple, nourishing and healthy diet, based on olive oil, bread, vegetables, dried legumes and wine. Oil is even used to prepare some beauty products.
Oil of Salento is very healthy also because no artificial treatments are carried out and it does not contain any dangerous chemicals. Surely it is not so well known in the rest of Italy as wine, but we hope that in the future its fame may increase all over Italy. Therefore we suggest you to taste it and spread its high quality and genuineness.
The techniques of oil production have varied in the course of the time, though still today it is possible to see the “trappeti” which use the ancient instruments for grinding, such as the press and the grindstone. Olive oil is classified into three categories: extra-virgin oil, virgin oil and brilliant (according to its acidity). It is traditionally first tasted just in the oil mill, generally with some bread, in order to appreciate its Mediterranean savour.
In Salento the recognition DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin) has been given to the oil produced in the area of Lecce and Terra d’Otranto. In fact by the roads you can see lots of signs of ancient underground oil mills, where you can see the rudimental and primitive machinery which once were pulled by animals. Oil is sold in food shops and in supermarkets at reasonable prices, put in bottles or cans, but you can buy it (of course at a lower price) in olive oil mills scattered in the province.

Food is actually a very good reason to discover Salento!
In Salento typical gastronomic specialities are made with poor but rather tasty ingredients, the mirror of so many populations who have lived in this territory leaving their mark. These simple ingredients are typical of the Mediterranean diet: vegetables, light spices, fish and wheat products. Some dishes are higly energizing, such as dried figs, the “pucce” and the “uliate” (a kind of bread with olives, onions, tomato and hot pepper). Among the first courses the tastiest ones are made with pasta served with tomato sauce or meat sauce. We can suggest you the following:
Home made pasta
The best known of this kind are “orecchiette”, containing durum wheat flour. They are generally served with “minchiareddhi”, that are little maccheroni. You can taste them with tomato sauce and “cacioricotta” sprinkled on it. In winter you can eat “orecchiette” with local broccoli or turnips tops, a nice mix of pasta and vegetables. Another kind of home made pasta are “sagne ‘ncannulate”, which are twisted lasagne cut into stripes. You should better eat them with tomato sauce or meat sauce.
Purea di fave
It is like a polenta made with white broad beans and in the past it was just a country meal. Nowadays the best restaurants serve it. It can be eaten with some oil or mixed with boiled chicories, which gives the name to another dish, “fave e cicorie” in fact. Somewhere they add little pieces of fried bread that gives it a stronger savour. In Lecce you can eat it at “Alle due corti”, in Via Leonardo Prato.
Ciceri e tria
The name “tria” probably comes from “itrya”, an Arabic word that means “dried pasta”. In fact this dish is a mix of chickpeas and home made pasta. The taste of “ciceri e tria” is given from the quality of chickpeas; they are cooked in a terracotta pot and finally “tria” is added, cut into pieces and fried in hot oil.
Muersi e cecamariti
It is a typical country dish with dried peas which are generally cooked in the fireplace. Housewives used to cut bread into pieces and fry them until they become a bit burnt. They put these pieces in a bowl and poured soup over them. This dish varies according to seasons: in winter soup is made with turnips tops and chicories, in summer it is made with fried peppers: The name “cecamariti” comes from a tradition: even though it is easy to be made, it seems to be eleborate. Wives often pretended to have spent a long time preparing it, deceiving their husbands who, in fact, were blind and really believed to what they said; the wives, on the contrary, had spent their time doing other things, but the same they had their husbands’s love.
It is one of the main dishes of Salento, traditionally eaten on 26th August, the day of the patron saint (St. Oronzo). It has a simple taste, based on the taste of aubergines (the main ingredient). Aubergines are cut into slices and then fried in hot oil and eggs. Then they are put into layers while tomato sauce is poured on every layer. The recipe of “parmigiana” varies from town to town: some people fill each layer with boiled eggs or with mozzarella cheese, beef balls or whatever else. It is really worthy to try it.

Among the second courses there are specialities made with meat or fish. We recommend you the following:

Pezzetti di cavallo (horse meat pieces)
This is the most popular in Salento, a bit more elaborate than roasted meat and very tasty. Little pieces of horse meat are cooked in a terracotta pot with tomato sauce and spices. A long cooking is necessary and in the end meat becomes tender and savoury.
They are little rolls made up with lamb entrails savoured with herbs. They must be grilled or cooked in a wood oven. Anyway you must be careful not to cook them long so not to get burnt.
The main ingredients of this dish are potatoes, “cozze” (mussels), tomatoes, onions and slices of courgettes. No rice is added, unlike that cooked in other towns. The ingredients are put into layers and over each layer you can grate some cheese, especially “pecorino” (a typical cheese), to add more savour.
Fish soup
It is especially typical of Gallipoli and any other seaside resorts of Salento. It is a mix of all the tastiest sea specialities. The most traditional ingredients are: rockfish, priest fish, skate and monkfish, cernia and even some white fish (page fish and white bream). Once ready, the soup should be eaten with cuttlefish, mussels and prawns and sprinkled with some vinegar. We recommend you to try it!
Scapece gallipolina
It is a speciality, a mix of fried little fish and breadcrumbs pickled with vinegar and saffron. This recipe probably comes from the Arabs who used saffron for their dishes; it is especially produced in Gallipoli and sold during fairs.

Aperitives and snacks:
Pittule, pizzi and pucce
Aperitives often are light meals and not just starters. This because barmen serve little snacks along with drinks; for example you can taste traditional “pittule”. They are made with flour, salt, water and brewer’s yeast. When they are fried, they take a different shape from one another. Once people ate “pittule” on 8th December only, but now you can eat them always during the year and you can also try them dipped into honey or “vincotto”.
They are generally used as a starter and are also filled with stockfish, cauliflower, tomatoes or whatever else.
Apart from “pittule” you can also eat “pizzi”and “pucce”, a special kind of bread, generally filled with black olives or tomato and capers.
They are round with a little bump in the middle. People often eat them late in the morning and sometimes they prefer them to pizza. They are baked in the oven; they are made with flaky pastry, filled with mozzarella cheese, béchamel sauce, tomato and a pinch of pepper. “Rustici” are better tasted hot. In some way they resemble the French vol-au-vant and probably were created by some cook who worked for an aristocratic family in Lecce.
Though very simple, in Summer they are a quick meal, easy to prepare and very tasty. They are made with durum wheat bread mixture and have the shape of little cakes without a hole in the middle. They are baked in a wood oven; before eating them you have to dip them in water (not for long otherwise they will be too soft), then pour some olive oil and add local tomatoes, salt and a pinch of oregano. Another variety are the so-called “friseddhre ‘ncapunate”, if you add “rucola”, peppers and hot pepper. You can also taste “friselle” made with barley, but they are a bit harder. They are not perishable, can be kept for a long time and in Summer you can eat them on the beach.
Typical cheese
The most typical cheese of Salento are “mozzarelle” or “fior di latte cheese” which should be eaten fresh. “Scamorze” are similar to “mozzarelle”, but can be kept for some days (we suggest you also to try smoked “scamorze”). “Cacioricotta” is something like cheese and “ricotta”. It is white, round and thick. You can eat it fresh, but if you leave it to season, it will become grating cheese and you can taste it sprinkled on pasta, especially home made pasta. The result is excellent!

it is the most popular bun of Salento, oval-shaped, made out of shortbread pastry and filled with custard cream. A secret of this recipe is the use of lard, which gives it a good taste. They are often given people to thank them for something or they are taken to families during mournful events, as a mark of comfort. These buns, are always made by hand and come from the famous “pasta frolla” cake, that used to be filled with sweetened ricotta cheese; in the “pasticciotto” recipe they were filled with custard cream and made in small one-person portion.
They are sold in every cake shop, but the best ones may be tasted at the “Pasticceria Natale”, “Alvino”, “Pasticceria Capilungo”, “La Cotognata Leccese” in Lecce.
It is another version of “pasticciotto”, made out of shortbread pastry and filled with pear jam, almond paste and candied fruit, mixed with egg white and baked in the oven. When they are cooled down they are covered with icing chocolate or bitter chocolate.
They are made out of bigné pasta (a kind of choux pastry) which is fried or baked in the oven and then tried with cream or chocolate. The particular day when people eat them is on 19th March, but nowadays you can taste them always during the year.
Bocche di Dama
they are shaped like cupolae, made with sponge finger mixture, filled with custard cream and then covered with white icing. These were traditionally religious cakes, as they were a sign of devotion towards St. Agatha’s mastectomy, in fact they are very popular in the area around Gallipoli, where St. Agatha is the patron saint.
Almond paste sweets
the tradition of almond paste sweets is very famous and above all we recommend those made by the Benedectine nuns in their cloister of St. Giovanni Evangelista. Theirs is somehow a secret recipe that has been imitated by skillful confectioners, but the nuns’ sweets have a special and particular flavour and softness. These sweets are especially made at Christmas, shaped as fish, and at Easter, shaped as lambs. The mixture consists of almonds and sugar while the filling is made with pear jam or “faldacchera” (made with eggs, sugar and marsala liqueur).
Almond paste is also used to fill little cakes called “paste secche”, tasted with tea or “passito” (a wine made from dried grapes).
they are biscuits, generally sold at fairs, but nowadays you can find them in shops. They are made with cocoa mixed with several aromas; then they are covered with chocolate icing. Traditional cake shops make them in various ways, adding also almonds and fruit candies to the traditional recipe.
It is generally sold during fiestas or “sagre”, made with sugar and toasted almonds. You may also have the opportunity to see people while making “cupeta” in their moveable stalls at the local fairs and it is nice to see them because they use the same tools that were used in the past. The secret of a tasteful “cupeta” is not cooking it too long (otherwise it becomes sour) and if you try to do it, certainly you will be successful.
they are the typical Christmas cake. They are stripes of short pastry shaped in different ways. Once fried they are imbued with honey and decorated with toasted almonds, chocolate and coloured comfits. Probably they originated in some monastery of Salento and now they have become a deliciousness. They are generally eaten with “purceddhuzzi” (having the shape of little “gnocchi”) which are prepared in the same way as “carteddhate”.
it is a special jam, dark red in colour, made from quinces that grow on quince trees. It is special because, unlike other jams, it is solid and cut into slices. You can find it in food shops or bars. Cotognata is not the only jam produced here; we suggest you to try “perata” (made with local pears) and “mostarda” ( made with red wine grapes). Mostarda has a dark colour and is used to fill the “pitteddhe”, a kind of little tarts made of water and flour and shaped like small trays.
Fichi secchi (dried figs)
They are one of the most typical product in Salento. Figs are cut into 2 halves and dried in the sun; once dried, they are baked in the oven for some minutes and filled with toasted almonds. Sometimes they are flavoured with lemon, cinnamon or bay leaves. Dried figs are generally eaten at the end of the meals during winter evenings.
It is the traditional ice-cream produced in Salento; it is shaped like a part of cone and divided in half to be served: It is generally filled with sponge finger soaked in some liqueur or chocolate. The most common are made with hazelnut, chocolate or coffee ice-cream. In the past spumone was served on special occasions but nowadays all bars and restaurants serve it also because tourists often want to try it.

This syrup is made with the must that is cooked until it becomes rather thick and dark. This is used also in the preparation of some local sweets, “pittule” and “carteddhrate” for example, but you can also have it after dinner with dried biscuis. Its quality improves with he passing of time therefore you can buy it now and keep it for months.

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