Puglia is fantastic. The food here is ridiculous, the country is beautiful, and the people are warm and welcoming. If you haven’t booked tickets to Puglia, you really must do so now.
Last night, as dusk encroached on the waning hours of day, we visited the nearby town of Ostuni. It is called La Citta Bianca, the white city, because of the white color of its buildings. It stands majestically on a hilltop, with a view of the countryside far below. We parked and ascended to the old quarter of the city where we climbed her twisting ways as high as we could.
In the fading light we stood for a time gaping out at the Adriatic Sea and the looming night sky in the distance.
We wended our way back to the car, and allowed the iPhone to guide us through ever narrower streets until we were out of the city and on the way back to the masseria. There was one particular street that wouldn’t have been navigable in anything larger than our Fiat 500, but she handled the challenge like a champ!
I have to confess we don’t really understand the street signs here, but I don’t think the locals do either. On more than one occasion we have pondered the meaning of some cryptic marking or other, and my our solutions are to a) watch what the locals do and follow their lead and b) just do what we want to do anyway. Mostly this reassures us, but when people are clearly following our lead, we are left wondering if the worst drivers in the area are just visitors following each others’ bad examples.
We had dinner last night at the masseria. As anybody who knows D will gladly acknowledge, he can be a picky eater. Dinner started out with a crispy crepe stuffed with ricotta and squash. It was delicious. D even ate it.
Wait – it gets better. The next course was a creamy chickpea soup with pasta. This was served with a spicy olive oil. It was just incredible, with simple earthy flavors layered upon each other. And it was heavy! I have heard of such soups before, and thought, “what the heck is pasta doing in a creamy bean soup?” Now it makes sense to me. D loved this dish and declared it the winner of the evening. (At this point, I expect people who know D are picking their jaws off of the floor).
Next was braciole of veal (we later heard that donkey is traditional) served with polpette. Those aren’t meatballs – they’re bread balls. It was a breathtaking meal, although the braciole was a bit different than I make, being stuffed with fennel and garlic and braised in tomato sauce. All of this was served with a plate of delicious grilled vegetables.
This morning we headed south to Lecce, a city known for its baroque architecture. The cathedral was absolutely stunning, with a breathtaking facade. The stone is reported to be very soft around here, and lends itself readily to sculpture.
Here’s the other column from the end of the Appian Way. They have topped it with a statue of St. Oronzo.
There are an ancient Roman theater and amphitheater in this town. This is the amphitheater. The theater is somewhat hidden down a back street, and the guards watching over that structure seem to spend most of their day watching porn on their smartphones. No I’m not making that up.
With regards to pasta, we are eating orecchiette almost exclusively here. It is an ear-shaped pasta traditionally shaped by hand, and it is the local fare. At lunch I had orecchiette with rabe and sausage. It was grounded, earthy, and delicious.
We had one more stop for the day, the southwestern most end of the Italian peninsula: Otranto. This is a small beach town guarded by a grand Norman fortress.
As we walk, we talk. We have come to a sort of conclusion about the towns in Puglia. Despite their isolation and anachronism, they are not “stuck in time,” even if it might seem that way. They have been here for thousands of years and are confident in who they are. They grow with time, and continue along with the modern world, but not at the cost of their identity.
We walked along the quay for a bit, enjoying the sun and sea, looking at the boats docked nearby.
And then we returned to our car to find a parking ticket. We are still struggling with some of those signs, I guess.
Dinner tonight was beyond words. Basically we filled up on a €15 appetizer course that came in 8 separate dishes. There was a grain salad (faro?), cheese plate, delicious fried bread balls, goulash, mashed potatoes, eggplant parmigiana (and yes! D ate and enjoyed some of this, much to his chagrin), meat omelette, and some sort of ham dish. There was just too much food.
At some point mid-way through appetizer course we began experience anxiety at every plate coming out of the kitchen, afraid that it was destined for our table.
Once we reached the point of discomfort, whenever the waitress walked out of the kitchen with another plate or two, D would reach over, grab my wrist, and beg, “Oh God, please don’t let that be ours!”
And it could have been so much worse. You see, we had also ordered pasta dishes, but the waitress knew better than to place that order. So she allowed us to retract it and we settled on splitting an order of orecchiette with tomato sauce (and I passed on the orecchiette with traditional braciole that I had initially ordered).
The obscene amounts of food and drink ran us a grand total of €29. We were actually embarrassed as we left the restaurant. The waitress had shamed us with an unseemly amount of delicious food at an appallingly low price. We returned to the masseria feeling physically ill and emotionally spent. It was a wonderful day.