You may ask why Italy again? Well, because isn’t it obvious – Italy is the cradle of the culinary arts. Although the word “gourmet” is French, the truth is that the French owe their cuisine mostly to the Italians. When in 1533, Catherine de’ Medici, heiress to one of the richest and most influential Florentine families, married the Duke of Orleans, who would later become King Henry II, she was unable to get used to the food in the French court and brought her personal chef from her homeland. Under her influence the gastronomy in France became a way of life, it became art.
You’ve seen the heel of the boot, right?
It is called Salento and like a finger it points directly to Greece. Here, the northern wind Bora from the Adriatic Sea cools the land, and the hot Sirocco wind from North Africa keeps it warm, this way in the spring and in autumn on the side of Gallipoli people are swimming in the sea, and on the East coast, in Monopoli and Otranto, the rest are huddling up in their jackets.
Probably because of its proximity to Greece, some of the first settlers, already in the 8th century BC, were the Mycenaean Greeks. At that time, as well as when five centuries later the Romans came, Taranto flourished as an important port. (It is sad that at the current moment Taranto is the first city in Italy, which, just like the small villages, is selling its houses for 1 Euro in order to have more people trying to revive itself.) Next in line for ruling the land is Byzantium, followed by the Normans, when the “pearl of Puglia” appeared – the Castel del Monte. Subsequently, the story gets somewhat confusing with the French and the Spaniards, the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of Sicily, and finally with the Kingdom of the two Sicilies. In any case, the Kingdom of the two Sicilies had a short life as the “Father of the Nation”, Vittorio Emanuele II, after whom every other street or square in Italy is named, unites the country as we know it today in 1861.
Every tourist site on the internet will tell you where to go if you ever find yourselves in Puglia. Of course, first on the list will be Alberobello, the small town with the round houses called trulli, next to which everybody takes selfies. If you are filthy rich, you can rent one of the trulli for your holiday, as some of them have been converted into a luxury hotel, with a private pool, privacy and so on. You know – to get an idea of how the locals live. Something tells me that it is not exactly the way that the locals live, but it could just be me. The internet sites will also tell you about Matera, which even if it is not in Puglia, but in Basilicata, is so close to Bari, that it would be a shame to not visit it.
But I want to tell you about Ostuni, with its white houses and its culinary festival Sagra dei Vecchi Tempi where and when you can try all sorts of local specialties. Also about Lecce, with its astonishing Baroque architecture and the technique Papier-mâché (cartapesta in Italian) dating back to the 17th century, where you take paper paste and glue and you make and colour figures in all shapes, sizes and purposes. The ceiling of the Church of Santa Chiara in Lecce has been decorated with this technique. Naturally, there is also a museum of this peculiar craft in the city. I would also like to tell you about the terracotta dishes and ceramics in Grottaglie, which is one of the 28 cities in Italy, bearing the quality products’ certificate D.O.C. (Denominazione de Origine Controllata or denomination of controlled origin). An interesting decorative element, widely distributed as decoration in Puglia, is the so-called Pumi – looks like a flower bud, ready to blossom and symbolizes prosperity and fertility.
Talking about fertility, the olive trees in Puglia are roughly estimated at 50-60 million! Thus, the region produces as much as 40% of all the olive oil in Italy. The culinary arts play a vital role in the region. Everything is made with local products, many of them certified with a quality label PDO or PGI. Artichoke, olive oil, eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms are widely used here. In 1986, Carlo Petirini, in protest of the introduction of the fast food chains such as McDonald’s in Italy, created the movement “Slow Food” in order to preserve the local gastronomic traditions. In its list Ark of Taste, as much as 17 products are from Puglia, the most famous of which may be the cheese Canestrato Pugliese.
Here, I would like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to my friend Salvatore Carlucci, chef at a restaurant in Leporano, for his kind cooperation for today’s recipe. Without his help, this article would not be fully complete.
And here it is:
BEEF ROLLS WITH TOMATO SAUCE
– 12 (approx. 100/150 gr. each) beef slices, preferably rump
– Garlic clove
– 150 gr. grated cheese Pecorino
– A sprig of parsley
– 1 kg peeled tomatoes
– 1 onion
– 1 glass of red wine
– A sprig of basil
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil
Spread the meat slices on the countertop, sprinkle them with salt and in the middle of each slice put a spoon full of grated cheese, a pinch of the chopped parsley and pepper. Roll up the slices, closing them from all sides with toothpicks. Cut the onion into thin slices and fry it together with the garlic in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add the meat rolls and fry until brown. Pour the glass of red wine and let it cook until the wine boils off. At this point, add the peeled tomatoes and cook the sauce for at least 1 hour. A short while before the cooking is over, salt and, before serving the food, sprinkle it with few basil leaves.
The original name of the dish is Braciole and is usually prepared on Sundays or on holidays. I would suggest not to wait until a special holiday! And if you pair it with the local COLLEZIONE CINQUANTA SAN MARZANO, you will feel like you are in paradise.