Puglia: Italian cuisine you’ve never met

After a visit to the grotte (caves) in Castellana Grotte we wiggled the car through the narrow narrow streets of the town to find Trattoria Arco Persi. https://www.trattoriaarcopersio.it/men%C3%B9 A trattoria is so named because it’s supposed to feature local cuisine. This place lived up to its title.

We ordered antipasto. Out came seafood risotto, a baked breaded mozzarella slice with parmigiano in a sauce, seafood in a vinaigrette, bruschetta with tomato and basil, buratta (like a fresh mozzarella but with cream), breaded cheese croquettes, roasted artichoke halves, shrimp vinaigrette, breaded zucchini, octopus salad and more. It was enough for lunch and everything was tasty and well presented.

Baked mozzarella

Not knowing how much food would be coming as antipasto, I’d ordered fave e cicorie, white beans and cicoria, a bitter green. When we lived in Rome I learned a Roman dish called pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) so I assumed fave e cicore would be a pasta dish. It is not. I also assumed the beans would be whole. They are not, as you can see. Not just the beans are blended, the cicorie is as well.

fave e cicoria
Fave e cicorie (white broad beans and cicorie, a bitter green)

It’s not all that pretty but I think it’s a great combination. See a recipe at https://www.greatitalianchefs.com/recipes/fave-e-cicoria-recipe-fava-bean-dip. The people at this website label the dish as a dip. It is not. It is included among the primi piati, “first plates” literally, but “first course” is a better translation. All pasta dishes are listed in this section of Italian menus, called ‘cartas’ in Italian (and thence we get the term “a la carte.”) The cicorie they use for this dish is a wild form. This leaf is not jagged while the Roman is, and it does not seem to be as bitter, unless the chef changed the cooking water several times before adding the greens to the beans.

I could not eat it all so they made a to go package. We’d stopped earlier in Alberobello. There we ordered a panino de porchetta (panini is the plural of panino). Porchetta is a roast baby pig stuffed with garlic and herbs. I’d only had it previously in and around Rome, it being a specialty of Aricia, a small town in the Albani Hills just outside the city. I was thinking I was about to try a Puglian variation. I asked the guy behind the counter if it was a local version. No, he said, it is not different from the one you find in Aricia, in fact, he said, what he serves comes from there. I was disappointed in not finding a new version, but it was excellent, and we are while looking at the Trulli houses lining the piazza. Even though I only ate half of the bread of the panino I was still not terribly hungry for lunch three hours later.

I’ll report on more of the local cuisine as we proceed. I can tell you right now, however, that orecchiette (little ears) is THE pasta shape of the region.