No Puglian breakfast would be considered complete without its biscotti, often made in an elongated plaited shape and eaten fresh from the oven, sometimes dipped in hot milk or cappuccino.
Almonds are one of the staple crops of the area and feature predominantly in baked goods. Tiny cakes may be made of ‘pasta reale’, a dough made almost entirely with ground almonds rather than flour. These come in all shapes and sizes, often topped with flaked almonds or glace cherry. Cherries are another staple crop and you often find almonds and cherry jam combined, in Crostate -tarts with a latticed top, or in Bocconotto -a delicious cake with marzipan and cherry jam.
Each season, or religious festival, has its own cakes or pastries – at Christmas there are ‘Cartellate’ and on the feast day of San Giuseppe, also father’s day, there are ‘Zeppole’. Cartellate are very much a Puglian speciality – the same dough used to make taralli is rolled into thin strips which are folded onto themselves to make a shape that is almost like a rose, or basket. These are deep fried and coated with ‘vincotto’ or fig syrup, or simply dusted with icing sugar. The Christian tradition has it that their complex shape represents the baby Jesus’s swaddling bands or Christ’s thorn of crowns, but there is evidence from pre-christian frescoes that a very similar sweet played a part in pagan rituals, as an offering to Ceres perhaps. Zeppole are piped into a concentric shape and then deep-fried, though they may also be baked. They are found elsewhere in Italy as well, in different variants – the ones in Puglia are topped with cherry preserve.
The fresh pasta in Puglia does not contain eggs and is made from durum wheat flour and water, giving a firmer pasta with more bite. The basic dough is made into a variety of shapes, each of which is traditionally served with different sauces. The best known is Oriechiette (little ears ), concave disks of pasta. The dough is stretched and shaped by hand, rather than using metal forms. These are usually served with ‘cime di rape’ or turnip tops (taste and appearance a bit like broccoli), with tomato sauce, possibly baked in the oven with cheese and tomato, or with a meat based ‘ragu’. Belonging to the same family are strascinati (literally, stretched) which are cylinders of pasta open at each end. These were sometimes made on a special board which give them one smooth side and one textured, to hold the sauce better. Cavatelli are similar but shorter, about a third of the length, at 2 centimetres. Cicatelli are a similar shape but closed at the ends. Trofiette are small thin cylinders of pasta twisted into a helix. These last three are often served with sea food based sauces or sometimes, in the autumn and winter months, with mushrooms.
Of these, Oriechiette and Strascinate are properly from Puglia, whereas, although widely adopted in the region, Trofiette and Cavatelli have their origins elsewhere in Italy.
For market visists, cookery lessons and all things Pugliese for foodies see www.personalpuglia.com