Antipasti play a huge part in the Puglian cuisine – possibly as a result of the Spanish occupation (think tapas) or the Greek (meze)… At their best they can be a meal in themselves and never more so than at one of my favourite restaurants, Casa Nova in Alberobello, where you can sample well prepared local dishes in a converted 18th century ‘frantoio’ or oil press.
I recently had a family, pre Christmas, meal there with my mother, a dyed in the wool foodie and expert on Italian food, and my three sons, two of whom appear to have bottomless stomachs. All insisted that they were going to have the full Antipasti followed by a primo (first course) and/or a secondo. I persuaded them to just order the antipasti and a primo each and see how they felt after that…
Unlike much of Puglia, Alberobello is both inland and well above sea level , surrounded by hills which provide pasture for animals – so the cheese and meat in this area are always good and worth sampling. The typical dishes served here reflect this – whereas down on the coast, dishes are more likely to be based on fish and seafood.
Our antipasti started to arrive, and the table quickly filled with little dishes of ham and ‘salumi’, little burrate – a local cheese like mozzarella but with a creamy semi-liquid interior, mozzarella, mini panzerottini – dough semi circles filled with cheese and tomato and then deep fried, little sausages in a wine sauce and also fried balls of bread crumbs combined with egg, cheese and herbs. Everyone tucked in with gusto, agreeing that they saw what I meant – there was lots of food..
I said nothing but smiled as the dishes kept arriving; some of the best fave e cicorie I have eaten anywhere (a fava bean puree with bitter greens), morsels of cauliflower in a light crisp batter, sublimely melting scamorzine (like matured mozzarella) wrapped in bacon, to just name some of the delicious dishes on offer.
I hadn’t ordered anything else for myself knowing that there would be plenty left of the boys’ scrumptious fricielli con cardoncelli e pomodorini al filo (local fresh pasta with cardoncelli mushrooms and semi dried cherry tomatoes) for me as well . Had we made it as far as secondi I would have recommended the ‘tiella di agnello con patate al forno’ -lamb, rice and potatoes cooked in an earthenware dish or ‘tiella’ in the oven but, sadly, not this time!
We could have had an excellent cake made with ricotta cheese or a selection of other desserts, but we were more than happy to pick at the little sugar glazed biscuits and excellent dark chocolate (with its own mini guillotine for shaving bits off) provided with our coffee. To accompany our meal we had chosen a bottle of ‘Quarto Ducale 2006’ rosso di Cerignola from the Torre Quarto cantina in the foggia area – a full bodied blend of 70% uva di Troia and 30% Negroamaro, though the boys had beer.
We appreciated our ‘going home presents’ of little bottles of ‘olio santo’ – olive oil infused with peperoncino and appreciated even more that the total bill came to under 30 euros a head including drinks and coffee…If you find yourself anywhere near Alberobello a visit to Casa Nova is a must – lunchtimes are busier and livelier than evenings and, for Sunday lunch in particular, booking is recommended. And here comes the challenge….. Anyone who manages three courses (including the full antipasti) do let me know by commenting below.. four and I’ll be dumbstruck – a Puglia based prize for the first to succeed!
http://www.casanovailristorante.it for map, directions and contacts…