I have always loved Galatina which is larger and, originally, grander than Nardò, where I live. The grandeur may be now somewhat faded but this adds to the romanticism of the Centro Storico where the sheer density of beautiful buildings, many dating back to the 1500s, makes for an unforgettable stroll.
The large square at one of the entrances to the historic centre has a cluster of cafes with outside tables from which to admire the imposing Baroque façade of the Chiesa Madre. The real jewel in Galatina s crown, however, is the Basilica di Santa Catarina, with a Romanesque façade and an interior covered in spectacular frescos, considered second in quality, and quantity, only to the Basilica of San Franceso D’Assisi in Assisi.
The ‘Pasticciotto Leccese’ is a breakfast staple all over the Salento, though it has now spread to the Valle D’Itria as well. A crisp, oval shortcrust shell is full of smooth, custardy ‘crema’ and is sinfully delicious. Modern variants include the addition of pistachios or amarena cherry. Although Lecce claims it as its signature dish, legend has it that it was actually created in Galatina, at The Pasticceria Ascalone, in the early 18th century by Nicola Ascolone. Today the Pasticceria, which also sells other pastries, is run by the 10th generation of the same family and retains its turn of the century fittings. A stop to pick up a pasticciotto, warm from the oven to accompany your wander through the historic centre is a ritual for local and tourists alike.
Pasticceria Ascalone is famous all over the Salento and I had visited several times. I had also often been to Galatina for an aperitivo in the square. Until I started visiting Galatina more often because we are buying a Palazzo to restore and turn into a fractional ownership property (more on which shortly) I was unaware of the marvellous ‘forno’ (bakery producing breads and pizza) on Via Lillo and of two excellent restaurants (there are apparently more and I look forward to trying them out one by one!).
The first of these, Anima e Cuore, has won a Michelin Bib Gourmand and uses local fresh ingredients to produce creative, modern twists on traditional dishes. The menu is perfect for fish and seafood lovers but there are meat, vegetarian and vegan dishes as well. The ravioli we ate, stuffed with Buffalo Mozzarella and Celline di Nardò olives, with an Amatriciana reduction, was one of the most delicious pasta dishes I have had in recent memory. I skipped a main but my companion had a fillet of horsemeat with a negroamaro sauce which he said was amazing. Dessert was a concoction of chocolate, coconut and almonds which was exquisite. Prices are very reasonable for the quality of the food (ravioli were 14 euro), there is an excellent wine list and the setting is beautiful, in an 18th century Palazzo with original features and a large terrace for outside dining,
We ate inside at Anima e Cuore, because it was pouring with rain, but on a subsequent visit we tried a different restaurant, as one of our party had mobility issues and Anima e Cuore is on the first floor of its Palazzo. This time we ate at Il Fienile, still in the historic centre, in their small courtyard garden. Unusually I wanted to eat everything on their limited choice menu, again based on local, fresh, ingredients. There were five of us and, between us we tried almost everything and finished every last crumb.. Stars of the show were the ‘frittini’ deep-fried morsels of deliciousness, served all over the Salento but especially good here. The burrata with smoked salmon was a revelation, deceptively simple but every mouthful an explosion of flavour, I also loved my pistacchio semi freddo. Prices around 32 euros a head for three courses.
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