Puglian cuisine: 10 things we love

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Where to eat in Puglia
Where to stay in Puglia


Puglian cuisine: 10 things we love

La cucina povera

Puglia is an agricultural region and the cookery style reflects this. Recipes mirror the seasons and the produce available. Not so much meat is consumed in Puglia, with dishes mainly centred around veg as historically this is what would have been affordable. Ancestors didn’t have a lot, so dishes are simple to let the ingredients shine.


Orecchiette

Puglians are serious about pasta. Orecchiette (meaning little ears) is the most classic and famous in Puglia. In the city of Bari, there is even a famous street nicknamed Strada delle Orecchiette, lined with women handmaking pasta outside their homes. The traditional method uses a water and semolina pasta dough, and is classically served with cime di rapa, a sweet and slightly bitter brassica.

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Check out all our orecchiette recipes for lots of inspiration for using this special pasta shape.

Local woman preparing in the street of Bari old town orecchiette or orecchietta, made with durum wheat and water, handmade pasta typical of Puglia or Apulia, a region of Southern Italy, close up

Puglia is one of the largest producers of olive oil in Italy, using coratina olives which makes the oil distinctive from other regions – fruity, a little bitter and a little spicy. It is best enjoyed raw (rather than cooking with it) in order to fully enjoy the complexities of the flavour – drizzle it over green veg, grilled fish or chicken. Travelling through the region, you’ll see the protected olive trees everywhere. If a tree is no longer producing olives, the wood can be used to make pasta-making equipment, wooden spoons or even to burn in wood-fired pizza ovens, where the olive wood gives the finished pizza a distinct flavour.

Old olive grove with trulli at sunset in Puglia (Apulia) – Italy

Burrata

Burrata is a symbol of Puglia, with IGP protected status to signal its importance. The outside is made with classic mozzarella, with the middle a decadent mixture of shredded mozzarella and cream. In Puglia, burrata is served on its own to let the cheese shine – no olive oil, no salt, no pepper or chilli flakes. It might be eaten with fresh tomatoes or bread on the side, but nothing on the cheese itself.

For some less traditional but equally delicious ideas, check out our best burrata recipes.

A white oval platter filled with burrata, olives and tomato salad on a whitewashed wooden background

Taralli

Aperitivo hour in Puglia wouldn’t be complete without taralli, a crunchy olive oil snack sometimes flavoured with fennel seeds, oregano or tomato paste. As an unspoken rule, Italians don’t drink alcohol without food – in Puglia, when you order a drink it will always come with a selection of snacks – perhaps olives, cheese and taralli.

Taralli - traditional Italian snack food typical of Apulia

Sea urchins

Thanks to Puglia’s long coastline, seafood is a big part of its cuisine, especially in the south of the region facing the warm Adriatic Sea. The quality and freshness mean raw seafood is common in Puglia, including tender raw calamari, small raw prawns and sea urchins, a regional speciality. There is nothing more Pugliese than eating raw sea urchins on the beach, delivered directly from the fishermen, with bread. No extra flavours needed, the food is the hero.

sea urchins

Fresh produce

Puglia is an exceptionally warm and sunny part of Italy, giving it bountiful fresh fruit and veg to enjoy. It’s important to make the most of the gluts of ingredients when they come and preserve them for later in the year. In the summer, wild rosemary and oregano grow freely, and can be dried to use all year round, while August is peak tomato season and the time to make passata. Fresh fruit can be used in cooling sorbets (especially lemon or watermelon), perfect after a day on the beach.

Try our watermelon sorbet recipe to channel this taste of sunshine in your own kitchen.

A silver dessert cup filled with scoops of red sorbet on a white napkin

Pasticciotto

Pasticciotto is a signature pastry from Lecce in the south of Puglia. The small oval-shaped pastries are traditionally filled with cream and a cherry (although today you can find a variety of flavours including salted caramel or pistachio) before being baked. They can be enjoyed at breakfast or after lunch for a little sweet treat.

Pasticciotto leccese pastry

Wine

While spritzes may be popular in the north of Italy, down in the south people stick to a classic glass of wine for an aperitif. Three main wines are produced in Puglia: primitivo, negroamaro and nero di troia. Salice salentino is also a popular wine of the region. Pugliese wine is pretty strong because of the amount of sunshine – the grapes get a lot of sun, which means they have more sugar, and more sugar means more alcohol in the finished wine.


Religious celebrations and specialities

With a saint’s day nearly every day in Puglia, a lot of local dishes and specialities are tied to religious celebrations, with each festivity having its own traditions. Street food such as roasted nuts or pizze fritte (fried pizza) are a popular choice for watching parades or shows such as displays of the taranta dance, originating from Taranto in the south of Puglia.


Where to eat in Puglia

Ristorante Peppe Zullo, Orsara di Puglia

Chef-owner and namesake Peppe Zullo grows and produces much of what is served in the restaurant, from fruit and vegetables down to the wine, including one of my favourite rosés. peppezullo.it

Grotta Palazzese, Polignano a Mare

One of the most unique and memorable meals you’ll have. The romantic outdoor terrace of Grotta Palazzese is set tucked into a natural cave with stunning views over the sea. grottapalazzese.it

Grotta Palazzese copy

Il Trabucco Ristorante da Elia, Manaccora

Distinctive trabucco were originally structures for fishing but they were also used as homes by fishermen’s families to combine home and work. Today Il Trabucco Ristorante da Elia, located on the coast road between Peschici and Vieste, has been transformed into a restaurant with the freshest fish to eat. iltrabuccoristorante.it

Pasticceria Velletri, Fasano

A must-visit pastry shop if you have a sweet tooth – stop here for a quick espresso, ice cream or pasticciotto. pasticceriavelletri.com

Velletri

Puglia food tour

Experience a food tour with local guide Roberto Petrosillo. He will help you discover the best places in Puglia and you can also sign up for Puglian cooking classes – so much fun! Instagram @Robipetrus


Where to stay in Puglia

Don Totu Dimora Storica

A gracefully decorated 18th-century palazzo in the rural town of San Cassiano, Don Totu boasts a secluded succession of courtyards, pergolas and gardens. In the six bedrooms, the owners make the most of the building’s quirks (vaulted stone ceilings, quiet alcoves, narrow staircases leading to terracotta terraces) and have gathered a collection of furniture from across the region to add contemporary touches. There’s no restaurant at the hotel but a zero-mile breakfast is served in the rustic kitchen, its tables laden with fresh breads, biscotti and pastries, garden fruits and local cured meats and cheeses. Order before 10.30am and you can enjoy lunchtime salads made with the region’s fantastic produce, while making the most of complimentary poolside gelato and evening aperitivo. dontotu.it

Doubles from £344 per night, check availability at booking.com or mrandmrssmith.com

Don Totu

Borgo Egnazia

Borgo Egnazia, or ‘village Egnazia’, is quite literally that: an Apulian inspired network of little streets and piazzas that lead to villas, restaurants and a spa. It’s a bubble of luxury, beautifully designed around the colours white and cream, that’s built entirely from tactile tuff stone. Choose from four types of hotel room, five apartments or 28 villas, all within easy reach of a swimming pool. Food is a priority, with six restaurants on site that honour Puglian cuisine – timeless, simple, thrifty food – from grilled octopus at the sophisticated Due Camini, where vaulted white ceilings twinkle with illuminated glass bottles, to a relaxed buffet at La Frasca, rustic orecchiette or pizza at Mia Cucina and fresh seafood at beachside Pescheria da Vito. borgoegnazia.com

Doubles from £1,037 per night, check availability at booking.com, mrandmrssmith.com or expedia.co.uk

Borgo Egnazia

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