The cuisine of Apulia

A quick guide to the food, wine, and typical dishes of Apulia, Italy

Apulia's trinity of homemade pasta shapes are orecchiette ("little ears" shaped like tiny, thick Frisbees), cavatelli (orecchiette rolled into a short tube),and troccoli (fat, square spaghetti).

Any pasta served with cima di rape comes with boiled turnip greens.

After "little ears," the quintessential Pugliese dish is purè di fave con cicoria (broad beans pureed and sided or mixed with boiled chicory).

Other popular dishes include spaghetti ricci di mare (with sea urchin), polpette al sugo (meatballs in tomato sauce), and braciola or involtino (veal rolled up and stewed for hours in tomato sauce).

Fresh ewe's milk ricotta is often salt-cured to form a hard, gratable variety called ricotta dura, ricotta forte, or cacioricotta—when invoked in a pasta sauce (sometimes called mantecati) the hard ricotta is grated over a tomato purée.

Pugliese wine

Hearty Apulian wine should be more famous than it is. The ancient poet Horace sung its praises, and the region is still Italy's most prolific, churning out 17% of the national total.

For centuries, it was just the local grapes that interested the world's wine industries—Turin imported them to make Vermouth, and France's dirty little secret used to be that they snuck boatloads of Apulian grapes into their presses during bad harvest years at home.

But Apulian wine is beginning to trade on its own merits. Though some vines are left to grow into traditional bush-like alborelli, most vines are forced into a sharp bend after a foot or two, forming rows of gnarled, woody question marks. The dusty, deep purple globes of their grapes dangle close to the ground, soaking up a raw earthiness that gives even young Apulian reds amazing structure and body—perfect for the strong flavors of Apulia's hearty peasant cooking.

This as a boom time for the Apulian wine industry. Oenological giants like the Antinori empire are snapping up local real estate—and with prime Apulian land going for 1/6 the price in Tuscany, the wines themselves can be astoundingly cheap.

Even bottles of Big Reds ring in at under $15, including the local Primitivo, named for an ancient local grape that, oddly enough, was recently proven to be DNA-identical to California Zinfandel, and the blood-black Salice Salentino, made from Negro Amaro grapes that grow in the region around Lecce, in Apulia's Deep South.

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