Tag Archives: Italy

Matera and Alberobello – UNESCO World Heritage sites

A short drive from where we were staying in Monopoli is the town of Alberobello. Alberobello has always fascinated me and been on my visit wish list for a long time.  I’m intrigued by the fact that these unique conical structures, trulli, appeared in this one area and nowhere else in Italy.  You’ll see the occasional trulli (trullo for singular?) in a field somewhere when you are driving around, but Alberobello is a concentrated town of them, with over 1,000 trulli.

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Folklore has it that originally the trulli were built without mortar for the purpose of disassembly when the tax collector came around, as tax had to be paid on permanent structures.  If this is true, then the Italian penchant for tax evasion goes back very far indeed.  These days they are all permanent structures, many turned into shops, some into hotels, though some are still individual homes. I just love the uniqueness and gorgeousness of it.  It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

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We came across the workshop of these two gentlemen who were making small replica trulli by hand.  Some were out of random stone and then painted, but some were made out of actual trulli stone.  One of the Small People was particularly enchanted by Alberobello and used some of his trip pocket money to buy one.  Once home, the trulli were used for a design project assignment he had at school.

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We went in the morning and found it ok – apparently it does get quite busy and crowded from lunchtime onwards.

While in Puglia we also drove to the neighbouring region of Basilicata to visit Matera, another UNESCO World Heritage site.  The drive was about an hour and fifty minutes, allowing for a little confusion from our GPS; she wasn’t having a great day that day. But the roads were good and it was a pleasant drive.  It is fairly inland so was about 8 degrees (Celsius) hotter than the Puglia coast – so again a morning visit is recommended and I was glad that we had set off early. It is also quite hilly and needs a good amount of walking so a fitness test as well as a cultural eye opener.

So what is special about Matera?  After Petra in Jordon, it is believed to be the second longest continuously habited place in the world.  But it’s not only this, it’s the fact that the homes of the town – or rather caves –  were carved into the limestone rock.  The Passion of the Christ and Ben Hur were both filmed here.

The extraordinary church at the top dominates the landscape and a walk up there is inevitable.

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One of the homes had been replicated as per the 1700s.  It was quite fascinating to hear about how they lived; we could certainly learn a thing or two about waste which was hugely frowned upon.  Large families (six or more children was not uncommon) lived in these small spaces, some of them even housing animals, largely horses, which would be a source of warmth in the winter.  The horse excrement would go down a hole, which was also used to create heat.  If a plate cracked, it was repaired rather than thrown out.  And at mealtimes the entire family would eat out of one large platter.  While each family would prepare their own bread dough, it would be taken to a central baking spot for all to be cooked, each family having their own unique stamp so their loaf could be recognised.

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There are also a few churches scattered throughout.

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Throughout the 1900s, Matera was known for extreme poverty and also disease so the government gradually re-housed many of the inhabitants.  Gradually the area was re-generated, and people began to move back in.  Like Alberobello, in the 1990’s it was named a World Heritage site, attracting tourism and helping the area’s revival.

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We really enjoyed both of these special places.

 

Puglia, part 2

Something you’ll see a lot of in Puglia is olive trees.  Everywhere.  Some really young, and some, revealed by their oversized, gnarled,  and intricately twisted trunks, really really old.  The oldest ones, clocking up some 3,000 years, are deemed archaeological monuments.  We passed a sign saying “olivari monumentali” (monumental olives) – I guessed some of those ones were there.  Anyhow, it turns out that Puglia is Italy’s biggest olive oil producer, cranking out some forty percent of the nation’s production, explaining their dominance in the landscape.

Something you’ll also see as you drive around Puglia is a multitude of towns you want to stop at or unusual buildings. “Stop the car!” I’d yell at the marito, which sometimes got a positive result, and sometimes didn’t.  Oh for more time.  So many more places to go back and see.  This little town, from a distance, looked like some kind of Disney fortress holding a princess.  Not as much close up, but I want to see what is behind those walls next time.

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Once we checked out of Don Ferrante in Monopoli, we had a few hours before we were due at our masseria, Critabianca.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to detour to Grottaglie, a town renowned for it’s ceramics.  The Fasano family, the best known studio, have been in operation since the 1700’s.  There was plenty to like as we wandered from studio to studio, a few little things we bought home and others we bookmarked with photos – they happily ship to Australia.  By the way they all shut down at 1pm for the afternoon siesta, so do come in the morning or after 5pm and stay for dinner.   After a wander we headed to Cutrofiano where our beautiful farmhouse awaited (post on that coming soon!).

The next morning we headed to Grotta Zinzalusa.  The photos here completely understate the magnificence of this rock formation.  You can go in the cave for a wander, or hire an umbrella and chair for a day, or just lay your town on rocks and some did and jump into the sea from there.

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But we were after a sandy beach and headed further to Baia dei Turchi (Bay of the Turks).  You park your car and then walk a few hundred meters through thickish foliage down a narrow path, eventually emerging to a large stretch of sandy beach with a bit of wave.  There are chairs and umbrellas for hire, but a large public stretch if you prefer not to.  Beautifully clean and very enjoyable.

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That night we headed to the nearby small town of Galatina.  Like almost every Italian town, there is a piazza of sorts.  This one has some pretty greenery and lots of benches, where armies of Nonnos were gathered for a post siesta chat.  I came here to try the pasticciotti at Pasticceria Ascalone, the supposed inventor of the treasured Puglian sweet, back in the 1700’s.  And the pasticceria has been owned by the same family all this time, handed down generation after generation.  And it was a damn fine pasticciotto, but my favourite was still the one at the Gran Forno Santa Caterina.

We asked the lady behind the counter where we could head for a pizza, and she sent us to a place nearby called Goji.  I was a little dubious with a name like that, but it was great food with an even better ebullient owner who made us feel so welcome.  The Small People demolished everything.   There were also some expert dough throwing skills on display.

One night we went for a wander in the town of Nardo’, where we ate at a pleasant trattoria who’s name escapes me (and there was a great gelato shop and pasticceria nearby too).  Here I had to have orecchiette with cime di rapa (chicory), a signature dish of the region.  But this one came with some beautiful silky burrata which balanced out the bitterness.

We stopped by Santa Maria di Leuca, the very bottom tip of Puglia.  It’s a pretty little town too with some luxe day beds to spend the day if you like.

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But we were headed to Pescoluse, a lovely stretch of coastline.  It’s a large sandy beach where you can walk and walk quite far out, the water remaining shallow.  We relaxed here quite happily.

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That evening we headed to Otranto, another seaside town.  There is a huge castle and some lovely churches, but the laneways were very crowded and it was the one place I found rather touristy with an overload of gift and food shops and spruikers out the front.  I’m sure there are some good places to eat here but I think you need to do your homework beforehand.

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So we hopped back in the car and headed to the town of Maglie where we stopped at Il Fusticino.  The Small People happily devoured pizza daily, whereas my standard order was whatever fresh seafood pasta was available, not yet over the fact that I could get a pasta with a generous amount of seafood for 10-12 euro.   After dinner we popped in at the pasticceria next door (completing my daily pasticciotto fix) and handed over an embarrassingly small sum of money for four sweets.

I did really like Gallipoli (yes Italy has one too) a charming fishing village.   There was a seafood market here where the fish was so fresh that most of it was still alive.   Plenty of lanes and buildings to wander here, restaurants and cafes and market stalls. We stopped at a hole in the wall which was part deli and part bakery, where several locals were packed in buying stuff to take home for lunch.  We figured it had to be good and squeezed in to get some panzerotti.  So good.

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Lecce, often called “the Florence of the south” was also on our visit list.  Though our time here was shorter than we wanted with the GPS sending us around in dreadful circles.  Near the large piazza you’ll find some Roman style ruins, a castle or two (castles are du jour in Puglia, no town is complete without one), a lovely park, a good bit of shopping, and sweet shop after sweet shop!  The tools made from chocolate were very cool indeed.

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For dinner we went to Trattorie Le Zie.  This was one of those places where the simple appearance of the food totally belies it’s taste.   Absolutely delicious.    I finally ordered a “tiella” which is another local dish of baked mussels, rice and potatoes (I had tried to make thiss before our trip and failed miserably) which was just so flavoursome, I did email them and ask for the recipe but didn’t have any luck.  I must try and make this dish again.

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It was unfortunately at the end of our stay when we discovered the beautiful Melendugno coast.  The stretch here from Sant Andrea to San Foca is gorgeous, which beach after beach and stunning rock formations.   The area around Grotta della Poesia (Poetry Grotto) is particularly beautiful.

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Here you’ll see lots of mad Italians jumping off a cliff several stories high into the grottos (there is a smaller one for the less adventurous!).

More Puglia to come!

Focaccia Barese

All around Puglia in bakeries, takeaway holes in the wall and cafes, you see big delicious looking slabs of focaccia barese.  Traditionally, it’s covered with cherry tomatoes, and sometimes with olives.  We ate plenty of it.

During our time in Puglia we noticed a definite difference in the bread, pizza and other bakery goods – the taste, the texture and the lightness.  It was without a doubt the flour.  They are big users of semola rimacinata in the region, a twice milled, super fine flour.  The Bari Nonnas told us that is all they use for their orecchiette and cavatelli, whereas tipo 00 or other flours they were more likely to use for tagliatelle.

Wandering into the local supermarkets, I saw a huge array of types of flour.  Tipo 00 I use in several recipes, but I had never heard of Tipo 0 or Tipo 1, nor had I ever seen them in Australia.   They are very particular in this part of Italy about which should be used for certain recipes.  Next time I’d love to have some lessons from the nonnas and learn more.

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Once back home I went to Skorin Deli in Concord, who stock quite a good range of specialty flours, and got some semola rimacinata, keen to have a go at making some focaccia. This will make a medium size focaccia. You’ll need a tray with a bit of depth, not a flat pizza tray.

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Ingredients
125g of tipo 00 flour
125g of semola rimacinata
125g of mashed potato, cooled
3.5g of dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
200g cherry tomatoes
Dried oregano to taste
1 teaspoon salt
Salt, extra
Olive oil

Making it

In a bowl, combine the flour, semola, salt and potato and mix with your hands until completely combined.

In a separate bowl, combine 120ml of tepid water, add the yeast and sugar and combine well and let sit for five minutes. Add to the flour and potato mixture and combine, then add another 30mls or so of water and knead till you have a soft sticky dough.

Grease a tray with olive oil (I used a 30cm round tray), place the dough on it gently spreading out with your hands, leaving a 1cm space around the tray, which will fill as the dough rises. Cover and allow to rise for at least an hour.

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Halve the cherry tomatoes and gently press them into the dough. Turn on the oven to 180 degrees fan forced and let the dough continue to rise while the oven is heating.

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Sprinkle the focaccia with the oregano, salt and drizzle generously with olive oil, and cook for 25-30 minutes until golden. Yum!
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Puglia, part 1

Age. History. It surrounds you in the heel of Italy’s “boot”. The stone – on the floors, walls, ceilings, and paths – the castles, the churches. Modern and shiny would look very out of place here.

I’ve wanted to come to Puglia for some time now – the food, the architecture, the food, the beaches, oh and did I mention the food? It delivered on all fronts, and then some. We already know we’re coming back.

And people were so very kind. We have a few Pay It Forwards outstanding. One night when we got a flat tyre, a man and his son, and then a friend, came and helped us and walked away with a wave before we barely had time to thank them. At a beach, when I realised I’d run out of cash and there were no ATM’s nearby, the gentleman at the umbrella counter gave us an umbrella and said not to worry about it. On a pitstop to get the Small People some lunch at a bar in a pretty town, the credit card machine wasn’t working, and the guy behind the bar said no problem, feed the boys, come back and pay me later.

Tourism is a relatively new thing here, really only emerging in the last ten years. And then, most of the tourists seemed to be Italians from other regions – we heard comparatively few foreign voices. I suspect the next then years will be very different, as the word is spreading about this southern jewel.

Tips on visiting Puglia

If you’re thinking about this lovely part of Italy, here are a few tips

– Puglia has two international airports, Bari and Brindisi, which have direct daily flights from several European cities, mostly serviced by discount airlines. British Airways does fly to Bari and Brindisi from Gatwick, but only on certain days. Depending on where you base yourself (see below), it may be more convenient to use one airport or the other to minimise long driving times. We flew into Bari and out of Brindisi.

– If you plan to explore, you will need to hire a car. There are some trains and buses but it will take you a long time to get to sites. The roads are quite good, but some of the speed limits and road signs are shall we say for “guidance” purposes only. Also in many of the towns you cannot park right in the historic centre, so will need to park a few streets away. Where parking is ticketed, it is pretty cheap, €1 an hour or in some cases 60 cents an hour

– Have some mobile data and google maps at the ready. The in car GPS is broadly fine but does not cope well with some of the more rural roads, especially the Strade Provinciale (“provincial roads”) in the bottom half. It would sometimes tell us to turn left into a non existent road or send us down a complete dead end.

– It can be tricky to know where to base yourself if you don’t want to do too much driving. If you opt for instance for pretty Polignano a Mare or Monopoli, then it’s an easy drive to places like Alberobello or Bari, but a hike to places like Lecce and Gallipoli. Likewise if you opt for the coastline down the bottom half, then pack a picnic lunch for Alberobello and surrounds. We solved this by splitting our stay between the “top half” and “bottom half” which worked really well.

– Credit cards are fine, in fact Amex was much more widely excepted than in Australia (and never did I encounter a credit card surcharge like here). You will need some cash for your €1.50 scoop of gelato, or your €1 espresso or for parking meters – I could never get my credit cards to work on parking meters – and for market stalls.

– The afternoon siesta tradition is still in full swing down here so a lot shuts between 1pm and 5pm. Most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7.30/8.00pm.

– Beaches are either a “spiaggia publica” (public beach) or a Lido (organised beach). At a Lido you pay anywhere up to €30 per day for an umbrella and a chair whether you stay one hour or ten, though down at Pescoluse it was €5 an umbrella and €3 a chair for the whole day. The beaches here aren’t pebbles like much of Italy, they are either sandy or large rock formations.

– There are very few large hotels in Puglia. Accommodation is largely smaller boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, or “masserie”, old restored farmhouses, typically with six rooms or less (have a look at the lovely one we stayed at here). So if you’re like us an need a family room or two rooms, and you have your eye on a particular place or area in peak season, do book ahead. Some places were booked out six months ahead.

Places to see

Monopoli
This was our base for the first half. What a charming seaside town with a very pretty historic centre, fishing boats, cafes and restaurants, bed and breakfasts and small hotels. It’s a very “house proud” town and the centre is beautifully maintained with lovely potted plants and flowers. In the mornings sometimes there would be a smattering of cigarette buts from those strolling the evening before, and out would come the nonnas with their brooms.

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There is also a small public beach with lovely sparkling water. There was a sandy area but plenty would just sit or lie on the rocks.

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We had some lovely dinners here too after venturing out exploring all day. The best pizza in town was at La Dolce Vita in the piazza with a light crust and excellent cheese. Here I also had an absolutely fantastic pasta dish of squid ink orecchiette with fresh tuna, baby peppers and breadcrumbs, one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten; once the others on the table tried it, I almost had to fight them for it. Gorgeous fresh seafood too.

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We also really enjoyed Il Guazetto, a small restaurant in one of the smaller streets. My homemade spaghetti with seafood was full of fresh scampi, crab, and prawns and just so tasty. The fritto misto wasn’t far behind.

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At Piazza Palmieri a highlight was the mixed seafood plate. We couldn’t believe what came out for €13. It was huge, and beautifully cooked.

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The pasta dishes were good, but not as good as what we’d had elsewhere.

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At every restaurant when we sat down we would get a basket of taralli, a Puglian munch. Feathery light and crunchy, these were very moreish.

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I loved the bakery in the piazza, Gran Forno Santa Caterina. Lovely biscuits, taralli, focaccia and more.

Now I know Pasticceria Ascalone in Galatina is famous for its pasticciotti, and I tried theirs along with several others, but this bakery’s pasticciotti were my favourite. Their pasta frolla (pastry) had a texture and taste that won me over.

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They also sold deli goods and beer (we couldn’t believe how cheap the beer was, and then we went to the supermarket and saw that you could get a three pack for 1.50. Love those little fresh cubes of yeast, wish we had them here!

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There’s also other entertainment, like the occasional triathlon.

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In one alleyway there was an elderly gentleman’s workshop. Where he was making boats.  I’m not sure where the boats ended up as it wasn’t a shop.  He’d sit at his workbench working by hand, then shuffle over to some hand operated machinery, then shuffle back to his bench.  I wanted to chat to him but he didn’t look keen on interruption!

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Monopoli Accommodation
We stayed at Don Ferrante, a lovely small boutique hotel in the historic centre. They had a great sized family room (though they only take children over age 11) and beautiful stone interiors. There was a dipping pool which was good for a refresh before dinner. There is a rooftop balcony, but they only serve dinner there, breakfast is served in the basement.

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Polignano a Mare
Polignano is a ten or fifteen minute drive from Monopoli and lovely for a wander, or to stay. Like Monopoli, there are no big hotels but small boutique ones and B&Bs. It has a stunning ragged coastline, and like Monopoli a pretty historic town centre. There is a gorgeous cove with a public beach.

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Grotte di Castellana
After a dip in the Polignano beach, we hop back in the car and see the sign for the Grotte di Castellana. We weren’t sure what kind of caves were there but thought we would check it out. There aren’t a lot of people around and the lady at the ticket counter tells us there’s a group leaving in about two minutes for an Italian speaking tour (there are two or three English tours a day). You can’t wander in on your own but only with a guide; there is a shorter one hour walk or the standard 1 hour 45 walk, which is about 3.4 kilometres.

Well, were we blown away. These caves are rather amazing, though hard to get good photos without a top of the line camera I think with the lighting, so my photos don’t reflect just how amazing it was. These formations are believed to be as much as 90 million years old, though the caves were not discovered until 1938. The guide tells us that the stalactites grow one centimetre every 80 years! The extraordinary opening is eerily called “The Graves” but is often referred to as a “natural pantheon”, reflecting the famous Roman building. Don’t miss this if you are in the area.

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Bari
For some reason Bari gets a bad wrap, and you’ll often get told to skip it if you’re heading to Puglia. It may be because of the history of high crime, and I don’t know if it is different at night, but it was perfectly fine during the day and a really lovely waterside city. It of course has a castle, which seems to be a pre-requisite for every town in Puglia, but there’s a good shopping area too with lots of Italian and international brands, and plenty of restaurants and cafes.

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The Small People feel like their go-to Puglia snack, panzerotti, and we see some nice looking ones in a hole in the wall where an old man is standing behind the counter. One of the boys says he feels like arancini and the old guy yells out “Maria, do we have any arancini?”. “We do”, yells back his wife, “give me five and I’ll cook some”. For ten euro we have panzerotti, focaccia and arancini; nourished we continue exploring.

Of course we had to stop by “Nonna Alley” in Arco Alto in the historic area where the Nonnas are making orecchiette and cavatelli at unbelievable speed. Often they are working out in the alley, but it’s quite hot so many of them opt for in doors, and they are quite happy to chat when I stick my head through the door and ask if we can watch for a bit. They sell a lot of what they make to local restaurants, though some of the Nonnas will cook you lunch for whatever you negotiate! While I’m chatting to two of them a man walks in who usually brings them cime di rapa (chicory). They take a look at it and shoo him away, telling him it’s not good enough today. Its very cool to watch and I hope their daughters and granddaughters learn the art (I did try and tell them they should also teach their grandsons but this suggestion got an eye roll).  These women are national treasures!

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More Puglia to come in the next post!

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In My (Puglian) Kitchen, August 2018

Recently, we spent nine fantastic days in Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot (a series of posts can be found here). Whenever I travel, buying goodies for the kitchen is inevitable. Of course, do declare it all at customs. I had a chuckle when one of the owners of the masseria we stayed at told me he loved watching Australian Border Security. So here’s what is in my kitchen this month, and thank you to Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this monthly link up featuring kitchens around the world.

In my kitchen are a set of pasta rolling pins. I am guessing this is what they used to use to make pasta before machines. (My nonna also used to use the dried stalk of a wheat plant to make a bucatini style pasta by hand, I remember her showing me years ago and so regret not taking photos). Some months before our trip, I saw a video of someone using the thin one to make spaghetti and thought they were pretty cool and said to The Marito that I would get one if I saw it. I stumbled across the four pack at a food shop near the Grotte di Castellana, and thought that the large one, which is for pappardelle, would also be handy when you are making the criss-cross pastry for a pie to get consistent strands. I paid €7 for the four, which was a steal, and lucky I did as I did not see them again except for in Matera, where the guy wanted €8 each!

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I bought a little book of classic Puglia recipes. Like most Italian cookbooks the details are fairly light and in some parts there are no specific quantities, it will be trial and error.

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These are “proper” moulds for pasticciotti, a delicious Puglian custard tart. I tried to make these and did buy moulds here a while ago but they weren’t exactly the right shape. Now that I have these and have also finally gotten to try a few authentic versions of pasticciotti, I will tweak my recipe and make them again.

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Of course I had to get some orecchiette, these ones are squid ink and truffle flavour. The Nonna’s in “nonna alley” in Bari told me that they only use semola rimacinata to make them, not flour. I had this amazing squid ink orecchiette dish with tuna at a restaurant in Monopoli, one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten, and I want to try and replicate it.

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And these are taralli; we were given a basket of these to munch on when we sat down at every place we ate at before ordering. The first time we were served them I thought they would be hard but they are feather light and delicious. They are made with white wine.

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In between checking out of the first place we stayed at in Monopoli and checking into the second place in Cutrofiano, I thought it would a great chance to take a detour to Grottaglie, a small town in Puglia highly famed for ceramics. There were some amazing studios with beautiful pieces. At Nicola Fasano’s studio we bought this pretty plate, and The Marito picked up these four small cups for espresso. I have my eye on a dinner set; they happily ship to Australia.

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In Cutrofiano, the town of our masseria, Fratelli Coli also have a large studio with indoor and outdoor ceramics. I bought some little trays, and we loved these giant oversized mugs which are bowl sized.

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In my kitchen are a couple of baking products that I often see in Italian recipes from the very entrenched Italian baking brand Paneangeli.  We get some of their products in Australia but not the full range.

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Barilla have a range of pasta called Emiliane which I haven’t seen in Australia, it is made with egg instead of water. I thought this little square shape was very cute and had to buy a packet. I will use it in some soup.

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After Puglia, we went to Florence. The Lindt store there had so many products you could take home to make which I haven’t seen here – chocolate cake mix, mousse, muffin mix and many more. The Small People are rather partial to hot chocolate so I bought a packet of it. I also bought the Lindt competitor to Nutella – it’s claim to fame is that unlike Nutella, it does not contain any palm oil. I noticed that several products in Italy had highlighted on the packaging “no palm oil” so it must be fairly topical there. The verdict – absolutely delicious.  Not as sweet, great texture and a much more pronounced hazelnut flavour, with 40% hazelnuts versus Nutella’s 13%.

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In my kitchen are lots of truffle goodies also bought in Florence – truffle oil (which actually has a sliver of truffle in it), truffle salt, truffle salsa, and a truffle and parmesan spread which is ridiculously good.

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And finally in my kitchen is a “portafortuna”, also bought at Fratelli Coli, a good luck charm. You will see these everywhere in Puglia, they are called “pumi” and represent a flower bud.  Historically they were put on corners of balconies when building as a good omen for new beginnings.

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That’s it from the Napoli kitchen. What’s happening in your kitchen this month?

Milan, Italy

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Milan is a strange city. I thought that a decade or so ago when I was last here, and I think it now.  As you drive in from the airport (try and land at Linate, Malpensa is miles away), you’ll see an relatively unattractive, run down city and you’ll be surprised that this is the fashion capital and a financial centre.  Then all of a sudden you’ll get to the city centre and you’ll see beautiful cobbled streets, some lush greenery, and some amazing old architecture.  But let’s be honest here – I’m not here for any of that, I’m here to shop.  And after eight days of kicking back in Greece on a small island, I was ready for it.

The key shopping district is known as the “fashion quadrangle” and is comprised of four key streets: Via Monta Napoleone (the most famous, it even has its own website), Via Manzoni, Via Venezia, and Via Senato.  In this quadrangle and it’s off streets, you’ll find all the big names and correspondingly big price tags.  The shopkeepers though, don’t seem to discriminate and are nice to everybody (unlike the waitstaff in restaurants who I found decidedly snooty).  For instance one day we were in the Giorgio Armani store in Via Sant’Andrea and in the store there was a wrinkly cougar with massive diamonds buying an entire wardrobe for her cute 35 year old boyfriend; the most immaculately coiffed transvestite; some locally famous Italian who was being served food and drink on silver trays a la Pretty Woman; and us in our shorts and rubber slides.  We were just as well looked after (other than the silver trays).

Other, perhaps more affordable, shopping streets include Corso Buones Aires, Via Torino, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, and Via Dante (which doesn’t have anything special in terms of shops but is a lovely strip to walk down). On the off chance you need to take a break and need some greenery, there are the lovely Giardini Indro Montanelli.

In terms of food, I was surprised at how much good, affordable food there was in a major city.  There are of course several Michelin Starred restaurants in Milan which will set you back hundreds of Euros per person, but for the most part you can eat well without forking out too much.  A few eat streets include Via Brera, with lots of outdoor dining, Corso Garibaldi, Via Fiori Chiari and Via Fiori Oscuri (Light and Dark Flower street, which strangely also had a lot of tarot card readers).

One very good meal we had in Milano was at Trattoria Nerino Dieci on Via Nerino, which is off Via Torino so you can drop in after the shops close at 7pm.  The buffalo milk plate three ways – mozzarella, ricotta, and smoked, is something that I will remember for a long time. And the cotoletta Milanese was just delicious.

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And for one of the world’s best snacks, head to Luini Panzerotti on Via Santa Radagonda just off the piazza where the Duomo is.  A friend had told me there are always queues, but there was actually a guy on full time crowd control! The line does move very quickly though.  The Panzerotti are either baked or deep fried, and we tried some of each. Go deep fried all the way baby. We had the spinach and ricotta, and a mixed vegetable, but the winner was the mozzarella and tomato, followed closely by the mozzarella and ham. At €2.70 a pop, this is one of the best snacks going.

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After that cross the street and go into Cioccolati Italiani for a delicious scoop of gelato.

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When it comes to breakfast in Italy, don’t go looking for bacon and eggs – it is just not the done thing. A typical Italian breakfast consists of a large milky cup of coffee (and note they don’t put chocolate on top of their cappuccinos) and a brioche/sweet pastry/croissant. One of the places we tried was Biancolatte (White Milk) on Via Filippo Turati. I’d seen website and I thought the place looked gorgeous – and it was. The Milanese workers were clustered at the bar for their morning coffee – and the coffee was very good – but the brioche and croissants were unfortunately a bit meh.

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We all agreed that the brioche and croissant basket at Caffe Armani (Via Manzoni, next to the Armani Megastore) was far superior. Their crema croissant (croissant with custard) was devine! We had a couple of meals there and it was good food.

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And of course there are plenty of pasticcerie around town. But remember, you’re in the north, so don’t go looking for cannoli and cassata, its not the done thing up here. I did see a lot of bigne (pronounced bin-yeh), that is little profiteroles, and sampled a good few.

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Oh, and if you do actually want to sight see, then yes, there are quite a few interesting things to do. I definitely recommend climbing the Duomo – walking on the roof of an incredible cathedral is pretty cool – and do go see the Last Supper. Tickets for one of Da Vinci’s great works generally sell out weeks in advance and you can buy online. I suggest doing this with a guide because rocking up yourself for your allocated 15 minute timeslot really doesn’t put it all in context. There are only 3 or 4 official ticket sellers for the Last Supper; we bought ours through Tickitaly (www.tickitaly.com) and our guide was a Milan local who was great. There are also a few museums and the Castello Sforzesco.

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Hotel – we stayed at the Hotel Armani on Via Manzoni. Uber cool, very sleek, I didn’t quite feel stylish enough to be there! But I loved it. Beautiful wardrobes (no surprise there) and huuuge bathrooms. The staff were awesome. Make sure you check out the jacuzzi and day spa on level 8 looking out over Milan rooftops.

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And did I shop? In one of the world’s fashion capitals during sale season when everything is 40-50% off? Please.

Next stop – Florence!

Nerino 10 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato