Jul 6, 2010

Tremors, terracotta, taralli...

Deciding to move away from the chaos of the city and retiring in one of Alberobello’s trulli cone houses–typical whitewashed dry-stone dwellings of the Valle d’Itria– has always been a dream of mine. This has however recently become a very trendy choice. Tangible proof of this are the price listings of the original edifices: sums well over €250,000 can be payed for the smaller units.

But there’s far more to Puglia than lucrative real estate and picturesque olive groves. Puglia is a ridiculously beautiful region. And a very powerful magnet.
The Tremiti Islands, for example. The Adriatic Sea archipelago, north of the Gargano Peninsula (the stirrup of the boot) is divers’ and beach lovers’ paradise. It forms part of the impressive Gargano national marine park, the Parco Nazionale del Gargano.
The name of the islands is linked to their seismic activity, and their long history of earthquakes–the word tremiti aptly translates to “tremors.” 

Legend has it that the Tremiti isles were created by Diomede. As mentioned in the Iliad, she was one of Achilles’ mistresses. One of many. Upon her hero’s return home back from Troy, Diomede discovered Aphrodite’s charm and younger age had replaced her in her lover’s bed. In a temper tantrum, she hurled the rocks Achilles had brought back from Thrace as a sheepish gift right into the sea. Those rocks are now the tremor islands. Good going, Di.
The best diving spots on the islands’ coasts are the Punta del Vuccolo and Cala degli Inglesi, but the Torrione dei Cavalieri di San Nicola, where the remains of a shipwrecked roman vessel with her intact cargo still sitting at the bottom of the sea 30 meters deep, wins first place.

Other things worth doing and that should not be missed when visiting Puglia:
- The Bari harbor at 10 am, where local fishermen feed early bird clients raw octopus, clams and mussels with warm bread and chilled beer for breakfast; between loud, barking rounds of zumparidde (the vehement version of morra, a numerical grown-up version of “rock, paper, scissors”).


- Visiting the towns of Vieste and Peschici on the Gargano peninsula to watch the wooden trabucchi fishing implements stretched out at sea from decks perched on steep rocky walls. The complex structured and spider-like “machines” are entirely hand operated–the long, slender pinewood arms couldn’t bear the weight of a heavy motorized winch–by 2 to 4 trabuccolanti anglers, who spot the schools of fish, drop the netting and haul up the catch with a series of coordinated agile moves.


- Staying the night in one of the remodeled rural masserie farms that dot the Canale di Pirro valley, in the municipality of Fasano. A few miles from intact Roman aqueducts, or a prehistoric menhir, 5-star b&bs inhabit the old farm buildings. These facilities usually boast high standards of comfort, spas, wifi, private beaches with dinghies for rent and sometimes 9-hole golf courses. On windy days, paragliding classes are held upon request.


- Shopping for tableware and majolica handicrafts in the small town of Grottaglie, in the province of Taranto, the original home of terracotta.


- Visiting Castel del Monte, a spectacular 13th century castle resting on an isolated hilltop, that dominates a vast plateau. Eight sides, eight rooms on each floor, eight eight-sided towers, the impressive stone structure stands inland from Barletta, in the middle of the countryside. 

My beloved Emperor Frederick II built Castel del Monte around 1240. It was one of 200 fortresses that the Norman genius erected, but the only one with such an elaborate floor plan. Its shape is compliant to all manner of esoteric, astrological and geometric interpretations. Then again, it could have been just a geometrically pleasing hunting lodge. It doesn’t seem to have had a serious military raison d'être, although its location on top of the only high hill on a vast flat plain certainly gave it a commanding presence. Castel del Monte is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can find it pictured on the obverse face of the Italian Euro cent.


- Dancing pizzica in Salento. The remains of Greek and Roman temples, medieval castles and Arabian-style monuments are scattered all over the dry campagna, popping up amid cacti, olive groves and mill farms. And then there is Salento, a small rural area on the coast, unlike the rest of the region, where you can be liberated of all sorrows by a type of music therapy called pizzica tarantata.

La Pizzica is a popular traditional dance, originally born in the southernmost part of the Puglian peninsula (Lecce in particular) and later spread throughout the entire Salento area. It is a fast and compelling rhythmic dance done to the accompaniment of a tambourine, or accordion and violin. Pizzica is danced to all summer long, in small beachside village festas or the mega annual Notte della Taranta event held in Melpignano, with guest musicians and massive crowds.


To witness (and thus be infected by) some pizzica taranta mania you can watch these videos:





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Besides the dishes I have posted here, here  and here, another Puglia must is at least once making (and then eating) the region's typical taralli.
Wheat flour, olive oil, fennel seeds and salt, are baked into small crunchy loop-shaped crackers, which are poached and then baked to a crisp. Traditional taralli Pugliesi are a snack that can easily pair with your antipasto platter, or become your favorite addictive munchies food.


1 kg (2.2 lbs) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 glass of dry, white wine
1 tablespoon salt + 1 pinch
Extra virgin olive oil
Lots of santa pazienza (patience)


Arrange flour in a volcano mound on your work surface. Pour the oil in the crater, add the wine and a pinch of salt. Knead with your hands until the dough reaches a homogeneous, smooth and elastic texture. Do not over-knead.
Let the obtained ball of dough rest for 20 minutes, covered with a kitchen towel somewhere not too cool and drafty.
In a large pot, bring about 8 cups of water to a boil with the remaining salt (about 1 tablespoon) while you preheat the oven to 200° C (390° F).
Shape the taralli from the dough by forming “snake” strands about 1/2” thick and 3” long. Bend each strand to form a ring, overlap the ends and press down with a finger to clasp them. Some like their taralli bent in a figure-8 or in a horseshoe shape, that’s entirely up to you.

Boil the taralli in batches of ten, fishing them out with a slotted spoon as they surface in the salted boiling water.
Rest the drained taralli on a clean kitchen towel to dry for a few minutes.
Grease a baking sheet with some olive oil and position the taralli so they don't touch one another. Bake for 40 minutes, or until they become light brown. It depends on the oven, it may take less. Don’t worry if the taralli feel soggy once baked, they’ll become crisp once completely cooled down.
Taralli can be flavored in many ways. During the initial ingredient mixture, you can add 1 or 2 tablespoons of either: fennel seeds, sesame or poppy seeds, dehydrated onion flakes, chopped rosemary, peperoncino, black pepper or a squirt of tomato concentrate, etc.
Note: For 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of flour, your oven’s capacity most probably will not contain all the obtained taralli in one single batch. Calculate how many to boil before baking according to sheet size, as the poached dough needs to be toasted right away, within a few minutes.


25 comments:

  1. Someday I will visit Puglia. Can't wait. But in the meantime, thank you thank you thank you for the taralli recipe. I love them so much, can't tell you how happy having the recipe makes me.

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  2. What a wonderful post! How I would love to visit this area of Italy. There is so much to see - and much history as well.

    I love La Pizzica - I don't think I could have done it at 25, let alone at 65. What a tremendous workout, though.

    Italy is so incredible. I've been fortunate to see many parts of this wonderful country but not nearly enough.

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  3. A sweet hello to you Eleonora! I just loved reading about this part of Italy, and that castle is so interesting, especially your reference to the shape being based somewhat on the astrological. I love taralli - finally tried them in Verona this past fall and now I'm hooked - especially the ones with the fennel seeds. As always, thanks for sharing! Ciao, bella!

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  4. It's an acquired taste, the crunchy taralli, but addictive with a glass of wine as appetizers. Mother used to add fennel seeds to her variety, not exactly pugliese, but outstanding never the less.

    Beautiful and informative as usual, Eleonora. Thank you.

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  5. che bel reportage, complimenti!Nel mio blog amo oltre le ricette fotografare i posti che visito e da tempo sogno di andare qualche giorno in una masseria pugliese, ce ne sono di meravigliose...In Puglia si mangia così bene e il mare è da sogno...Buona giornata

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  6. What a rich post today! Pleasure for all senses. And brain.

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  7. WOW, that was nice!! You once again succeeded on bringing me there! The photo's, dance, I love that!, unique recipe, plus much more~~ Your "Wonderful" at what you do! Thank you :)

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  8. Great panorama of Puglia, I've been meanting to go down there from Abruzzo for some time.
    One warning for those looking into real estate - always ask for the real estate agent's license and, even better, ask which of the three professional associations they belong to.
    About half of all those brokering homes are not licensed.
    J

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  9. It looks like a wonderful place to visit! It's going on my Bucket List. Thanks for the tour and recipe.

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  10. eleonora,

    what a lovely post. i want to live in that cone house, swim among those islands, eat some taralli and then dance it off!

    the video of the pizzica was fabulous - had me dancing in my seat!!

    thanks again for your lovely comments on my blog..they made my day ♡

    xo

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  11. Lovely photos, especially that last one of the seascape and the clear blue water!

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  12. Puglia is somewhere we still have to visit, this post certainly makes it seem very enticing.

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  13. Giovanna~ thank you for such a sweet comment, coming from you I take it as a huge compliment!!
    RNSANE~ Aw, come on! Play the video, hold the hem of your skirt and...flirt while you dance!
    FHFG~ I know, I like the fennel ones too.
    Rosaria~ Actually besided the plain olive oil ones, fennel taralli are VERY Pugliese!
    Chiara~ Grazie della visita! È vero, la Puglia è davvero magnifica sotto tutti i punti di vista!!
    Irina~ Happy you enjoyed traveling with me today.
    CCHuck~ Grazie, chef!
    Joshua~ Thanks for the great advice! You definitely want to take the girls there, è stupendo.
    Nancy~ Thank you for stopping by again!
    Amanda~ And yours just did the same for me! Grazie-
    Jim~ Italy has so many hidden treasures! You should take YOUR WIFE there!
    Lindy~ Let me know, and I can give you a few pointers... ;)

    Ciao

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  14. Hey! You know my Puglia very well! Thanks for a great post!

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  15. Beautiful images!!! I can't get over how gorgeous that water is! I wish I was there right now!
    Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Saretta~ I do, indeed. The dream of moving there is true. Damn, I forgot to add eating sea urchins in Savelletri!
    Cobalt Violet~ Thank you for your sweet words (and I wish I was there now too)

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  17. Eleanora, thank you for your warm note. I'm sorry I haven't been here lately to support you. You've blossomed this site into a multi-layered treat. You are so talented!

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  18. Jennifer~ how sweet of you to stop by! Thank you for your words of praise, I am truly humbled. Did you see what has become of AO&P? The home feel is still the same I hope...
    Hugs

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  19. What a fantastic post. You make me want to rush to the airport and visit all the places I missed in Puglia.

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  20. CCLinda~ The Puglia tourist board should be paying me hard cash! I love Puglia, and this post only says a little of how much. Thanks for your comment!

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  21. Ciao Eleanora!


    Ho trovato pure questo blog su Roma Every Day. :) More beautiful photos. I liked your expose on Puglia. I've been to the Tremiti Islands, and now know a little more about them from your writing. I too would love to see the Trulli since I saw an article in the newspaper and in travel magazines here in the US.

    Puglia is definitely a nice region of Italy to visit, and those who can make the trip should. It's less touristy if that's what you're looking for.

    Buona serata!

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  22. Caro Eleanora,

    I live in Puglia and I thank you for shining the spotlight on the many delights of the region. Anyone wanting a relaxed holiday, enjoying amazing food in stunning surroundings, should definitely head down to the heel. For these reasons it's the favoured vacation destination for many northern Italians, and they must know something, right?

    I'm off to drool over the rest of your blog now before heading to the beach :)

    Ciao,

    Contadina

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  23. You do not know how grateful I am for this taralli recipe. I ate them all the time when I lived outside of Naples but never learned how to make them. Now that I'm home, I can finally satisfy my craving for these classic snacks.

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  24. Can't wait to make the taralli, but you do not say how much olive oil. How many ounces or cc's of the wine? Thanks.

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  25. Passage to Italy~
    So sorry to be replying this late! Somehow I never got notice of these comments... Happy you enjoyed this piece.

    ~~~~~~~

    Contadina~
    I apologize for the delayed response with you too, sorry! Where in Puglia do you live, lucky farmer girl?

    ~~~~~~~

    Brittney~
    I'm so glad you appreciated this post! Did you eventually make them? How did they turn out?

    ~~~~~~~

    Anonymous~
    I sometimes forget that folks don't approximate recipes like I do, scusa!
    For 2.2 lbs of flour, use 1 1/2 cups dry white wine; and 1 1/4 cups olive oil.

    Happy baking!

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Ciao
Eleonora

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