Le Sorelle Blog
Roman roads came to an end here. Ancient languages still survive in Puglia's southern most recesses. Life moves at a slower pace in synchrony with the maritime winds and seasons.
The crimson earth exposes and expels chunks of limestone seabeds in constant geological motion. Tradition and ritual bind the people who live here.
And as with all ancient, far away places, there are mysteries and peculiarities to behold.
In Puglia, it is the trullo.
|Copyright 2013 Raffaella Lorenzoni|
Alberobello is the hub for all things trullo. The town built on a hillside is a conical cornucopia of these whimsical structures. Though it has become somewhat "touristy" with many of these trulli unabashedly turned into shops full of kitsch souvenirs, it is certainly worth a visit. No other place holds such a high density of trulli. I personally prefer the lone, ancient trullo standing its ground in the picturesque countryside, but I don't hesitate to recommend a pit stop in this unique pugliese town. Wander the streets, take a first hand look at the structures in and out, and enjoy a shot of espresso. You won't be disappointed.
It was only several years later, when trying to remember how my grandmother made panzerotti, that I learned that a distant cousin who lived in town had been given my grandmother's recipe book. I remember feeling a twinge of discontent - why hadn't my mother or my uncle (the one who loves to cook) received it? And if they didn't want it, why didn't they think of me first? I am certainly not one to feel entitled to anything, but I did feel a bit resentful (I'm only being honest). Cooking with my nonna was special to me - and I would have cherished that book immensely. It meant maintaining an open dialogue with my grandmother - we could keep cooking together.
Who had given that book to our cousin? Was there even any discussion about it? To this day, the issue remains clouded in mystery. And though the recipe book stayed in geographical proximity of my grandmother's house, I felt it had strayed too far across our genealogical tree.
I love our cousin and have the utmost respect for her and her family. Our families are close and have spent countless summer evenings together. My grandmother and her father are true cousins - and I'll leave you to figure to what degree that makes us cousins, but that's hardly relevant when everyone agrees that we are cousins and close family. That's how it is in Puglia - families are extended clans and relationships are solid enough that no one questions them or even bothers to figure out "how far removed" one person is to the other. You're either in or your out, and these cousins are definitely in.
It's for this reason that last summer I felt comfortable enough to approach our cousin about the book and ask her if I could xerox the whole thing. I was okay not having the original - I simply wanted to see what my grandmother had in there and read all her notes. I had even planned enough space in my suitcase to return with the pile of paper.
So when our cousin told me she couldn't find the book, I was secretly devastated. I say secretly because I knew she felt very badly about this and I didn't want her to feel any worse by showing my disappointment. She promised to look for it, and I didn't ask for it again. You see, this is also how it is in Puglia - family comes before the individual. And to preserve family harmony, I decided not to pursue the issue further. If she finds it, she will give it to me - I am certain of that. No need to prod.
I will simply have to find another way to recreate her book.
But while the California Zin contains more youthful, fruity undertones (think blackberry and plum); the Pugliese primitivo is darker and more "liquoroso" or liquor-like in taste. Its jammy, spicy flavors run deep, like its ancient roots digging into rocky soil. Primitivos, so named because of the varietal's early ripening on the vine, have an alcohol content of 14 - 16%, making it a hearty wine - a wine most appropriately enjoyed with hearty (Pugliese) food!
Our cousin in Puglia produces his own primitivo label on his masseria - a large limestone estate named Torre Catena dating back centuries. The wine is called Volare - named after the song popularized by Domenico Modugno a native son of Polignano a Mare where our family is from. Needless to say, we are huge fans and served the wine at my sons' baptism in Puglia this summer. The party was held at Torre Catena and the wine was a huge hit (by the way, it is definitely worth checking out the above link to Torre Catena). Volare, like its name implies, soars. It is surprisingly vibrant in taste. It's the kind of wine where one sip calls for another simply for the pleasure of tasting it and feeling a well-balanced wine glide across your palate. And yet the wine is far from pretentious. It's made to be enjoyed in good company, with good food and boisterous conversation. Volare is the kind of wine that becomes a joyful anchor to an evening of camaraderie with just the right touch of sophistication. Like the song, it makes you feel good.
You'll have to stay tuned in 2013 to get your hands on a bottle. We are in the process of getting it imported. And when we do, our hope is that it will soar, and that Volare will make your taste buds fly!
No longer. Pugliese folk pride themselves on this traditional dish. The bean is grown in abundance and serves as a beautiful ornamental vine as well. Fava beans ripen in the summer and are often eaten fresh, but the recipe for fave e cicorie [chee-core-yay], the traditional Pugliese dish of favas and chicory greens, requires the use of dried beans. Boiling the dried beans eventually transforms these blanched, pebble like legumes into a thick, creamy puree', much like mashed potatoes. This dish, while posh on some menus, is pure comfort food. And better yet, it's good for you - packed with protein, antioxidants, and fiber.
Fave e cicorie is easy to prepare. I use Bob's Red Mill Fava Beans. The beans are good quality, cook well, and are already peeled. An added plus is that there is no need to soak them over night. They'll cook down to a puree in an hour or so. They are also easy to find in grocery stores in our area. If you can't find dried fava beans in a store near you, you can easily order them online.
I also like to mix up the "greens" part. While tradition calls for boiled chicory greens (or closely related dandelion greens), I occasionally like to serve up these beans with milder greens like sauteed spinach with garlic, chard, or even kale. I also like to garnish the dish with other tasty treats like sun dried tomatoes, olives, raw red onion slivers, or artichoke hearts preserved in olive oil.
The final product is a hearty vegetarian/vegan dish which is sure to please the palate and leave you satisfied.
Dried fava beans
Wild bitter greens like chicory, dandelion, collards or other bitter greens (also see variations mentioned above)
Extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
Cover and turn down the heat. After 45 min to an hour the beans will start to break down. Stir frequently so the beans don't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. If you notice the beans getting too dry before they're fully cooked, add a bit of warm water to maintain a "mashed potatoes" type consistency - too much water and they'll turn soupy, and too little, the beans will burn. Once the beans are soft and easily broken down by the touch of a spoon, either keep stirring until you have a puree', or use a hand held mixer to get a creamy consistency. I like using my hand mixer.
Once pureed cook until you have a consistency which is somewhere in between pudding and mashed potatoes.
Add salt to taste.
While the beans are cooking you can clean the greens and boil them (in the case of wild chicory, etc) or saute them in a teaspoon of olive oil and a couple whole (not chopped) cloves of garlic if you are using softer greens like spinach. When the greens are cooked dress them with extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste.
It's ok to serve these greens at room temperature.The important thing is that the favas be piping hot.
Ladel the favas onto a plate or wide bowl. Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil. Add the greens on top. Garnish with sun dried tomatoes, raw red onion slivers, etc. (see above).
A bicchierino is de rigueur after hosting a meal with guests or at important celebrations or events like weddings and funerals. Before the wide distribution and consumption of commercial liquors, the host prided themselves on his or her liquor making talents. Recipes varied from family to family but were consistent in their basic ingredients: alcohol, water, sugar, and the essence of either fruit, herbs, or coffee - and even nuts! After particularly abundant meals, I remember a variety of homemade liquors being brought to the table - each to serve a particular guest's palate. They were often served in beautiful crystal decanters or rustic, thick glass bottles.
Small, local restaurants often bring these homemade liquors to the table free of charge to allow guests to relax and digest at their own happy pace. You can do the same! Think of how impressed your next dinner guests will be when you ofter them a small glass of your special homemade liquor!
We have an uncle who is particularly enthusiastic about maintaining this tradition. He favors liquors of the citrus variety and has perfected both his lemon and mandarin beverages. We love limoncello (lemon liquor) too, with its sweet, syrupy and fresh flavor. Making your own is quite easy to do. All you need are a few basic ingredients and some time - at least a week to allow the flavors to blend seamlessly together - so plan ahead. The classic limoncello recipe requires two months to prepare, so we are giving you a quicker version in case you can't wait that long.
Below is the basic recipe. If you're not a fan of lemons, you can substitute other citrus fruits like oranges or mandarins. The technique remains the same.
N.B. The juice from the lemons is not used when making limoncello. Therefore, we suggest squeezing the juice out once you've peeled the lemons and freezing it for later use so as not to waste any.
We also prefer using organic lemons with thick, aromatic skins for the simple reason that the peel is used. In fact, we make our limoncello with all organic ingredients! If you can't find organic lemons, make sure you wash your lemons well before use! The Sorrento variety is used in Italy because its thick peel is rich in essential oils.
7 large lemons
750mL bottle of 100 proof vodka
2 1/2 c. sugar (also preferably organic)
3 c. filtered water
Peel the rind of the lemons in strips being careful to leave the white part of the lemon (pith) behind due to its bitter taste. We suggest using a vegetable peeler. Use a small knife to remove any pith you may have accidentally collected. Place the lemon rinds and vodka together in a large glass jar (or equally in multiple jars) and close tightly. Alternatively you can put the mixture in a large jug and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set it aside for 6 to 7 days in a cool, dry place.* Do not refrigerate. You'll see the alcohol slowly turn yellow as the peels themselves turn whiter.
In a large saucepan over medium heat mix the sugar and water for about 5 minutes or so or until the sugar is entirely dissolved. Let the syrup cool completely. Stir in the lemon and vodka mixture. Cover the saucepan and let it sit overnight at room temperature.**
Strain the mixture to remove the lemon peels (discard the peels) and pour into bottles. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving. May even be frozen for an extra cool drink.Serve cold.
* This is where the classic recipe requires a month of time to allow the lemon rind to give its flavor to the alcohol. If you can afford the time, we highly recommend you do it.
** Here the classic recipe requires at least another 4 to 6 weeks of allowing the mixture to sit in a cool, dry, and preferably dark place such as a pantry. If you decide to wait this long, we suggest pouring the mixture into a jar or bottle you can tightly seal.