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Goleta, CA 93117
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Bringing you the flavors of Puglia through imported foods and olive oil, & exclusive getaways.

Puglia is a magical place. As the "heel" of Italy's boot,  a peninsula within a peninsula, it is a place where travelers must choose to go. Off the beaten path, trains traversing Italy North to South end their journey here, even the last cobblestones of the ancient Roman Via Appia are laid here.

Thick olive groves, rocky soils, and sea waters on three sides have created a land of unique culture, language, and history. Puglia harbors Italy's best olive oil, ancient vineyards, and some of the best culinary traditions Italy has to offer.  Italians are well acquainted with this "secret", but outside travelers rarely journey to this southern corner of Italy.

We are two sisters with family roots in Puglia. Our mother was born here and so was her mother and her mother. Our family's roots in Puglia are as deep as those of the centuries old olive trees. We have come to appreciate the many gifts Puglia has to offer - from food and wine to its ancient customs. Our mission is to share these with you, to bring you into the fold of Pugliese hospitality so that you too may experience the treasures of this ancient land.

 

 

 

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Recipe Blog

Homemade limoncello

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Hospitality is central to Pugliese culture. Visitors are always offered something to eat or drink when they enter a person's home. At the very least it is a cup of coffee, and if you're lucky it's a bicchierino, or little glass of liquor. Most often this liquor is homemade. Puglia still boasts a strong tradition of making a variety of liquors at home - from fruit based spirits to strong herbal concoctions to help with digestion.

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.

 Ingredients

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.

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* 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.
 


Easy Almond Cookies : Paste di Mandorla

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These past few days, our seaside town in California has been enveloped in cooler weather. Autumn has officially settled itself comfortably in our part of the world. Days are getting shorter in Puglia as well, and it is time to flaunt fashionablewarm coats and footwear. With the holidays approaching here in the States, our sweet tooth is ready to be satisfied. In our opinion, almonds offer the perfect balance of fragrant, nutty flavors and crunchy gratification. They are also a popular staple for making sweets in Puglia.

If you've been invited to Sunday

pranzo

(lunch - but think bountiful and leisurely), then it is almost obligatory that you first stop at a

pasticceria

and pick up at least a dozen miniature pastries to bring to your host. Below you'll find a quick and easy recipe for the most classic of sweets -

paste di mandorla,

small almond paste cookies.

I was inspired by the generous number of almond products we can find at our local farmers market. I made my own almond flour by grinding blanched almond slivers in my blender. You could do the same, or buy almond flower at your local grocery store.

We modified the recipe by making it a little bit naughty - we added a splash of rum to give it that

je ne sais quoi

warmth and yumminess. If you want to be even more naughty serve these with a deep red wine like primitivo or your favorite port. Otherwise enjoy with milk or tea!

This recipe yields about a dozen cookies.

Prep time: 5 - 10 min.

Cooking time: 20min

Total: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 c. almond flour (almond flours/meals vary - you may need to add more to make your mix less goopy and more solid).

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1 egg

zest of half a lemon

1/4 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp De Carlo Lemon EVOO

splash of rum

whole almonds or candied orange peel for topping

***

Start with the almond flour in a bowl:

Add all the remaining ingredients (except for the whole almonds or candied orange peels) and mix well. I used my hands - the dough is a bit too thick for a utensil and probably not worth getting any sort of appliance dirty. Note the use of lemon zest - this is typical in many Italian pastries. The lemon gives these cookies a lively bouquet.

Your dough should look something like this:

Make one inch balls and put them on a non-stick cookie sheet or on one covered in parchment paper. Press one whole almond or candied peel onto the top of each little ball of dough like this:

Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 20 minutes or until they just start to turn golden on top.

Here is our finished product!

Yum, yum; or as the Italians say

gnam-gnam!

Italian cooking is far from precise. Mosts recipes are passed down from generation to generation simply by showing what's done and having a gut feeling for how much of this or that. We welcome any variations on this recipe.

Let us know how yours turned out and any creative twists you may have taken!

Vino

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When we were girls, our nonna would give us the task of buying wine. This may seem shocking to an American so conditioned to heed the adult part in "adult beverage," but in Puglia, like much of Italy, wine is considered a staple at mealtime. People drink it in moderation and rigorously with a meal. It was unthinkable that our nonna's home would be without it. And so the chore fell on us to go buy a damigiana of it, or a glass jug ranging anywhere between 10 and 25 liters in capacity. The vendor, an elderly man with  long face and glasses known as il Signor Bovino, owned a shop in the same piazza in which our grandmother lived. The store shelves displayed a mish-mash of goods, and among the lightbulbs, stepstools, and fishing supplies, il Signor Bovino kept a fresh inventory of eggs, flour, and wine behind the counter.

Depending on the size, the damigiana would last us at least  few weeks. It was encased in hard plastic mesh with a small handle on each side. We would each grab one of these handles and scurry back to our grandmother's, teetering under the weight of the thing.  I still remember helping my nonna refill a few old wine bottles. They were made of thick, green glass and we would set them neatly in the sink. My job was to hold a plastic funnel securely at the opening of each bottle, while my nonna hoisted up the damigiana and poured the vino (always red) into each one. Those bottles would be placed at the table, while the damigiana was returned to the pantry until our supply was once again low.

The damigiana was never labeled. I still have no idea what varietals were in there or what vinyard it came from. Chances are that just like il Signor Bovino's store, it was a mish-mash of local stuff. But I do remember it was a decent red table wine. Our great-aunt Pasquina swore by it. She was unable to eat a meal without a couple glasses of wine. And by glass I mean a small water glass, not a fancy long stemmed wine glass. In fact, I don't ever recall stemmed wine glasses at any meal...ever.I don't think my nonna even owned any. It would mean literally elevating the wine to ornamental status when it wasn't so. Our vino was robust and earthy, like the soils it came from. It completed our meals of simple vegetables, cheeses, and legumes. It was always there - essential and appreciated, yet hardly worth a mention.

Today Puglia is experiencing a Renaissance in wine production. Its flagship varieties, Salice Salentino and Primitivo, are both spicy reds with a high alcohol content. Vineyards are improving their production and marketing their labels in local enoteche. It is more common for a family to buy wine in typical 750mL bottles than in the cumbersome damigiana. Regardless of the container, wine remains a fixture at the table, and I smile each time a see a kid shlepping some home just in time for lunch.

Olio d'oliva extra vergine

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No kitchen or table in Puglia is without it. Olive oil is more than a staple, it is essential, it is the sine qua non of Puglia. The Pugliesi boast that there is at least one olive tree for every man, woman, and child in Italy. That's about 60 million trees. 

A drive along Puglia's strada dell'olio*, designated agri-tourism routes dedicated to olive oil production, will cut through endless fields of olive trees. These gnarled, silver-green giants grow thickly in groves that have been harvested for centuries, their heavy roots embedded deep in the fiery red soil. Their broad trunks stand like creatures from a fairytale, and are so knotted and twisted that it is easy to imagine them as keepers of secret histories and local lore.

Their fruits are prized in this region. The unctuous, goldish-green liquid that flows from these trees have sustained communities since they were first settled. Most people don't know that Puglia produces most of Italy's olive oil. Sadly it gets transported further north and mixed with other varieties and then labeled as real "Tuscan" EVOO. However, nothing compares to the pure, unrefined oils that are produced and sold at a small scale by local farmers. The cloudy color and slightly bitter yet buttery taste are appealing to the palate and add essential flavors to the local cuisine. Pugliese olive oil is striking olive oil.  It drips thickly and slowly onto your plate and the grassy bouquet connects you to the hard, rocky soil it came from.

There is much to say about the olive oil in Puglia- its history, its harvest, its heart-healthiness. EVOO will be a staple of this blog, and we will let you in on its secrets slowly, in the same way it should be savored. For now, know that the really good stuff isn't on super market shelves. It's handed to you directly by the farmer, in a glass jug free of any labels or expiration dates. Like an elixir faithfully bottled to maintain its magic, freshly pressed Pugliese olive oil is liquid gold in your mouth.



View Larger Map *In central Puglia, the Strada dell'Olio traverses the municipalities of Carovigno, Ceglie Messapica, Cisternino, Fasano, Ostuni, San Michele Salentino, San Vito dei Normanni, and Villa Castelli. Visitors can visit olive orchards, oil presses, mortars, masserie, and more.


Benvenuti in Puglia!

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One of the first things I do when I arrive in Puglia is remove my watch. Hours and minutes become irrelevant units of time in this sun singed heel of Italy's boot. Here in il mezzogiorno, a term meaning "the south" but literally translated to "the noonday" or the land of perpetual noon, it is the sun's slow arc across the blazen blue sky which dictates daily rhythms. As the sun rises above the clear Adriatic sea, cafés open to their first customers. Towns and villages begin to buzz with the sound of scooters and neighbors calling out, "Buongiorno!". Everyone is busy, either working or shopping for the day's fresh ingredients. Then, as the sun reaches its zenith, businesses begin to shutter and everyone heads home for pranzo. A softer tinkering is heard - namely the sound of silverware and glasses being used at the table. Aromas of sauces and stews fill the narrow alleyways.  And then...silence. Lunchtime slides seamlessly into siesta, until the sun begins its slow decent towards the western horizon and everyone resumes their day's work.

It is here, in this rugged, dry peninsula surrounded by lapiz colored seas that we spent much of our time growing up. As children, we stayed with our nonna, grandmother, and learned much of Puglia's culinary tradition from her. And while our nonna is no longer with us, a numerous extended family still welcomes us warmly each time we make the trip from our home in California. We are fortunate enough to have been taught the language, the traditions, and a deep appreciation for the arts; and we now do our best to pass it down to our children.

We hope to share our knowledge with you, and inspire you to partake in some of the many beautiful things Puglia has to offer, whether it is through our recipes or with our travel tips in hand in Puglia itself.