Food and cooking can perfectly symbolize and represent the memory and history of an entire land and its biodiversity. Apulia – in Italian Puglia – the heel of the Italian boot, is the clearest representation of this principle: in the long history of this region, sometimes bitter but also lively, there was never a time when cooking did not grow and develop together with the advance of civilization, because although the Apulian culinary heritage has only become a gastronomic trend relatively recently, it has in fact existed for millennia.
The variety of pasta called the orecchietta is now the emblem, not only in a culinary sense, of Puglia throughout the world. The women of Apulia are well aware of this fact and, thanks to ancient techniques handed down over the centuries, they are capable of generating this gastronomic treasure from such plain and limited ingredients as durum wheat flour mixed with water and salt. It only takes a few simple steps to turn the smooth and soft pasta dough into a long roll. This is then cut into pieces, which are curved with a knife to give them a shape rather similar to that of a seashell. The orecchietta is created by a quick and apparently effortless gesture, but it is hard to master, as it involves pulling the pieces of fresh pasta dough across the pastry board with the rounded tip of a knife to make them rough on the outside but smooth on the inside, giving them the unmistakable form of a small ear (hence the name orecchietta, which literally means “little ear”).
That’s all there is to it, but Italians know that behind every dish there is much more than meets the eye. Among the knobbly old olive trees of Apulia the orecchietta is an inalienable right: a quintessentially good thing that has survived for generations, accompanying the people in their everyday lives. And it lives on in endless variations, which range from the classic recipe with green turnip leaves, a vegetable that grows in abundance in these lands, to the more rustic orecchiette made with the toasted or seared wheat that was considered the “leftovers” of the harvest, right up to the modern versions of celebrity chef Martha Stewart, the American queen of the kitchen.
Dexterity, patience, and above all an innate passion for the conviviality of the meal, which does not just mean sitting together around a table, but which is the culmination of a series of vital factors and key moments, such as the preparation of the food, adherence to domestic rituals, and respect for the seasons and the environment. This is because only the end product and the choice of raw materials are important (although they are fundamental), but there is also whole culture of taste, made up of perfumes, colors and sensations.
This is what makes it possible for you to experience the whole landscape of Puglia in a dish, and to savor the fresh air coming in from the sea, perhaps even while overlooking the sea from one of the many trabucchi that project from the Gargano promontory, which is nicknamed the spur of Italy, along the Southern Adriatic coast. The trabucchi are traditional wooden structures originally built for purposes of fishing, but adapted and converted over the years. Domenico Ottaviano, an up-and-coming young chef from Puglia, manages ”Al trabucco da Mimì” a unique restaurant, which he has inherited from one of the oldest families of trabucco builders in the Gargano region. Here, intoxicated by the heady smell of oregano herbs, immersed in the rhythmic chirping sounds of cicadas and lulled by the colors and warmth of a beautiful sunset, you can fall in love, now and forever, with this land and with this lifestyle.
The chef’s touch:“Orecchiette with black mussels on a peppery cauliflower cream” by Domenico Ottaviano
Ingredients for 4 people:
320 g of fresh orecchietteFresh basil leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper
600 g of cleaned mussels
200g of cherry tomatoes
1 small fresh spring onion
2 cloves of garlic
Fresh basil leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper
Preparation and cooking
Wash the cauliflower, cut it into small pieces and boil it in salted water with some bay leaves.
Fry the chopped onion and two cloves of garlic in extra-virgin olive oil in a pan over a hot flame.
Add the tomatoes and turn down the heat.
Add the mussels and pour in some white wine. Season with salt and add the dried chili-pepper according to taste.
Drain the cauliflower and turn it into a puree with a hand-held blender, while adding the ground black pepper and some extra virgin olive oil-
Cook the pasta. Mix the pasta together with the sauce of tomatoes and if necessary add some of the water from the cooking.
Serve the pasta and sauce on a bed of cauliflower cream and garnish it with some fresh basil leaves.