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Discovering The Food Of Southern Italy

by Amy Lucinda

An article on Italian food. Where on earth do I start?! The country that’s famous for passion, fashion and food. And probably fashionable food made with passion.

Now, I could just write a list of adjectives to describe Italian food, which basically all mean ‘amazing’. But as effective as that may be at getting the message across, it’s not all that interesting.

So, I have decided to simply write about the experiences that I have had with Italian food, here in sunny Puglia.

Before I came to Italy, I had visions of amazing home cooked pasta dishes; tasty fresh pizza and incredible gelato (see how the adjectives come in?). Well, I wasn’t at all disappointed with what I discovered, because it was pretty much exactly as I’d imagined. No, better. Because I discovered a whole load of other wonderful culinary creations along the way.Traditional southern Italian food is simple, and this is what makes it so damn good. Pasta sauces are made from scratch, processed ready meals aren’t widely available like in the UK, and even the gelato is made using milk so it’s less fattening (hallelujah!). Eating is what the Italians live for. They love cooking, they eat together as a family and they appreciate local ingredients.

Although, the Western world’s unhealthy way of eating is creeping into these more traditional parts of Italy, and quite alarmingly it seems. I read recently that Italy is experiencing a major problem with children becoming increasingly overweight, due of course to the introduction of fatty, sugary foods, coupled with a lack of exercise. I can safely say that, at least from what I’ve seen, there is sadly rather a lot of truth in this and the beach season makes it very apparent indeed.

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However, that’s not to say that all parents and families are adopting this ‘more convenient’ way of eating. Like I mentioned before, many families (particularly the ones that I know) still seem to maintain the traditional way. Yes, they eat a lot (I’m only just getting used to it, and yes, I do sometimes have to undo a notch on my belt after a meal) and they do eat dolce, but their meals are cooked with fresh ingredients, include lots of vegetables and always, always some fruit.

So what delicious things have I come across in Puglia? Well, I’ll tell you. Some of these things are delicious yet ever so slightly strange. Others, are just plain delicious.

Let’s start with the pasta that’s typical to Puglia. Each region has a particular type of pasta, and in Puglia it’s orrechiette. Little ear-shaped pieces of pasta, traditionally made by sticking your thumb into a little circle of fresh pasta to create this specific shape. These are often eaten with a tomato sauce, and on Sundays, a tomato and meat sauce, which is just heavenly. The shape of the pasta is perfect because the ‘ears’ are almost like little bowls, which hold the sauce perfectly.

Next, onto something a bit more unusual. Don’t you just hate it when your fresh bread goes stale? OK, you can make breadcrumbs. A bit of toast perhaps. But the locals here are a bit more, erm, adventurous. They soak the hard, stale bread in water. Then serve it up with some tasty tomatoes. When I first heard about this ‘bread soaked in water’ lark, I didn’t much fancy it. But, because the bread is rock hard, the ‘bagnata’ element actually works really well. This interesting dish is called ‘acquasala’. Try it!

Mozzarella is, in my opinion, the best Italian cheese there is. Yes, I also love ricotta, parmesan and all the others on offer (yes, I’m a cheese fan, can you tell?) but for me, mozzarella always wins, particularly mozzarella di buffala, which is fantastic with tomatoes or on pizza. Recently, I was introduced to a different type of mozzarella: mozzarella burrata, or butter mozzarella. As I watched it being cut into, the inside just flowed out like cream. How unusual! But just take a piece of bread and dip it into the mozzarella cream…and you’ll realise what all the fuss is about.

And what about pizza? As you know, pizza is a typical dish throughout the whole of Italy. In my region, they particularly like it with courgettes and onion, served in a type of ‘closed’ pizza. It’s very tasty indeed. They also di this type of ‘closed’ pizza with nutella. Words cannot describe…

Finally, onto gelato. Gorgeous, gluttonous gelato. Personally, I like all the flavors (bar melon and watermelon, but I’m a definite minority on that one!) Here, they have all the usual suspects (chocolate, nut, strawberry), plus lots of Kinder flavors too. My favorite is Kinder Bueno. Even just writing about it makes me want some (even though I ate some only yesterday..ahem!)

So, are you hungry yet? This is the kind of Italian food that I love. Fresh, tasty and sometimes a little odd. So even if (sadly) the fast food craze is really starting to make its mark down here in the south, I’ll still be sticking to the gorgeous fruit and veg on offer. And the tasty fresh fish. And the buttery mozzarella. And did I mention the olive oil…?

Buon apetitto!

Amy writes about life, food and her passion for Southern Italy through her blog Sunshine and Tomatoes and shares her "Expat Experience" here.

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