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Tag Archives: Martina Franca

Si mangia troppo ma costo meno

21 May

When he learned we were going to Puglia, un ragazzo in our neighborhood regaled us with stories of how beautiful it was, and especially how well we would eat for very little money. “You’ll tell them ‘Enough! No more food,’” he said. Two days into our trip to Puglia his words rang in our ears. Si mangia troppo, ma costo meno. (You’ll eat too much but it costs less.)

Beach castle

Squat towers and castles dot the area in the heel of the boot. Originally built to protect from Saracens and other invaders.

This is a vast region, in the heel of the boot, with squat medieval castles and windswept shoreline, where whitewashed villages tumble to the sea. Puglia is also the largest producer of grapes in all of Italy, and ancient olive trees stand watch along the roadside. If grapes and olives are abundant, tourists are not, at least in May. We heard little American-accented English, making for a good opportunity to sharpen Italian skills.

Ristorante Antiche Mura within the old walls of Polignano a Mare.

Ristorante Antiche Mura within the old walls of Polignano a Mare.

We are traveling with my brother and his wife, who spent a few days with us in Rome. Wanting to enjoy a region none of us had visited, we chose Puglia. A long drive from Rome ended with a two-night stay in Lecce, a Baroque town deep in the heel of the boot, characterized by elegant buildings and graceful balconies. A good base for driving the heel, Lecce has also offered some great dining, new-to-us dishes, excellent wines, and is easy on the budget. There’s a lot of meat on the menus, at prices unheard of in Rome. I gravitate toward seafood, also a relative bargain.  Octopus, calamari (stuffed and sautéed), clams, mussels, orecchiette (little ears, a regional pasta), lots of vegetables, all in huge quantities made for sharing. One night the antipasto of three fish carpaccio could have fed a family of six! Still, we ate it all (it’s only fish!) followed by a serving of orecchiette con ceci e vongole (ear-shaped pasta with chickpeas and clams) served in a small vat for me. Chickpeas in pasta seems like a double-hit on carbs, but it is de-li-cious! My Ric ordered lamb and had four large chops, grilled to lamby-perfection. Brother Rick and Jane ate similarly, yet with two

Gallipoli

Gallipoli in Puglia is still a working port with a charming old town and, of course, a castle for protection.

bottles of very fine local vino, our bill was about 20% less than the same meal would cost in Rome.

Night number two was even more remarkable! At tiny little Cucina Casareccia in Lecce we were treated like family.  Here we discovered the Puglian delight of purè di fave con chicoria (pureed fava beans with chicory), accompanied by antipasti della casa, verza con pecorino, (Savoy cabbage sautéed with pecorino cheese) and also a very fine octopus stewed in a special Puglian style.  €25 per person with great house wine. Si mangia troppo, ma costo meno. This is a place you will not stumble upon in your meanderings. It’s on a dark and otherwise non-commercial street. You have to ring the bell to gain entry; An altogether different experience.

Still, we are eating too much for a car-based trip. Ugh! At least we aren’t eating dessert.

Moving up through the region we passed through gorgeous country side, stringing together the towns of Ostuni, Locorotondo, Martina

Trullo

Traditional dwelling in Puglia, particularly in the area of Alberobello. The trulli give the landscape a fairy-tale-Tolkien-kind of feel.

Franca, and Alberobello on our way to Polignano a Mare. The landscape is dotted with trulli lending a Shire-like aspect to the terrain. These traditional structures, particularly present in Alberobello, are adapted in new construction as well.  Martina Franca is an incredibly lovely town with piazzas strung together, dotted with charming restaurants and friendly, welcoming residents. It is, in the words of writer Fred Plotkin “the best of what Italy has to offer.”

Martina Franca

You’ll not find a prettier town in Puglia. Kind people, great food, welcoming green spaces.

We intended to stop for a light lunch, having sworn off midday pasta after Thursday’s gluttony. But when we invaded Ristorante ai Portici, the waiter/owner kept the food coming (Si mangia troppo) from a free starter through a giant salume and cheese platter he insisted we must have because Ric’s entrée was going to take 15 minutes to cook. Once again I indulged in the local specialty fava bean puree with chicory, and once again we rolled out more-than-satiated. €75 for four people with wine (costo meno). The best part: an owner who was so attentive, so proud of his food, and a location evocative of the best of Italy in a charming Puglian town.

Polignano a Mare

Whitewashed Polignano a Mare, a pleasant stroll through quiet streets at dawn.

Polignano a Mare is a decidedly different side of Puglia, right on the Adriatic sporting a fun-by-the-sea feel. There is a charming old town, Roman ruins, and it’s not far from Castel del Monte, a Castle built by Emperor Frederico II in the 13th century. Well worth a visit as there is no castle like it anywhere on earth.

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte

And there is food: Polignano features magnificent seafood and the Puglian specialties continued to amaze us and inspire us to find activities requiring us to expend some calories.  After two nights of stuffing ourselves on grilled orate (sea bream), alici (anchovies), octopus salad, marvelous local vegetables, shellfish pasta, and some of the very special wines of Puglia, we headed for home by way of Abruzzo. More to come….

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One year

19 May

Italiano

To our friends and family, miscellaneous musings after our first year in Italy. We arrived May 18, 2012.

1. Cats do not need to go outdoors. A windowsill will do.

Dare-devil Janie on the (very wide) window sill. Libby watches from the cat tower. Window screens are a rarity.

Dare-devil Janie on the (very wide) window sill. Libby watches from the cat tower. They traded a Portland garden for a 3rd floor windowsill.

2. When Italians ask “Come stai?” they really mean it. It’s not just in passing, like in the U.S. Here it is a conversation starter.

3. Arugula is fantastic on a sandwich piadina or panino. Lettuce is for salads.

4. A scarf around your neck is really comforting. It keeps the chill off your neck and it looks good, too.

5. Walking is a terrific form of transportation but shoe leather wears out faster than car tires.

6. Parking is colorful: white (free), blue (pay), yellow (restricted) zones are interpreted liberally by drivers.

Here we see a car parked in blue stripes (pay) but overlapping onto yellow (reserved in this case for handicapped).

Here we see a car parked in blue stripes (pay) but overlapping onto yellow (reserved in this case for handicapped).

This car is parking in a free zone, as indicated by the white lines...except this is a pedestrian crossing. "Liberal interpretation."

This car is parking in a free zone, as indicated by the white lines…except this is a pedestrian crossing. “Liberal interpretation.”

If there's no room in the street, just block a sidewalk. Pedestrians be damned!

If there’s no room in the street, just block a sidewalk. Pedestrians be damned!

7. I’d hate to be in a wheel chair in Rome. (See above)

8. Privacy is an American concept.

9. Dinner does not have to be a protein, a starch, and a vegetable. The American “square meal” is no longer a part of our lives.

Risotto all zucca

Pumpkin risotto – one dish meal, no meat, delicious local flavors.

10. Fresh flavors need little help. We have tossed out many of our spices.

11. Starbucks is NOT an Italian experience.

No  "Grande Americano" here: a single shot espresso gets us going in the morning. We have a few throughout the day.

No “Grande Americano” here: a single shot espresso gets us going in the morning. We have a few throughout the day. Pastries only on the weekends…or holidays…or vacation.

12. Being a repeat customer is heartily acknowledged. When was the last time your “regular” waiter greeted you with a kiss on the cheek?

Celebrating one year in Italy, here we are in Martina Franca.

Celebrating one year in Italy, here we are in Martina Franca, Puglia.

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