The trulli of Rione Monti, Alberobello, puglia“I look for happiness through taste!” chef Domenico Laera exclaimed, as he put the finishing touches on the pasta dish he had prepared for us, sprinkling each bowl with seasoned bread crumbs, the ‘poor man’s Parmesan’ of Puglia. Soon, waiters were delivering heaping bowls of pasta to our table, and  it was time for secondi, on our second day in Alberobello, Puglia’s trulli capital. And yes, chef Laera delivered on his promise of happiness!

Luncheon at Ristorante L’Aratro presented us with the freshest burrata I’ve ever eaten, prepared as we watched by Mariangela Netti of Masseria la Lunghiera, and served in a fresh mozzarella skin. Chef Laera followed a range of appetizers with a secondo of Fricelli con zucchini bianche, cipolla e pomodori, e briciole di pane tostato (durum wheat pasta with white zucchini, onion, and tomatoes, topped with toasted, seasoned bread crumbs).

Chef Domenico Laera
Chef Domenico Laera with Mariangela Netti and her helpers

Cucina povera with flair

Cucina povera (literally, ‘poor kitchen’) is Italy’s gift to a world gone mad with food waste. When we eat locally in Italy, we are savoring products and dishes invented by people who for centuries used simple ingredients to survive winters, wars, and famine.

In keeping with rural Italy’s no-waste traditions, cucina povera is regional and seasonal, making do with ingredients that are readily available or home-grown. It is the genius behind what has become known as ‘nose-to-tail’ and ‘root-to-shoot’ eating. In Puglia, Italy’s heel of the boot, it is the food of peasants, sometimes elevated to lordly stature by innovative chefs.

Tom and I had many opportunities to sample regional food and wines while in agricultural central Puglia. Our stay in Alberobello was a glorious round of luncheons, dinners, and tastings that had us clamoring for more.

A delight for eyes and palate

We began our trip with dinner at Trullo D’Oro, where a feast of antipasti, secondi, fruit and dolci was accompanied by regional wines, exquisitely paired, course by course. Chef Davide Girolamo used seasonal ingredients from local producers to take us on a sensory journey among the varied flavors of Puglia, both land and sea. One dish, in particular, stood out as an amalgam of cucina povera and high-end dining excellence: Pure di fave bianche con polpo in humido (tender octopus, steamed and presented atop fava beans, the flavorful local stand-in for mashed potatoes).

I am a “passionate and unconditional lover of the Pugliese cuisine”!

–David Giromalo, owner and chef, Trullo D’Oro

Steamed octopus and fava bean puree at Trullo D’Oro in Alberobello
Steamed octopus and fava bean puree at Trullo D’Oro

Alberobello show cooking

On our final evening in Alberobello, Pier Luca Ardito, executive chef at Grand Hotel la Chiusa di Chietri’s Nobis Restaurant, wowed us with a three-course menu that married local market bounty with home-style base products, enhanced with fine spices and professional technique. For me, the star of the meal was Risotto con cime di rapa e stracciatella di formaggio fresco, gamberi rossi di Gallipoli e acciughe spezzettate (risotto with broccoli rabe and Stracciatella fresh cheese, Gallipoli red prawns and chopped anchovies). Individual ingredients retained their flavors in a beautifully melded Canaroli rice preparation, in one of the best risottos ever!

Fresh ingredients, and restraint, minimalism, and simplicity at every stage of cooking

–Pier Luca Ardito, executive chef, Nobis, and coach, National Italian Cook Team

Risotto with broccoli rabe from the Nobis kitchen, Grand Hotel la Chiusa di Chietri
At Nobis, Risotto with broccoli rabe, Stracciatella, Gallipoli red prawns and chopped anchovies

Mid-day feasts to remember

We also recommend Ristorante La Cantina, where we enjoyed a luncheon of fresh antipasti and pasta from chef and owner Francesco Lippolis; and Casa Nova Il Ristorante, where a family-style meal featured a range of inspired dishes in the cucina povera tradition, such as bread-stuffed artichokes and fried or steamed lampascioni (grape hyacinth bulbs) dressed with fig sauce in a memorable bitter-sweet combination.

A smiling Francesco Lippolis serves his guests in Ristorante La Cantina
Francesco Lippolis, owner and chef, Ristorante La Cantina
Dinner service at Casa Nova Ristorante, Alberobello, Puglia
Trullo dining at Casa Nova Ristorante

If you go

Are you planning a trip to southern Italy? Take a look at Alberobello, Puglia’s Trulli Capital, our article for Getting on Travel. Tom and I have found loads of travel inspiration on the Puglia pages of Wandering Italy and for background information on Alberobello, we also recommend Puglia’s Trulli: Unique stone houses in the Heel of the Boot, from Martha’s Italy.

When we travel, regional cooking is always on our minds. You might also be interested in these food articles from our travels in Italy:

Tasting Italy-a culinary journey in Tuscany

Hospitality, Lazio style

Super Zampone: Over the Top in Emilia Romagna

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Grazie mille! to ‘ARTECA’, the Association for the Recovery of Traditions and the Comune di Alberobello, who invited us to town for Arboris Belli 2019, and to the marvelous chefs who shared their beautiful food with us.

 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. You’ve brought back some wonderful memories for me! We also had the pleasure of dining at L’Aratro where we me Domenico Laera. We also stopped in at Casa Nova, but only to meet the owner and enjoy the decor! Next time in Alberobello, we’ll try to make time to dine at both locations and your other recommended places.

    • Thank you Catherine! Glad you enjoyed a stroll with us down memory lane…It was all good, and I’m ready to return! Chef Laera was a delightful host, and we had two lovely family-style meals at Casa Nova. So many options!

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