“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).
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
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
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.
If you go
Are you planning a trip to southern Italy? 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:
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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.