With almost 500 miles of coastline, Apulia has long been considered Italy’s bridge to the East. This ancient land has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era, as evidenced by the numerous dolmen and menhir found throughout the region. Apulia has seen many rulers come and go, including the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Argons, Venetians, Spanish and the French.
When it comes to the vast landscape, Apulia is considered Italy’s flattest region. In northern Apulia, you will find the large, yellowing plain of wheat called the Tavoliere. The rocky Gargano peninsula and Tremiti archipelago dominate the northern coast. The southern coastline leads to the peninsula of Salento, dividing the Adriatic from the Ionian Sea.
The history of the region is written in the rocks. The prehistoric monuments, the Greek and Roman ruins and Norman castles all tell incredible stories. The incredible Castel del Monte, Romanesque cathedral and Baroque details made with white stone from Lecce all attest to the region’s storied past.
The Apulian plains are basically one agricultural field. Grains, olives, almonds and all types of fruits and vegetables are grown here. The region is also known for its grapes and small Lampascioni onions.
Bread and pasta are the basis of the Apulian diet. The dark, crusty bread from Altamura is famous throughout Italy. Pizza, stuffed focaccia, calzoni and panzerotti are made daily. Frisedde are dry biscuits that were originally eaten by sheepherders, whereas taralli are crisp, ring shaped crackers.
The traditional pasta dishes are primarily made at home. Orecchiette are probably the most well known type of Apulian pasta and is served with broccoli rape or Bari-style ragù, a rich veal sauce. The classic pasticcio di maccheroni is an oven-baked pasta dish that is often made for special occasions. Ciambotta is also a popular pasta dish made with a rich fish sauce.
For a long period, sheep were the only animals raised on the Tavoliere plain. In Apulia, you will considerably more lamb and goat meat than beef. The regional cheeses follow suit. The majority of regional cheeses are made with sheep’s milk, but there are some cow’s milk cheeses as well. Fior di Latte DOP, Canestrato DOP, Pecorino, Ricotta, Scamorza, Caciocavallo, and Burrata di Andria are all produced in Apulia. When it comes to salumi, the region is known for its Salsiccia Leccese, which is a sausage made from pork, veal, lemon peel, cinnamon and cloves. In the area of town of Martina Franca, you can find excellent Capocollo and Soppressata.
The regional cuisine is obviously rich in fish, which appear in soups, sauces and stews. The offerings vary from the oysters of Taranto to the Pulpe rizze, or “curly octopus” from Bari. Another regional specialty is Tarantello, or cured tuna belly.
The desserts are often made with almonds, honey and candied fruit. Try the Carteddate, Mostaccioli, and Cauciani… perhaps with a glass of locally produced sweet wine like Malvasia or Aleatico.
Some traditional recipes of Apulia
Calzone Bari style
From Puglia, a region with age-old traditional gastronomy, the original recipe of calzone, a mouth-watering and Mediterranean dish with red tomatoes and black olives.
Pasta with broccoli, tomatoes and almonds
This is a typical hard wheat pasta dish from the Puglia region.
Stuffed cuttlefish with Pecorino cheese
In this recipe, the cuttlefish are mixed with traditional Mediteranean ingredients like capers, olives and pecorino, giving life to a flavorful dish that tastes of ancient Rome.
Homemade Italian cookies
Crisp and crumbly, this almond cookie recipe is one of the oldest dessert recipes around.