Puglia's location makes it a haven for vegetable and seafood lovers alike
Nestled in the heel of Italy’s boot, the southern region of Puglia has gained a lot of popularity over the last few years, in large part to its coveted produce and exceptional cuisine. Because of Puglia’s warm climate and lush soil, it’s one of the main agricultural producers of Italy’s most well-known crops, from durum wheat to olives and tomatoes. In fact, Puglia produces about 40% of Italy’s olive oil. This makes the region a haven for vegetarians and vegetable lovers alike. Puglia’s peninsular location between the Ionian and Adriatic seas also makes it a hub for truly incredible seafood. Each day, fishermen all over Puglia bring in boatloads of fish, mollusks, squid, and sea urchins. The catch of the day is so fresh, many locals come to meet the boats to eat it raw!
Puglian cuisine is deeply rooted in cucina povera, the Italian cooking philosophy of eating simply, making more out of less, wasting nothing, and using the produce that is most readily available. You’ll find a variety of humble yet flavorful dishes throughout the region that elevate the bounty of ingredients that Puglia has to offer. When in Puglia, in addition to indulging as much fresh seafood and seasonal produce as possible, be sure to try these classic dishes.
No trip to Puglia would be complete without a plate of orecchiette. Named “little ears,” this concave pasta shape is native to Puglia. In fact, in Bari’s old quarter, the street Via dell’Arco Baso has been nicknamed Strada delle Orecchiette due to the women who sit at tables in the street making orecchiette by hand, a technique that has been passed down for generations. Giada was lucky enough to learn from these experts on her last trip to Bari! One classic Puglian preparation of orecchiette is with broccoli rabe, called cime di rapa. This dish exemplifies the simplicity and produce-forward nature of Puglian cuisine. The subtle bitter flavor of the broccoli rabe pairs perfectly with the chewy savoriness of the orecchiette. High-quality Puglian olive oil, chili flakes, anchovy, and breadcrumbs add extra flavor to the dish, making it rustic, simplistic, and in our opinion, delicious.
2. Riso, Patate, e Cozze
Also known as tiella barese, this Puglian specialty is reminiscent of both risotto and Spanish paella. Arborio rice is baked with layers of potatoes, mussels, cherry tomatoes, and cheese to create a creamy, hearty, and truly delicious dish that is perfect year round. While you’ll find it in restaurants all over the region, it is most commonly seen on menus in Bari, where it originates. Giada absolutely loves this dish and set out to make her own recipe for it at home.
3. Ciceri e Tria
Loosely translating to “chickpeas and fried pasta,” Ciceri e Tria is another prime example of cucina povera. This humble southern Puglian dish cooks pasta two ways by combining homemade tria, Puglia’s version of tagliatelle, with chickpeas and topping the mixture with crunchy, fried pasta. The chickpeas are cooked for hours with aromatics until tender and full of flavor. You’ll be shocked by how complex the textures and flavors of this simple dish are. Can’t wait to taste it? Try our at-home version here.
4. Focaccia Barese
As one of Italy’s primary wheat producers, it’s safe to say that Puglia is home to many experts on all things bread. Focaccia barese, named for Bari, Puglia’s capital, is a delicacy not to be missed! Focaccia barese is thicker than the northern Italian variant you may be familiar with and is almost reminiscent of Sicilian-style pizza, topped with ripened cherry tomatoes, black olives, and oregano. The dough is made with semolina flour, baked potato, and tons of fragrant Pugliese olive oil. With a soft, spongy interior and crispy exterior, this is sure to become your favorite snack on your next trip to Italy’s heel. Traveling to Bari? Try our favorite spot for focaccia barese, Panificio Fiore. Take your treasure to-go and eat it by the sea or in one of Bari Vecchia’s whimsical piazzas for a truly unforgettable experience.
5. Caffè Leccese
Iced coffee lovers, rejoice! Although traditional “iced coffee” is hard to come by in Italy, caffè leccese is Puglia’s answer. Sometimes also called caffè salentino, this drink originates from Lecce, the capital city of Puglia’s southernmost region, Salento. A combination of espresso and sweetened almond milk (or almond milk syrup) on ice, caffè leccese is the perfect beverage to help you combat Puglia’s hot climate. While the presence of almond milk might seem strange in an Italian beverage, almonds are particularly abundant in Puglia. Sit down at the iconic Caffè Alvino and enjoy yours with a pasticciotto, a flaky, custard-filled pastry, or another of Giada’s favorite Pugliese treats, almond cookies!