The first book in the new Italy’s Food Culture series of cookbooks, translated from the original Italian, by Oronzo Editions, Puglia: A Culinary Memoir, covers a regional cuisine that I would venture is not familiar to many Americans. Personally, I did not know much about the cooking of Puglia. Being a bread baker, I was familiar with the two famous breads from the region, Pane Pugliese and Pane di Altamura, but that was extent of my knowledge, before reading this volume. The author, Maria Pignatelli Ferrante, does a comprehensive job of chronicling what the preface refers to as “the miracle of the cooking of Puglia.”
The cooking of Puglia started out as “cucina povera”, or peasant cooking, but has evolved into a substantial cuisine that still retains the character of the region. Referred to as “Italy’s California”, the land in Puglia is bountiful, and the cooking is rooted in the crops that are grown locally. In keeping with that, there is a big emphasis in this book on vegetable dishes. If you are an eggplant fan there is a treasure trove of great eggplant recipes, such as Baked Eggplant with Olives, Eggplant “Meatballs”, Eggplant Mushroom-Style, and one of the recipes we are featuring, Eggplant Rollups.
While vegetables are the star here, they are not the only reason to read this book. There are some great pasta dishes, especially for the typical pasta of the region, Orecchiette, including Oricchiette with Brocoli Rabe. Due to the prevalence of olive oil in the region, there is a large variety of fried foods in Puglia, which gives us an amazing chapter on Fritters and Turnovers.
The book is rounded out with chapters on chicken, pork and lamb as well as fish and shellfish, all interspersed with informative entries on subjects like the farmhouse, olive trees and Christmas traditions. As with most cookbooks originally written in Italian, the recipes assume some mastery of cooking in general and are not as detailed or explicit as American audiences usually expect, but in the translation Oronzo has beefed up the cooking instructions and clarified ingredient amounts.
The Italy’s Food Culture series has gotten off to a great start, featuring two underappreciated regions of Italy, Puglia and Sicily. I am looking forward to the future volumes planned and seeing how they handle some of the more familiar cuisines like Florence, Venice and Reggio Emilia.