meta name="p:domain_verify" content="8b08da541f8a920e6 Marie Z Johnston: The Heel of the Boot, Italy

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Heel of the Boot, Italy

I have always had a secret crush on Italy.  Not Florence or Rome mind you, but rather the Italy of olive tree covered rolling hillsides and crystal clear, turquoise seas along an undeveloped coastline.  Someplace where friendly tratorias serve fish right out of the sea and salads straight from the local campagna.  Where the vino bianco is as local as the clientele, and no one, but no one, speaks decent English... if any at all.  Hah! You say.  Dream on.  Well, guess what?

The plates disappeared as fast as the three guys shucking could shuck.
Paradise can be found just north of Gallipoli in the Gulf of Taranto on the Ionian Sea
Heading to lunch  - this busy spot has it's own small fishing boat and offers only the daily catch
It all began when 'the Britalian" (friend of my oldest daughter, Alexis ) called and said "Come visit".  They were at his family home having a relaxing time with mamma e papà in a little village by Lecce on the heel of the boot of Italy. It was the 1st week in June, my move was complete. It seemed as good a time as any to go to Italy. 

Sticky mud on the soles of your shoes is part of the campagna experience
They had taunted me in the recent past; gushing about the family campagna (farm garden plot) complete with olive trees, vineyards, and vegetables straight from the garden, the baking and cooking, the seafood, and on and on.  So, it did not take much persuading to get me on a plane bound for Bari, Italy.

Capers fresh off the bush
Caper bush and friend
This charming part of Italy is pretty much untouched by tourism as we know it here in Paris.  There is a 'season' when the English, Dutch and northern Italians visit, however you will find none of that pesky 'flocking' or 'pilgrimage' tourism (and all the stuff that goes along with it) in these rural and seaside communities. Which, I guess, is why I like it.

Veronica picking zucchini flowers for the family vegetable stand
The Lecce province is a region rich in history and in agriculture. In fact, it is Italy's most prolific and abundant farming region - as evidenced at the Farmers Market (which also serves as a giant roving department store) where many of the local farmers sell their cherries, apricots, herbs and vegetables. Did I mention there were zucchini flowers?

These beauties went from the field to the farm stand to the stove to the table within hours
We headed out to the farmers market just before lunch.  Okay, so I went a little crazy with the cheeses and salumis (it's why I checked a bag instead of only doing 'carry on')... I'm not a bit sorry either!

Bought some Parmigiana from this cheerful guy (11E per kilo)
And more, aged Grana from this pile (9E per kilo)
This father and son have been selling cheese in the region for more than 50 years
Summer was in full swing both in temperature and in clothing selections
So many styles, so little time.  There were at least 3 stands this size selling shoes.
   The 3 crates & 2 yellow buckets of little brown things are snails. I have no idea what's done with them. 

First of the season
This man is selling a very unusual and fragile berry (see below) we bought some
Delicate, nearly melon like in flavor, they are highly perishable and best eaten cold
We finally headed home thinking we had all sorts of good stuff for lunch, only to discover that lunch was well under way in the outdoor kitchen.  (this house has 3: the regular kitchen by the dining room, the basement kitchen for when it's too hot and there's canning to do, and the outdoor kitchen because it's just nicer to cook outside in fine weather)

The outdoor kitchen where much delicious stuff goes on
Since you can find zucchini flowers in abundance pretty much everywhere this time of year, here's the recipe (which was not that easy to get because la mama just could not understand how it was that I didn't know this most basic of things)

Fried Zucchini Flowers
This batter will coat enough for a dozen + people 

1 kilo (2.2 lbs)                All purpose flower
Salt and Pepper              to taste
1 cube yeast                  dissolved in 2 cups warm water 
water                            enough to thin the batter "as you like it" 
2 kilo (5 lbs)                  Zucchinis and their flowers - or only flowers
1 liter                           Olive oil - for frying - as needed

 1)  Put the flour in a large bowl, make a "well".  Pour the dissolved yeast into the well. Stir. Add more warm water until the mixture is the right, smooth, consistency for you.  (the thicker the batter, the more doughnut like the result)
2) Heat about an inch of olive oil in a large skillet.
3) Dip one washed and dried zucchini flower into the batter, shake off the excess, cook on both sides to an appetizing golden brown. Drain on brown paper bag. Allow to cool a bit (if you can stand it) taste and adjust batter seasoning if needed.
4) Repeat until there are no more flowers.  Serve hot.
5) Slice zucchini into long strips.  Dip in batter.  Fry.  Drain. Serve.

This batter recipe can easily be cut in half (1 lb flour to 1/2 cube yeast)

You can also try stuffing the flowers with fresh mozzarella or goat cheese or.....?
The options are endless.


                                   We gobbled up all the flowers before I had a chance to take a photo,                                   but here is the actual zucchini cooked in the same delicious way

It's a great life!
A bientot,

Click HERE for a great overview of the culinary and historic richness of Puglia.


Marlene Lockett said...

Oh, Marie! What lovely writing!

I'm going to save this blog because next visit to Italy I plan to visit that area. You make it sound heavenly, and I'm sure it is!

Marie Z said...

I'm sure you will love it Marlene. I still can't get over the fish and the freshness of everything. Next time I'm going to rent a little apartment and stay at least a week!

Anonymous said...

My grandparents came from the heel of the boot as well so I was brought up on their wonderful style of cooking. They came from a place called Ascoli Satriano. I hope to visit there one day. Thank you for the preview of the delights to expect. Cheers, Stephan

Marie Z said...

That part of Italy is very special.. farm land mostly - which supplies the rest of Italy. You will have a wonderful time, I'm sure. You come from a wonderful culinary heritage - so, I hope you learned some of your traditional family dishes and continue to prepare them...

Anonymous said...

The only thing I inherited was my love of baking and I did get all my grandmother's Italian cookie recipes. Among other things, I recently have been asked to do specialty desserts for a local resort. Yay!!!
Cheers, Stephan

Marie Z said...

That's FANTASTIC Stephan... I don't suppose your repertoire includes those amazing cream filled, crispy cornettos???