I just came back from a quick jaunt to Puglia. Having traveled the entire swathe of the boot these 20-odd years, I can honestly affirm (and at the risk of causing great controversy amongst my readers), that Puglia boasts the best cuisine in all of Italy.
Certainly, it’s a hard choice: I am the proud owner of a Piedmontese cookbook, I can’t wait for forays into Florence, I love those sweet red onions of Tropea, Ligurian pesto, and truffles on even old shoes will taste terrific. My favorite foods on earth come from Sicily.
But, if the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach, Puglia wins my affection hands down.
This could also be due to the ‘comfort food’ factor of Pugliese cooking. Although my relatives did not hail from this part of the country, their food always tastes like ‘granma used to make’. The baked ziti, the fava beans, the ham in the ragù, the unbelievable bread.
But, I think the food tasted better too, due to the fact that you were finally settling in to be treated with unlimited hospitality and a fantastic bottle of Primitivo, in order to calm, no, numb those nerves from the drive in and around the City Center (the Centro Storico) trying to find the darn ristorante.
There were one way routing systems that went up only (we had to go downhill). Most streets, even major thoroughfares, were without names, cars darted into traffic, blatantly ignoring the stop signs, 420 cars vied for 12 spots. My British friend and rattled driver (whom, I might add, was also driving on the wrong side – at least from his point of view -- adding to our collective angst), kept muttering that he felt like he was in India. I tried pointing out that there were far fewer people and no bony cows roaming down the middle of the streets, but, couldn’t get that out, as at that moment he’d be swerving to miss our 19th stray dog walking down the middle of the street.
Our GPS navigator whom my nephews had christened Lizzy, threw an absolute tizzy-and just gave out. It was the modern day equivalent of “If you don’t slow down/stop and ask directions/find the right turn I’m getting out and walking!!”
My father always quipped that 'Hunger was the Best Sauce'. After a trip to Puglia, I think it’s Road Rage that makes for excellent three course meals, wine included.