Rome, Venice, Florence, Tuscany, so much has been written about travel to these areas of Italy. While living in Italy, one of our favorite destinations was Alborobello, a town on Italy’s heel in the province of Puglia. It enchants you with its architecture, wine and food (Puglia inspired recipe to follow!).
Alborobello was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site primarily for its trulli houses, conical roofed houses made from local limestone. Several theories for the distinctive construction of trulli houses include avoidance of the tax man and that they originated from early Greek inhabitants. In the 17th century taxation was imposed on permanent structures. Trulli houses could be easily dismantled by pulling out one stone, voila! no permanent structure here! Puglia was colonized by the Greeks. There are many examples of conical roofed dwellings throughout the Mediterranean. Some suggest that the word tholoi for tombs in Mycenae, Greece evolved into the word trulli.
There are many online resources for booking Trulli houses as your accommodation in Alborobello. We stayed in Trulli Paparale, on the outskirts of Alborobello. It was the perfect location, walking distance to Alborobello, but far enough away that we could enjoy the countryside.
An easy walk into Alborobello allowed us to explore narrow streets and Trullis that were restaurants and shops full of local food products. We especially enjoyed primitivo wine, a Puglia specialty similar to zinfandel.
Some trullis have symbols on them. Their exact origin is unknown, but some theories are that they were to protect against evil spirits or that they have an astrological meaning.
An early morning walk in the countryside around our Trulli gave us a glimpse of rural life in the area. We had the luck of coming across an olive harvest as it was taking place. Large green nets were laid out to catch and collect the olives as they fell from the trees after being shaken out by a machine with a long pole that vibrated violently.
There was a slight fog during our morning walk in the countryside which provided a lovely ethereal backdrop.
I hope you take the time on a trip to Italy to explore this less visited area of the country.
While in Alborobello we had a soup made with a local pasta. We did not get the recipe from the restaurant, but Jeff created a recipe using the pasta and the flavors from that soup.
This simple soup makes enough for two as a main meal or 4 as a side dish.
1 TBSP dried chives
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp red pepper flakes
6 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
2 cups Orecchiette, Cencioni or other small decorative pasta
3 ½ cups water + more as needed
½ cup whole milk
1/3 lb Italian hard salami cut into pieces that will fit on a spoon
5 sun dried tomato halves diced (about ¼ cup)
5 cherry tomatoes diced (about ¾ cup) + extra for garnish
½ cup freshly grated hard or simi-hard strong flavored cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano
Cheese rind (This is optional, and yes you should be saving these! When you finish a cheese with an uncoated rind just put it in a bag in your freezer and use it in soups.)
Fresh basil as a garnish
Add olive oil, chives, salt, basil, oregano, fennel, pepper flakes sun dried tomatoes and pasta into a large sauce pan (2 ½ quarts). Heat the pan on medium, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes or until you start to see a little browning on the pasta. This allows the seasonings to bloom and the pasta to be well coated. Next, add the water, salami and cheese rind (if using). Bring to a simmer and stir often. This allows the starch in the pasta to come out and helps thicken the soup. In about 5-10 minutes the pasta will still be a bit “toothy” and the soup will just be beginning to thicken. Add the milk, tomatoes and grated cheese. Stir to incorporate and simmer for a few more minutes to allow the pasta to finish cooking and the tomatoes to cook down just slightly. Add water as needed if the soup is too thick. Remove the cheese rind, serve in a bowl topped with some of the reserved diced tomato, a sprig of fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Best if accompanied by crusty bread that has been soaked with olive oil and lightly toasted.
About the pasta
Orecchiette (singular: orecchietta), a home made typical pasta of Puglia, its name comes from its shape which looks like a small ear
Photo: By Liveon001 © Travis K. Witt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Cencioni, or “little rag” in Italian