In Puglia they do it the traditional way. Donato Vannella, head chef at the Masseria Torre Coccaro ... [+] farmhouse hotel hangs out tomatoes to dry under the Apulian sun.
"Signora, eccola! The parmigiana di melanzane you prepared this morning," says the Italian waiter, presenting me with a white baking dish of a still bubbling, Vesuvius like concoction, of darkened eggplant erupting through lava red sauce and golden crust.
I think my great contribution to this dish was simply looking on as the hotel chef Donato Vannella whipped it up with the ease of riding through the Puglia olive groves of southern Italy on a Vespa. This while attending a morning cooking class at the fortified defense tower, now luxury hideout, Masseria Torre Coccaro.
Many of the flavors on the table at the Puglia farmhouses come from organic vegetable gardens like ... [+] this at the Masseria Torre Coccaro
Set in a vast estate overlooking the Adriatic Sea, the bastion was once used to stave off invading Saracens. Today its rural bliss personified; a chalky white walled farmhouse with warm country decor, set amid fields of almond and carob trees.
The views over the property in the morning are startling. Blue skies, blinding white walls. This could be Greece. Stairs and walking paths wind their way through the buildings and up to various lookouts.
The white walled Masseria Torre Coccaro is a luxury 5 star rural stay, set between the Puglia ... [+] countryside and Adriatic Sea, with its own white sandy beach area, an olive therapy wellness centre, and a daily cooking class where you can learn to make classic Apulian dishes.
Hotel guests join in the daily cooking class with Masseria Torre Coccaro chef Donato Vannella on the ... [+] right.
Puglia is a crossroads says owner Vittorio Muolo, You have the typical trulli (conical roofed dry stone huts) of Saracen origin, the Baroque beauty of Lecce, built by the Spaniards, white towns that evoke Greece, and 13th century castles built by German Emperor Frederick II.
The cooking class is held in one of several vaulted cellars, among a handful of participants. After learning to make a trio of dishesI then get to eat them, by the sea, at the Coccaro Beach Club.
No problem with social distancing here: The Beach Club of the Masseria Torre Coccaro. The Brindisi ... [+] coast despite the recent tourism influx is laid back. The closest town is Fasano, the Province is Brindisi, the region Puglia-or Apulia, southern Italy.
Next I am presented with "my taralli" a basket full of golden,pig-tail curled aperitif biscuits.The smell of the still warm, olive oiled dough mixes in a heady fashion with the restorative salt air and sea breeze of Puglia.
Making taralli at the Masseria Torre Coccaro cooking school. This is one of the hardest things I ... [+] have ever done and I hardly can say I mastered the art. Learning to ride a bike was much easier!
At this point, I do something which would be impossible in todays climate: I offer the taralli round to my fellow diners. (There are many grateful takers). These are incredibly tricky to master. But no packet variety will ever match homemade taralli, which you can flavor with fennel, or aniseed, garlic or rosemary as you please.
The Puglia coast is perhaps the most peaceful area I have ever ridden. Bike paths mostly equate to ... [+] minor country roads through the olive groves
Other than adding severalinvaluable dishes to my Italian cooking repertoirewhich I constantly revisitthe memories that linger most strongly are those of Apulias rural landscapes. Wandering down country lanes, riding a bike along the coast, or heading off horse riding.
Actually, I stumble straight into the woods from my quarters. The villa has a private garden, pool and gazebo, swept in by old farm walls. The lodgings are earthy, with warm country decor, stone floors, hearths. (See details here of current measures being taken for your safety and serenity. Free cancellation is also offered).
A junior suite at the Masseria Torre Coccaro. Set in the old farmhouse building and defence towers, ... [+] the lodgings have vaulted ceilings and chalky white walls, as well as private pools and gardens.
Lecce is a bit far away by bike, but dont miss a trip to the beautifully Baroque-endowed "Florence of the South." It lies about an hour to the south, right down on the heel of Italys boot.
Back at the masseria just chill. The dinner ambience, outdoors under the moonlight (and bougainvillea-covered pergola), is magical. When the whole estate lights up by lantern at night, its like being on your own private Greek island.
A similar atmosphere awaits when I walk across the fields one evening to the Masseria Torre Maizza. The 16th century country house has entered the Rocco Forte fold since I dined there. But a taste of Puglia is apparently just as important now, at the Carosello. The restaurant takes its name from a Pugliese gourd, a kind of rustic cucumber. Housemade pasta in casa, wild herbs and vegetables, fresh fish and Apulian cheeses and meat are served up under the whitewashed ceilings of the former stables.
A famous Puglian dish is the Orecchiette Small Ear pasta, served with garden fresh organic ... [+] broccoli. This version is a healthy whole wheat one.
Local foodsfarm deli meats and cheesewill, by the way, creep onto your plate from breakfast time at Apulias masseria.
Agricultural Products are importantissimi! exclaims Vittorio Muolo. From local fishermen we source scampi, mussels, yellowfin tuna, snapper, monkfish and turbot. From local farms, the best lamb and Podolico beef, free range chicken, and Apulian cheeses such as Burrata (fresh cows milk cheese) and Canestrato (a hard cheese made from a mix of sheep and goats milk).
We have a network of people who search for wild seasonal harvest, from porcini and Cardoncelli mushrooms to asparagus and snails, to sivoni (a herbaceous plant), myrtle leaves and berries.
Another Puglia delight: "Linguine agli scampi" - linguine pasta with herbs, garlic and king prawns
A lot of the produce too comes straight from the garden which was established in the 17th century by Benedictine monks (the spices followed later).
Expect to be handed Muolos Lexicon Of Taste. Puglia is not necessarily vegetarian heaven. The Pugliesi throw out nothing from butchered meats, I read. Leading to recipes such as baked lambs head with breadcrumbs and pecorino. Certainly intense tastes for strong palates, like those of the shepherds.
Nearby marketplaces too brim with local savors (though thankfully not with lambs heads). A couple of other famous Apulian delights are OrecchietteSmall Ear pasta, and onion-filled Calzone di Cipolla.The masseria proposes to guests over a dozen food and wine itineraries in the area, taking in farmhouse gastronomy and olive oil museums. You can buy beautiful olive-based toiletries at the Masseria Maccarone, which also leases rural apartments. The fortified estate boasts 20,000 olive trees. Within its walls are a 1500s shepherd's house, 1600s farmhouse and 1754 manor house.
The Masseria Maccarone in Fasano, Puglia is both an olive oil tasting farm (Azienda Agricola) and ... [+] apartment stay. Here you can buy olive oil and olive-based toiletries.
Another sure way of chilling, and immersing in Puglias olive culture, is to head to the Ayurveda Spa for some detox olivetherapy. Prepare to be basted all over with olive paste, made from crushed fruit, leaves and extra virgin oil.
If all this sounds too over-the-top olive, alternatively you can opt for a spot of yoga or tai chi, or a steam bath. But says Katja Brinkmann, Muolos German wife, the olives will rejuvenate and are powerfully antioxidant.
Right beside the herbal garden were doing daily yoga classes. While youre enjoying your Asanas you can watch the birds, the lizards, the bees passing by!
"In our spa we even use olive mousse as a nourishing natural body mask, or the oil as massage oiltheres a special feel about those treatments since the ingredients come directly from the garden, without any preservatives or other additives.
Puglia is pure olive country: our olive oil is among the best in the world. All around the masseria weve got thousands of ancient olive trees, some of them are more than a thousand years old. You kind of feel the history, generations of farmers cultivating the trees over the centuries. Its Puglias gold, this olive oil.
Puglia Zen: Yoga among the olive trees. You can also head to the spa for some olive therapy, and be ... [+] pummeled all over with antioxidant rich crushed olive fruit, leaves and oil.
Across the fields is a wellness giant, Borgo Egnazia. The Happiness Breaks here hinge heavily on nutrition and a Mediterranean lifestyle. Coupled with laughter lessons and aromatherapy treatments, a special antioxidant-rich spa diet guarantees to get you laughing copiously, and back in balance.
Masseria Borgo Egnazia offers Happiness Breaks which hinge heavily on nutrition and a Mediterranean ... [+] lifestyle. The cucina here is also strongly sourced from local producers, the land and the sea.
Small producers are also the passion of Domingo Schingaro, the Michelin-starred executive chef at the sprawling resort (more a village in itself as its name suggests).
Here we are very lucky to have an incredible variety of vegetables and a huge culinary heritage, he says. For example there are 30 different kinds of tomatoes, 10 kinds of artichoke and 8 of chicory. At the Ristorante Due Camini, he likes to use simple ingredients, generally considered as poor, but actually very precious. (A delicious traditional peasant dish in Puglia is fave e cicoriabroad beans and chicory. Another, tiella barese, a baked casserole of layered mussels, Arborio rice, potatoes, onion and garlic topped with Pecorino).
About 95% of the raw ingredients used at the multitude of restaurants here are local. In his spare time, Schingaro even likes to forage for wild herbs growing between the countryside and the sea.
In many ways the flavours of Puglia are as rustic, simple and straightforward as the countryside ... [+] from which they come. Here the medieval Trulli conical dry stone huts. The 16th century were once basic rural huts now turned luxury lodgings on Apulia's masseria farmhouses.
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Italy Travel: Here Are The Incredible Italian Flavors You Will Find In Puglia - Forbes