The typical Salento cuisine (Part of Apulian cuisine) is essentially poor, but at the same time tasty: pasta, wheat, vegetables, vegetables, small fish and portions of non-precious meats were the protagonists of the canteens of farmers, shepherds and fishermen.
The pasta and bread was made out of poor cereals: barley, spelled, rye with which bread and pasta were mixed.
Vegetables were predominant, as well as legumes and extra virgin olive oil. Years of poor harvest, or of scarcity of the same, have led the farmers of Salento to know and to value the so-called “wild vegetables“, which in the absence of anything else have in many cases constituted an alternative meal or real subsistence.
Fish and meats, as well as milk and cheeses, especially the most valuable ones, were for the tables of the lords.
However, the prevalence of typical dishes of the Mediterranean diet here in Salento should not let us think that seafood specialties or those with meat are missing: even if they consist of parts, pieces or species that were not consumed in the most highly-placed canteens they often and willingly constituted – when there was a chance – a precious supplement for our people, who have always been used to work in the countryside, with animals or in the two seas that surround the Salento Peninsula.
Salento, the Province of Lecce are lands to be tasted that have created succulent dishes from nothing … and every real Salento inhabitant is able to explain, cook and serve them to you … both in the sunny summer evenings with a splendid “sea view” or sitting in a “courtyard” of an ancient palace, with a glass of Primitivo or Negramaro by the fire, on a winter evening.
You can also take a look at the typical Apulian cuisine, reviewed long ago.
Let yourself be carried away by smells, tastes … and let the experience begin.
The Roman legionaries, during their grueling marches in defense of the borders of the Empire, carried on them a load of weapons, armor and provisions of no less than 30 kg.
The stops, before arriving at the castrum, that is the fortified military camp, were short and you had to eat something quick and fast … what we today would call a “snack”.
Buccellum was just that: a not too large oval loaf, sometimes mixed with olives or dried vegetables and sometimes seasoned with garum, a sauce made from fish interiors of which the Romans were particularly greedy.
The Salento farmer borrowed this bread from the legionaries of Rome, transforming it into bread seasoned with the “Cellina” variety olive mixture.
It is still customary today in Salento and in the typical Salento cuisine, that it is mainly consumed as a snack stuffed with tuna, capers, dried tomatoes or vegetables (typical Apulian in oil), as an antipasto and, above all, during the feast on the eve of the Immaculate Conception, which is celebrated on the 8th of December every year.
Even the marine world of Salento has left us a strong culinary tradition in the typical Salento cuisine: it consists mainly of the “quataru”, a soup of fish, mussels, crustaceans and vegetables.
Probably “invented” by the Ionian fishermen of Gallipoli or Porto Cesareo, it consisted of “pinched” fish, that is fish bitten by other fish species and therefore not salable on the market, crabs, mussels, spring onions and tomatoes … and a thousand others edible vegetables or vegetables that were on board the fishing boat.
Usually, this was the fisherman’s only meal during his fishing trips, cooked and eaten on the boat, or on the sandy moors of the Salento sea, during one of the rare moments of rest and docking.
It takes its name from the “quatara”, that is the large copper pot with a fairly voluminous shape, in which this tasty mixture of fish was cooked that otherwise would not have been sold.
Recently, Quataru di Porto Cesareo obtained the prestigious recognition of Traditional Agri-food Product from the Ministry of Agriculture.
In Capo di Leuca and in general throughout Salento it was the custom of the peasants, who worked in the fields “te sule an sule” – that is, from dawn to sunset – to have a quick breakfast, but at the same time tasty and nutritious … which was the scurdijata (in other areas called “gialleddhra”, “marenna”, “scarfatu” …): dish based on legumes – broad beans or beans – wild vegetables, or chicory or turnips and bread of the days before, suitably bruscate or fried.
The farmer could put it in his saddlebag, and consume it on the way to the fields – often on foot, rarely or by bicycle for the lucky ones – or at home himself, before setting off to work.
We do not know in a specific way the historical sources that bring us back to the origin of this dish: most likely, it derives directly from the Messapian peasant world, privileged consumer of legumes, and ancestrally anchored in the habits of poor families of laborers or sharecroppers, who made culture reuse and non-waste of food a constant of life.
“The book of Ruggiero”, a collection of geographical maps by the Arab geographer Idrisi, states that in 1154, in the locality of Trabia (near Palermo), a particular food made with flour was produced, with an elongated shape, called with the Arabic term Itriyah (dry noodles or fried noodles); an intense trade soon developed, initially spreading the dish throughout Sicily, then rising to Naples, and again along the entire Tyrrhenian coast, with shipments throughout the Mediterranean, both Christian and Muslim.
Moreover, it also seems that the Romans of the East, better known as “Byzantines”, called “Tria” (which in modern Greek means “three”) a dish made with thin pasta, legumes or vegetables and fried flour dough.
In this regard, it must be said that the Tria is essentially composed of pasta – very similar to modern tagliatelle – legumes – chickpeas, in particular – and “friuzzuli”, that is fried pasta itself placed on top of the dish.
Often and willingly instead of legumes, “mugnuli” are used, a characteristic Salento cabbage, grown mainly in the Leccese area, with a greenish color.
In many countries of Salento it is customary to eat this tasty dish at the table all together in moments of celebration, in particular during the Feast of St. Joseph the worker, which falls on March 19 each year.
The “maritati Lecce” (or ricchie and minchiareddhri) are the basic dish of the Salento culinary tradition.
Essentially made with poor flours (barley, or rye), or with wheat of the famous “Senatore Cappelli” variety, they are made up of “ricchie” – orecchiette – and “minchiareddhri” – tapered pasta with a central hole –
Dressed with fresh tomato sauce and ricotta forte from Salento (called ricotta in dialect “‘scante o scanta”, ie burning), a particular spreadable ricotta with an intense, spicy and fermented flavor, perfect for dressing pasta with sauce or spread on toasted bread.
Until the sixties of the twentieth century, this was the dish served essentially during weddings: in fact they symbolize, for all the Salento people, the loving union between two elements, the masculine, symbolized by the “minchiareddhru”, and the feminine, represented by the ” ricchia “… on closer inspection, in fact, both of these two types of pasta resemble the sexual organs of the man and woman: preparing them, cooking them and serving them during a wedding dinner assumed, therefore, apotropaic and fertility for the married couple.
They are the classic “Sunday dish” and, together with the “ricchie e minchiareddhri” (ie, the “maritati”), the most famous pasta shape in Salento.
It is said that the “sagne ‘ncannulate” (rolled lasagna) were created to pay homage to St. Joseph, as suggested by the shape reminiscent of the wood shavings of carpenters’ workshops.
They can be seasoned with a simple tomato and basil sauce or, in the typical variant of the city of Lecce, with spicy “strong” ricotta (ie “scante” ricotta), with the addition of meatballs.
In some Salento territories, they are also renamed “sagne torte”.
During the First and Second World War, or in any case in past historical times, they were essentially made up of poor flours, such as barley, and therefore took on a darker color.
Exceptionally, or in any case on the tables of the rich this typical Salento food, they were made with a mixture of the famous “Senatore Cappelli” wheat flour.
This is a typical dish of the agro-silvo-pastoral tradition of Salento, and has rather ancient origins.
In fact, from the archaic period (VI-V century BC) up to the beginning of the sixteenth century, shepherding and breeding were important elements of the Salento economy.
Not only that: the transhumance – today recognized as an intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO – which started from the Abruzzi and the Gargano ended with the wintering of the flocks of sheep and goats right here, in particular in the Lower Salento (phenomenon, that lasted at least until 1960).
It was precisely during one of the many stops, by the shepherds, in the farms of Ugento that this dish was “invented”: it is lamb entrails and offal, wrapped in a “nzeppa” of bovine intestine, and cooked in a soup of carrots, sponzali, onions, celery and later also potatoes.
Of the animal, nothing was thrown away: so much so that often the language of the same was served in this soup.
Octopus alla pignata is an ancient Salento recipe whose name derives from the typical terracotta pot in which it was cooked, the pignata.
In octopus alla pignata, the octopus cooks with its own water, and this is the main rule to follow for perfect preparation.
The octopus of which the Mediterranean Sea is rich, can be recognized by the double row of suckers present on the eight tentacles, and is particularly suitable for this type of long cooking.
Its meat is quite hard and therefore as soon as it is caught it is usually beaten hard on the rock to make it tender.
The delicacy is so defined because the octopus is cooked, together with the potatoes, in the “pignata”, the characteristic terracotta container, placed next to and not superimposed on the heart of the flame.
Some think that this is a recipe of the Messapi, an indigenous people who inhabited Salento in the archaic and Hellenistic periods, with the addition of potatoes when they were introduced into the Mediterranean diet after the discovery of America.
The ancient origin and tradition of la Paparina can be seen from its widespread diffusion throughout the province of Lecce where some small variations are often found from town to town.
In some areas, for example, it is considered essential to cook the rosolaccio plants together with those of sorrel in the jargon “lapazzu”, as recalled by an ancient saying: “paparina, paparina, without lapazzu cc’ì nnè fazzu”,(which loosely translates into without the sorrel I cannot do anything with the paparina) or to flavor the preparation with aromatic orange peel.
In Capo di Leuca this dish of typical Salento cuisine is called “fried”, and once it was also a sort of ritual meal consumed around a roaring bonfire in some sort of bucolic celebrations linked in some way to the Lent period.
It is basically the poppy plant, before it blooms, and is also served “a minescia” which translates to soup, with the addition of onion and black olives.
It is an ancient method of preserving food in vinegar, known throughout Italy: from Liguria to Naples, with the correct name of “escabeche”, followed by the dialect variants typical of every region of Italy.
However, in Salento it mainly concerns the conservation of small or medium-sized fish, mainly “pupiddhri” (zerri, in Italian), with the addition of various other components in addition to the vinegar, layered and preserved in wooden timbales: grated bread in a thicker way, saffron (hence the yellow color of the fish and bread), mint, chopped bay leaf and, in some cases, peppercorns.
Masters in the preparation of the scapece in Salento are the Gallipoli fishermen: in fact, the “Gallipoli scapece” is a dish of the typical Salento cuisine of Gallipoli and is prepared as follows: the fish is fried with oil for frying and then marinated in alternate layers with crumb of bread soaked in vinegar and saffron in special wooden tubs.
The scapece is sold on the occasion of patronal festivities and fairs, and was a safe supply in the winter months for the inhabitants of the seaside villages of Salento.