ulivo secolare, Puglia

Return to Puglia

I’m on my way back back to frigid Maine after ten days in Puglia, the region at the tip of the Italian boot where massive ancient olive trees are kings of the fields, the region that produces almost half of all the the olive oil in Italy. It’s a place I keep going back to, over and over, even for short visits.

Last year I spent several days in the northern region around Andria, where burrata was invented and then in beautiful Martina Franca, in the heart of the trulli country; this time it was the Salento, the southeasternmost tip of Italy, traveling around the old Greek towns of Sternatia, Calimera, Martano, and so forth. I’ve always felt a strong Greek connection in Puglia, especially in the foodways, from the lavish use of olive oil to the delight in wild foraged greens to the presence of healthy legumes, especially fave which, when dried, are turned into a delicious puree to be accompanied by steamed bitter greens. And lots of olive oil.

Almost 20 years ago I wrote a book about the region, Flavors of Puglia.

Flavors of Puglia

An ignominious failure, it seems to have sold about 125 copies and was quickly let to go out of print. Yet it’s a good book, people continue to seek it out, and I’m thinking of republishing it electronically. For that reason, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I keep looking for new places, new ideas, new foods—that is, places, idea, and foods that are new to me though they may have been part of Puglia’s rich culture for centuries.

One place I discovered this time, through the offices of a group called Agrifeudi, was a terrific little seafood restaurant on the southern Adriatic coast called Anime Sante (holy souls?) where the bill of fare is nothing but fish—and fish caught that day or the day before by Rocco, the fisherman proprietor, with his two sons—who also assist their mother in the kitchen preparing whatever has turned up in their nets. (Greens and salads come from the family’s nearby farm.)

focaccia with tomatoes and anchovies

Focaccia with tomatoes and anchovies

Insalata de bonito con carote

Insalata de bonito con carote

The day I was there it included all sorts of local delights–sweet chunks of Moray eel in tomato sauce, local grano pestato (peeled wheat) in a salad with wedges of calamari, rolled up involtini of sardines, and little pesce azzuro that Rocco called pupilli or zerri, something like big anchovies or herring, fried then marinated in a minty, vinegary scapece. In brief, no great noble fish like swordfish or sea bass or bream, just what is caught locally in nets cast from a small open boat.

Is it worth a trip to Tricase Porto to dine at Anime Sante? I think so—I would go back in the proverbial heartbeat, so delicious and satisfying was this experience. And it was topped by the setting–a warm and welcoming family who, one sensed, were deeply proud of what they do and unashamed of the simplicity of it all. It’s a fine example of what has brought me back to Puglia over and over again.

Anime Sante is in Tricase Porto, right along the seafront, telephone 0833-775-213. It’s a popular spot and I’m advised that if you go during the season, a reservation is essential.

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  • Reply Alba Arboleda February 4, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    How timely! It’s my birthday and I’m planning a late-April visit to Puglia! I’m going to look deeper into Andria, Martina Franca, Salento, Sternatia, Calimera, Martano… find out more about Agrifeudi — and of course Tricase Porto’s Anime Sante. Thank you so much!

    • Reply nancyharmonjenkins February 5, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Alba, you will have a wonderful time–so much to see and taste and do. Go to pascarosa.com, the web site of my friends Brian and Catherine Faris, for more information–they live in Martina Franca and make olive oil there.

  • Reply Adri February 4, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    First, let me say that the book is an absolute treasure. Next, let me thank you for everything I have learned from you, and I mean that from the bottom of my ever so very curious heart. From my own sedlf-serving standpoint i am awfully glad you continue to return to Puglia, and to write about your experiences there. I am quite an armchair traveler, and I enjoy seeing the land through your eyes and experiencing it through your very well attuned and well informed senses. I sincerely hope that one day I might come along for the ride. By any chance did you visit the Schiralli family of Olio Crudo fame?

    • Reply nancyharmonjenkins February 5, 2014 at 8:32 am

      What a lovely post, Adri–thank you so much! I didn’t get to the Olio Crudo family simply because my entire focus was the trulli country and south to the Salento–and they are in Barletta, I think, in any case north of Bari. I looked into it but it was just impossible in the short time I had there. Next time, for sure!

  • Reply Living In Puglia February 6, 2014 at 7:56 am

    I have one of those 125 copies and enjoy it immensely. I have published several ebooks – would be happy to help you publish yours as an eBook

    • Reply nancyharmonjenkins February 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      Thanks so much for the offer but I already have a contract and the process is well under way. It’s just waiting for the author (me) to find time to revise and update some of the information in the book. I do appreciate your offer of help and will certainly keep you in mind for others doing the same. I assume from your website that you are only interested in books about Italy–which is great!

  • Reply Julia della Croce March 3, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Good God! The stupidity of the cookbook publishing business! I have one of those 125 copies, it is a wonderful book. I think the public wasn’t ready for Puglia then, couldn’t even pronounce it! Now it’s the hottest region in Italy (oh, Dear!). You’ve always been a pioneer, Nancy, and you are an inspiration to many.

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