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.
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.)
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.