When it comes to postcard perfect – or, let’s be frank, #panorama perfect – holiday destinations, few come close to the charms of Puglia, the vast region encompassing the heel of Italy’s well-trod boot from its ankle to its stiletto tip, along which is strung a sequence of small towns each more endearing than the last.
Long the province of summer holidays for well sunned and well fed Italians who’ve made generous use of its turquoise beaches, abundant fresh seafood and embrace of a dolce vita ethos, Puglia is proving just as popular a destination in the winter months when, though its too cold to swim and idle away days by the Adriatic and Ionian seas, the lack of beach centric distractions (and, as a result, tourists) open up the region’s inland, with its vineyards and valleys, for ample exploration.
Raised in this dynamic region is publisher turned debut author Elisabetta Minervini, who was born in the medieval port city Molfetta near the capital of Bari, and who has since transplanted her love for the Puglian lifestyle and its vibrant cuisine to her new home in London. In her first cookbook, Mammissima: Family Cooking from a Modern Italian Mamma (out now), Minervini – a mother of two with her own business, Alma Books – espouses the virtues of an approach to cooking that privileges speed and simplicity over house spent slaving above the stove.
Puglian cuisine enjoys a similar no nonsense approach. Think the core elements of Italian cuisine amplified by the region’s bountiful produce: mussels, tomatoes, basil and parsley play off against the region’s special white truffle of Corigliano d’Otranto, heartier mushrooms and potatoes.
From Bari to the Baroque city of Lecce, widely known as the Florence of the South and the capital of Salento; to the Gargano prominatory, with its breathtaking beaches and national park in the north and the southernmost point of Santa Maria di Leuca, the Puglian region is vast and various and sure to induce an appetite as wide-ranging as the land.
Below, Minervini provides us with a culinary roadmap to four days spent in her beloved Puglia region.
“A delightful restaurant with a garden patio, not far from the beautiful Trani Cathedral.”
“A wonderful place facing the sea. The food is sophisticated and delicious. It’s also great for pizzas if you are going with your kids.”
Villa Fenicia Berardi, Ruvo
“The chef here – Signor Berardi – is a superstar, and his chocolate shop in Central Ruvo, featuring a wide variety of handmade chocolates, is one of my favourites.”
“Famous for offering diners a typical Pugliese menu.”
“A Michelin-starred restaurant renowned for its quality and elegance.”
“Situated in the centre of Bari, this restaurant offers great examples of Barese cuisine.”
Ai 2 Ghiottoni, Bari
“I recommend this restaurant for its wide variety of seafood.”
Masseria Barbera, Minervino Murge
“Situated in the Murge area, this is one of my favourite restaurants for the excellent variety of Puglian recipes it offers.”
Osteria La Murgiana, Gravina in Puglia
“The perfect place to eat funghi cardoncelli, the typical mushrooms from Puglia.”
La Locanda di Sabino, Sammichele Di Bari
“Try the Zampina here, a long and thin sausage typical of Sammichele di Bari.”
Bio Masseria Santa Lucia, Alessano
“The best place to try typical dishes from Salento, using organic products from the area. They also run a Pizzica course (a traditional Salento dance).”
Osteria del Porto, Savelletri
“One of the best places for fresh sea urchin.”
Mammissima: Family Cooking from a Modern Italian Mamma, published by Bloomsbury, $39.99, is out now
Tile and cover image: Instagram