Sunday, September 30, 2007

More food! (from Italia, natch)

As per request, here are some more photos of food from our trip. It turns out that I don't think I had my camera with me the night that Eric had the fava bean puree and chicory dish (in Basilicata it's made with chickpeas, in Puglia with fava beans). Or I was too shy to take a photo! So, sorry about that...and there doesn't seem to be any photos of this on-line (apparently not a lot of people take photos of traditional Puglian cuisine...)

Here's a few other dishes worthy of photo (and I wasn't too shy).

Did I mention somewhere that the mozzarella di bufala (which is a protected product, DOC type thing) in Campania was really really good?! I had some every day, pretty much, while in Campania. If it's not made from water buffalo but from cow's milk it's called fior di latte (flower of milk, literally) and this has a milder flavor than mozzerella di buffala. Often I had the mozzerella with tomatoes and olive oil, sometimes a bit of something green, arucola or some lettuce (but never basil as we do here). This photo is not of the best example but I ate all the other ones too fast & by the time I remembered the camera it was all gone!

Gnocchi. When we were outside of Basilicata and Puglia usually either Eric or I would order gnocchi. Because, well, gnocchi is just really really good! This one is from Sorrento,

I ate lots of pomodori. They are divine from this part of Italy,

We did have chicory again as contorni (side-dish). It's basically like collard greens or mustard greens, sauteed or braised in olive oil and garlic. A little bit bitter. Chicory is kind-of weedy and we often saw people 'harvesting' it from the side of the road or random, uncultivated fields. It's been eaten around here for a very long time. For example, from Horace (above-mentioned Roman poet; and actually in Venosa they had several signs with quotes from Horace, including this one),

"Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae"
[I am nourished by olives, chicory, and mallow]

At a small trattoria in Acaia (also spelled Acaya) served us these small fried bread balls (with a bit of pomodoro in there too) as an antipasto (we ate them so fast that there were only two left by the time I got out the camera),

The following two dishes are also from that trattoria:
This is another traditional Puglian dish featuring chickpeas! Called Ciceri e tria, it is ribbon pasta, some of which is fried (that's the dark pieces you see), and the sauce is a creamy (not really very much cream though if any? more like cheesy) one of chick peas, onions, and cheese.

I don't remember what this was called but the pasta these short, twisted strips with some orchiette looking ones too. Backed with pomodoro-eggplant sauce and cheese.

We had this artichoke antipasto in Rome on our last night, Carciofi alla Giudia (artichoke in the Jewish style, the restaurant is known for its Roman Jewish cuisine). It's an artichoke heart with some of the inner leaves, deep-fried so the outer part was crispy but the inner heart totally nice and tender (maybe they steamed it first?),

Okay. Now I'm hungry. Darn.

Friday, September 28, 2007

last days in Italy

We're back home now, a bit jetlagged, but happy to see the doggies and Vasco! But I thought I would keep doing some the end we didn't have much access to internet. And there are a couple of posts that I wanted to do all along (sort of combo/overview posts) and I think Eric has a few things he wants to say! Also, I've posted some more photos on my facebook profile thingy...

Our last days in were kind of rainy (first 'bad' weather we had). We went to Castel del Monte, a very famous castle built in the 13th century by Frederick II, who was kind of a renaissance man (poetry, astronomy, etc. as well as you know, wars and stuff),

Then we went back into Basilicata. We had planned to see a few different things in northern Basilicata but 1) we were tired! and 2) it was raining. So we decided to just hang out in Venosa. Which is a charming town, even if it does need more (open) restaurants!
AND it's the citta di Orazio (Horace), since he was born there. Also, it is the site of a tremendous defeat of the Romans (1st Punic war) during which the brilliant general Marcellus was killed (not so brilliant as to not get killed...). There are Roman ruins as well as the ruins of a paleo-christian church, and an old abbey, including an unfinished church. AND a really great archeological museum! In fact, that's just what we managed to see! There is also the (maybe) tomb of Marcellus, Christian and Jewish catacombs (outside of town a bit)... Here are some photos,
the Piazza Orazio Flaco, Poeta Latina, with a nice bronze statue of Horace,

We saw this- likely ancient Roman- in the side of a wall on our street,

This is the castello in town. I've forgotten who built it and when but more important (to us) is the great archaeological museum that is housed in it. It covers Venosa and environs from Neolithic era through to the Romans. The museum rooms are all in the basement-y part, the lower part of the castle pictured here. Very cool!

Dionysian head, in the museum,

Paleo-christian church,

Part of the unfinished abbey (both this and the paleochristian church are next to, on top of Roman ruins),

As we drove from Venosa back to Napoli, we passed Mount Vulture, an extinct volcano on the slopes of which they grow the Aglianico grape vines that they make wine from,

We dropped the car off in Naples, took the train to Rome, and flew out the next morning. Here's one of my favorite little monuments in Rome in the Piazza della Minerva. The obelisk is ancient Egyptian (moved to Rome in perhaps 1st century, see, we aren't the only ones obsessed with antiquity too!) and the charming elephant is by a student's of Bernini's (I think),

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Salentine Peninsula

The past day and a half we spent on the Salentine peninsula, on the Adriatic side. Here are some photos of the sea-- it's just amazing how aqua-colored the water is!

Also, we have seen olive groves everywhere we've gone but here they become more extensive and easier to photograph as the land is (relatively) flat, not mountainous like in Basilicata. The olive harvest here isn't until December! Throughout the Salentine peninsula there are these stone walls delineating the fields, they look very ancient. Just north of the Salentine Peninsula, we stopped at an organic olive oil press and had a tasting (and of course did some shopping). They are also developing chocolate made with their olive oil, I thought it was totally yummy. But not for sale yet. Bummer! We'll just have to come back...
Olive grove and olive photos,

Monday, September 24, 2007


It's very late, but here's a map of Puglia, where we've been for the last few days.

Towns visited: Otranto, Lecce, Capo Santa Maria di Leuca, Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Ostuni, Trani, Alberobello, Altamura (not in that order though!). We also went to Grotti di Castellana which the town Castellenaa Grotte is named for.

Tomorrow, back to Basilicata (north this time)

Food of Italy

Probably the best food we've had was at a tiny restaurant in Aliano. This was the kind of place where there was no menu, the proprietor simply listed what was available. (we understood about 1 word for every 8 but no matter). Eric had some potato ravioli with pesto and the local (Basilicata and some in Puglia too) specialty, fried breadcrumbs,

Together with a lovely pomodoro-peperocini-cucumber salad I had some really awesome, very pungent pecorino cheese with local honey (I never would have considered these two together but it totally works!),

In both Basilicata and Puglia they go in big for dried chili pepper type things, many houses have them hanging out front (like ristras in New Mexico),

They make their way into the cuisine, sometimes as a macerated sauce, served on the side, like in this dish of pasta and chickpeas,

or whole as in this Basilicatan pasta dish,

Chick peas and favas are big in both Basilicata and Puglia. Eric had a very traditional dish of pureed fava beans topped with chicory greens in Alberobello (there appears to be evidence that this dish is very ancient- back to ancient Egypt!). I can't find photo right now! check back...must be here somewhere...

In a bar (different from an 'American' bar) in Martina Franca (Puglia), we had these really good, tiny fried calzones (that's what I call them), we gobbled them up!

Another traditional Puglian dish is orcchiette e rape (turnip tops or broccoli stems, etc).,

The pasta we've had in Basilicata and Puglia have been outstanding! Often homemade, it tastes totally different from pasta in the states. A lot of the times, like in Aliano, we have the best food in tiny towns where they only have a few dishes at a time. I've got lots more pics I will share when we get home for anyone who's interested! If only you could eat some with us!


Going back in time...before we went to Alberobello we briefly visited Pietrapertosa, the highest (in elevation!) town in Basilicata. First we saw these mountain peaks in the distance,

then we realized the town was up there and we had to go up the road to get there!

We wanted to go to the town of Castelmezzano on our way but the road was closed, here it is in the distance...looks nice...

Finally we reached Pietrapertosa! Here are some scenes,

these are from the 'Arabata' district, basically the old, historic district that is mostly in small vias and flights of endless stairs,

And the 'modern' part of town,

We also went to the town of Accettura which was not quite as nice as Pietrapertosa, plus all the black widows (as well as other people) that Eric tried to say "buona sera" to ignored him and we decided they were very un-Italian (in general, small town folks in Basilicata are highly suspicious, and can't really understand why random tourists are wandering through their streets, fair enough)! The surrounding countryside was great though and we saw some nice animal life,

(yes, that's a PIG! In the middle of the road! There were three? four? of them!)

Alberobello, part 2 with photos!

We figured it out! I forgot to mention in the last post that we stayed in hotel that had rooms in the trulli. Our room was a little apartment with the living room with fireplace being the conical part and the bedroom, bathroom and front hall being side parts of the building. Very cool!

This is a church of Trulli in Alberobello

Here's a rural version with some friendly horses,

Here's some trulli in the city of Alberobello, awaiting restoration (Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so there seems lots of $ for restoring houses to live in). This one shows the traditional way of building them, without mortar. But missing is the whitwash on the very top and on the sides of the cylindrical walls.

Another city view, these are in the commercial district. Some of them have so-called magical symbols painted on them. Here you can also see the whitewashed pinnacles (at very top)


We are quite behind on posting...we were in Alberobello a few days ago, but there are not a lot of internet cafes here in Puglia....or they are closed (permanently or just for the weekend). We are at one now in Otranto on the Salento Peninsula in Puglia but the connection is slow (never mind wifi!!!) and the internet explorer (crap!) crashes everytime we want to post a photo and won't even let us copy and paste anything, which is a town in the Zona dei Trulli. Trulli are stone huts of mysterious origin - perhaps Mycenean?- that have been built here for centuries. There are farmhouse-farm hut versions and city versions. Hopefully we will post some photos somewhere down the line...

Friday, September 21, 2007


Matera, one of two provincial capitals of Basilicata, is the most famous place in Basilicata (not that it is very famous outside of Italy, but it should be!). It's probable that people have lived on the side of this ravine since pre-historic time. The people have (and now again do) live in houses carved out of the tufa- soft rock- in the side of the mountain, structures which are then embellished and built upon. There are something like 155 carved rock churches, many with frescos - with a decidedly Byzantine style (immigrants, you know). In the 1950s the government evacuated all the families living in I Sassi (the stones) as these rock-cut/cave dwellings are called, due to unhygenic living conditions. Long an embarrassment, these are slowly coming back, the history being re-claimed. They are being restored and many are hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, shops, and houses once again. We stayed in two such hotels--
Here's (our admittedly swank) first hotel room (Hotel Sant'angelo),

And the view through the door of our second hotel room,

A view of i sassi at night,

One of the frescos (most of the churches are dark and do not allow one to take photos) from San Nicola dei Greci,

View of i sassi,


Aliano is, at least, indirectly, the reason we have come to Basilicata. It was the site of in-country exile of Carlo Levi, a painter and philosopher who was vocally anti-fascist and so was sent to the middle of nowhere by Mussolini. A British travel writer, David Yeadon, who had read Levi's book Christ Stopped at Eboli (Eboli is not far from Paestum and Salerno in Campania) about, among other things, Basilicata. Yeadon and his wife decided to live for a year in Aliano a few years ago and he wrote a book about living in Aliano, the places he went in Basilicata, the people and dogs he met, which I read. And so I fell in love with Basilicata from afar. So of course, we needed to go to Aliano.

It's still in the middle of nowhere. But what nowhere! Situated at the top of a mountain with only 1 functioning road (for cars) in and out with cliffs and bluffs and olive groves on the sides of the mountain.

The town of Aliano has very much embraced Levi as their own, as he himself did- he was in exile for only a year but he requested that he be buried in Aliano (we did visit his grave, which had some flowers - fake - and small stones left there in homage). The museum with his paintings and the house where he was confined were both closed (they seem to perpetually be so), the house appeared to be under-going renovation. All through town there were markers with quotes from Levi as part of the Parco Carlo Levi- his thoughts on Aliano, Naples, the new fountain built in a town, the elementary school...whatever. And here is a bust in a small park dedicated to Levi in the centro storico,

The centro storico, essentially next to the modern town and a bit down, was lovely. There was a lot of renovation and restoration going on- lots of workers and architects with plans running around. There were several marked historical palazzos. A few people were living in the restored or semi-restored houses and it seems that more and more will move back,