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July 4, 2014 6:16 pm
Having spent a couple of weeks in Calabria last year and a week in Puglia this, it has been interesting to compare these two provinces of southern Italy. The similarities between them are surprisingly few and far between. Puglia is a rich, fairly flat and abundantly fertile region, almost all of which is cultivated. Calabria has a largely barren, mountainous landscape that yields little.
Scroll down for method and ingredients
Puglia is comparatively prosperous: the bourgeois enclaves of handsome and ageless towns such as Lecce and Ostuni come as a surprise to one expecting a peasant economy. Calabria is not so much peasantry as a mixture of poverty, villainy and indolence. There is little evidence of gainful employment. No buildings are ever completed above ground-floor level in order to avoid taxation. The local butcher may have sausages and perhaps beef or goat. He will sell a red wine he has bottled himself for €2 or €3, which will be potable when chilled. A good dinner might be €10, a haircut €5. The choice of vegetables is fairly meagre; my request for lemons in the supermarket was not satisfied.
By contrast, the market in Ostuni is abundance itself. Such is the fertility of the soil and the generosity of the climate that there is a huge range of vegetables in season at any one time.
In May we bought broad beans, tomatoes, melon-shaped and fragrant cucumbers, thin and snappy little French beans, pungent cicoria, flat peaches, strawberries and cherries. We could have bought more but we were well laden and even the appetites of a dozen food hacks might have been exhausted by the assault.
The offering of meat or fish in the market was quite limited. However, the converse was the case when we were taken to an unprepossessing restaurant in the resort of Torre Santa Sabina, a 20-minute drive from Ostuni. Ristorante Miramare da Michele is not much more than a Portakabin stuck on the edge of the harbour. There were no vegetables on offer, nor any meat. Eleven of us sat down at 1pm, were regaled with surprisingly crisp, dry white and rosé wines and left the table two-and-a-half hours later after the most extraordinary piscine feast of our lives.
The opening antipasti were variations on a few themes. There were fat and juicy prawns, simply cooked and served unadorned. There were cephalopods – squid lightly grilled, octopus braised to a melting tenderness and cuttlefish cooked three ways. There were mussels cooked with chilli and tomato and the wholesome and aromatic concoction which I approximate here. There were plates of crudo comprising raw clams, mussels, oysters, whelks and sea bream, all glistening with freshness. After this huge picnic came two pasta dishes: one a spaghetti adorned with langoustines and the other an orecchiette with spiny lobster that I rhapsodised a couple of weeks ago. This was followed by some grilled bream and red mullet. No dessert was taken.
The cost of this banquet was €460, including a heroic quantity of wine – about £34 per person. I know price is an irrelevance, especially to FT readers, but all future remittances may be posted to the author, care of a poste restante somewhere on the Puglian coast.
A sort of healthy, inverted moules frites.
|1||large white onion|
Rowley’s drinking choice
Finding dry, crisp acidity in Puglian whites remains challenging although not impossible. A Verdicchio from the Marche might be a safer bet for this robust dish.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Photograph: Andy Sewell
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