Paquetta Revisited

I mentioned the other day how cucina povera was capturing the imagination of foodies the world over and yesterday we had three courses of the famed style of cooking.

It is turning into a big business down here in Puglia and nowhere more so than in Lecce which for years had been known more for it’s baroque architecture than it’s cooking. Indeed some named it the Florence of the south which was to be fair a wild exaggeration and led to quite a few disappointed tourists.

Lecce now boasts lots of cooking schools where people can come to learn about the humble style of cooking and how to transform fave beans, turnip tops, broccoli rabe, chicory,wild asparagus and common ( for here) edible weeds into culinary dishes.

Nor is it just foodies that attend the week long courses but restauranteurs and celebrity chefs now make up some of the attendees.

Last year Unesco awarded the Mediterranean diet — of which cucina povera is very much a part — status as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The organization even singled out its matriarchal debt. “Women play a particularly vital role in the transmission of expertise,” says the Unesco website, “and the safeguarding of techniques.”

The format is pretty much the same which ever school you attend. First a visit to the local market where you learn what ingredients you buy and as importantly what they look like. Then to a locals kitchen to learn how to cook it. For effects sake it is best if the local is an elderly woman who everyone can call La nonna ( grandmother) . The purchases are then cooked under the watchful eye of La nonna and then to much fanfare the finished articles are eaten around a communal table often with a variety of wines to taste and then buy.

What is lacking however at all these schools in Lecce is the real secret of cucine povera, the gathering of the ingredients in the fields and hedgerows in the countryside, much of what is gathered is not available in the local market because it needs to be eaten that day to get the full flavours.

On the very odd day when I am up and about at 5.30 a.m. it is not unusual for me to see 8-10 people out in the surrounding fields looking for produce. this number doubles after rain the previous day as the mushrooms are then abundant. Maybe I should start a small school . I know several nonne who look the part

le nonne and only cook cucine povera and my local bar is full of people who are out in the fields when most of the world is still fast asleep who would be happy to take a few pupils out with them.

Yesterday at lunch there was quite a crowd

Pasquetta Lunch 2014

We started with brodo con tortellini ( soup with pasta and veg)

tortellini soup 015


Then cicoria with a meat based sauce

Pasquetta Starter

a word of warning on cicoria, it seems to cover a variety of sins in cucina povera. Almost anything green that is gathered in the fields seems to be called cicoria and so you really have no idea what you are having and maybe they don’t either come to think of it.

We moved on to cardoncini which you can see in the group photo and I blogged about last week.

All the dishes were washed down at the male only end of the table with red wines and at the female end with water and coca cola . The guy sitting on the left of the head of table as you look at the photo brought his home made wines and good they were. He brought three different types, one very dry, one dry and one slightly sweeter. His father actually makes the wine and he just does the heavy lifting and lots of the field work as his father is in his 80’s now.

I bought my grapes from him when I tried my hand at wine making but this year I am going to be more involved in the actual growing of the grapes. His father is then going to teach me how to make good wine that will last a little longer than 6 months. Hopefully it will improve my Italian as well.

I am still doing Duolingo on the iPad and discovered a good wheeze yesterday. The two young girls in the photo are learning English and lots of the Duolingo Italian lesson is to translate from the English or visa versa so is as good for Italians learning English. So I handed them the iPad and the two busied themselves forging ahead with my lessons.

I got an e mail from “coach” at Duolingo praising my keenness yesterday and the amount of work I had completed. Seems I have a couple of days off as the girls have put me way ahead of my daily goal. So great lunch, great wine and an Italian lesson holiday as well.

Result ! as everyone seems to say these days.






About hereinpuglia

Retired to Puglia after some 40 years in the travel industry working for P&O Lines, British Airways, Alamo rent-a-car,Abercrombie&Kent, owner of Quest Tours and Travel and finally with Thomas Cook North America. Married to Geraldine we now have a small house with too much land near the town of Martina Franca in Puglia. Two kids one married and living in Hong Kong and the other single and living in London. No dogs, no cats no animals.
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5 Responses to Paquetta Revisited

  1. Larry says:

    Always skeptical when a city is billed as being like another city. I have no doubt Lecce is nothing like Florence but I am sure the bigger exaggeration is calling Buenos Aires the Paris of South America – THAT was a disappointment!

    • hereinpuglia says:

      What a pity about Buenos Aires it is on my to do list. I’ve always wanted to learn to tango.These city monikers are silly though, Penang ‘Jewel of the Orient’ is more ‘High Rise Hell’ these days and I believe there are over 25 European cities that have monikers relating to Venice and using all it’s imaginative powers Cairo calls itself ‘the Paris of the Nile’ !

      • Larry says:

        Don’t get me wrong, Buenos Aires is a nice city amd has a lot going for it but for it to be called the Paris of South America is ridiculous!

      • hereinpuglia says:

        Oh good, it’s now back on my list ! especially as the peso I see has gone from 7 to the Pound up to 13 to the Pound. Must make the place cheap.

      • Larry says:

        Yes sir – my crappy US dollar went a long way – cheap good food and if you smoke $6 a CARTON cigarettes! Also incredibly cheap taxis.

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