A sinergy of events for celebrating Salento, as UNESCO candidate through an art conference in Galatina, historical corteges and dishes evoking tastes of an ancient gastronomy

Just few days ago, on Saturday April 1st, we had a cultural dip into the historical and art atmospheres of Salento, attending an interesting conference that took place by the ‘Gallerie Teatro Tartaro’ in Galatina, organized by the local Club for UNESCO. In details, the round table was about the precious ‘Orsiniani’ frescos situated in one of the most important Romanesque and Gotic art monuments in Apulia, the Santa Caterina d’Alessandria Basilica.

Galatina - Santa Caterina d'Alessandria

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The architectural structure of the basilica was built during the second half of the 14th century on a preexisting church, which dated back to the 9th – 10th century, according to the will of Raimondello Orsini Del Balzo, prince of Taranto and Count of Soleto. The legend tells that the prince, back from the crusades, headed for a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai and, after stopping by the monstery for paying homage to the body of Santa Caterina D’Alessandria, in a daring way, brought one of her mummified fingers in Italy. The relic was mounted in a reliquary made of silver and nowadays it is still kept among the tresaures of the basilica. After Raimondello’s death, at the beginning of the 15th century,  his wife, Maria D’Enghien, Countess in Lecce, and her son, Giovanni Antonio, continued the works of patronage for the basilica in Galatina and for the magnificent three architectural ordered spire in Soleto, by calling together artists from different painting schools in Italy and expert workers.

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The audience at the conference welcomed with great attention the magistral lesson of eminent art experts and researchers in an almost mystic silence and sometimes with expressions of dilightful astonishment. Among the speakers: prof. Maria Stella Calò Mariani (University of Bari), Antonella Cucciniello (director of the Royal Palace in Naples), prof. Anna Trono (politic-economic geography – Unisalento), prof. Luigi Manni (researcher), prof. Rosario Coluccia (linguist and academician from ‘Accademia della Crusca’)

DSC_0602 at the conference

On Sunday morning, April 2nd, a historical cortege took place in Soleto, a small center that is only few kilometers far from Galatina, where it is possible to contemplate both the beautiful spire of Raimondello and sometimes you have also the chance to visit the tiny precious church of Santo Stefano, an authentic work of art for its decorated walls with sacred scenes.

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The historical cortege of Maria D’Enghien advanced slowly along the narrow paved streets of the old center to the roll of the drums and both the local people and the visitors from the neighbouring towns and villages could admire the refinement of the dresses, worn with elegance and style. Attending the event was an invitation to read a bit more about the local history and its characters.

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Grown-ups and children showed great care in performing the historical cortege of Maria d’Enghien and later on, it was amusing to watch all of them playing and having fun, cheered on by families and friends. In the end, even some parents joined the games.

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In the afternoon, the cortege was in Galatina, where a lot of people gathered by the door of the old town hall and most of them followed the sumptuously dressed characters in a sort of procession that ended in Piazza San Pietro, the main square, where more games, a banquet reserved to the cortege, music and dances took place.

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Along the way, people could stop by a banquet accurately prepared by some students of the Istituto Alberghiero ‘Aldo Moro’ from Santa Cesarea Terme (Ascalone Giorgia, Rizzo Pierpaolo, Scrimieri Luca, Pagliara Chiara, Murrone Angelo) and their teacher (prof. Piero D’Urso) and try delicacies that had tastes and fragrances of the Middle Ages cuisine. (Both of the two pictures have been kindly provided by Club for Unesco – Galatina)

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Many thanks for the remarkable commitment and all we can wish for this amazing cultural initiative is to be performed again at Summertime, when more and more people, both locals and those coming from abroad on holiday, will be glad to attend it.

A spiced chickpeas soup with coriander, turmeric and cumin to welcome this new September weekend

Hello! Soon a new weekend is going to start, so let’s welcome it with the spicy fragrances and healthy lightness of a warm soup made with chickpeas and zucchini. The spices in the soup remind of the inviting fragrances of the Mediterranean lands: the fruits of coriander (a plant that is very similar to parsley and coming from East Mediterranean area) have a delicate, warm aroma, a hint of nut and light citrus aftertaste. The second spice that we will add to the soup is turmeric: for Ayurvedic medicine, the natural root of turmeric is well known for its health benefits, as strong balancer, for its natural cicatrizant, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory effects. India is the main world producer of turmeric, a yellow ochre powder that reminds of the precious saffron fragrance, but, of course, it has a cheaper cost. The black cumin (nigella sativa) is very well known and appreciated in all Middle East and India for its peculiar benefits. Besides, cumin is also cultivated in Europe, North Africa and Asia, it has digestive properties, whets the appetite, prevents spasms and intestinal fermentations. It is highly recommended to use cumin with parsimony, since its flavour is very intense, spicy and it has just an acrid hint.

 Let’s have a look at the recipe now: 

we need about 50g chickpeas per person, 1 or 2 small zucchini, a small onion, some water or bouillon made with vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, tomatoes, herbs, extravirgin olive oil, a pinch of salt) coriander, turmeric and black cumin, salt and pepper, extravirgin olive oil.

 As for how to prepare chickpeas, the process takes a little bit longer, since we need to make the pulses to rest into a bowl full of water for a night: we will help to make the cooking process easier and cheackpeas will taste softer by adding also a sprinkle of salt or bicarbonate. Next morning, in a typical pot made of clay, pour some extra virgin olive oil, add rings of onion, chopped celery and carrot, a couple of small cherry tomatoes, one or two cloves, coriander, hot pepper, salt, chickpeas and water to cover them. We let chickpeas boiling very slow until they get done, tastefully little crunchy outside and soft inside. 

Once chickpeas are done, wash and dice zucchini and then fry gently some chopped onion in few drops of extravirgin olive oil for a couple of minutes, add chickpeas, zucchini and cover them with some bouillon made with vegetables. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper and let the soup boiling. You won’t need to cook it for a long time, (about 10/15min) since chickpeas are almost cooked and zucchini taste better when they are still little crunchy. Please, won’t forget to add half coffee spoon of coriander, turmeric and cumin, but only few minutes before the soup is done, in order to keep almost intact and distinct the different aromas of the spices.  Serve the soup with cubes of warm bread and cheer the arrival of the new season with a glass of rosé wine. On this occasion, I chose a rosè wine coming from Provence (Château Routas Rouvière): fresh delightful pairing with the warm flavours of the Mediterranean cuisine.

Buon Appetito and enjoy a good weekend!

Genuine Fruit Taste in the Dish: Pork Tenderloin and Plum Velouté

  It is already September and, even though Autumn season is at the door, we still keep the fragrances of Summer season. At this proper, I would like to introduce a recipe made with plums (it should be Santa Rosa variety) from a young tree that was planted no more than four years ago in our garden and, in the last couple of years, has elegantly made low bows for inviting to the crop of its pulpy deep red round fruits. Yes, and it is time to prepare something particularly delicious with them. So,  I chose a tender lean pork fillet to make this dish and the other main ingredients are: 4 plums, 2 or 3 leaves of bay, 4 or 5 juniper berries, an idea of garlic, a clove, 3 or 4 spoons of extravirgin olive oil, a spoon of sugar, less than a half glass of white wine (your choice), salt and pepper.

  As first step, make a pesto with garlic, clove, and juniper berries in a mortar. Then, rub the tenderloin with pesto you made, add drops of extravirgin olive oil, leaves of bay and let it marinate for a couple of hours. 

  For the velouté, wash the plums, peel them and make small cubes. Start frying them very gently in extravirgin olive oil, add thinely chopped onion and leaves of bay. In few moments, you’ll see how the beautiful shades of colors of the plums will get even livelier. Add some white wine and let it evaporate. It should take about 15 minutes to have a velvety compote, it depends on how much water the plums have inside. Add a coffee spoon of sugar (at this point, a good suggestion might be to taste the velouté to be sure it is right and delicate, in good balance between an acid hint and sweetness). 

  Last step is to add the pork tenderloin in the pan and keep on cooking all together before the velouté is done. The fillet will be good in few minutes and if you notice that the velouté is getting dry too fast, add a couple of soup spoons of water in order to have a moist creamy result for the recipe. Salt & pepper in the end.

  I would serve this mouthwatering dish by decorating it with slices of plum and bay leaves and I would pair it with a glass of good red wine. Any one you prefer will be the right choice for enjoying a delicious meal. 

Bon Appétit!

Sunday Recipe: Spaghettoni and Cauliflower Cream, the Light Taste of Summer in the Dish

The beginning of Summer is officially round the corner and the weather is a bit bizarre sometimes, any way everything looks more limpid in front of our eyes and we inhale fresh air for reinvigorating in body and soul. The rain is also a blessing for plants that gratefully share their daily ration of nourishment. Lively voices of young children, who play in the small squared garden, and those of grown-ups, who lazily sat on the benches, entertaining themselves in small conversations with their own neighbours, come and go out of the open windows. In the kitchen, as music background to sip slowly like a persistent and tannic ruby wine, a soft ‘Mediterranean Sundance’, magistrally played by the guitars of Paco de Lucìa and Al di Meola, becomes the authentic frame for our Sunday recipe. In the fridge, a small cauliflower peekaboos everytime the door is open, so it might be a good idea to cook it and prepare a nice sauce for our spaghettoni.

Let’s make a vegetable bouillon with carrots, selery, onion and tomatoes: chop everything and start gently frying in extravergin olive oil for two or three minutes, then add also some water and let boil. Again, cauliflowers will go in the boiling water until they will have a soft consistency and the bouillon will be reduced. Then, mash the cauliflowers and make a velvety cream by using the minipimer. Add a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper and melt small pieces of cheese with the fragrance of truffle in the cream. At this proper, for this occasion, I have used  Castello® white with truffle, it has an excellent taste. Besides, it is necessary to underline the fact that there is no crème fraîche in the recipe and this means that each taste is enhanced in a natural and lighter way.

Cook Spaghettoni for the right time suggested on the package, in order them to be cooked ‘al dente’ and, after having strained them, serve on a plate with a couple of spoons of cream and thyme for decoration of the dish. By the way, check whether it is necessary to add some water from the cooking process of pasta: in this case, it might not be necessary, since the cream has been prepared with bouillon and it should be moist and velvety. The taste is really good and it is worth to try.

I hope everybody can enjoy this recipe and wish a good start for the new week!

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A Light Lasagna Stuffed With Summer Vegetables

Hey, we are in Stockholm in these days and right now, while we are in the kitchen, serving a delicious lasagna stuffed with Summer vegetables, we are enjoying the beautiful bright light of the evening. Some little birds are cheerfully playing on the branches of the tree in front of the window and its green foliage dances and shines to the swish of a soft breeze. In the distance, you can even listen to the dominant sound made by the siren of a ship. Two or three segulls on the top of a roof, in the direction of Sofia kyrka, fill the air with their singing.

If you are interested in making this lasagna, here there are some suggestions that might be useful.

As for the tomato sauce, pour some extra vergin olive oil in a pan, small stripes of fresh bacon, a sprinkle of rosemary (better if it is fresh), salt and pepper, chopped onion and garlic. After two or three minutes, add the tomato sauce and let it boiling for a while. At the end, when it is good and thicker, add a small cup of water (or two), since we are going to cook the lasagna pasta straight in the oven with all ingredients.

In the meantime, we have already diced aubergines and bell peppers and we have chopped some leeks, then placed the vegetables in the oven to grill for 10 or 15 minutes (according to your own taste)

At this point, we can start preparing our lasagna, by pouring some sauce on the surface of the baking pan. Then, let’s make some layers by alternating, lasagna pasta, vegetables, spoons of tomato sauce and mozzarella. In the end, before placing the lasagna in the oven for about 15 min/ 20 min (200°), add curls of parmigiano and a sprinkle of nutmeg on the surface.

This dish is ideal served warm, paired with a glass of rosé wine for celebrating the cheerful dress of nature and midsommar, which is almost at the door here in Sweden.

Weekend Recipe: Snails from the garden and drops of homemade garlic sauce

068 lumache e salsa all'aglio

Off the busy activities of the week, here we are to relax and enjoy one of those little things that we love to do at the weekend and, since cooking is one of my favourite, let’s do it, let’s go in the kitchen! In the meantime, the splendid voice of Ella Fitzgerald will flow like a soft wave, and the light of the day will paint of vibrant colors this Sunday afternoon. We had a bizarre weather, during the last week: how good occasion to explore the garden in the early morning and look for snails! It is an old tradition that I learnt from my family when I was very young and, since we do not use pesticides in our small orchard and on our vegetables, the only way to prevent the snails from eating our salad is to prepare a delicious dish by using them as main ingredient.

So, here we have a good handful of snails that we submit to the ‘cleaning’ process by leaving them in a covered bowl for two or three days, and then, after having sprinkled some flour on them, leave them again to rest for a couple of days more. Then, wash and strain them and add some salt. Keep on working energically with your hands (in the bowl) in order to get both foam and impurities out of the snails. Wash, strain and start cooking them.

In a pan, pour and heat some extra virgin olive oil, add rings of onion and leaves of sage and, as soon as the extra virgin olive oil starts sizzling, add the snails and keep on cooking. The fragrance of sage will melt in the air with the fruit spiced flavour of the extra virgin olive oil. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

As for the garlic sauce, which is widely prepared in all the Mediterranean area and served in different and well distinct versions, crush a couple of cloves of garlic in the mortar. Then, by using the pestle, work it, add an egg yolk (room temperature), few drops of lemon, white pepper, a pinch of salt and pour gently, drop by drop, some extra vergin olive oil. Whisk the emulsion like a mayonnaise. As for me, I prefer to do it by hand instead of using the blender for having a velvety thin sauce. In case the sauce will be thicker, you may add a teaspoon of warm water at a time.

Serve the snails by decorating the plate with few drops of garlic sauce and fragranced leaves of sage, warm crisp buttered bread and pair the dish with a glass of very good beer.

Enjoy a nice dinner!

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A Sunday Walk into Beauty and Autumn Fragrances

Fragrances and beauty of Nature on a Sunday walk

In the light mist of a mild Autumn Sunday morning, I joined a couple of friends, Emanuela and Totò (founders and CEO of ‘Avanguardie’ environmental studio and expert guides) and a large group of trekking excursioners. Our 3 hours walk today was up on a hill, in the heart of Apulia region and Salento countryside. Soon, we stepped in a forest and had a dip into an atmosphere made of overflowing energy and tastes of fluttering Mediterranean fragrances.The light danced through the soft swaying of tall pines and just little later, it was amazing to see how the steppe,the forest again and then Mediterranean landscapes alternated one to an other until we walked along an ancient Roman path that took the group to the final destination, the rural architecture of ‘Le Stanzie’.
Besides,it was interesting to listen to the accurate explainations of doctor Marcella Saponaro: the fascinating narration about ancient myths bound to the natural world and plants; on natural remedies and, in particular, about the range of plants we met along the path; the healthy benefits of essential oils, when wisely prescribed by professionals. Oil of cedar wood, for example: one drop of it on each knee and one drop under the feet can help the balance and stability during the trekking training.

Hope you all had a nice weekend!