Awesome stuff I ate in Puglia (part I)

On the Sunday in mid-February that Paolo and I drove from Bologna (where he had been working the market) down to Lecce, he had some personal business to attend to and I was my own for dinner. He advised me to go to the Joyce Pub, one of the only decent places, he said, to eat in downtown Lecce on a Sunday night. Wherever there are students in Italy, there are pseudo-Irish pubs (hence the name Joyce). Evidently, this place has evolved into a popular restaurant as well but you can still get a decent pint of Guinness there.

My dinner-for-one began with minchiareddi al pesto leccese (above), finger dumplings with an arugula pesto. Arugula is ubiquitous, it seems, in Apulian cuisine and this dish was delicious. (I couldn’t help but wonder the next day: are minchiareddi “little minchie,” i.e., “little dicks”? But a little bit of philological digging back in the States revealed that minchiareddi are probably so-called because they are like “little fingers” or “pinkies,” mignolo in Italian from the Latin minimus as opposed to minchia from the Latin mingere, to urinate.)

The meatballs are the big attraction at the Joyce and were highly recommended by Paolo. Most guests (on that crowded Sunday evening) ordered meatballs and French fries (cut like steak fries), dipping the potatoes into tomato sauce. To my mind, great meatballs are all about the balance of firmness and tenderness. These balls had the right stuff! I almost ordered a second helping.

For dessert, sheep’s milk cheese studded with peppers and accompanied by walnuts and honey.

I washed it all down with a rosato from Negroamaro by Vigne e Vini. I didn’t know the producer or the wine but my server was kind enough to let me taste it before ordering (on her recommendation). Saignée-method (or Salasso method as it’s known in Italy) rosé wine from Negroamaro is IMHO one of the greatest values and surest bets when it comes to value-driven food-friendly wine. This wine was fresh and clean, low in alcohol (12.5%), and had just enough tannin to pair well with the meatballs as well as the dumplings. Negroamaro is probably the greatest Italian grape variety for rosé and I’m on a personal campaign to convert my rosé-avverse countrypeople to a belief in its virtues. (We serve Paolo’s rosato from Negroamaro by the glass on my list at Sotto in Los Angeles.)

More awesome stuff I ate in Puglia on deck… stay tuned…