Primitivo (two ways): Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


Since I’ve spent the last week in Apulia, it only seemed appropriate to feature an Apulian grape this week for the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project. And since we’ve already done Negroamaro, it seemed a propos to feature another one of the most widely planted grapes here, Primitivo. And so, the other day when we went swimming the other day in the Adriatic (at Torre dell’Orso, not far from Lecce), I asked Paolo to pronounce Primitivo for my camera.

Of course, Primitivo is one of the easiest for English-speakers to pronounce. And so I thought it would be fun to spice things up with a dialectal pronunciation.

I’m waiting until after the Radici Wines festival ends to start posting on the wines I’ve tasted, but I’ll give a little preview by revealing that I LOVED the Primitivo by Pasquale Petrera (Fatalone, Gioia del Colle). As it so happens, he uses the dialectal name of the grape on one of the labels of his excellent wines (and I’ll post on my tasting down the road): u Pr’matìv (Il Primitivo, in Italian, the Primitivo [grape]). And so I asked him to take a break from one of the preview tastings and pose for my camera.

Buona visione! And thanks for speaking and drinking Italian grapes!

An incredible meal at Le Zie (The Aunts), Lecce

I joined Paolo and his crew last night for dinner at the famous and homey Lecce restaurant Le Zie, where owner Carmela Perrone insisted on showing me how to dress my fave e cicorie (puréed favas and sautéed chicory) and fed me my first bite, telling me to make a wish (I’ll tell you if it comes true this Christmas).

However simple, her rendering of this dish was no less than a masterpiece.

La tiella (taieddhra in Leccese), named after the teglia or earthenware pot it’s cooked in — baked mussels, potatoes, and zucchine. Unbelievably delicious… Life-changing, really.

We had sat down for dinner at around 10 p.m. and by the time we arrived at the second course, there were no more of the white-wine braised meatballs. And so Carmela breaded and fried some of the meatballs reserved for the next day. This was perhaps the mother of all meatballs…

I don’t have time to post properly on the amazing meal we had there but I will in upcoming weeks… Today, I’m headed over to Manduria on the west coast of Apulia for the preview tastings for the Radici Wines festival… Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Ciceri e tria ai frutti di mare, at once classic and creative

Paolo and I sat down for dinner at about 9 p.m. last night at La Quinta Stagione in downtown Lecce where this fantastic, creative take on the classic ciceri e tria (chickpeas and long noodles) reminded me of what Tony always says: “For Italian food to be authentic, it must be a balance of the classic and the creative.”

The photos simply do not do justice to Chef Franco Tornese’s deft hand.

That’s the amazing chef Franco (standing) with Cataldo Ferrari, vineyard manager at Paolo’s family’s winery Cantele.

Rustico Pugliese, where have you been all my life?

Folks in Lecce don’t sit down for dinner until about 9 p.m. and so Paolo and I popped into one of his favorite downtown bars and had a little merendina.

The rustico (above) is a savory pastry dough stuffed with — get this — mozzarella, béchamel, and cherry tomatoes… Unbelievable…

Rustico, where have you been all my life???!!!

Early report from Puglia: my first puccia! But not my last…

Landed safely in Bari today from Munich together with the German women’s national basketball team (I was one of the shortest people on the plane). Paolo generously came to pick me up and we headed down to downtown Lecce where we stopped for a puccia, the classic and ubiquitous stuffed flatbread of Puglia, one of its “fast foods.”

I wasn’t as ambitious as Paolo in the stuffings I selected (prosciutto, cheese, mushrooms, and arugula). He had his with tuna, prosciutto (yes, tuna and prosciutto!), and insalata russa (vegetable and mayonnaise salad). When I asked him about the unusual combination of salt-cured pork and olive oil-cured tuna, he said, “that’s the whole point of the puccia! You have to mix everything in the puccia!”

The quality of the bread here — even at an urban “fast food” joint like this one — just blows me away.

I wish I had been more ambitious in my fillings… but I know this first puccia won’t be my last!

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…

Campari e Soda: time for a break

Man, I’m tired and it’s time for a break. Yesterday, before meeting friends for dinner after a long day of tasting and business meetings, I took time out for a Campari e Soda at the Bar Commercio (you can imagine the 1950s-era neon sign) on the outskirts of Lecce (yes, Lecce!) where I’ve spent the last two nights.

The bitterness of the Campari was tempered by a sweet, tangy slice of blood orange and the briny olives and lightly salted toasted almonds rolled around my tongue enveloped in the bright red bitters — an earthly however immensely rewarding pairing for one tired dude.

Today I head back to Venice and tomorrow to Austin. Alfonso was right when he told me, more than two years ago, that I would miss Texas more than I could imagine: more than ever, I wanna go home with the armadillo.

I’ve been on the road for nearly two and half weeks and I’ve been away from Tracie P for way too long. I can’t wait to wrap my arms around her and hold her tight again… One more longest night before I will see her again but one day closer to her sweet lips and loving embrace…

Thanks to everyone for following along here and at your visits and comments and encouragement have meant the world to me. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

There’s lot more to tell and there will be time for that, too. But now it’s time for a break…

See you in a few days…