i should’ve been blogging
from italy last week. sorry. now that i’m home and have internet access, here are some highlights.
a year ago, our friends randall and teresa bought a masseria – a walled italian farm house – called villa pizzorusso. the new part of the house (the two-story part) was built in the 18th century, the old in the 15th. the house wasn’t quite a ruin when they bought it, but nearly, and they’ve been working with a local architect to both restore and update it in the most beautiful way. teresa, who is originally from the area, has exquisite taste.
the house (with a large, walled garden, gorgeous pool and orangerie) sits in a field surrounded by miles of olive groves in the province of brindisi in the region of puglia — the south eastern tip of the italian peninsula – the “heel” of the “boot.” it’s an agricultural region famous for it’s olive oil, wine, fish and beaches.
we met up with our beloved dinner group (5 couples) and ate our way through the region. the first morning we went to a local farm, toured the barns and bought fresh ricotta – it was still warm - made from milk from this guy’s mom.
other culinary highlights included a visit to a friend of a friend of a friend who showed us his grove of 1,200-year-old olive trees. there were 1,500 of them on 2,000 acres.
for centuries these trees produced lamp oil – the fruit was considered too bitter to produce edible oil. the current owner, antonio de gregorio irrigates the trees slightly, producing a sweeter oil. he mixes it with another variety from young trees he’s growing on the same property to produce a really delicious oil. and it’s certified organic. here’s antonio showing us his young trees:
and a branch with the flower buds. each little stem of buds will produce a cluster of olives.
the food in puglia is spectacular. seasonal and simple. we picked up foccacia one day from a focacciaria that teresa “had a feeling about” in a non-descript little town that was the best i’ve ever eaten. we ate at a working farm just outside of ostuni – masseria il frantoio - where a restored farm house has a small restaurant and several guest rooms. the owner/chef cooks with materials they grow or forage from their property. it’s the kind of experience i love – you don’t have to decide what to eat – they bring you what they’re making that day from fresh ingredients. 7 courses. highlights were a wild asparagus flan, little salted breads with wild onion paté, wild fennel pasta with puréed fava beans and an olive leaf liqueur that you could use to fuel a car.
other places that patty likes that we didn’t get to are: osteria piazzetta cattedrale (via arcidiacono trinchera, 7, in ostuni) and ristorante da tuccino (via santa caterina, 69/f, polignano a mare – south of bari).
puglia is dotted with beautiful towns. noteworthy are the baroque city of lecce, the hill town of ostuni and the port of otranto. the catherdrale di santa maria annunciata in otranto houses an extraordinary 700-square foot mosaic begun in 1163 and completed in 3 years by a single artist – a monk named pantaleone. “the tree of life” is represented with it’s roots at the entrance to the church and and all of the oddities of the world growing up and out toward the alter. there are references to christianity, but also to greek and scandanavian mythology as well as the legend of king arthur. this pantaleone was out there — a genius along the lines of hieronymous bosch. the work is stylistically surprising and original in content.
then, as if the oddity of the mosaic wasn’t enough to tweak you out, you find a corner chapel where the remains of 800 beheaded martyrs are displayed (along with the stone they were decapitated on)…
while on the subject of oddities, there is a local form of architecture called a trullo — a round stone house with a conical stacked stone roof. the roof is composed of three layers. the inside dome is a structural vault. next comes a layer of rubble filler. finally, a layer of thick limestone shingles is arranged in a spiral. within the town of alberobello there are two areas completely composed of the little dwellings (plural = trulli). one of the neighborhoods is super tourist-y. the other isn’t. worth seeing for the eccentricity and craft of the structures, but a bit too cute in a hobbit-y sort of way…
randall and teresa will eventually be renting villa pizzorusso by the week. when they get an internet site, i’ll post a link.