Lets make Focaccia

The bank holiday seemed an excuse to spend some time in the kitchen practising some of my new skills learnt on my recent foodie vacation.

I’ve had a go at bread before but usually use a bread machine for the kneading part, so Focaccia would be perfect as its not a ‘kneaded’ bread!!

I think Anna-Rita, Guiliano and Angelo would be proud of me, I got some fresh yeast from our local Tesco’s bakery (they do have at least one use!), added it to the warm water and sugar and put it to one side for 10 minutes to let the yeast start to feed.

In the trusty Kenwood bowl, Tipo ’00’ flour, milk and olive oil were added and the mchine put into a ‘canter’!

Once the ingediants are combined and you can see some ‘life’ in the yeast/water sugar mix, add it to the bowl and continue to mix.  The bowl on the left is after the 1st rise, as it was a sunny afternoon I put the bowl on the window ledge and let nature do its stuff.

I was thinking of a nice light dessert and remembered the Lemon Tart that was part of the ‘Italian Experience’, and the sweet confit of lemon that was served with it. Out with the Mandolin and two lemons later the slices were ready. The method I choose (thanks Google), was to pour hot water over the lemons first and allow to cool, do this twice before making a 50/50 sugar/water mix in a saucepan and simmering on a gentle ‘bubble’ for 1 1/2 hours. The soaking in hot water apparently removes any bitterness. You should end up with a jar like this.

Back to the Focaccia, after the batter has risen, add loads of olive oil to a tray, and also cover your hands in it too, tip the mix into the tray and gentle spread out to the sides, I used a combination of ‘exotic’ cherry tomato’s and Rosemary to decorate the bread and enhance the flavour. Mine looked like this when ready. I let it rise for about another hour before putting in the oven to bake.

I had picked up some Veal from our trusty farm shop to make Braciole, a stuffed meat dish that is used to flavour a tomato based sauce that goes with pasta such as Orecchiette. It needs to be flattened out to make small ‘escalopes’, stuffed with two cheeses, I used Gran Padano and Parmesan and some fresh flat leaf Parsley. Dont forget to season with Pepper, you don’t need to add salt due to the cheese. Once wrapped the rolls are secured with a couple of cocktail sticks.

Fry the Braciole in a saucepan, in Olive Oil until sealed all over, pour in a jar of Passata and simmer for 90 Minutes untill everthing is tender and the sauce reduced.  The Sauce is served with the Orecchiette.  I will talk more about the lemon dessert another day as I managed to drop mine as I was getting it out of the oven!

So there we have it, Braciole, Focaccia and Orecchiette in tomato sauce.
Delizioso, Buon appetito!

Arrivederci Masseria Montenapoleone

Today I am off back to ‘sunny’ England but not until I complete one more class with the lovely Anna-Rita, and the two comedians Giuliano & Angelo!

I was waiting at the kitchen door and hey presto, there was Anna-Rita with her trusty bible of family secrets, I wondered was the plan was for today. Angelo and Giuliano were not around to interpret so we just carried on until they arrived.

Cavatelli Ai Frutti Di Mare was on the menu today, Cavatelli are another Semolina based pasta, but with a smaller squashed up shell shape! The Frutti Di Mare was a mix of Langoustine, Mussels, Prawns and Squid.

The Limonchello needed filtering and a water/sugar mixture added to temper the 95% proof alcohol we had used to extract the flavour and ‘cook’ the lemon peel and leaves.

We were also going to bake a Bass, with white Onion, Cherry Tomatoes and baby potatoes, and also make a couple of Focaccia from Scratch, I was particular looking forward to this lesson.

Pouring the liquid through a sieve and muslin cloth or coffee filter to remove any bits and you have a beautiful coloured liquid.  Different families have different proportions of water to sugar and syrup to alcohol. Whatever proportion the sugar has to be dissolved in the heated water first, and then cooled down before adding to the lemon essence. It needs a further week before you can drink it to allow the sugar and alcohol to work their magic.
For the baked fish, we had a gutted and descaled Bass that was very fresh, we covered in sliced white Onion, quartered cherry Tomatoes, Parsley a little sea salt and grated Parmesan cheese. The Frutti Di Mare required olive oil to be flavoured with Garlic, and then the Garlic removed.  Add quartered cherry Tomatoes, Pepper, NO salt as there is some in the juice of the seafood mix which has salt in it.  Another option is to not use the brine, or make you own mix, and use wine, burning off the alcohol.
The Focaccia was really tricky. Whack the ingredients in a Kenwood Chef, Cover and leave to proove in a warm place. Slit the mixture between two REALLY well olive oiled trays. Smother you hands in olive oil and gently spread the mixture. Poke in your toppings of choice, we had Rosemary and Cherry Tomato and Oregano, remembering to squirt some more olive oil on top, and then leave to proove some more.  Bake at fan oven 180 for 15 – 20 mins.
The last 8 days have been a real adventure seeing the sights of Puglia, learning about the food culture, having a pop star as a guide and interpreter, going to an ex-pat birthday party and chilling out with a great bunch of guys at Doppio Passe, Angelo’s private bar.
Thanks to Giuliano, Anna-Rita, Angelo, Maura, Veronica and all the team at Masseria Montenapoleone for making my stay so fantastic and especially Anna-Rita for teaching me so much about Puglian food that has been passed down over many generations.
I will be going back.

al solito posto my penultimate day at Masseria Montenapoleone

After a fantastic night eating anti-pasti, barbecued meat and various other goodies with some new ex-pat friends celebrating Maura’s birthday, we ended up at Angelo’s favourite pub  Doppeo Passe (Double Pass) at silly o’clock!  It was still lively at 2 p.m. and I recognised some familiar faces and I was greeted as a friend, as If i had been a member myself for many years.

After Angelo had finished his table football and I had a couple of shots of Grappa it was time to head back to the Masseria to sleep.
Breakfast this morning was the usual fare, I remembered to take my camera this time so you can see for yourself the type of spread that is laid out.


Fresh, Organic and home made, really quite delicious, especially the mandarin compote.

Today was a free day, so the morning was spent updating the blog and then lunch was to be at Angelo’s restaurant al solito posto means the usual place, or where we normally meet and perfectly describes the environment. Unfortunately, I had left my memory card in the computer so was not able to capture any pictures, but it was a really homely place, with over 30 people coming for lunch. Angelos’ restaurant is a real family business with his Mother, Father and Wife all doing their bit serving, at the charcoal grill or in the kitchen. Vtina is the chef behind the kitchen door, was taught by her mother/grandmother and is often teaching visitors to cook as part of the cookery holiday I am on. By what I ate today, she is a seriously  awesome cook.

I’d thought I had had the mammoth ant-pasti at the fish restaurant the other evening but I counted 12 separate dishes of food, Fave Bean Puree  Polpette, char-grilled Peppers, Potato Salad (But not like you get in the U.K. this was something completely different and very tasty), Courgette slices stuffed with delicious filling, the same for Aubergine, Cherry Tomato Foccacia………..

We then had a pasta option, I had some Lasagne  then grilled meat and a dessert of Strawberries with lemon juice and sugar.

Tonight is my last night, we have a multiple course communial meal and I am not sure how much more I can eat, Tomorrow morning is the last cookery lesson before I dash to the airport for the first leg of my journey home.

If I get a chance I will update the blog at my stopover, as i will have a couple of hours to kill.

Next stop ROME…..

Casaficio, Fasano and more cooking lessons, Day 6 at Masseria Montenapoleone

Last night I was invited to a birthday party so did not get a chance to write the latest update on my Italian cooking adventure. Maura is one half of the team behind my cooking experience the other being Angelo. You can find details of a typical itinery HERE

Maura lives on the hills above Fasano and moved over here a view years ago after she fell in love with Puglia, I can understand way. The culture, way of life, and passion for food is something I have not felt a strong as the many wonderful places I have been fortunate to visit over the years. Maura, thank you for a truly wonderful evening (or should I say morning as we finished rather late)!

Yesterday was a very interesting day. Its not very often you get the opportunity too see the inner workings of a cheese manufacturer, mostly due to hygiene and safety reasons, but as this   week its only me, Angelo had made a couple of phones calls and I had been invited to visit a local top quality provider, Caseficio Zaccaria. I did not realise this was going to be a Jamie Oliver moment.

As my friends know, I LOVE cheese! As we entered the small production area I did not know what to expect. This team of workers start at 2 a.m. and work till 4 p.m. Their products are shipped all over the world, making 20,000 cheeses per DAY!


First the milk is heated to 35 deg to pasteurise, then to 90 deg and rennet added. You can see in the picture on the left, the result of the 1 few stages, the curds and whey. They then go through a giant mixer which after a period of time, produces the basis for Mozarella. This is then compressed through a tube, and the whey removed. The picture on the right is two of the team hand moulding the cheese. The water is still at 90 deg !!!!!!!!!!

Here you can see the ‘Top Cheese’ taking the ‘block’ or Mozzarella which is then moulded into the different shapes and sizes, all by hand.

This was my Jamie Oliver moment, I had seen him on his Italian series eating cheese that had JUST been made, and I was having the same experience. First a Mozzarella, still very warm from the water it had been made it. Then a Burrata, a Mozzarella stuffed with Mozzarella & cream which was absolutely off the planet, I don’t think there is any way to try this properly in the U.K as it needs to be eaten fresh, and mine had just been made! Lastly, a Ricotta, likewise as fresh as you can get.

The ‘Top Cheese’ (sorry I could not resist that), provided details on the various processes whilst he was moulding Mozzarella as fast as a fully automated robot, it was amazing to see, at the same time he was telling everyone to keep going and hurry up.

From start to finish the process takes about an hour.

After the factory we went to Fasano old town for a tour, it was really interesting how it haad been re-built, the original size of the streets was so narrow, there was only room for 1 person, and they became very dirty as they could not be easily cleaned so decided to knock the place down and increase the size of the streets so they could be more hygienic.

Today was the day I had to say goodbye to my friend Veronica, who had been a fantastic tour guide interpreter and friend. Arrividerci ‘Hippy Chick’.

Angelo, Me and Veronica

You can find one of her songs HERE, on Monday she has a radio interview with the most important radio station in Italy, good luck Veronica. XX

We got back to the Masseria to start the next cookery lesson, Anna-Rita was waiting and had already started on a large pot of stock, and put some cherry tomatoes in the oven to bake.

The Masseria has three kitchens, the one above which was the one we were working in, another much bigger kitchen when parties of 10 are catered for, and the communial kitchen which anyone can use to prepare their own food.

Today we were going to make Ravioli stuffed with Veal, an Aubergine Ragu to go with the Ravioli and fillet of pork with pink peppercorn sauce.

Having done prepared several pasta based dishes earlier in the week, I was looking forward to this one as its done by hand, no machines or rollers, just muscle sweat and hopefully no tears.


We used Tipo 00 flour, 100 grams plus one medium egg per person. You have to put some serious effort in to properly combine the ingredients, and kneed for a good ten minutes to get  a soft silky pasta. You MUST cover it with a damp towel when you finish, as we found, in the heat it can start to dry out and it makes it difficult to work with. You HAVE to roll it REALLY thin, we could see the grain of the wooden board through ours, but you have to be really firm to make it happen.

A circular cutter is used to MARK the pasta, and then put a fingernail size mound of the veal mixture (Veal mince 50/50 Parmesan/Pecorino mix, grated Nutmeg, chopped Parsley, black Pepper and a pinch of Salt).

You then place a sheet of pasta over the top, gently press over the veal, and use a larger cutter to cut through the pasta, and hand seal removing all the air so they don’t burst in the pot.

We then made the Pork dish and Tiramisu, but you will need to come hear to find out how ‘mama cooks it’.

Day 5 part deux at the Masseria Montenapoleone

Temperatures have been reaching 30 deg+ over the past couple of days, interspersed with the odd thunderstorm which clears the air nicely!

Following the cookery lesson today I had a couple of treats in store. Ostuni Oleificio Cooperative is an Olive Oil producing co-operative based in Ostuni, and was the 1st stop on our early evening agenda. The co-operative was formed on 11th June 1959 and consisted of 20 members. Today that number has increased to 400 members cultivating 3800 hectares of land and producing 40,000 ‘quintals’ of olives a year of which 6,500 is olive oil, 5,000 is extra virgin and 800 is DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin).  The have trees in they co-operative that are over 1,500 years old!

Veronica, my superb guide and interpreter had arranged a tasting once we finished the tour and it was interesting the process of tasting olive oil. We were informed that the tip of the tongue picks up the sweet notes, the sides of the mouth, the floury notes and the back of the throat, the spice. Using a similar method to wine tasting, sucking the oil into your mouth with a load of air, you really did get the three sensations in a much more intense way, of the four we testing particular hit the back of the throat with an intense pepperyness, WOW!

Following the Olive Oil factory we continued to the old part of Ostuni and as the sun was low in the sky, the buildings took on an immense deep orange colour which was really beautiful.

Highlights included the statue dedicated to St. Oronzo. a baroque column made out of solid limestone in 1771 by an architect called Giuseppe Greco the La Cattedrale (Cathedral), and the still remaining walls of the town built in 1350.
Ostuni is a magical place steeped in history, if you get the chance please come and visit, the best time is definitely late in the evening when the sun is softer and a more intense orange (its also cooler)!

Dinner this evening was by the sea in Savelletri which is not far from Fasano, at La Taverna D’umberto. I thought i was getting used to the considerable marathon that is eating Italian meals but i was proved wrong.  The anti pasti consisted of the following;

  • Burrata
  • Mozzarella
  • Insalata Di Mari
  • Insalati Di Polpo
  • Carpaccio Di Melanzana
  • Cozze Ripiene
  • Salamonata
  • Alici Marinate

Phew! My good friend Angelo, who had taken me to the restaurant suggested a fish based pasta dish for a main course but after all that I had eaten that day, we shared a ‘Fritto Misto’ of various fish, squid, prawns etc.

One of the anti pasti was so seriously tasty we went to ask the chef how is was prepared. The ‘Carpaccio Di Melanzana’ is a simple dish made of aubergine, cured like a ceviche. Prepare a mixtures of 75% Vinegar to 25% Olive Oil and some salt. Remove the  skin of the Aubergine, slice as thin as you can on a mandolin,  and quickly place in the curing liquid for 20 sec’s on one side, and then 20 sec’s on the other. Remove from the liquid and place on a place with some fresh mint. To serve place on a plate with a drizzle of olive oil, but leave the mint.

Tomorrow morning I am of to a cheese factory which I m really looking forward too, and then a walk around the historic center of Fasano.

Thanks Angelo and my ‘hippy chick’ guide Veronica for a fantastic day once again.

Locorotondo, el peyote and more cooking – Day 5 at Masseria Montenapoleone

The philosophy behind Giuliano and the Masseria Montenapoleone is to use everything and waste nothing.

Whilst I was waiting for Veronica yesterday afternoon, who was taking me ‘on tour’ again, Giuliano passed by and beckoned me to join him to show some of the inner workings of the Masseria.

Alessandro was in the ‘Atelier’ or workshop and produces some amazing work that can be seen inside and outside the Masseria. See if you can guess what the two lamps below started life as?

Veronica had arranged to pick me up to show me more of the sites of Puglia, and an added bonus of a surprise wine tasting too!
We drove back to Alberobello to visit the most important Trullo, the only one that had two floors. Its a UNESCO listed building and apparently has probably the 1st mortar based staircase.
Trullo Sovrano – Alberobello
We also visited the historic center, I may have mentioned Veronica is also the lead singer of a band, an everyone seemed to know her as we traveled around which was quite amusing as I kept on winding her up about being a pop star!
Touring complete it was of to meet Angelo for dinner, tonight we were going to one of the best pizza houses in town and we were not disappointed.Very thin, very crispy and only to be eaten by hand!
We finished the night at Angelo’s ‘club’ Doppio Passe, the Fasano (town we were in) hand ball team had lost their match tonight and had not enough points to remain in the league so spirits were lightly muted, which did not prevent everyone from having a good time anyway.
This morning I was up earlier that usual, before my next cookery lesson, Angelo was taking me to the fruit and veg wholesale market as he had to pick up produce for his own restaurant. The selection available was the best I have seen with massive peppers, chicory (not the sort we see in the u.k.), globe cucumbers and a whole host of other ingredients was an eye to behold. This is not on the normal cooking school itinery but a special treat for me, thanks again Angelo.
So back to the Masseria for the next cooking lesson.  Anna-Rita was going to show me how to cook;
  • Polpette Di Carne
  • A traditional Stock for Risotto
  • Artichoke Risotto
  • A traditional Tomato sauce
  • Torta Della Nonna
Polpette are small meat balls made of Veal mince, we prepared two versions, one in breadcrumbs and one without, which was served with the traditional tomato sauce. I have tried to make Risotto once or twice and not been pleased with the result. Anna-Rita took me through the stages and I now know where I went wrong, Thanks Anna-Rita.
Mixing the Polpette Ingredients under the careful eye of Anna-Rita 
Torta Della Nonna, or grand mothers cake, was another triumph.  It used slightly different ingredients for the pastry, and was one of the desserts we had at the Degustazione tasting meal the other evening.
Frying the Polpette on the Professional Cooking Range

The Risotto was made with parboiled Risotto rice, and took between 15 – 20 minutes to cook. What surprised me was the high temperature that was used to cook the rice, and the amount of time the onion/rice and artichoke mixture was cooked in oil/butter before the first ladle of stock was added.  That first stage is critical to ensure that rice does not absorb moisture too quickly and produces an ‘Al Dente’ or ‘to the bite’ firmness in the centre.

Dinner is Served
All the desserts so far have been variations on a theme, adjusting the ingredients slightly to produce subtly different textures and flavours, Torta Della Nonna was no exceptions and was a fantastic end to a utterly delicious lunch.
Here’s to this evenings trip to Olificio and Ostuni, with dinner at a fish restaurant on the coast.

Martina Franca & Degustazione – Day 3 at Masseria Montenapoleone

One of the Quirky Furniture Pieces at the Masseria!

I’ve just finished breakfast and in anticipation of my next cookery lesson later today. Breakfast at the Masseria is always a delight, lots of fresh fruit from the farm, croissants etc. Along with the above, a beautiful slice of delicate apple cake was had this morning, and a thin blackcurrant tart, all home made and washed down with fresh orange juice and tea with lemon.

Yesterday was day three of the trip and included a visit to Martina Franca the second most populated town in the province of Taranto, in Puglia. There is some amazing Baroque architecture in Martina Franca, and my ‘hippy chick’ guide Veronica did a great job explaining the importance and relevance of various building and how the town was fortified on a hilltop.

The Entrance to the Old Town Of  Martina Franca
Whilst in Martina Franca I wanted to see the market, which was open today. I am always fascinated by quality of the fruit and vegetables that we seldom see in the UK. When you can buy a Kilo of Beetroot for 0.75 Euro (YES, 75 Euro Cents, which is about 63 pence !!), it makes me want to shout expletives!
Produce you can only dream of!
We need this in the UK!
After a light lunch (by Italian standards!), we headed back the Masseria as tonight was the Degustazione, a showcase meal for all the guests, using much of the produce of the farm and we were in for a real treat.
My ‘driver’ interpreter Angelo is a really fantastic guy who I now regard as a great friend. I am the only person doing the cookery course this week as it’s early season and he has gone out of his way to make sure I have a fantastic time, being around in the evenings to make sure I have company as the other guests at the Masseria this week are from Germany and Belgium and may not have spoken English.
I was offered a pre-dinner cocktail, which was accompanied by some nibbles. I have mentioned the massive Capers and Taralli before which are very typical of this region.
The fun started at around 8:30 when  glasses of prosecco where handed out by Giuliano and his fantastic team. there was a table of aperitvo (or h’orderves) such as Focaccia with sun dried tomato enriched with lot of olive oil, Olives, Capers, different types or Taralli, breads enriched with Speck and Ham, Cherry Tomato and home made Mozzarella on sticks. This had all been home made that day by the fantastic cooks at the Masseria.  I recall a comment on Tripadvisor  when I was looking into the Masseria, that one guest didn’t get past this course and I now know why!
We then sat at our tables and more Anti-Pasti arrived, Meats, beautiful Fava bean paste which I had not tried before but will now look out for it as it was beautiful, sliced stuffed Aubergine………The quantity and quality of food was just out of this world and kept coming.
The wine was free flowing, Giuliano make sure everyone’s glass is always topped up!
We then got to the next course, a beautiful risotto which was perfectly cooked and utterly delicious, you can see a theme here I hope!
The Beautiful Risotto….

There were only three more courses to go at this stage and the mention of a marathon bought laughter in the room.

I was sat next to a German couple who had just arrived and as their English was very good (compared to my German which could be described as ropey), we were able to have some really good conversation as the food flowed. The communial nature of the Masseria enables you to interact with people from other countries in a way that would not happen on a typical holiday, which I really enjoy. There was another group from Belgium which I joined later after the food had come to a halt.

The next course had been cooking since 2 o’clock that afternoon and was sublime, braised Veal cheeks, served with some simple roasted potato and a Soffritto (onion, celery and carrot). The meat was very tender and delicate, and the portion size was just right (after the previous courses I was about to burst!). The sauce was a reduced Primitivo red wine, typical of Puglia.

Braised Veal Cheeks…….Delicious

Dessert was a beautiful cake similar to the one I made earlier in the week and lots of fresh fruit, Oh, and the ubiquitous Grappa or Limoncello to finish things of.

We started at 8:30 and finished at about 12:30, the perfect end to another beautiful day at Masseria Montenapoleone

Viva Italia….

Are we nearly there yet – Day 4 at Masseria Montenapoleone

In between cooking, eating and sight seeing there is enough free time to chill and soak up the sun, swim in the delightful pool, or read a book. I picked up a couple of ‘reads’ before departing , one being the titled ‘Are we nearly there yet’ by Ben Hatch, an absolutely hilarious tale of a family touring around Great Britain writing a commissioned guide about family travel. I have to say I am a decent way through and its a brilliant read, look it up if you fancy something to put a big smile on your face.

This mornings cookery lesson with Anna-Rita was brilliant, and unusually vegetarian. It reads like this;

  • Purea Di Fave
  • Cornaletti Verdi Fritti
  • Zucchine Alla Poverella
  • Strascinate alla Rucola Pesto
  • Anna-Rita’s Torta al Cioccolate

I have had a go at some vegetarian food, a particular favourite being Melanzane Ripiene, Aubergines stuffed with a Cheese and breadcrumb mixture and baked in a Tomato sauce. I use the recipe from Mike Robinson’s book ‘Wild Flavours’.

Purea Di Fave was part of last nights tasting menu, and absolutely delicious so being shown how to make it today was a real privilege.  The end result is a light delicate, but well flavoured puree that is served today with the Cornaletti Verdi Fritti, a dish of sweet peppers in a tomato sauce with a hint of garlic and basil.

Preparing Cornaletti Verdi Fritti

Blitzing the Purea di fave

Anna-Rita was quite strict about the Purea Di Fave, LEAVE IT ALONE FOR 1 1/2 hours, do NOT touch it.  Giuliano the owner got a right telling off after he tried to have a little stir, tut tut.

Once the beans have been cooking for 1 1/2 hours you bring the beans from the side of the saucepan with a spoon to the center GENTLY, creating a mound and add some salt, then continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. Once cooked, add a decent glug of olive oil (not extra virgin), and puree with a hand blender. You need to end up with a really smooth  consistency adding more oil if needed.

The dishes complement each other and are traditionally served together and quite beautiful.
Giuliano explained the Italian philosophy for cooking was using the simplest of ingredients and giving them the respect they deserve. Zucchine Alla Poverella is such an example. I won’t describe the process but this is the end result.
On Tuesday, I learnt the art of creating Orecchiette (I spelt it wrong on the previous post, doh!) and now we are progressing to Strascinate, which uses the same mixture of semolina and warm salt water, needed to the right consistency. I am not going to explain how to do it, as it really needs to be shown to you, so you can practice and be corrected if you make mistakes. I am proud to say I can now produce a half decent Orecchiette and Strascinate, get in!
To accompany the Strascinate we made a Wild Rocket Pesto from scratch. I have never been fond of Pesto but the ‘rocket’ version was lovely, I was told you HAD to have a 50/50 mixture of ground Parmesan and Pecorino to make it produce the right flavour, and don’t add any salt.
Strascinate alla rucola Pesto
One of my wishes on this course was to learn to make some quick but tasty deserts, and I’ve been lucky so far, today was just a continuation of the process.
Anna-Rita’s Torta al Cioccolate is a simple chocolate cake, when served warm, with a dusting of icing sugar finishes off the meal above perfectly.
Anna-Rita’s Torta al Cioccolate
This afternoon I am of to visit Locorotondo, and eating in a Pizzeria, el peyote this evening, and tomorrow brings another cookery lesson and I can’t wait.
A Big thank-you to Anna-Rita my tutor chef, Giuliano for the knowledge and Angelo for being so much fun.

Alberobello and Trulli – End of Day 2 at the Masseria Montenapoleone

Last night was a chance to see some of the sights of Puglia, with a foodie theme in the mix. Alberobello is known as the capital of Trulli, and dates back to the 2nd half of the 16th century when a little feud under the Acquaviva family, Counts of Conversano were populated by farmers. There was a diktat that stated the houses could not be made with mortar and if they were, the Counts could demolish the houses and expel the farmers. Barons were also prohibited to build urban areas without royal blessing, a historic rule from previous Spanish control.

Trullo come from the greek word tholos meaning Dome. The Domes were originally had a perimeter wall made of visible stone, similar to the roof, but more recently the bases have been rendered to show a smooth painted surface. Made of limestone, the dome and stone base had no mortar to hold them together. If you want to know more, come a see for yourself, its ‘truly’ wonderful, PUN intended!
So before visiting the Trulli (plural of Trullo), we had a visit to a well know local Wine Museum for some history and tasting. The Albea winery was founded at the  beginning of the 20th century, and hosts both production areas, and a museum and tasting on the 2nd floor.
My Guide Veronica – Hippy Chick
You can find details of the various wines here. The treat for me (and honour), was our host saw me swishing, holding my glass at an angle, and generally behaving like I might have a clue about wines so went away to find a bottle of their ‘Very Special’ wine.  Albea has won some awards, the most prestigious for them is for LUI, a 2009 red made from the Troia grape, you can read about the grape variety  here. The award put it in the list of finest wines in Italy, but you will have to come here to find out, it was really beautiful.
Dinner was in Braceria Fasano, a butchers with attached restaurant. On the menu was an aperitif (selection of dishes), which included Beef Carpaccio, Cured Ham, Taralli (little round bakes savory snacks), Polpette (little meat balls made of Pork and Beef) and Olives, they were all delicious. As it was getting late, we had a small taster for mains, some local sausages, Liver, Spicy and Pork all delicious too.  Dessert was a couple of home made cakes slices, one with a vanilla custard the other chocolate. Limoncello finished the meal off nicely. 
As i was the only client on the course, I was then ‘persuaded’ to join my good friend Angelo at his private bar ‘Doppio Passe’, which is quite common apparently. A group of people club together and pay say 50 Euro a year to go to a members only bar, when you go the owner cannot charge you for drinks. We had a good time chatting with an ex Progressive Punk band member, to a student who had received her PhD a few hours earlier.  Thanks Angelo for a fantastic time my friend.
Tomorrow its off to Martina Franca to see the market and have a tour of this historic Baroque town.

Orecchiette, Braciole and Limoncello – Day One at the Masseria Montenapoleone

After a good nights sleep, I was ready for breakfast.

On arriving at the separate breakfast dinning room which is part of the main building I opted to sit outside on long sharing table (I love this option).  There was a selection of fresh juices including melon, orange and pear.  Fresh croissants, pastries, tarts, homemade compote (I had the mandarin which was awesome). Nearly all the food came from the farm.

Giuliano was excellent again explaining some of the more unusual fruits that grow as the Masseria, especially one called loquat or Japanese Plum. Its like an small oval light orange fruit with a couple of seeds. When peeled it has a soft texture like pear and is light in flavour but slightly tart, which really made your mouth water. During our conversation Giuliano explained that the fruit turns black after a few days and they were going to have a go at making a jam from them. There was also home made cheese, and also fresh eggs, the best bit was NO FULL ENGLISH, yippee.

After breakfast I had some free time to relax before the 1st cooking lesson, so took time to wander around part of the farm. Beforehand, Giuliano explained about how the Masseria had been purchased 9 years ago after 45 years of neglect, and pointed out the different areas and their crops. We were stood by a ‘wild area’ which supported the most fragrant thyme, rosemary and wild rocket. We picked some, brushed off the dust and ate some, more bitter than the farmed stuff we get, but just amazing to be able to taste something so fresh and wild.

The abundance of Poppy is purposeful in Organic culture and is used as an insect magnet to draw nasties away from the ‘real’ plants, in this case the special grapes that are being grown to recreate a unique wine.

I walked for nearly and hour, and observed everything from Almond Tree’s to Figs.

At 11:00 o’clock I was met by Giuliano, Angelo and my tutor Anna-Rita for the start of the course, I was the only guest attending as its early in the season so I was in for a real treat as they had prepared a bespoke course just for me.

This morning we were making Orecchiette, a pasta made from Semolina and Warm Salty Water and shaped like a hat, a tomato sauce for the Braciola/Orecchiette , Braciola (Stuffed Veal), A Lemon Tart and Limoncello.

I was shown all the different stage and had my own area where I could observe and practice, there is a real skill in shaping the Orecchiette, book the cooking holiday to find out!

We went into the garden and picked the most amazing lemons fresh of the tree’s for the tart and Limoncello, the skins were quite thick and Giuliano made a simple salad, removing the center and dressing the skin/pith with Olive Oil, it was just unbelievably tasty.

The Tart was served in squares, still warm and dusted with icing sugar and a caramelized lemon slice in sugar syrup. The pastry was of the sweet variety, but with added yeast that gave it a light airy texture. We peeled the skins for the Limoncello, and added some of the leaves from the tree’s which add some colour. 95% proof alcohol is added to the skins and its left in a sealed jar for two weeks IN THE DARK. After, its filtered at least twice before added a sugar syrup solution to temper the alcohol.
Orecchiette with Braciola and tomato sauce. We sat down and Giulians’s brother and mum and the receptionist joined us for lunch. It was a real pleasure to be able to learn some new skills and have some conversation about Puglia and the Masseria Montenapoleone.  I am off to Alberobello later today, a UNESCO site famous for Truillo, dome shaped houses. We are also visiting a Wine Museum and doing some tasting, and then for dinner at Braceria Fasano. 
Buona Salute