Sitting down to eat in Apulia is always an occasion. Apulian cuisine is a celebration of the simple, authentic produce of Apulia's generous land and bordering sea: wheat from the Tavoliere plain, vegetables from Bari's vast surrounding countryside, oily fish from the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, and extra-virgin olive oil. All of these ingredients form the basis of Apulia's very best typical dishes, from street food to more sophisticated recipes plated up on special occasions. Get comfortable and read on to discover the history behind these dishes, how to prepare them and where you can try them.

1. Orecchiette con cime di rapa

Translating as "little ears" in English, you might have already guessed that orecchiette pasta is named as such due to its shape: a concave disk, smooth on one side and rough on the other. Perhaps less obvious, however, is its origin. Orecchiette are thought to have derived from "orecchie di Amman", a recipe typically prepared by the Jewish community living in Sannicandro di Bari during the rule of the Norman-Swabian. However, some argue that the dried pasta was introduced to Apulia's cuisine by the Angevins during the Middle Ages.

One thing that's certain is that since the 16th century, orecchiette has been amongst the most popular typical Apulian dishes, and there isn't a restaurant or trattoria where you won't find it on the menu, whether it's prepared with tomato sauce, meat sauce, brasciole (meat rolls) or seasonal vegetables. But the classic recipe? Orecchiette with cime di rapa (turnip tops): the perfect match.

Preparation

Pick the leaves from the cime di rapa, discarding the stems, and blanch them in salted water. Next, sauté them in a pan with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a few chopped anchovy fillets. In the same water, cook the orecchiette then drain and transfer them to the pan with the cime di rapa. Add a pinch of chilli flakes and serve.

Where to eat it

Ristorante Le Nicchie, Vico Corsioli 11/b Bari

2. Focaccia barese

Round, fluffy and topped with locally picked whole cherry tomatoes and olives... focaccia is the queen of Bari's street food scene, yet is also found across every region in Italy, prepared in thousands of different ways with the addition of onions, aubergines, greens, cured meats and cheeses: the more toppings the better! The name is believed to have derived from the word focus, Latin for "hearth", on which the Greeks and Carthaginians are thought to have baked their own dough of flour, water and salt. However, Apulia's own focaccia is thought to have originated in Altamura, deriving from the region's famous durum wheat loaf, typically baked in a wood-fired oven. From here, the recipe is believed to have spread across other provinces in Apulia, where it is still freshly baked every morning in local bakeries. Warm and fluffy with a crisp crust, focaccia is perfect as a meal in itself or as a snack throughout the day.

Preparation

Make a dough with re-milled semolina, boiled potatoes, yeast, salt and water. Leave it to rise and then stretch it out to fill a round tray, pre-greased with a generous helping of olive oil. Leave it to rise again. Top with fresh tomatoes, Baresane olives, salt and extra virgin olive oil, and bake at 200°C.

Where to eat it

Panificio La Pupetta, via Benedetto Cairoli 25, Bari

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Focaccia barese (ph. credits: Elfmir [CC BY-SA 4.0] Wikimedia Commons -

3. Bombette pugliesi

When the evening sets in and the smell of grilled meat begins to fill the streets of the historic towns of Valle d'Itria, it can only mean one thing: the butcher shop grills have been fired up. A typical Apulian tradition which is rooted in Cisternino, considered the capital of Apulia's famous fornelli, where meat and sausages are cooked to order on a wood-fired grill. However, the real speciality are the bombette: little rolls of meat filled with cheese, salt, pepper and spices (although every fornello will have their own secret recipe!) The very first fornello to offer them, around forty years ago, was supposedly a butcher in Martina Franca. From here, the recipe is thought to have spread throughout Murgia and beyond.

Preparation

Cut your pork neck into thin slices and lay them out onto a tray. Top each slice with a previously prepared mixture of caciocavallo cheese or minced meat, parsley, salt and pepper, and then roll them up to form bombette before cooking them on the grill.

Where to eat it

Rosticceria Zio Pietro, Via Duca d'Aosta 3, Cisternino, Italy

4. Tiella di riso, patate e cozze

Apulia-style paella is called tiella, and, just like the Valencian dish, takes its name from the pan used to prepare it. Land and sea combine in this typical recipe from Bari, made from rice brought from Spain into Apulia centuries ago by the Bourbons, locally grown potatoes and mussels. Originally a typical dish served on special occasions, tiella Barese makes an appetising meal in itself when eaten freshly cooked from the pan, but can also be served cold as a delicious alternative to a rice salad during the summer.

Preparation

Drizzle a terracotta pan with plenty of olive oil, and cover the bottom with a layer of chopped tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, sliced onions, garlic and a handful of parsley. Cover with a layer of mussels, each with just one of their shells removed, followed by a layer of rice, and a layer of sliced potatoes. Garnish with chunks of tomato. It's important that all the ingredients are raw. Sprinkle with water (this will be absorbed as the dish cooks) and bake at 200°C until the top is nice and crispy.

Where to eat it

Ristorante Tiella, Via Salvatore Cognetti 11/13, Bari

5. Panzerotti fritti

You haven't really experienced Apulia if you haven't tried a panzerotto fritto. From the same family and with the same shape as the Neapolitan calzone, the panzerotto fritto, together with other delicious fried treats, such as scagliozze and popizze, has always been one of Apulia's most popular street foods. This crispy-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside small half-moon-shaped pocket of pizza dough, filled with mozzarella and tomato, can be bought and eaten hot straight away as a snack in the streets of Old Bari, or can be found in any one of the region's many delis with an endless array of fillings. The panzerotto fritto was most likely born out of the resourcefulness of a few housewives, who, with the limited ingredients they had available - scraps of bread dough, cheese and tomatoes - unknowingly created a culinary masterpiece, believed to date back to the 17th century with the arrival of the tomato in Europe from America.

Preparation

Knead the pizza dough, leave to rise, and shape into round discs. Make a filling of mozzarella, tomato, salt and a pinch of pepper, and place on top of the discs. Fold the dough over to form a half moon shape and seal the edges with a finger or fork. Deep fry in a generous amount of olive oil until golden brown.

Where to eat it

Il Fornaccio, via Francesco Crispi Libertà 87, Bari

6. Brasciole

In many homes in Apulia, above all in Brindisi and Bari, brasciole (little rolls of meat cooked in a sauce) are still one of the typical dishes you'll see the whole family tucking into around the table every Sunday. The origin of the recipe is unclear and, despite being a meat course, has always been considered a poor dish: brasciole are traditionally made using horse meat, which is of a lower quality and cheaper than other cuts. Thanks to the long cooking process, the meat also produces a thick, tasty sauce, which can be used to coat the accompanying pasta, preferably orecchiette, maccheroni or ziti.

Preparation

Place the slices of meat on your work surface and prepare a filling of grated pecorino cheese, chopped parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Spread the filling over the meat and roll each one up, securing them with toothpicks. Brown them in a pan with olive oil, simmer with a splash of wine, and finish with a generous helping of tomato sauce. Cover and cook on a low heat for a few hours.

Where to eat it

Trattoria La Brasciola, Via San Lorenzo da Brindisi 51, Brindisi

7. Ciceri e tria

Ciceri e tria, or pasta with chickpeas, was historically the typical dish eaten on the feast of Saint Joseph across the whole of Salento. One of Apulia's oldest recipes, it is still served today in restaurants and trattorias throughout the area. The name is thought to have derived from the Arabic tria or ytria, which means dried pasta. In his Satires, Horace also cites a soup of chickpeas, leeks and lagana, most likely the ancestor of the tasty yet simple Salentine recipe.

Preparation

Leave the chickpeas to soak in water overnight and cook them for a few hours in a pan of boiling water seasoned with celery and garlic. Prepare a serving of egg-free tagliatelle. Fry some of the pasta in olive oil and cook the rest together with the chickpeas. Mix all the ingredients together in the pan, season and serve.

Where to eat it

Antica Trattoria Salandra, via G.B. De Michele/piazza Salandra, Nardo

8. Cartellate

Delicious deep-fried pastry wheels covered in vincotto (cooked wine) or honey, cartellate are the ultimate celebratory sweet treat. It is possible that the name derives from kartallos, the Greek word for 'basket', making reference to the circular shape formed by the strips of curled pastry, symbolising the halo or crown of the Baby Jesus.

Preparation

Make a dough using flour, oil and wine, and cut it into long strips with serrated edges. Fold the strips in half along their length and roll them up into spirals. Deep fry in a generous helping of olive oil. Place them on a tray and cover in vincotto, honey or icing sugar.

Where to eat it

Panificio Ciuffreda, Contrada Defensola, 55, Vieste

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Cartellate al miele (ph. credits: Florixc [CC0] - Wikimedia Commons) -

9. Scapece Gallipolina

If you ever find yourself in or near Gallipoli, don't miss out on the opportunity to try the typical scapece, one of Apulia's oldest recipes: fried fish marinated in breadcrumbs soaked in vinegar and saffron, giving the dish its distinctive golden colour. Born as a simple way of conserving fish by inhabitants of Gallipoli in the Middle Ages, during which time the maritime town suffered long sieges by pirates and Saracens, scapece has over time become one of Apulia's most delicious recipes. The dish can now be enjoyed at farmer's markets, patron saint festivals and Salentine festivals, prepared by the last of the region's scapeciari.

Preparation

Coat the fish (any small oily fish) in flour and fry in oil. Soak the breadcrumbs in vinegar and saffron. Fill a wooden or terracotta container with alternate layers of breadcrumbs and fish. Close the container and leave to marinate for at least 24 hours before serving.

Where to eat it

Ristorante Scafùd Mare, Via Carlo Muzio 23, Gallipoli

10. Pasticciotto

A coffee accompanied by a creamy pasticciotto is the best way to start the day in Salento. This custard-filled shortcrust pastry tart has been the pride and joy of Salentine bakeries since the 18th century. The story goes that it was created by accident by a pastry chef in Galatina, who didn't have enough ingredients left over to make a full cake and so decided to bake a small one. The customers loved it and so was born this typical pastry from Lecce.

Preparation

Make the shortcrust pastry with flour, eggs, sugar and lard. Prepare the crema pasticcera (custard-like filling) by mixing milk, egg yolks, sugar, corn starch and vanilla in a pot over a low heat. Shape the dough into discs, place them into pastry moulds, fill them with the crema pasticcera and cover each one with another disc. Seal the edges and bake.

Where to eat it

Pasticceria Natale, Via Salvatore Trinchese 7, Lecce