|The region of Apulia (Puglia in Italian) is easy to pinpoint even for the weakest geography student. Forming the long spurred "heel" in the country's distinctive boot shape, it is a fertile place of vast plains and hilly reaches, washed by two seas (the Adriatic and the Ionian), and the beneficiary of a hot dry climate that is perfect for growing such gifts of nature as vines, olives, and almonds, not to mention vegetables and fruits of all kinds. It is Italy's largest producer of wine and olive oil, both of which have seen great improvements in quality in recent years and are now enjoying an increasingly positive reputation among gourmets.
Not surprisingly given this wonderful abundance, Apulia offers a rich selection of antipasti, including vegetables such as eggplants, peppers, artichokes, and mushrooms preserved in oil, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and cured meats such as the spicy "capocollo pugliese" or "salsiccia sott'olio."
First courses will often feature a combination of pasta and legumes, for example "pasta e fagioli" (with beans) or "pasta e ceci" (with chickpeas). The curiously shaped "orecchiette" (literally little ears) are the region's most famous pasta shape and are frequently combined with "cime di rapa" (turnip greens), fresh tomato sauce, or meatballs. Other popular pasta dishes are spaghetti served with seafood such as clams and mussels or "sagne incannulate," rolled sheets of egg pasta filled with a sauce of tomatoes, olives, and salsiccia. As an alternative to pasta, you can try "fave e cicoria," a purée of fava beans served with chicory, while another famous regional specialty is "tiella di riso, patate, e cozze," where layers of rice, potatoes, and mussels are baked in an earthenware dish.
Having not one but two long coastlines gives Apulia an undeniable advantage when it comes to fish dishes: varieties including anchovies, swordfish, mullet, sea bream, white bream, and bass can be enjoyed grilled, baked (often with black olives), or fried. The shellfish available is plentiful and varied, and (when utter freshness can be assured) can even be served raw with a sprinkling of lemon juice. There are also several versions of fish soup, from "zuppa di cozze alla tarantino," which is made with mussels alone, to other local versions that combine a whole selection of fish and shellfish.
Meat eaters will generally be faced with lamb in one form or another, with "turcinieddi," stuffed lamb's entrails being a particularly appreciated delicacy. Rabbit, horse, and game fowl are other meat varieties that you will commonly find on restaurant menus. Apulia is also famous for cheeses, from the melting softness of "burrata" (a larger, creamier version of Mozzarella) to the smoothness of buffalo-milk Scamorza (which can be smoked or not and is often served broiled or baked), and the delicateness of fresh Caciocavallo. A mature, hard, and piquant version of ricotta (known locally as "ricotta forte") is often used to flavor pasta dishes.