Mercy be, No Compromise Shopping in Italy Sud

IMG_1779£25 single is the going rate for a London to Brindisi flight right now and landing there is the gateway to a place for all who are passionate about ingredients. No bonus points needed for witnessing artisan ways being taking forward by young heads and hands. Cheering stuff for this hungry traveller as 18 year old Orazio Semeraro here makes me knots of fresh mozzarella with fiori di latte. This is not buffalo country after all.

Take the twice weekly market in Martina Franca in the Valle d’Itria, a town rich in Baroque achitecture and narrow streets with a population just short of 50,000. The locals might treat the market as their right – that’s not to say they don’t appreciate how good it is.

IMG_5953 (250x250)Like other markets I know in Puglia, the shoppers often fail to realise there are places where no such abundance exists. Last year a friend in food who lives in Brindisi showed complete amazement that I found the small central market there to be anything special – that I can’t buy artichokes, fennel, peppers, cime di rapa and wild leaves in a city the size of London was beyond her ken.

Down there in Puglia the markets rely almost entirely on local produce – ‘Locali‘. Any goods from afar come from as close as a short haul by ferry and road from Sicily. Who needs to eat out of season when this much is on offer regardless of time of year.

IMG_1253Seeing strawberries from Policoro (Basilicata) – a small town probably little more than two hours away by truck  – was as if they’d been imported from the Southern Hemisphere. I swear I even heard some tut-tutting behind me.  Thanks be, seasons stay pure in most of mainland Europe – as long as we stay clear of supermarkets which seem to be on a mission to promote air miles and unripe produce. In passing, I noted bagged watercress from the USA in London only last week.

IMG_1332 (150x200)In markets like this I find my mantra for ‘No Compromise Shopping’ – the very concept discussed with Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini only weeks back in Amsterdam.

This is my 5th time in Puglia and it’s getting under my skin.

Waiting for my local contact, I take a caffè – I choose espressino, meaning a tiny, yet perfectly formed cappuccino. It costs 80 cents with a glass of chilled sparkling water on the side. Another €1,80 buys me a two hour parking ticket from a uniformed attendant who also has time to smile and joke.

Then to the market. This is a damp morning at the end of a February that has seen rain most days. The fields have standing water and yet pickers were out at 06h00 as I drove slowly by en-route from Monopoli up to Martina Franca.

IMG_1234 I was like a man with his hands in chains. I couldn’t buy as I’d nowhere to cook and wouldn’t return to No 19 for three days. I console myself with the promise of the market in central Brindisi on my day of departure. I have made space in my case for as much as 8 kgs of fresh produce – given my case in the hold costs the same as me in the cabin on Ryanair.

IMG_1244 (300x300)First walking the market – how every market visit should begin – we find stall after stall laden with the freshest of Senape Salvagio (wild mustard greens), Lampascioni (edible hyacinth bulbs – here labelled as ‘Muscari’),

IMG_1250 (225x300)Puntarelle (a kind of winter chicory much loved in Rome), aromatic fennel (some the size of a lightweight boxer’s fist), thin dark green wild asparagus (selvagio meaning wild, not cultivated),IMG_1271 (225x300)

scarole (batavia) and the more familiar curly endive (frisée), bunches of artichokes, Savoy cabbage and more. Have I missed something?IMG_1267 (225x300)

Of course – that Pugliese stalwart and all time speciality, Cime di Rapa.

IMG_1279 (225x300)Cime di Rapa – translated as ‘turnip tops’ in English – is at the heart of Pugliese home cooking.  It’s best kept simple and cooked in with the orecchiette – ‘little ears’ pasta – and then dressed with anchovy, garlic and olive oil.

IMG_1411Friends from the region now living in London tell me of their Mamma’s Orecciette alla Cime di Rapa is compulsory eating when back home down south.  Canned cime di rapa – labelled Friarelli (Neapolitan) is just about acceptable when the craving kicks in – it’s long cooked after all with the pasta. English broccoli or broccoli tops, cut thin are another alternative, but all fall short of genuine, fresh Pugliese Cime di Rapa. Avoid any that’s maybe travelled too long and has a yellow tinge to the flowers.

Fresh vegetables not immediately eaten are preserved at home, or by small artisan producers, as Sottolio – literally ‘under oil’ – the old way of naturally preserving essential freshness with minimal cooking, sometimes charing and then covering with good olive oil.

IMG_1500 (223x300)Adding bay, peperoncino, rosemary, garlic, etc is then a matter of personal taste. Rarely a day goes by in South Italy without Verdure SottOlio being set before you. Artichokes would be my favourite every time, but courgette, peppers, aubergine, baby onions, mushrooms (wild and cultivated) come close up behind. Then there’s the short season local Lampascioni which is luxury indeed.

We are in a region famous for olive oil  – at least it was until last autumn’s frightful disease brought about by a highly contagious insect-borne blight known as Xylella Fastidiosa. I’ve read of +75,000 acres of olive trees being affected across Puglia – that’s millions of trees, many 600 to ++1000 years old and still bearing fruit until last year. Scientists appear cautious not to apportion blame, but farmers say imported plants and root stock could the cause. The future is uncertain but young, old and ancient trees I photographed through the region looked in good leaf.

IMG_1647 (225x300)Since Noah, the olive branch has symbolised hope, then centuries on, hope is what we must do. If I dare have a favourite tree, then it would be the olive for sure. My guide through the Martina Franca market has olive trees and makes her own Pancarosa EVOO – she says she’ll be buying in olive oil for the kitchen this year as not one drop will come from her beloved trees growing close-by to Martina Franca. Luckily she has supplies enough of Pancarosa for the table.

IMG_1297 (225x300)Markets are about smells as well as sounds.  Where fresh fennel were trimmed of their root and tops, the air around that stall was heavy with aniseed scent. I dipped my head into a skip where the trimmings had been dumped and mused for a second that it would have been permissible to charge for the experience.

IMG_1292Likewise, the fish and shellfish smelt of the Adriatic that’s just a few kilometres away.

IMG_1282 (225x300)Lemon aromas were proof evident of fresh picked lemons. Much of the citrus was handsomely marked (urban supermarket buyers would say ‘pock-marked’) as indicators of coming from the outer edge of their tree.

IMG_1283 (218x300)Nobody minded if you snipped off a leaf to taste; many offered up slices of fruit, olives, sun-dried tomato and white figs, capers, cheeses and more as we walked slowly through the market.

IMG_1284 (225x300)This is no more than my typical experience of markets I visit across Italy – north and south. Most sellers are passionate, want to engage and know how to strut their stuff. They know how to sell. Encouragingly, many of the stall holders are young, so suggesting a good future for local food.

Watching locals pick, point and banter with the traders I am minded of Philip Crosby (1926-2001) – the American management guru of the 1980s who gave us ‘Zero Defects’ and ‘Total Quality’. It was Crosby who brought to our attention ‘Expert Customers’ and ‘Expert Suppliers’ – a position when all goes swimmingly because both seller and buyer know precisely what they want, how to ask for it and how to deliver it. All shifts south fast when either customer or supplier becomes ‘Inexpert’, so opening the door for misunderstanding the brief, or how to best request their purchase. You get the drift. Here in the market all knew their call and were precise with their request

IMG_1295 (300x225)My ear picks up a smattering of French. My guide explains it’s there in in the local spoken dialect – a fishmonger spoke of ‘huit‘ meaning ‘otto‘. His customer, a lady of a certain age, understood.

IMG_1322 (300x225)This too short trip finished with a coffee and a sample tray of tiny sweetmeats in Bar Adua (Via Paisiello 60/62) – the best pasticceria in town. It was.

IMG_1327 (225x300)I checked the time and I was 20′ late for my car. I was told not to worry, all would be well. We walked back to the square to find a neatly folded ticket under the wiper next to the one already paid. It asked for 80 cents to cover the new hour. This is what I call playing for the same team.

IMG_1311 (266x300)Another story on another time as I move on through the Valle d’Itria to find out more about the famed Capocollo di Martina Franca – known as one of the very best capocollo’s – made on a hillside in nearby Cisternino. They even pipe in the local air to assist the curing.

That’s attention to finite detail – pure Blue Collar Gastronomy, pure Slow Food Presidium.


NOTE: My guide around Martina Franca was local food writer and cook Catherine Faris who also works with Southern Visions Travel – a small but special bespoke travel company, set up by Antonello Losito, who will fashion any trip you want in Puglia – These are people who know their onions and all else. I know them as friends and nothing more.IMG_1148 (185x300)IMG_1243 (300x300)



Posted in Anchovies, Apulia, Aubergine, Basilicata, Blue Collar Gastronomy, Citrus Fruit, London Street Markets, melanzane, Memories, No Compromise Shopping, Nonna's Cooking, Philip Crosby, Puglia, Puglia / Apulia, Pugliese, Real Italy, Salad, Salad and Digestion, Simple Food, Southern Italy, supermarkets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Do. Pound a Bowl Peperonata

One of life’s mysteries in food is how a bell pepper with no DSC_0136 (199x300)breeding, raised on rock wool in the most artificial of growing conditions can become a star turn. I ponder this when I buy 12-15 red or yellow peppers on the market –  at £1 a bowl in the markets means £2 buys you a feast this big. Supermarkets can be found selling them for an eye-watering 70-80p a piece, so the market haul would cost anything between £9-12 – should one be daft enough.

At £1 a bowl in the market, £2 makes Peperonata for 8 as an anti-pasti. The oil and gas probably cost more.

Problem for supermarkets is most choose to put City bankers and shareholders far ahead of their customers. That will be their eventual downfall – the downward roll has already begun.  Greed, like stupidity and arrogance, can only go on for so long. Current trends away from the supermarkets checkouts shows how they too have missed their deadline.

IMG_0481 (225x300)Most times we eat peppers with their skins (like here under the trees for a €10 lunch in the Castelli Romani) – but roasting each pepper in a dry pan, or under a hot grill, within an inch of their poor lives is another conversion.

IMG_8689 (300x225)When the skin blackens and blisters, wrap them in yesterday’s newspaper and wait until they are cool enough to skin.I know of cooks who keep a pan solely for dry roasting peppers.

IMG_8695Yesterday’s newspaper adds to the moment – it was always a reminder from brutish news editors to rookie journalists of where their copy ends up – wrapped around the tomorrow’s fish & chips, they’d say in late night newsrooms as the presses began to roll.

Another way up for a cache of peppers is Peperonata – a dish from the golden age of Italian menu’s which pre-dated the discovery of regional dishes. These were sure to list  Tonno e Fagioli, Stracciatella alla Romana, Zuppa Pavese or Pastina in Brodo.

IMG_0541 (212x300)All of these beauties come soon in a story of  a life in Soho London where I’m finding myself being forever drawn deeper into the tale of dear Elena Salvoni MBE and her decades at Bianchi’s.

So, to make a peperonata and give an honourable end to these low bred bells. The traditional recipe calls for onion as well as peppers and tomato. I choose currently to pass on the onion and will take the criticism as it comes. I do add home made peperoncino (in oil) – again an option for many, mostly Italians, who have written of the peperonata.IMG_0475 (218x300)

IMG_1447 (225x300)Wash and quarter the peppers lengthways.  With sharp knife, cut away around the green calix (stem) and then the paler ribs inside the flesh. Knock out all the seeds. Decide on how big or small you want each forkful. I like to cut mine one time again lengthways, so ending with a slices about the width of a finger. I know of nobody who doesn’t enjoy prepping peppers this way.

IMG_3363 (225x300)Heat a heavy sauté pan, add olive oil (EVOO, of course) and add a good handful or two of the cut peppers. Never overfill – less is best as you want a certain amount of agreeable sear. After 5′, I add a teaspoon of raw white sugar and a sprinkle of sea salt. Cook on until softened but still al-dente to the taste. Remove and add the next  batch until all are cooked.

Empty one can of Italian plum tomatoes into a bowl and gently squash down each fruit with the back of a fork, being sure to leave some texture – you won’t be able to do this once they are added to the peppers. Add to the peppers now back in the pan – add more olive oil as you see fit. I like the mixture to be rich and oily, others may not.

I say canned Italian tomatoes because unless you find yourself with fresh ones of good origin and picked at peak ripeness, those harvested through July and August in the sun blessed fields of South Italy will always be richest and best. Go for whole plums, not chopped, every time – they are the stock in trade of the Italian farmer and cook.

IMG_3374 (300x225)Cook on for 10′, stirring gently until the tomatoes become integral to the dish. Allow to cool so the flavour grows fulsome. Adjust seasoning – although I doubt you will need it. Cool – the space between hot and cold – is where 99% of foods are at their height of flavour.

IMG_3375 (225x300)Serve as an anti-pasti with good bread or grissini and a last minute sprinkly of fresh cracked black pepper. Peperonata also sits well alongside white fish – cod, sole, hake, monkfish, and best of all, red mullet.

2 (1) - Copy (266x300)I read that Rachel Roddy, a friend and food writer who lives in Rome, sometimes adds peperonata to a pasty case to make a tarte.

Rachel being Rachel, she goes one stage further and adds some fresh grated Parmesan to her pastry mixture. See – bless you Rachel of whom you’ll hear more on these pages sometime soon.

NOTE: Bell peppers are a year round crop as their upbringing relies less on Nature than on poly-tunnels. Varieties like Romano and Ramiro – often grown outdoors – most weeks find their way into the £1 a bowls of the London street markets. Outdoors beats poly-tunnel and glasshouse every time but, as one man and his dog told me in Monopoli, when we can’t be in South Italy, needs must. Ave Ape!IMG_1179 (300x300)IMG_5080 (225x300)IMG_5309 (300x225)IMG_5308 (300x225)IMG_5855 (225x300)


Posted in Antipasti, Apulia, Blue Collar Gastronomy, Nature, Puglia, Puglia / Apulia, Pugliese, Real Italy, Street Markets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seville Martini not mine, but Perfect

IMG_1138 (225x300)This year the Seville orange has excited and tickled me. It brought on memories of a Spanish Government sponsored inward mission in the early 1980s. We were there to look at the also-ran and rather miserable Hojiblanca workhorse olive but my thoughts went off piste to look at the local bitter oranges. That was 1984/5.

I sort have oranges in my blood. My sister is married into a Spanish orange dynasty – theirs is the Campo Hannibal estate near Pujols. In more recent times they have largely fled the vagaries of the orange market in favour of seasonal certainty of Christmas clementines, mandarins, satsumas and tangerines. Christmas citrus pays good money when one grows the best – and for this, Germany pays the best prices. Eating old varieties full of seeds but honeyed in flavour stays with me – these abundant trees are essential for pollination and their fruit are sublime although never for market.

I love a good Martini and they are most times best made at home. For this one, I am not original – many have came before me with the Marmalade Martini.

IMG_1419 (300x208)Indeed, I was sceptical, having experienced America going mad on any cocktail served in a martini glass being named a Martini. Who can forget sipping Lemon Drops one wet afternoon in Portland with others in food – a mix of Citron vodka and Tripe Sec, some with Lemoncello and gin – oh my, to think that one of my partners would become Irish Woman of the Year – she being the wonderful Gerri Gilliland, patron of Lula Cocina and Finn McCools in LA ( Lula Cocina is so named as an homage to one of the great Mexican food experts, Lula Bertran – I still have a tiny Mexican jug hanging in the No 19 kitchen given to me by Lula herself – that was in Phoenix not Portland.

IMG_1117 (188x250)Then I find a tiny pot of home-made bitter orange preserve – a gift from a friend from this January’s marmalade making.

I so wanted to experiment with a Bitter Orange Gin,  but missed the boat by 2-3 weeks because Seville oranges have a very short season indeed. They being thankfully unwaxed, were already looking tired by end-January around these parts. Some say one can remove wax from citrus by dousing it in boiling water for a minute or two. Others say it cannot be entirely removed – and that is my camp having worked with citrus.

Remember, prunes don’t free you up – it’s the liquid paraffin they use on mass market dried fruit to keep it separated in the plastic bag that has the dramatic laxative effect. Prunes just get the bad press. Buy Agen and the problem doesn’t exist.

IMG_1090 (225x300)For a No 19 Marmalade Martini, into the shaker goes ice – first washed to remove any the shards which will both discolour and weaken the drink. With fingers is fine when one’s at home – behind a bar would cause a riot.IMG_1097 (300x225)

Then into the jug or shaker goes a large teaspoon of the marmalade, a cap full of dry Italian Vermouth – and finally the spirit.IMG_1119 (225x300)

Ours was vodka – but gin is welcome too. Think ratio of vermouth to spirit being 9:1 – change this up or down according to taste and experience.

I am a Martini maker and dirty’s are not for me. Flavour over machismo every time. This is why the vermouth is important – Noilly Prat, Carpano, Cinzano and Lillet come out best, pocket permitting.  Bitters like grapefruit, bitter orange, lemon, celery – and even, on my must-try list, West Indian orange and gin barrel aged orange bitters. The list does rather go too far and start to appeal to mixicologists rather than genuine bar tenders.

There is one place where I’ve found what I call the Intelligent Martini – it’s a place where Claudio No 1 has headed the tiny bar for 4+ decades. He’s a man who once told us he’d probably made 100,000 Bellini’s in his time there – we did some maths and reckoned he was way short of the real figure. Imagine mixing that much enjoyment over quite such a period? That place is the original Harry’s Bar.

IMG_1111 (258x300)At Harry’s, the martini’s are made with gin – vodka is there on demand. They come in this distinctive glass without twist or olive – only a white napkin to keep the cold from your fingers. They are pre-made in an over-sized crystal jug – and waiting in a tiny refrigerated drawer out of sight below the bar. That’s attention to detail and that’s what we like at garethjonesfood.

Back home, with good bitter marmalade, some spirit and vermouth – washed ice and a thirst, get shaking or stirring. ‘Cin Cyn’.

Soon I will write in Gin & It v the Gin & French – but now a toast to Gerri Gilliland – Slainte. Next January I will prepare Seville Orange Gin for my Martini – how I love a short season.IMG_1109 (219x300)IMG_1106 (225x300)






Posted in Alcohol, Blue Collar Gastronomy, Cocktails, Dry Martini | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment