The weather over the last few weeks has been wet, and cold, and just last week arrived the scirocco – a strong warm wind from the deserts of North Africa. Walking has at times been tiring, but luckily for me I arrived in Putignano where I have been staying with some new friends, sheltering from the weather. Every evening is spent talking about travel, food, history and many other topics, always accompanied by good food. These 4 wonderful people – Tristano, Maria Grazia, Anna Rosa and Mimmo (Tristano’s parents) – live in a typical building from the area: trullo. This is a cone shaped house with a the roof made of hand cut stones. Walking through the countryside here is a wonderful thing, like stepping back in time. Old perfect dry stone walls surround fields of bright green cultivated grass, olive groves, and vines. And hidden in amongst the vegetation are the trulli, their conical roofs poking up into the sky.
The other day we visited Alberobello, an incredible city where the old town is made up entirely of trulli. Each roof is painted with a white magical symbol, some which are pagan or astrological, while others are of christian significance.
Walking amongst the streets you could imagine a smurf might pop its head out of one of the doors at any time, or indeed perhaps a hairy footed Hobbit from The Shire. Instead, inside are the locals who make a living from turning their houses into a living museum for the tourists. Since 1996 it has been a UNESCO world heritage sight…and just so happens to be one of the places that I have wanted to visit since coming to Italy 7 years ago!
Tristano and Maria Grazia are artisan glass makers – they make beautiful hand made glass jewellery and stained glass windows from Murano glass, in a small workshop in their house.
When you see the time and effort that goes into making the glass jewellery, you realise just how difficult it must have been in ancient times. Here, the flame, with the aid of oxygen, reaches a temperature of 800°C and the glasses that you see in the picture below allow the glass maker to see inside the flames.
If you want to check out some of their work here’s the links:
There is a striking contrast between the old and new towns of Puglia. The new apartment buildings and industrial centres surround the medieval old towns, and from afar, when approaching the cities from the countryside, only the church towers promise the hidden delights that you find within. At times, arriving in the city around lunchtime, I have felt as if I am in an almost uninhabited town full of ugly modern apartment blocks and streets lined with rubbish, empty of people and devoid of colour except for a grey/brown tinge that seems to permeate evrything. However, if you take the time to investigate, inside the walls and arches of the interior, are beautiful paved streets, old white-washed houses and a sleepy atmosphere, as if the people are hibernating for the winter.
During the morning, on the other hand, the streets are busy with life – weather worn faces line the streets, selling fresh vegetables and fruit from the surrounding farms.
Fish sellers sit by the fresh catch of the day, and the bread shops and pasticceria are full of delicious breads, pastries and sweets.
Tristano took me around the old town of Bari, where the old ladies use the street as an extention of their houses. They are kept pristine, in contrast with the rubbish which you see strewn around the streets and countryside, and every now and then you see an aged Italian face poking out from a shrouded doorway.
The streets are hung with washing and in front of each house you find hand made pasta – orecchiette – laid out on wooden tables to dry, and covered with a protective metal grill to keep out the pigeons!
The air is awash with aromas of cooking – garlic fried in olive oil, and the distinctive scent of fresh fish, cooked in 101 different ways. However, one of the most distinctive aromas comes from the rosticerria. This is not, as you might expect, full of roasted goods. Instead they sell fried food – lots of it! And one of the most typical snacks from Puglia is the Panzerotti, a half-moon shaped, stuffed, fried pizza (but made with a softer dough than pizzas). The most common fillings are tomato and mozzarella but another popular filling is onions stir fried in olive oil and seasoned with salted anchovies and capers.
One evening, Tristano invited some friends for dinner and he showed me how to make panzerotti
…and while we were eating them, Mimmo told me a story from his childhood. This story, which was used at bedtime, comes down through the ages…
LA STORIA DI MEZZO CULO (or THE STORY OF HALF ARSE)
Once upon a time there was a large family that lived on the ground floor of an enourmous apartment. The owner of the apartment lived on the top floor. He was an old, bad tempered man who was always complaining.
One day the family decided to make panzerotti. They began to make the dough, chop the mozzarella and prepare the tomato sauce. The mother began to roll out the dough, fill the panzerotti and fry them in oil.
“Remember, the first two panzerotti must be taken to the signore upstairs. Don’t forget!”
But unfortunately the children were very hungry and in their excitement they forgot, and ate all of the panzerotti…every single one.
When the mother realised she went out of her mind with worry and cried
“MADONNA! Ci siamo dimenticati di portare i panzerotti al signore che abita sopra!!!!
“Mother Mary! We forgot to take the panzerotti to the signore upstairs!!!!!
“Children, run quickly, take a broom and sweep up all of the flour tht has fallen on the floor and we will make 2 panzerotti for the signore.”
“But what will we put inside? We have eaten all of the mozzarella” the oldest child asked.
The mother thought for a moment and then replied “find anything that you can, sweep it up, and we will put it inside.”
The children, in a mad panic, scooped up all of the insects that they could find and put them inside the panzerotti. The mother cooked them and said to her youngest, sweetest looking daughter: “you can take them to the signore upstairs.” The girl, knowing what the old man would do, and how angry he would be, took with her a bar of soap. She went upstairs, knocked on the door, and waited with an angelic smile on her face. When the old man opened the door, she curtsied, smiled sweetly, and gave him the panzerotti.
As soon as the door was closed, she bagan to scrub the floor with the bar of soap.
The old man, meanwhile, was tucking into the first panzerotti. But after just 2 bites, a huge beatle crawled out and jumped onto his nose. He let out a huge scream of terror “AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHGGGGGGGGGGGGG.”
As soon as the children heard the scream, they ran and hid, shouting out in unison
“here comes mr half arse”.
The old man opened the door and ran towards the stairs. But as soon as he placed his foot on the first step of the stairs, he slipped and broke his left leg. But he was still angry, and continued.
“Here comes mr half arse”
screamed the children. The old man placed his foot on the second step, slipped on the soap and broke his right leg. But he was still angry.
“Here comes mr half arse”
chimed the children. The old man crawled to the third step, slipped and broke his left arm. But he was still angry.
“Here comes mr half arse”
called the children. The old man moved onto the fourth step, slipped and broke his right arm…etc etc
Finally the old man slid onto the fifth step, slipped and broke his bottom…but just the left side. All of the children, pointing at the old man as he was lying on the floor, cried out together:
“Look here is mr half arse”!!!!!!
The story can go on and on and the old man continues to break different parts of his body, before finally breaking his bottom…until the children are asleep!
Any suggestions for another ending can be discussed below. Have a think while you’re making them…
Here’s the recipe: Panzerotti Recipe