Every year, I try to visit one of my favourite places in the world: Puglia (pronounced poo-lia) in South East Italy, right in the ‘heel’ of the boot. With 800km of white, sandy beaches, I feel like a million miles away from the hustle and grind of London. It is a pretty magical place, laden with little white washed villages that seem to have stood still in time. Mamas cook in their kitchens whilst their sons play front of the house, serving up daily feasts, literally in their house or in the little streets outside. They don’t offer a menu; only what has been prepared freshly that day. Once a hidden gem, Puglia’s sparkle has caught the eye of tourists and there has been quite a lot of development and change in the last 10 years.
When in Puglia, I always stay in my aunt’s ‘trullo’ in an off-the-beaten-track village called Cervarolo. The nearest town is Ostuni (known as the white town), which is becoming increasingly popular. About 6 years ago, a couple from Puglia decided they were going to renovate a derelict Masseria, which is close by, and turn it into a small luxury hotel. It took a long time to complete, but all the hard work and effort paid off. ‘Masseria Cervarolo’ now stands in its own elegance, like a beautiful bride on her wedding day, looking immaculate and each detail completed to perfection. Pretty handy that it is next door!
One evening, Patrizia and Teo kindly invited us all to join them for dinner in the restaurant at their beautiful Masseria. Walking down the long, dusty, and slightly rocky road was fairy-tale-esque – the sky twinkled like the sea, the air was still and balmy, and finally we reached our glorious destination. The eating area is set outside in the evenings and inside during the day (to hide away from the glaring heat). The setting couldn’t be more beautiful. It is surrounded by ancient fig trees, lush green grass, and a white stonewall which is open at the sides and covered by a pale wooden pergola. Inside, there are 15 beautifully laid white tables and a soft warm glow from the lighting.
Quirinio is the resident chef at the Masseria who, incidentally, provides cooking classes and, apparently, even the odd dance class! He has been with Patrizia and Teo since the beginning and that evening he had prepared for us a wonderful, local meal (again no menu needed) only using the freshest ingredients. To start, we had a selection of Italian style ‘tapas’—fresh creamy burrata (an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, hard on the outside and when you open, it oozes the cream – utter heaven) with tomatoes, zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh ricotta and fried, fava bean puree, again a very traditional dish of the region, with wild chicory – all of which were full of flavour and tasted incredibly fresh.
Next, we had a pasta course: a choice orecchiette with garlic, pancetta, broccoli rabe (this was definitely my favourite of all the dishes), and paccheri with aubergine and cacioricotta cheese. Both were so simple and rustic, yet sensational. There was still more to come! We, then, had the very traditional dish of capocollo (cured) meat rolls stuffed with cheese and thyme, which weren’t as heavy as they sound. All washed down with a local Pugliese red wine. For dessert, the others tucked into hot puff pastry with lemon cream – in the local dialect, this is called ‘sporcamuso’ – it looked delicious, but at this point, I literally couldn’t eat another thing.
Apart from eating with our wonderful hosts, the other reason this particular evening was such a special one is that everything had been done with love and from the heart and will always have a place in mine. After such a fabulous evening, we skipped off into the night, full as kings and merry as the day is long.
Masseria Cervarolo, 72017 Ostuni Brindisi, Italy
+39 0831 303729