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Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas in Puglia: Around The Table

Our friend Ylenia Sambati shares this special guest post on Christmas in the region of Puglia: 

It’s written Puglia but you read it as baroque, miles of uncontaminated beaches and olive groves, traditions, spectacular farmhouses (masserie) and a bespoke culinary culture that makes the area becoming one of the best enogastronomic destinations in italy.

Great food and wine is year round to be honest..but Christmas is all about smells, delicious tastes, lights strung across streets, Christmas carols in churches (in Lecce we have some amazing gospel choirs and a huge number of churches for singing..perfect!), little markets, presepi (nativity scenes) and children ready for their holiday season and gifts.

Both children and adults crave for receiving gifts from their Babbo Natale and finish their Christmas holiday time (for breakfast or after their meal) with the popular pandoro and panettone.

Meals take place in the different houses of the family: nonna or zia is the best place to go for the 25th lunch! A nap after that big meal is usually their preferred activity, although many of them play “tombola”, the Italian bingo (I have some amazing memories playing tombola with my grandparents and using beans or orange peels to mark the boxes with numbers…awww). And if the house has a fireplace, burning the orange peels is the best way to make the house smell or oranges.

The people of Puglia start celebrating with food and family many days before the 24th. Their beautiful Christmas tree is usually ready from the Saint Lucia feast (13th December) and it is from that date that in many families the making of traditional cakes to offer to friends and relatives start.

In Puglia it means a number of days spent around the table with family and friends savouring the traditional meals and pastries. Whether sweet or savoury, Christmas time in Puglia is an authentic festive delicacy and is to be fund on every table with the same menu for each family. Yes we are so very traditional and eating the food of December is such a joy for local people. A feast for senses to which will follow a diet the month after but never mind!

It is very common in this area, infact, to visit somebody and offer them traditional Christmas cakes. December is the month totally devoted to family friends: a special time spent for hours around the table – most of the time cooking together – or with friends in their house. It is also the time when local student living in other regions of Italy come back for the holidays and for whom mums prepare tons of food and traditional cakes. A variety of flavors mixed to a deep sense of love for the family and the house.

Local bakers transform their windows in an authentic celebration of sweet traditional amazing flavors. The most popular ones are the pittule (the way we call it in the Salento), which are fried dough rolled out in small circular shapes and swirled with honey or mulled wine (vincotto) – or even better in their salted version with vegetables or anchovies inside – and the very popular purceddhruzzi, delicious balls of sweet yeast dough, flavored with orange juice and lemon zest, then baked in the oven or fried in olive oil and drizzled with honey and carteddhate ribbons of pastry twisted into circles and covered with either warmed honey or mulled wine, pine nuts or colored candies.

Actually there are more sweet flavors we usually have in December with the addition of almonds, dried figs dressed with toasted almonds coated with chocolate and quince jam, honey and ricotta cheese in sweet-making. Ever tried a “crostata (pie) di ricotta e cioccolato” in Puglia? Please do, you won’t regret it.

Today we will make purceddhruzzi with the famous Lecce pastry chef Luca Capilungo in his pastry shop in Lecce.

Ingredients:

Dough –

1 kg di flour
40 g of yeast
2 dl olive oil of very good quality (combine this oil with the flour and the yeast dissolved in a glass of water until it becomes elastic)
Juice of orange
Zest of 1 lemon

Leave the dough rise for at least three hours.

You will need oil for deep frying (remember to put them to drain on paper towel to remove excess oil)

Topping –
Vincotto (mulled wine) or honey
Sweet cinnamon
Icing sugar
Colored sprinkles, pine nuts, chocolate chips



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