Per tutti i gusti presents “A taste of Puglia”

What a treat I experienced yesterday as Per tutti i gusti – il giro d’Italia a tavola presented its first event dedicated to Puglia, A Taste of Puglia. January kick-started this 2012 initiative and was dedicated to the Tuscany region, well known by tourists world-wide, whilst February plays hosts to a series of events, dinners and cooking classes dedicated to the lesser known but increasingly popular southern region of Puglia. Having previously worked with a couple of Pugliese colleagues I was intrigued to experience the regions cookery first hand and who better then the regions top chefs to introduce me to the meridian delights of Puglia.

First a quick word on Puglia for the travellers amongst us. Puglia is the meridian region making up the heel of Italy and boasts mores then 800km of unspoilt coast. This naturally lends itself to a strong culture of fish and many of the guest chefs at todays events showcased their favourite fish dishes. The capital of the region is Bari and over 4 million Italians currently inhabit the Pugliese region. It is becoming increasingly popular as a holiday destination amongst Italians as well as tourists famed for its beaches and relaxed way of life so if the following dishes inspire it could well be next on your list.

Per tutti i gusti – il giro d’Italia a tavola is supported by Starwood hotels and resorts, owners of the Malpensa Sheraton, Diana Majestic and Milan Westin Palace and together with organiser Carlo Vischi the programme brings a new approach to regional cooking. As well as giving the regions top chefs the opportunity to showcase their skills at formal dinners and participate in the Starwood Chef of the year contest the new calendar also offers an exclusive behind the scenes cookery course for a select group of bloggers and industry experts. Yesterday I was one of the lucky few invited to see the chefs in action at the Il canetto restaurant at Milan Malpensa’s Sheraton hotel.

Guest Chefs

Antonella Ricci di Al Fornello da Ricci, Ceglie Messapica (Brindisi)
Sebastiano Lombardi di Cielo, ristorante del relais La Sommità, Ostuni (Brindisi)
Onofrio Serio, ristorante del Relais Il Melograno, Monopoli (Bari)
Alessandro Nigro, ristorante La Lanternaia del Relais Histò, San Pietro sul Mar Piccolo (Taranto)
Gegè Mangano di Li Jalantuumene, Monte Sant’Angelo (Foggia)
Lucia Schiavone di Le Antiche Sere, Lesina (Foggia)

Lucia Schiavone started our cookery course and gave us a repertoire of her favourite fish based dishes that best reflect Pugliese cuisine which in her words is founded on “fresh ingredients and simplicity” to preserve the naturalness of the products used. She chose a duo of eel dishes; eel soup and oven roasted eel to demonstrate the beauty of lake fish as well as the many sea fish that are used in Pugliese cooking.

The soup was a colourful celebration of fresh vegetables including pumpkin, peppers, courgette, aubergine and potatoes with lightly poached eel. To show the versatility of eel she also oven roasted a fillet on a bed of sage leaves and served with a basket of fresh greens sauteed in garlic. Despite traditionally being known as a fatty fish the eel was incredibily tender in the soup and served in this way with a wealth of vegetables gave a delicaye balance to the dish. The roasted eel was roasted on a bed of bay leaves which serve to flavour the fish whilst also soaking up the fat that leaks out during cooking. Once again the clever use of freshly tossed greens as an accompaniament to the dish served to balance the dish and ensure that the eel did not over whelm.

Not content to finish here, Lucia also gave us two fish carpaccio dishes; one served with an algae / seaweed common to the Puglia region and the other with fresh ricotta. The first dish requires a long period of marination with rock salt and fresh slices of lemon and orange to infuse the fish. Ideally you need to prepare the day before and leave to infuse in the fridge overnight. You then delicately slice the fish and arrange on a bed of algae and dress with a citrus orange infusion.

A moorish alternative using local ricotta was a ricotta cup in whichthe carpaccio slices are placed inside a mould and then the centre is filled with ricotta. This is then left to set in the fridge for a few hours and then served sliced on a bed of orange coulis. Needless to say both looked delicious!

Sebastiano Lombardi then took the reigns and gave us two of his restaurants signature dishes; lightly sauteed squid on an artichoke cream and his version of a Pugliese poormans dish given star treatment. Sebastiano was impeccable in his preparation and dedicates a lot of creativity in how he serves his dishes. It reminded me of a recent visit to Michelin starred restaurant Tano passami l’olio and Pane e Acqua both of which pride themselves on the visual impact of the food as well as the taste.

Sebastiano’s first dish was an apparant take on a relatively poor man’s dish where bread is soaked in water and served with other fresh ingredients as a means of using up stale bread and leftovers. Sebastiano’s take was somewhat more elegant and with the addition of gamberi and porcini mushrooms he presented a beautiful summer starter complete with cherry tomatoes, roasted red onions, burrato cheese, grated celery and cress.

His second dish, still on the theme of fish, used lightly sauteed and sliced squid served on an artichoke cream and topped with fresh artichoke and peppers.

The next chef to take the spotlight was Alessandro Nigro who gave us an explosion of flavour with his baccala dish served with a filo basket of mixed vegetables and burrato cheese. Alessandro first prepared the filo basket by dressing 4 sheets of pastry with olive oil and fresh basil leaves and laying them one on top of the other, each slightly rotated. He then placed the pastry into a mould and filled with grilled courgette and aubergine and chunks of fresh burrato cheese. This parcel was then loosely closed and placed in a hot oven for 6-7 minutes.

On the side, Alessandro prepared a baccala infused milk and semolina flour dressing and then tossed his baccala in olive oil and served the fillets on a bed of the baccala cream. This was then accompanied by the filo basket for a pure taste of summertime!

Unfortunately this is where my culinary journey ended as I was unable to stay for the remaining two chefs and the evening’s dinner but compliments to everyone involved and hats off to Puglia for some stunning dishes. I left knowing that my fellow bloggers would not let me down in the tasting department as I was amongst some expert cookers and tasters with amongst others Anna Gentile, Francesca D’Agnano from singerfood, Laura Adani from Food and Photo and Claudia from La femme du chef.

Many thanks to all involved for the hospitality and Pugliese delights and I look forward to seeing you next time for Per tutti i gusti – il giro d’Italia a tavola.


2 Responses to “Per tutti i gusti presents “A taste of Puglia””
  1. Federico Sambolino says:

    lovely pictures and yummy dishes…

  2. Hi Claire,

    It has been a real pleasure meeting you last tuesday!
    I’m looking forward to having a new occasion to be together and knowing each other better 🙂


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