A TALE, A MEAL

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial -

Sun and a land­scape made up of an unimag­in­able range of golden tones: here we are in Apu­lia, in the south-east of Italy, among the hon­est lanes perched on promon­to­ries or in the farm­houses set among the golden wheat fields. These mil­lions of spiky shafts rep­re­sent the true wealth of this an­cient land, in which the orec­chi­etta reigns supreme.

Cui­sine can be seen as the his­tor­i­cal mem­ory of an en­tire coun­try and its bio­di­ver­sity. Apu­lia, the heel of the boot, is the most ob­vi­ous rep­re­sen­ta­tion of this: there has not been one mo­ment in the long, bit­ter and lively his­tory of this re­gion in which its cui­sine has not grown hand in hand with civ­i­liza­tion; for if it is true that the Ital­ian culi­nary pat­ri­mony is a rel­a­tively re­cent dis­cov­ery in the con­text of in­ter­na­tional gas­tro­nomic trends, it’s also true that it has ex­isted for cen­turies. Pugliese women are quite aware of this, as they are the trans­mit­ters of a method that de­fies the nat­u­ral course of time, ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing a pre­cious trea­sure called the orec­chi­etta from just hard du­rum wheat flour mixed with wa­ter and salt. An em­blem—not just gas­tro­nomic—of Apu­lia world­wide, orec­chi­ette are made with a ges­ture that is quick and sim­ple, but dif­fi­cult to repli­cate: they are lit­er­ally dragged across the sur­face of a rolling board with the tip of a knife, ren­der­ing them rough on the out­side but smooth in­side, and look­ing like lit­tle ears (hence the name). It takes just a few steps to ob­tain a smooth and soft dough that is rolled into tubes, then cut into disks to be bent with a round-edged knife that will give them a shape sim­i­lar to that of a shell. That’s it: a few, sim­ple steps. How­ever, Ital­ians know that be­hind ev­ery dish there is al­ways much more. Among the brawny an­cient olive trees in Apu­lia, the

orec­chi­etta is an in­alien­able right that has sur­vived in tan­dem with the thou­sands of gen­er­a­tions it has nour­ished. This tasty dough car­ries within it­self all the wealth of mil­lenary tra­di­tions, as well as an­cient su­per­sti­tions.

They were used by ex­pec­tant moth­ers to pre­dict the gen­der of their un­born ba­bies, us­ing a sim­ple ri­tual in which they were thrown into a pot of wa­ter to­gether with a pen­netta (a piece of quill-shaped pasta), and, de­pend­ing on which one first rose to the sur­face at the mo­ment of ebul­li­tion, they could de­ter­mine whether the baby would be a boy (in the case of the phal­lic pen­netta) or a girl (the archetyp­i­cally feminine orec­chi­etta). They also served as a sym­bol of pro­tec­tion, when a bit of dough was used to make a cross that would then be stuck onto the door of the house.

Freed from su­per­sti­tion, the orec­chi­etta con­tin­ues to live on in in­fi­nite vari­a­tions, from the clas­sic com­bi­na­tion with turnip greens—a plant that grows abun­dantly in this area—en­livened by gar­lic and an­chovy, to the über­authen­tic and tra­di­tional orec­chi­ette made with grano arso, or the toasted (“burnt”) dis­carded wheat from the har­vest, to the mod­ern Amer­i­can in­ter­pre­ta­tions from Martha Ste­wart, the queen of glam­orous home­mak­ing. They in­volve pa­tience, rig­or­ously man­ual la­bor, and above all an in­nate pas­sion for the con­vivi­al­ity of the meal, which is not just about gath­er­ing around a ta­ble but is in fact the cul­mi­na­tion of so many fun­da­men­tal mo­ments such as the prepa­ra­tion, the ri­tual, the sea­son­al­ity and the at­mos­phere. Be­cause it’s not just the prod­uct that is im­por­tant, not just the in­gre­di­ents (which are nev­er­the­less fun­da­men­tal), but the en­tire world of taste, com­posed of odors, col­ors and other sen­sa­tions.

To live the land­scape in a dish, in­hale the rein­vig­o­rat­ing sea air, per­haps on the sea­side it­self, in a restau­rant on one of the tra­buc­chi (wooden struc­tures made for fish­ing but re­con­verted over the years) that line the coast of the lower Adri­atic on the Gargano promontory, nick­named the spur of Italy. Domenico Ot­ta­viano, an up­com­ing young chef from Apu­lia, man­ages the restau­rant “Al Trabucco di Mimì,” unique in its genre, born from the pas­sion of one of the old­est fam­i­lies who built the Gargano tra­buc­chi. Here, ine­bri­ated by the smell of oregano, lulled by the ca­denced song of the crick­ets and em­braced by the warmth of the sun­set, one falls for­ever in love with this land, this life.

The pasta, fresh and rig­or­ously home­made, is a great clas­sic of the Ital­ian ta­ble that con­tains the se­crets of mil­lenary tra­di­tions and of an of­ten-tor­mented his­tory.

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Domenico Ot­ta­viano and the fam­ily “trabucco” which houses his restau­rant

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