The New­comer

SAVEUR - - Contents - BY STACY ADIMANDO

A young chef in the heel of Italy is redefining Ital­ian cui­sine with her gar­den’s bounty

Al­most any­thing will grow in Puglia, a food-ob­sessed re­gion of south­ern Italy—but it’s also sleepy and set in its ways. This is both the eas­i­est and the hard­est place for a young chef and her bold, gar­den-driven cook­ing to come in and shake things up

gior­gia goggi stood wear­ing rub­ber boots and hold­ing a blue-han­dled ser­rated but­ter knife. as the 28-year-old cook be­gan shim­my­ing side­ways up and down her gar­den rows like a hu­man har­mon­ica, hack­ing fat­tened veg­eta­bles off their stems, farm bas­kets be­gan to fill up: red beets the size of bocce balls; savoy cab­bages with leaves fanned out in crinkly or­bits; spindly, lime-col­ored pyra­mids of broc­coli ro­manesco; bul­bous ar­ti­chokes with deep-pur­ple petals. i was perched on the gar­den’s wall, try­ing to save my white sneak­ers from the red dirt, which looked as if io­dine had seeped into it and held there.

Goggi is the cook at Masse­ria Moroseta, a white­washed guest­house in Os­tuni that opened two years ago. A coastal vil­lage in Puglia, Os­tuni is known by lo­cals and tourists as la città bianca, “the white city,” for its blind­ingly bright build­ings and sun­bleached pi­az­zas, and prized by vis­i­tors for its nearby beaches. The food here—a devoted but some­times mid­dling ro­ta­tion of sim­ple seafood prepa­ra­tions, home­spun semolina pas­tas, legumes, and stuffed or twice-baked breads—is more dis­tinc­tive for its ad­her­ence to tra­di­tion than for its cre­ativ­ity. On a wind­ing, splin­tered road through the coun­try­side is Moroseta, a boxy, chic, con­tem­po­rary struc­ture plopped in a field of wild­flow­ers, cac­tuses, and around 600 gnarled, 300-year-old olive trees. The grav­i­ta­tional pull of the vintage-meetsmod­ern style alone has at­tracted a wait list of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors. But I was there for Goggi’s dishes, which I’d been trail­ing from across the pond by word of mouth and a stream of tan­ta­liz­ing pho­tos. In them, where lu­cid gar­den colors over­lay across each other like an im­pres­sion­ist paint­ing, and cul­tures and global fla­vors al­most never seen in ru­ral Italy col­lide, I could see a new Puglia, one I longed to be a part of.

Orig­i­nally from Mi­lan, Goggi has that Ital­ian city look we Amer­i­can women covet and that be­trays her as a trans­plant to the coun­try­side—thin with a long, once-bleached pony­tail, over­size sun­glasses, and an el­e­gantly crooked nose. After leav­ing be­hind an ar­chi­tec­tural-de­sign de­gree to be­come a cook, she spent five years in Mi­lan work­ing at restau­rants cook­ing every­thing from Ital­ian to Ja­panese. As a line cook, Goggi said, she jumped from clean­ing prawns for six-hour stints at the sushi sta­tion to mas­ter­mind­ing pas­tries for dessert. But since July 2017, when stress and un­hap­pi­ness got the best of her, Goggi’s been out of the city’s cos­mopoli­tan restau­rant cir­cuit and em­brac­ing a slower, more in­ti­mate cook­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at the farm­house—one largely of her own de­sign, and that changes nearly ev­ery week as her very first gar­den grows and evolves.

“There are a lot of masserie around here,” Goggi said. It’s a word that means farm­house, but across south­ern Italy it has also come

to sig­nify ho­tels built in their re­mains. At Moroseta, the full food ex­pe­ri­ence has been avail­able only to guests stay­ing at the ho­tel, un­til this sum­mer, when Goggi and owner Carlo Lanzini in­tro­duced lim­ited tick­eted din­ners. “The way we do food, it’s quite unique. It’s like a fam­ily meal, no menu. I choose ev­ery day what we want to cook.”

The “we” is mere mod­esty speak­ing— Goggi’s been the sole cook at Moroseta mostly since she be­gan the job nearly one year ago. In that short time, she’s trans­formed a swim­ming-pool-size por­tion of the prop­erty’s wild back­yard into a gar­den of in­spi­ra­tion for her cook­ing, com­plete with a chicken coop. While such a muse might al­ready be com­mon­place or even cliché in the U.S. food scene, it is ground­break­ing in south­ern Italy, where cooks and many chefs are rit­u­al­is­tic about serv­ing the re­gion’s rus­tic, tra­di­tional dishes.

If Italy is a boot shape, Os­tuni is, spa­tially speak­ing, in its up­per heel. Here, sum­mer be­gins in April, and sinewy bit­ter greens, not plump toma­toes, are the top­ping of choice for pasta. Many of the clas­sic recipes are built around what’s plucked from the sea: fresh an­chovies, mus­sels baked in bread crumbs or cooked in broth, and smor­gas­bords of raw seafood “crudo” served on ice, which spans every­thing from white, crunchy sliv­ers of un­cooked cala­mari to the silky roe of sea urchins. The rest is rel­a­tively mea­ger, like rus­tic hand­made mac­cheroni or purées made with pre­served dried beans.

In a place where the hot cli­mate and rich soil dic­tate that most every­thing can grow most of the time, how­ever, Goggi is in­fat­u­ated—ob­sessed even—with what else is pos­si­ble. There are toma­toes in April. Figs the size of light­bulbs on trees by early May—th­ese come twice, ripen­ing once in June and again in early Septem­ber—and le­mons with del­i­cate yel­low skins, plump pears, and dark red-black fer­rovia cher­ries all sprung up si­mul­ta­ne­ously while I was there. It’s the abun­dance that ex­plains why Goggi came to this place for a sum­mer job and never left, and why you kind of can’t blame her for out­think­ing what’s on typ­i­cal restau­rant menus in the re­gion. For her, Puglia is one of the most ob­vi­ous and in­ter­est­ing places to cook cre­atively, but do­ing so goes against a strain of tra­di­tion­al­ism and con­ser­vatism that’s long ex­isted in the re­gion.

“Al­most any­thing you can plant thrives here,” Goggi ex­plained. As we strolled the prop­erty, dark fruits that looked like blue­ber­ries had fallen all over in small piles. Point­ing out that they were black olives, she told me the hard work she and Lanzini have put in tend­ing to the old trees—they are now tak­ing in the fruit to be pressed for oil, more than 2,000 liters a year, some of which the staff uses to make soaps and bath prod­ucts. Along­side the ancient trunks, Goggi has also be­gun to cul­ti­vate fin­ger lime trees, orig­i­nally from sub­trop­i­cal Aus­tralian rain­forests, as well as pomelo trees, pop­u­lar in south­east Asia and China, and found oc­ca­sion­ally in the hottest parts of Si­cily—her deep re­spect for the old planted side by side with her lust for the new.

“This is why they think I’m a bit crazy,” she said as we headed to­ward the house and paused at her bushels of grow­ing herbs. From our talks I knew she was re­fer­ring to Ital­ian trav­el­ers specif­i­cally, many of whom have stayed at the masse­ria and had mixed re­ac­tions to her ex­per­i­men­tal food. This type of re­ac­tion is com­mon in the culi­nary cul­ture as a whole. “The cooks here fa­vor basil, rosemary, and sage in every­thing,” she said, “and when you work in a restau­rant and pro­pose us­ing mar­jo­ram in­stead of basil in a red sauce, you are looked at like you are in­sane. I’ve been try­ing to plant as many of the dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of herbs and cit­ruses and veg­eta­bles that I couldn’t find in Puglia, such as le­mon balm, ver­bena, and co­rian­der. Co­rian­der es­pe­cially is some­thing I could never find here.” As she reached down to mas­sage the leaves with

her fin­ger­tips, the plants at her an­kles al­most ap­peared to be look­ing up at her like small, loyal pets.

In­side, we flooded the long skinny farm ta­ble with the morn­ing’s pick­ings. At the stove, Goggi briskly stirred beaten eggs with yolks the color of blood or­anges in a pan. “For break­fast, if Ital­ians don’t find nor­mal grandma cook­ies or plain cake, it’s quite shock­ing for them. If you pro­pose eggs—or any juice be­sides or­ange juice or maybe straw­berry—they look at you like you are crazy.” That morn­ing, we’d had iced fresh ginger root, gar­den-grown mint, and green tea, served mixed to­gether with Pugliese honey in a chilled wine­glass. Pre­served or­ange mar­malade, home­made straw­berry jam, and pil­lowy fo­cac­cia were served along­side strands of pulled bur­rata with soft lit­tle morsels of sautéed zuc­chini and as­para­gus.

“What we do ev­ery day in the kitchen de­pends on what we find out in the gar­den,” she said, her sin­cer­ity re­mind­ing me that this is still an oddly big deal in Puglia. Her gor­geous, veg­etable-driven, up­dated Ital­ian food—and Lanzini’s taste in decor—has been enough of an at­trac­tion for young, stylish guests from all over to ex­cuse Moroseta’s re­mote lo­ca­tion. Dur­ing my stay, the guests fill­ing the rooms were from China, Ber­lin, Mon­treal, and Aus­tralia. I was there from New York, which might be why I found her style—clearly rooted in Ital­ian tra­di­tion but in­fused with sub­tle in­flu­ences from Asia, In­dia, and Amer­ica, to name a few—not only nor­mal but ideal.

“Most Ital­ians who visit from other parts of Italy are not open­minded about the way we cook,” Goggi said outright. “It’s quite rare that they ap­pre­ci­ate what we do with the food.”

“I’M BLEND­ING BREAD CRUMBS. IT’S GO­ING TO BE QUITE LOUD,”

Goggi warned from a cor­ner of the kitchen, where be­neath her rolled-up gray T-shirt sleeves I could see a tat­too on the back of each of her skinny el­bows. “I try not to waste left­over bread. I toast it, dry it out, and then use it for bread crumbs or pan­zanella.” The bread was so hard and stale it shrieked through the food pro­ces­sor with a nails-on-a-chalk­board scream. On the other side of the room, a metal pot per­co­lat­ing on the stove let off a sweet, herbal, and apothe­cary-es­que fra­grance that cloaked every­thing: cel­ery leaves, deep-red cherry toma­toes with their skins split open from cook­ing, wedges of pur­ple onion, and four or five fresh le­mon leaves from the prop­erty’s trees, which looked like en­larged bay leaves.

“This is for stew­ing the oc­to­pus to make a sugo,” a con­cen­trated, slow-cooked pasta sauce, Goggi told me as she filled the pot to ready din­ner. She re­moved from the re­frig­er­a­tor three tiny oc­to­puses, each the per­fect size to strad­dle the palm of your hand with their ten­ta­cles. Within sec­onds of low­er­ing them into the brais­ing liq­uid, their limbs tight­ened and ends coiled, and their whitish gray out­sides be­gan to take on a pur­ple hue.

All around the room, jars of all sizes— husky, squat, curvy, and thin—leaned along the kitchen’s ledges like pa­trons at a bar. Goggi sprin­kled a few whole dried Cal­abrian chiles into the oc­to­pus pot from a jar with a red lid. Next to it was one marked “liqu­i­rizia” (licorice)—a fine, espresso-like pow­der; an­other con­tained oily, shriv­eled tag­giasca olives; and an­other a seed mix of buck­wheat, sun­flower, and pepi­tas. In­side some are spices and blends I don’t see in most kitchens and I’ve never seen in any kitchen in ru­ral Italy: Mid­dle Eastern za’atar, Egyp­tian dukkah, and In­dian masala spice among them.

“I like to make blends and spices of my own,” she said. “Here are dried rose petals I mixed with crushed pink pep­per­corns.” She palmed the lid of one jar and peeled it open, re­veal­ing a musty-smelling pur­ple-flecked salt in­side. “I fla­vored sea salt with laven­der. It works very well on top of a sim­ple tomato salad.” There were bot­tles of Squid-brand Thai fish sauce, sake,

and bot­tles of vine­gar from rice to white wine nearby.

One con­tainer held what ap­pear to be black­ened, dried Brazil nuts, but Goggi cor­rected me. “Tonka beans,” she said proudly. “They smell like licorice and vanilla and the scent of an orchid flower. You grate them with a mi­croplane, and the fla­vor is very sweet. But I come from Mi­lan, which is the land of risotto, so I like it with a strong blue cheese risotto.”

Through­out the few days of my stay, th­ese jars proved as im­por­tant as her gar­den ex­per­i­ments in giv­ing her food its out­side­the-box fla­vors in Italy. “I am ob­sessed with timut pep­per­corn,” she said, tip­ping an­other jar to­ward me. To my nose, it was al­most identical to mar­i­juana. “I find it very cit­rusy,” Goggi said, whiff­ing it to con­firm. “I like to pair it with cho­co­late or with strong meat like pi­geon, beef, lamb. I like meat that tastes like meat.” Nigella seeds, of which she has a full jar, “taste a lot like oregano to me, but also give a crunch­i­ness. Not many peo­ple use them around here, but they do have a Mediter­ranean taste.”

For a cook as glob­ally minded as she is, Goggi never com­plains about clas­sic Pugliese—or any Ital­ian—food. “All I re­mem­ber from my child­hood is linked to food. My mom makes very tra­di­tional dishes, like the best brodo with tortellini. It’s some­thing I re­ally crave all the time. The only change is that now when I go home, she says to me, ‘You do the veg­eta­bles.’”

Like many chefs, es­pe­cially th­ese days, Goggi de­scribes her­self as an acid junkie, a cook of contrasts and racy bright­ness. “Citrus and vine­gar are things I can’t avoid us­ing. It’s like the punc­tu­a­tion of the dish.” It’s true that le­mon and acid fea­tured promi­nently in every­thing we ate: Crispy bread crumbs for top­ping pasta got a gen­er­ous pinch of grated le­mon zest and fen­nel seed. Miso-roasted yel­low toma­toes were sprin­kled abun­dantly with sour, tart ground sumac. And as an an­tipasti, she served pa­per-thin strips of zuc­chini and red onion wilted in straight vine­gar with mint leaves, a flo­ral-tast­ing, neon-pink-and-green treat I in­stantly loved. But more than any­thing, I found her dishes to have a unique sweet­ness in both fla­vor and per­son­al­ity. A pear-topped spelt cake smelled of mus­co­v­ado and the honey glaze it was brushed with after bak­ing. The pasta with oc­to­pus sugo—the meal for which her le­mon-leaf braise was des­tined—had the nec­tary aroma of saf­fron and long-cooked toma­toes. Fig leaves from the prop­erty, which Goggi says have a co­conut­like fla­vor, were used to in­fuse oil with sweet­ness for salsa verde. And mar­i­nated an­chovy fil­lets were topped with soaked white raisins and syrupy arcs of candied or­ange peel.

“This dish is to­tally my mother,” she said of the an­chovy dish, the white plate and the sil­very skins of the fish eye-pierc­ingly bright in the mid­day Pugliese sun. “She would make it with dif­fer­ent kinds of mar­i­nated fish, but the candied citrus peel, the onions, and the dried fruit are all hers.” We scooped up the tiny fil­lets with pick­led red onion and plump olives along­side crisp lo­cal rosé made from prim­i­tivo del Sa­lento, a lo­cal grape pro­duced be­tween the re­gion’s two coasts. It was a dish and a day that could burn your eyes with­out sun­glasses, which left me deliri­ous upon reen­ter­ing the kitchen.

“The only thing is, it’s not as easy to get in­gre­di­ents here as it is in a big city,” Goggi said, “but there are some lit­tle spe­cific shops that are help­ing me. There is this su­per-tiny or­ganic shop nearby that has, like, three things, but ev­ery time I go there and ask for some­thing new, such as miso, they try to find what I want and bring it here.” She’s had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence with the lo­cal cheese­mak­ers who, since see­ing her pa­tron­ize their busi­nesses reg­u­larly, have warmed up to help­ing her. “I couldn’t find any crème fraîche or but­ter­milk here, but I pro­posed it to a cheese­maker. Now we are mak­ing some tri­als to­gether, and I’m su­per happy about it.” Some,

like the cheese­mak­ers, have be­gun to call her “Gio” (said like “Joe”), which she blushed at upon shar­ing. “The thing with peo­ple in Puglia is that if they love you some­how, they try to help you and please you in any way pos­si­ble.”

ON THE LAST MORN­ING, WHEN THE BEL­LOW­ING RUMMMM-

rumm of the trac­tor be­gan and I was awake with no chance of re­turn­ing to sleep, we seized our 5 a.m. wake-up to visit a tra­di­tional masse­ria, an ac­tual fam­ily-owned farm­house that pro­duces tra­di­tional prod­ucts for sale in a small, barely marked shop in the coun­try­side. In­side Goggi’s car, the nav­i­ga­tion spewed a sin­is­tras (lefts) and

a de­stras (rights) from be­tween us. We passed through Martina Franca, the largest town in the area, which is post­card Puglia— all white fa­cades, iron­work bal­conies, and ma­genta flow­ers.

When we ar­rived at the bak­ers’ kitchen, not typ­i­cally open to the pub­lic, rows of hun­dreds of friselle—brit­tle, twice-baked bis­cuits used to sop up pasta sauces and the re­gion’s veg­etable stews—were laid out on tow­els to proof. An older man plunged his fin­ger­tips into fo­cac­cia dough spread out in dark, warped pans, then squeezed fresh toma­toes to re­lease their juices over the top. Birds chirped fever­ishly out­side the door. In an­other cor­ner, a younger man por­tioned out bags of flour. Lit­tle crates of loaves lay proof­ing be­tween scrunched white linens.

“There are dif­fer­ent broth­ers who run things here,” Goggi said. “Some bake bread. Some make veg­eta­bles. Some take care of the dairy. There are sis­ters too, but they do the sell­ing.” The older man threw piles of olive-tree trim­mings into the wood-fired oven and be­gan to load in the trays.

When the fo­cac­cia was done, he trimmed off hulk­ing rec­tan­gles for us to eat. The tomato juices had caramelized into smoky black­ened patches on the top of the dough, and every­thing shone with olive oil. We walked around the prop­erty while we ate. A guy in a jump­suit smoked a cig­a­rette while milk­ing a cow.

Out­side, a man named Giuseppe, one of the el­der broth­ers, showed us where patches of wild chamomile and el­der­flower had grown in leggy heaps. Goggi pressed her hands to­gether at her chest with ex­cite­ment and scur­ried off, leav­ing me to fin­ish my bread among the smells of the farm. She re­turned with a mas­sive bun­dle of each flower, white and yel­low and with tiny gar­den bugs still crawl­ing through their stems. We used the chamomile to make gelato that night, which Goggi scooped onto slices of her golden pear cake. In Ital­ian, speak­ing straight to Goggi, Giuseppe asked where I’m from, not know­ing I un­der­stood the lan­guage.

“Stati uniti,” she said back. The U.S. “Ah,” the man said, with the slight­est hint of an eye roll. “So she’s here in Puglia just to eat.”

“Sì,” Goggi nod­ded and smiled. “Me too.”

From left: On a crum­bling coun­try road in Os­tuni, Puglia, Masse­ria Moroseta’s guest­house is sur­rounded by 12 acres of cac­tuses, fruit trees, and a mas­sive veg­etable gar­den; in­side the kitchen, chef Gior­gia Goggi read­ies baby oc­to­puses for a slow-cooked sugo for pasta; a grove of cen­turies-old olive trees on the prop­erty.

From left: Goggi in the court­yard of Masse­ria Moroseta; the col­or­ful car­rots of Polig­nano are shaved into rib­bons to make a crisp salad with bur­rata; Goggi, a spice ob­ses­sive, stacks shelves with her global finds; cros­tini are topped with the re­gion’s dried fava bean purée, pur­ple basil, and roasted toma­toes and grapes.

From left: Le­mon leaves plucked from the prop­erty’s trees sim­mer with oc­to­pus; a blis­tered tomato fo­cac­cia from a nearby farm­house makes a fill­ing snack; lunch at Moroseta in the Pugliese sun; icy prawns for the re­gion’s fa­mous crudo; Goggi rel­ishes chamomile flow­ers des­tined for gelato; a bou­quet of lo­cal squash blos­soms.

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