Seduced by the Salento

September 26, 2016  •  Italy, Lecce, Otranto, Puglia, Spongano, The Awaiting Table, Travel

salento-puglia-italy-lecceI’ve been taking guests on a food and wine adventure to Puglia every year for nearly a decade. From my very first visit, I felt the pull, the need to return to this place. The people I’ve met from the southern heel of Italy, the ones I now feel lucky to call friends, will tell you that the Salento, defined as the southernmost peninsula, the “heel of the boot” that is Italy, is not the same as Puglia, the region that actually extends much further north. It’s a classic example of how regionalized Italy remains – the people, the dialect, the foods, the wine. I love all of Italy, I really do. But every year, I am seduced by the Salento and return to share the experience with a new group. Maybe you’ll come with me some day? In the meantime, here are some of my favorite photos from this year’s trip.salento-puglia-italy-awaiting-table-lunch

Antipasti in the kitchen of The Awaiting Table Cookery School in Lecce, waiting for guests to arrive for the week.salento-puglia-italy-awaiting-table-students-otrantoGroup photo of this year’s cooking school students from the top of the hill in Otranto.salento-puglia-italy-back-roads-olive-groves-stone-wallsEndless quiet back roads criss-cross the Salento and are lined with olive groves and stone walls.salento-puglia-italy-bike-at-the-castleA bicycle sits waiting for someone to take a ride at Palazzo Bacile di Castiglione in Spongano,
our home for the week long cooking course.salento-puglia-italy-burrata-tomatoesPreparing a light lunch of salad made from tomatoes, basil, and plenty of decadent burrata cheese,
which hails from this area.salento-puglia-italy-castle-olive-cellar-dining-tableThe cleaned out old olive oil cellar and mill underneath the castle makes for an incredible dinner venue, all lit by candlelight.salento-puglia-italy-duomo-and-campanile-lecceThe camponile and duomo in Lecce change colors all day long as the sun rises and sets.salento-puglia-italy-tomatoes-for-sauceSixteen crates of San Marzano tomatoes, much more flavorful than their cousin the Roma tomato,
await our group for the annual making of the sauce.salento-puglia-italy-end-of-making-the-saucePutting the cap on the final bottle,
while the traditional ceramic pitchers from the region used to scoop and fill the bottles sit idle.salento-puglia-italy-fiat-500Emiluccia, the beloved Fiat 500 owned by the director of the cooking school, lures everyone into the courtyard for a photo.salento-puglia-italy-frisa-in-lecceTomato, mozzarella, and arugula served over frisa, barley cakes that are completely dried then rehydrated with water and olive oil – a specialty of the Salento that’s perfect for lunch.salento-puglia-italy-gargoyles-iron-balcony-lecceThe gargoyles under the pretty iron balustrades on the balconies
of the old palazzo buildings in Lecce indicate status and wealth.salento-puglia-italy-la-capunataLa capunata, a simple salad made from rehydrated frisa, tomatoes, basil, onions, and small cucumbers from the Salento.salento-puglia-italy-lu-stufatuLu stufatu, or sexy stewed vegetables as my friend likes to call them, is simply a dish of sautéed vegetables
tossed with grated cheese and basil.salento-puglia-italy-mussels-cozzeMussels from this part of the world are some of the best you’ll ever have!salento-puglia-italy-olive-grove-and-stone-fence-sponganoThe pretty afternoon skies over an olive grove, separated from the next field with a traditional stone wall.salento-puglia-italy-olive-tree-in-piazza-sant-oronzoThe olive tree in the main piazza in Lecce, under the statue of Sant Oronzo, is nearly 500 years old.salento-puglia-italy-ostuni-cattedraleOstuni is called “The White City” and is gorgeous – it’s perfect for a day trip before flying out of the airport in Brindisi.salento-puglia-italy-otranto-fishing-boatsAlthough Otranto is a UNESCO world heritage site and attracts lots of visitors every day, you’ll still find small fishing boats along the pier and Italian men and women fishing with simple lines here.salento-puglia-italy-palazzo-bacile-castle-entranceThe entrance to the baron’s family quarters at Palazzo Bacile di Castiglione was built to impress.salento-puglia-italy-palazzo-bacile-cooking-kitchenThe enormous kitchen at Palazzo Bacile was restored and is now where cooking classes are held.salento-puglia-italy-palazzo-bacile-courtyardAn inside view of a portion of the castle –
the upper level was added later to accommodate the original Baron’s growing family.salento-puglia-italy-palazzo-bacile-gardensThe castle is surrounded by lovely gardens full of laurel trees, fruit trees, and rosemary bushes.salento-puglia-italy-palazzo-bacile-tabacchi-tableThe table set for lunch inside the castle’s main hall.salento-puglia-italy-ricotta-orecchietteA favorite pasta dish from the weeklong cooking course, orecchiette with a spicy tomato sauce topped with ricotta cheese.salento-puglia-italy-stone-wallThe fields of the Salento are filled with rocks, which inevitably end up in a stone wall
when a farmer prepares a field for planting.salento-puglia-italy-sunset-behind-palazzo-bacile-sponganoThe sun setting in the western sky is lovely viewed from the upper terrace at the castle.salento-puglia-italy-table-in-loggia-palazzo-bacileThe pretty outdoor table under the loggia set for guests is so inviting.salento-puglia-italy-window-with-a-view-at-the-castleWho needs a weather app when you can simply glimpse a view outside from the castle window?

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