Sunday, January 18, 2009

Puglia (and trulli)

Welcome to Puglia (#16 below), one of the most beautiful and still somewhat undiscovered regions of Italy

Puglia has more coastline than any other region in Italy, running down the Adriatic, through Bari amd Brindisi, to the heel of the boot, and then back up the instep to Taranto, with beautiful villages and harbors such as Trani (above). The coastal region is dotted with sandy beaches and grottos. The interior is stark and rugged, a chiseled landscape, with fields of grain and secolari, the wonderful one hundred-year-old olive trees planted in perfectly straight long lines.

The other landmarks of Puglia are the trulli (below), the conical, drystone buildings used for living and for storage (and for vacation houses).

The wonderful and special orrecchiette, the little ears, are the pasta staple of Puglia. Hand-made (and crafted), from the semolina of the region, they have an unusual almost-fresh-pasta flavor. A natural pasta shape for cauliflower, broccoli rabe, or just greens, they are also perfect for beans.
And so here is a variation with chickpeas.

for the sauce:
  • two nineteen-ounce cans of chickpeas (with liquid)
  • one-half cup extra virgin olive oil
  • two cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • one red onion, minced
  • two celery ribs, finely chopped
  • one medium carrot, finely chopped
  • pinch (or two) red pepper flakes
  • salt
  • sprig of rosemary
  • one-quarter cup chopped parsley
for the pasta
  • one pound orrecchiette
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic. When it sizzles, add the onion, celery, carrot and red pepper flakes. Cook three minutes, until the vegetables start to soften. Add the chickpeas and their liquid and the sprig of rosemary. Cook for about ten minutes. You should have a lovely sauce, not too liquid. Add the parsley and remove the rosemary. Taste for salt.

In a pot with four quarts of salted water, cook the orrecchiette until just short of al dente. Test by occasional tasting. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta liquid.

Add the pasta to the sauce. Stir. Add some pasta liquid if needed. Serve.