Way back at the end of September we spent a very pleasant ten days in Puglia – sorry – a bit late in reporting on it…. And I would love to record that the weather was like this every day but, not really. One spectacular storm as we drove from Puglia back across the foot of the Apennines to the Cilento – otherwise pleasantly warm with occasional sunshine.
In freefrom terms my report will be limited as we spent most of the time in a friend’s delightful villa near Ostuni supplying ourselves from the ever-open Eurospin and the local markets. Obviously, because it was Italy, there were plenty of excellent fresh fish, fruits and vegetables. Who needs more? However, if you were looking for freefrom breads, milks etc we only found a rather basic selection of staples: soya and rice milks, yogurt; soya burgers; gluten free rice cakes and breadcrumbs (but, weirdly there did not seem to be any gluten free breads or biscuits); gluten free pasta and gf cornflakes….
We did eat out, in Caravigno which was our nearest town (this is its rather splendid castle) and in the white city, Ostuni, 15 kilometres up the road. But we tended to pass on the pasta courses and stick with the fish, meat and desserts most of which are naturally gluten, dairy, soya and most other allergens free. Celery would be the only one the 14 major allergens which could cause serious trouble.
Whatever about the food, Ostuni is delightful. Like Caravigno and most of the towns in the area, the old part consists of tiny winding alley ways perched on the top of a hill round a church.
Many of the towns are painted white but Ostuni is blindingly so – repainted every two years since a plague in the 17th century was kept at bay by a limestone and water wash on the houses. At the time it was attributed to a miracle but the chances are that the anti-microbial effect of the calcium carbonate in the limestone wash might have had more to do with it! (And that bit of information came from an excellent website called the NeverEndingVoyage which has, among many others, a long article on Ostuni with lots of enticing images.)
Further north in Puglia lies the fascinating Foresta Umbra in the Gargano National Park. The Foresta with its vertiginous corkscrew bends and its massively tall beech and oak trees, is totally different from the flat, olive covered plains of the rest of Puglia, but on its edge lies another white hill town, Peschici.
We did not stay in the town but just outside in La Chiusa della More – a delightful small hotel, tucked into the olive groves, run by Antonella and Francesco Martucci.
Chef Antonella was not a ‘freefrom’ cook as such – but she was a seriously excellent cook for whom no challenge was too big, or too small. We stayed, I think, three nights – and each night was better than the one before. This, for example was potato gnocchi with a potato sauce and rocket – all milk free apart from the Parmigiano which was sprinkled on mine just before I ate it.
And although Antonella did not cook the scallop with squid ink cracker and almond cream below (we had that in Sotto del ‘Arco – a one star Michelin restaurant in the middle of Caravigno!!!) she most certainly could have done. When I discussed with her how she might cope with some of our more allergic blog readers, she anticipated no problems – provided, obviously, she was notified in advance.
And while talking of the Sotto del ‘Arco, this was our other starter – bacon with a green pea purée – both gluten and milk free. I seem to remember that the rest of the meal was good but did not quite live up to the starters.
Having battled our way through the storm across the mountains from Puglia to the west we spent a couple of days in the Cilento – one of the only four areas of southern Italy which are allowed to call their mozzarella Mozzarella di bufala campana PDO – which tells you that it only contains the milk of Italian buffalo raised in those areas. And very fine buffalo they are too, even if not that friendly. (Whenever we approached closer they all just ambled off…)
If you are into Roman ruins, the coastline south of Salerno is awash in them, the finest collection being at Paestum – although you do have to fight your way through a very busy modern Italian town to get to them. In fact, we had booked ourselves into a converted 14th century monastery in the hills above Paestum – Il Cannito.
You found Il Cannito, eventually, 2 kilometres up a winding drive after 5 kilometres of a winding track through the hills, which had branched off another 8 kilometres of tiny road up from Paestum. So once you got there, the temptation to leave was not great, especially once you had checked into the view down towards the sea…
and the pool tucked into the hillside in the evening sun….
So we didn’t!
Our hosts were charming – their father, a local lawyer, had bought the ruin of the monastery 40 years ago and they had gradually rebuilt it. Sadly he had died just before they opened it as a hotel – if you can actually call a monastery with only four rooms a hotel! But mum, brother and two sisters had pursued the project.
However, Il Cannito was wonderfully relaxing – if not cheap… And, if not quite as good as Antonella’s at Peschici, the food at Il Cannito was excellent and they too were very open to adapting to suit ‘freefrom’ visitors. There were also lovely walks through the hills (where we met the shy buffalo). So although we did feel that we had failed culturally in not exploring Paestum’s ruins, we did really enjoy our two days – especially as it gave us two evenings in which to watch the sun go down….
And even if we had not managed the Roman ruins, we had at least visited the Trulli houses before we left Puglia.
The Trulli houses are super picturesque but, by all accounts, extraordinarily uncomfortable to live in! To be fair, they were designed just as over night shepherd’s huts – some protection while lambing and so forth. But they are cold, draughty, dark and smokey (fire in the middle with smoke escaping through hole in the roof). On the other hand they were very easy to dismantle and move to another location the you needed to – and they are very pretty to look at!