The province of Taranto is found in the Puglia region of Italy, which is the region that forms part of the heel of Italy’s boot. Taranto is one of Italy’s oldest and most beautiful port cities. One of the charming and beautiful geographical features of the city is where three sides of land face inwards on the Mar Grande, the Mar Piccolo and the Ionian Sea.
The Cuisine of Taranto
Seafood is a specialty in Taranto and there is a huge number of excellent seafood restaurants throughout the region, many of which are family run. The most common meat on the menu is lamb, as elsewhere in the south: here it’s cooked over a spit and scented with rosemary. Specialties include roasted oysters with oil, lemon and garlic and mussel dishes ranging from soups to stews to sautés.
Orecchiette (little ears) pasta, is made very simply from flour and water and can be found everywhere in Puglia. This is added to sauces in which vegetables figure prominently. Much of Italy’s pasta is produced from the wheat fields of Puglia, as is excellent olive oil and vast quantities of sun-dried tomatoes. Taranto produces many varied wines, from red to white to sparkling wines, such as white Terra d’Otranto and Bianco di Train and reds, such as Castel del Monte Rosso. A wide variety of very sweet fruits round out the menu – grapes, oranges and the famous clementine of the Gulf of Taranto.
Pugliese cuisine is based on olive oil, one of the great products of the region. In any given year, Puglia produces as much as two-thirds of all the olive oil in Italy.
Here are four recipes from the region.
Italian Mussels Taranto Style
||Peel the garlic, leave one clove whole and finely chop the remainder. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook gently over a low flame for 8 – 10 minutes, until very soft and transparent. Stir occasionally. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a minute or so, then stir in the wine, parsley and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the bread under a low broiler so it crisps as well as toasts. Cut the remaining garlic clove in half and rub over the toast. Keep warm in the oven.
Add the mussels to the saucepan and cook over a high heat until they open (6 – 8 minutes). Move the mussels around in the pan to distribute the heat evenly (discard any mussels that do not open). Place the toast in wide soup bowls or pasta plates. Place the mussels into the bowls and spoon the liquid from the pan on top of the dish.Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.
||Wash all the vegetables and then cube all except the zucchini (cut into fingers) and the tomatoes, which are cut into semi-circular segments. Cook the beans for 5-6 minutes in well-salted boiling water. When ready, cook the peas in the same water.
Add three or four turns of olive oil to a pan and heat over medium flame, once heated, add the crushed cloves of garlic and brown. Add the zucchini and heat on a high flame for a minute, season and then turn down the heat for five minutes. Remove from the pan and add the cubed peppers, which should be cooked al dente.
When ready, remove and add the egg plant. When these are cooked and soft, add all the vegetables together into the pan, including the green beans, peas and tomatoes. Mix well, season to taste and tear the basil leaves into the mix. Add a touch of balsamic vinegar and cook for an additional 2 – 3 minutes. Leave to cool before serving.