Taranto is one of Italy’s oldest and most beautiful port cities. As would be expected, seafood is a specialty, with many excellent seafood restaurants up and down the coast. Taranto’s cuisine is characterized by locally-grown products, including artichokes, eggplant, tomatoes, olives and onions. The bounty from the sea includes octopus, squid, shrimp, sardines, sea bream and cuttlefish, but Taranto is most famous for its mussels and oysters. The mussels in particular are known for their unique, rich flavor, a favorite of the area since Roman days. They are acknowledged to be the finest farmed mussels in the world.
Further inland, the most common meat on the menu is lamb, frequently roasted on a spit. Orecchiette pasta (little ears), 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 also produces many varieties of wines – red, white and even sparkling wines, such as white Terra d’Otranto and Bianco di Train.
Mussels Taranto Style
4 lb large fresh mussels, cleaned
3 cloves of garlic
6 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
4 thick slices Italian bread
parsley, finely chopped
Peel the garlic, leave one clove whole and finely chop the others. Heat the olive 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 the toast warm in the oven.
Add the mussels to the saucepan and cook over a high flame 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 or pasta bowls. Place the mussels into the bowls and spoon the liquid from the pan on top of the dish. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Tomatoes and Anchovy Breadcrumbs
For the breadcrumbs
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finally minced
1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
1 tbsp fresh lemon zest
For the pasta
4 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
½ tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb orecchiette
grated Pecorino Romano cheese
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame, then add the anchovy and garlic. Use a fork to mash together. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently until the breadcrumbs are crisp and golden brown. Season with salt, pepper and lemon zest, then set aside.
Place a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil. Heat the olive oil for the sauce in a large saucepan over a medium flame and then add the garlic, anchovies, tomatoes, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Cook the pasta until it is about 3/4 of the way cooked. Add the broccoli rabe to the pot and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente.
Reserve a small cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and broccoli rabe and return it to the pot. Add the tomato mixture and blend over a high flame until piping hot, adding a little pasta water to loosen if necessary. Serve in individual bowls with breadcrumbs and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Bombette (Stuffed Meat Rolls)
1 lb top round veal cutlets, cut into 4 thin slices about 4 inches by 8 inches and pounded to no more than 1/8-inch thick
16 thin slices of pancetta
extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove of garlic, peeled
fine sea salt
crushed black pepper
2 tbsp fresh minced parsley leaves
3 oz fresh, semi-soft caciocavallo cheese, cut into 8 matchsticks
toothpicks for serving
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Use a broiler-proof baking pan large enough for 8 meat rolls and grease lightly with olive oil. Blot the veal dry using paper towels. Cut each piece horizontally into smaller pieces to yield 8 pieces of meat that are about the same shape and size (about 4 by 4 inches). Rub both sides with the garlic clove (and then discard) and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Sandwich 1 piece of meat between two slices of pancetta. Sprinkle one side with some of the parsley and arrange a matchstick of cheese crosswise on the center. Beginning at one end, roll it up, gathering the pancetta along with it as you make the roll and tucking in any meat edges that stick out. Secure the bundle with a toothpick and transfer it to the oiled baking pan. Repeat the procedure with the remaining 7 pieces of meat and place in the pan. Slide the pan onto the middle rack of the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and change the setting to broil. Turn the rolls over and place the pan under the broiler to color them lightly, about 2 minutes. Remove and pour any remaining pan juices over the rolls. Serve immediately.