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Orechiette con cime di rapa, a delicious Puglian staple

A delicious Puglian staple
Amanda Roberts-Jones

"We spent a month in Puglia, which was incredible."

"Ah, nice. And . . . where exactly is Puglia?"

"It's the heel of the boot."

The beginning of nearly any conversation I have had about our time in Puglia begins similarly. Perhaps one of the lesser-known regions of Italy, Puglia is often overlooked for more popular Southern Italian destinations like Capri, Naples, or Salento. Understandably so: while the afore-mentioned regions are designed for tourism (and nearly every staff member of a restaurant seems to speak English) Puglia is (dare I say it?) more "real" Italian. Tours? There are no tours. English? Good luck. Not once in our month in Puglia were we recognized as American. Guesses included "British," "Swedish," or "German" before the jokingly flustered local would throw up their hands and give up. Puglia is where Italians go on summer vacation: Americans simply don't.

And the ones that do keep things super secret. Remember when Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel got married in Italy? Puglia. And I won't say who, but we were invited to a party at the vacation home of a celebrity who may have just won a Golden Globe. The tourists are there, but . . . well, it ain't Florence. And hopefully, never will be.

Puglian cuisine is phenomenal. While the cuisine of the north focuses more on butter, polenta, and many tomato sauce and meat/game dishes, the cuisine of Puglia is olive oil, spice, and seafood. Which makes sense: considering the region is a peninsula where the Ionian and the Adriatic meet, seafood abounds. The spice and the lightness of the olive oil (in comparison to butter and cream, anyway) complement the ridiculously hot summer climate. I couldn't have imagined eating anything else.

One of the staples of the region, cime di rape, remains of my all-time favorite dishes. Chewy orecchiette pasta (Italian for "ears," which they certainly look like) are tossed in a sauce of anchovies (cooked down until melted into a delicious flavor component), red chili, rapini, and bread crumbs. It is absolutely fabulous with a glass of Negroamaro, Puglia's staple red wine. (One last shout out to Puglia: the region makes more wine than any other region in the country. No joke!)

Not surprisingly, the most authentic cime di rape recipe that I could find online is from an Italian website that the Italian husband and I use often: Giallo Zafferano (yellow saffron). But hey, that's what Google Translate is for . . . right? If today just isn't your day for learning Italian, not to worry: they have an English version on YouTube.

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