APULIA – A REGION OF SUNSHINE, ANCIENT HISTORY AND SUPERB FOOD



Halfway between Lucera and Andria, Apulian towns famous for their fort-castles built during the middle of the 13th century by the Norman German Frederick II (1194-1250), Holy Roman Emperor , King of Sicily, King of Italy and King of Jerusalem, and 40 minutes away from the port city of Bari, I discovered a portion of the Norman German legacy. While there I also visited the cities of Trani and Cerignola and the lovely Apulian beach town called Margherita di Savoia. Sunshine, clean sandy beaches, superb food, an amazing multicultural history, and friendly locals made my June holiday a fine experience. For seven days, I toured a region I will visit once more later now that the worst COVIT scare seems to be over.

MARGHERITA DI SAVOIA ALSO KNOWN AS ANCIENT SALINIS OR SANCTA MARIA DE SALIIS (prov. Foggia)

History of Saltpan – http://www.margheritadisavoia.com/en/la-salina/pillole-storiche.html

Before being renamed in 1927, the Apulian beach town, famous for its production of salt and for its clean well run and comfortable resort lidos, was first known as Salinis, then Sancta Maria de Salis (Holy Mary of Salt) and finally Saline. The site was first colonized by Dalmatians around 300 A.D. Under Frederick II in the XIII it became renowned for its salt extraction, for its farming and fishing activity and for its strategic location along the Italian eastern coast which made all kinds of trade traffics possible, including towards the Orient. The Romans connected it with Rome by the Via Salaria which was named after the salt which was moved from the south into the capital.

Around 1105 AD the area was run by a Christian bishop and was renamed Sancta Maria de Salis. For centuries it provided salt not only for Rome and the Papacy but also for the Normans in Southern Italy who fought there, lived there and built castles.

The first residential straw structures built by and for the salt workers of Sancta Maria de Salis, called pagliai, date back to the 1600’s. After 1879, with the birth of the new united Italian Kingdom, headed by the Savoia King Vittorio Emanuele III, the town was renamed Margherita di Savoia after the King’s wife. By decree it became a full-fledged legally recognized Comune. Today Margherita di Savoia, still provides salt to Italy but has also a wonderfully groomed beach, fine eating places, fish mongers, cheese makers, visitors who attend the large local Spa, bird watchers and ecologists who find rare and endangered water plants and herbs.

La Salina – Margherita di Savoia – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021
Santa Margherita di Savoia – Fish available – All rights incl. electr. reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

For more information Salina Margherita di Savoia, Via Africa Orientale 50, Margherita di Savoia (BT) Italy – Tel. 39 + 0883 657519 or info@salinamargheritadisavoia.it  or www.salinamargheritadisavoia.it

Santa Margherita di Savoia – Fish available – All rights incl. electr. reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

CERIGNOLA

Easy to reach by bus from Margherita di Savoia, Cerignola is not only a town of more than 55,000 inhabitants, who are great farmers, but also the home to Cerignola olives which as a variety that might have originated in Spain and has been cultivated for its large size in the fields of Tavoliere since the 15th century. Not far from the nearby Saline, the cerignola olive grow and usually are sold preserved in salamoia (water and salt).

After 1920, the green large Apulian Cerignola olives were found growing also in California, maybe planted by Apulian farmers; probably also very appreciated by Italian emigrants, such as Fiorello La Guardia, native of Cerignola, who served as the 99th mayor of New York, from 1934 and 1945.  

RECIPEHOW TO PREPARE A CAPONATA WITH GREEN LARGE CERIGNOLA OLIVES

Cerignola olives are available either green or black, pitted or un-pitted. They are large, firm, and silky and make a wonderful side serving to the popular Italian “aperitivos” and perfect ingredient for Apulia’s dishes.

Serves 2-4: 4 TBS Apulian Extra olive oil, 1 medium sized peeled red onion, sliced thin, 2 debittered diced eggplants, 2 cups halved or quartered ripe cherry tomatoes, 1 fresh chopped rib of celery, 2 TBS small in vinegar preserved and drained capers, 20 pitted either green or black olives (preferably Cerignola olives), and 1-2 TBS pine nuts, 2 TBS wine vinegar and 1 tsp of brown sugar.

In a medium sized skillet, heat the extra virgin olive oil and sauté the thinly sliced red onion for 10 minutes. Add the diced eggplants and sauté these also for 10 minutes. Add the quartered tomatoes, the fresh chopped celery, the capers, the pitted olives and the pine nuts. Continue sautéing all ingredients for additional 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and the brown sugar. Stir occasionally until the liquids have been absorbed. Set aside to cool and serve with Apulian bread either sprinkled with dried oregano or topped with fresh shredded basil leaves.

Apulia’s typical bread – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

LUCERA AND THE SARACENS

Built before 321 B.C. by an ancient tribe called the Daunii, LUCERA counts today more than 34,000 inhabitants. The town sits on a hill looking down on the vast Apulian plain, called the Tavoliere. Roman colony since early on, Lucera was taken over by the Lombards after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire around 663 AD and controlled by the Eastern Roman Empire. Around 1224, under the rule of Frederick II, the city was entrenched in what was the Emperor’s favorite region. It became home community of the largest Muslim population in the South of Italy when the Emperor moved Saracens from Sicily to Apulia. Overlooking the fertile and vast Tavoliere the city with its fort became a very efficient and productive place where Muslims and Christians live side by side. Lucera provided the Emperor with loyal soldiers and skilled farmers who grew and tended fields of durum wheat (hard), barley, oats, legumes, grapes and the olive trees for Apulia’s famous olive oil for almost a century.

Field of wheat near Castel del Monte – All rights incl. electronic rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021
Young Apulian olive trees – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021
Lucera’s Saracen Fort [13th century] – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021
Lucera’s Saracen Fort [13th century] – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

After Frederick’s death, Lucera’s Muslim community was destroyed by the forces led by the Papacy and the French Angio family and Muslims were replaced by Christians. The invading army did not tolerate the secular expansion of the Norman German Emperor and his openness to various cultures and religions. Buildings and mosques were destroyed or turned into churches. More than 10,000 local Muslims were killed or sold in slavery. Those inhabitants who were able to flee took refuge across the Adriatic Sea (I Borghi dei Monti Dauni, Azienda di Promozione Turistica della Provincia di Foggia, p. 41).

   

Lucera’s re consecrated mosque [Sant’Antonio Abate] – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

ANDRIA’S CASTEL DEL MONTE

The majestic octagonal shaped World Heritage Site stands solitary and imposing near Andria, not far from Foggia. It overlooks Apulia’s flat region where the best pasta wheat grows, near rows of olive, or almond trees and vineyards. This building too, like the Lucera Castle Fortress, celebrates the multifaceted international personality of Frederick II der Staufer.

Andria’s Castel del Monte [13th century] – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

Looking at it from afar, one would think that the huge building it is a fortress, but it is certainly not. It is where the Norman German Holy Roman Emperor, King of Italy and Germany, King of Sicily, loved to find refuge to organize hunting parties, to watch his falcons fly and roam the clear sky and to discuss diplomatic moves and philosophical ideas. May be the construction might have had a magical power over the monarch; maybe it was simply a type of thermal place where he could relax, write messages to important rulers and or meet men and women of culture.

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“Tavoliere pugliese” – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021
Looking at it from a distance, either during spring or during summer, Castel del Monte appears like a white stone built crown set on either a green or yellow cloud, which is surrounded by sunshine and sky. All around are hills, forests, and fields exuding scents of herbs and flowers while bees and crickets hum and chirp.
Frederick II who built the castle in the XIII century worshiped nature and spoke several languages: Latin, Greek, Arabic, Franco Norman, German and vernacular Italian/Sicilian. He loved surrounding himself with culture, beauty and loyal friends of diverse backgrounds. He was not a glutton but loved good food. His cooks prepared dishes which reflected various types of gastronomies. He loved especially fish and venison. He like to hunt throughout the forests of the Apulian Murgia. When his train of people and soldiers moved up and down Italy he was accompanied by Saracen, German and Italian Norman soldiers, international cooks, a harem of beautiful women and animals including elephants, tigers, besides well trained birds of prey.

Frederick II [Stupor Mundi] – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

Trani’s Via Federico II to Via dei Saraceni – All rights incl. electr. reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

Falconry was Frederick II’s passion: for his friends, for those who shared his same interest and for his falconers he took notes, learned, read, wrote and left behind a falconry text in two volumes entitled: De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus  The volumes are still considered today a unique masterpiece of its kind. The Norman German emperor was curious and very knowledgeable; during his entire life he exchanged letters and philosophical and scientific notes with people of all walks of life, including Jews, Roman and Orthodox Christians and Muslims.

The monarch was a firm believer in international diplomacy, in legal order, and in what he considered justice; he believed that kings should protect and support the physical good of people and the Church should protect and support the spiritual good of people. For his kingdom in Italy, he elaborated and wrote down a set of ordinances and laws, similar to the English Magna Charta, known today as the Costituzioni di Melfi (1231 – Liber Augustalis) which was to regulate throughout the Kingdom of Sicily various aspects of the regional economical and social system. As a Christian, Frederick II Emperor and King became the first European monarch who was able to negotiate for Christians the holding of Jerusalem’s Holy Places. In Naples he founded the first government run university still known today as la Universita’ Federico II di Napoli.

Trani’s harbor – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

TRANI

Clean throughout the year, full of sunshine in spring and summer with well kept beach sections for visitors and inhabited by elegant and creative locals, TRANI is known also as the PEARL OF APULIA. Since early on, the port city has been home to an active commercial and trade community. It flourished especially with a famous and well respected silk industry especially promoted and protected by Frederick II, who supported contacts with Italian maritime republics in the North and rulers of oversea nations and skilled merchants who had access to the port. Here, under Frederick II, Jews were allowed to live freely and in time run profitable businesses, built their homes and culture and worship centers. TRANI’S Jewish district, still standing today, is still located between the city’s harbor and the city’s principal Christian church called Catedrale. It is not only famous for its ancient buildings and history, but because it has the oldest Jewish Temple in Europe still used as a synagogue.

BARI – APULIA’S FAMOUS PORT CITY

Known as the second largest metropolitan city in the South of Italy, after Naples which counts today approx. 940.940 inhabitants, Bari, with its 313.003 metropolitan inhabitants, is not only known for its role as the “capoluogo” (capital) of Apulia, but also for its history and for its two commercially important ports which face the Orient. Commercial ships and ferries slide back and forth from here to Dalmatia and Greece and beyond.

The port city might have been founded by the Greeks around 181 B.C. The Romans called the territory and the area around it, which included Calabria, Lucania, Campania, MAGNA GRECIA (Large Greece).

For its location and for its intense maritime traffic, which harbored many different social and commercial possibilities, the city became rapidly the site from where ships moved to northern Italian coastal regions and to the Byzantine city of Constantinople (Istanbul). For many years, early on, the city served also as a slave depot run often by merchants of the maritime republics who traded throughout Europe and the Orient. For its active traffic it became also home port to the Lombards. Around 885 A.D, BARI it became the residence city of the Byzantine governor (Catapan). In 1071 the Normans, under Robert Guiscard, ancestor of Frederick II, King of Sicily, King of Italy and Germany, and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, took it over, after a long siege which took three years. It was under the Normans’ rule, in 1087, that BARI built its famous Basilica di San Nicola which received the relics of Saint Nicholas of Myra. It was from Bari that streams of Crusaders departed for combat to the Holy Land.  

Bari’s Saint Nicholas – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021

Destroyed, sacked, rebuilt and repaired, the city of BARI survived and resisted ancient and modern incidents and wars. Under Napoleon, the port city became part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Naples; under Joachim Murat, made King by Napoleon, around 1808, the city also gained a whole new district still called today Distretto Murattiano. Held by a great variety of rulers, the city welcomes today visitors of many cultures, religions and denominations, including Christian Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant worshipers .

Orthodox Shrine dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myra – Bari’s Basilica di San Nicola – All rights incl. electr. rights reserved by Culinary Roots 2021
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RECIPE – FOCACCIA BARESE CON POMODORINI – BARI’S FOCACCIA WITH CHERRY TOMATOES

Bari’s focaccia is almost prepared the same way as a Napoli pizza; with one difference: to the hard wheat flour dough are added cooked potatoes. Food history seems to agree that potatoes entered Italian food ways fairly late, probably during the 16th century and from Spain. As for the yellow and white fleshed German and Neapolitan varieties of potato, called locally Amburgo (Hamburg) and Biancona (Large White), history reports that potatoes grew in Apulia only after the 19th century. By mid 19th century Apulian potatoes grew especially well in the fields surrounding Molfetta, Monopoli, Polignano a Mare and Bisceglie.

Serves 2

2 1/4 cup fine semolina flour (milled twice), 1 ¾ cups hard wheat flour (Italian variety 0), 1 medium sized potato, cooked, peeled, crushed with a fork, ¼ cup water at room temperature, 2-3 Tbsp dry yeast (approx. 1 envelope), 1 tsp sugar, 1-1 ¼ cups water, ¼ cup olive oil, ½ Tbsp salt, enough fresh cherry tomatoes cut in halves – for the topping; Optional – Enough pitted Cerignola green or black olives, cut in halves – for the topping

In a small non-metallic bowl, combine ¼ cup of water with yeast and sugar; set aside until it begins making bubbles. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the remaining water, the salt and the olive oil. In a food processor-mixer with a dough hook attachment, at medium speed, mix briefly the flour and the cooked potato; add the yeast sponge, the remaining water with the olive oil and the salt, and continue mixing until obtaining a dough which does not stick at the mixing bowl. If the dough seems turning out sticky add, spoon by spoon, more semolina. If the dough seems crumbly and dry add, spoon by spoon water and mix until obtaining the right consistency. The dough should feel like a smooth marshmallow. In a large bowl, let the dough rest and rise for 1 hour. When the buzzer rings, punch the dough down and fold it like a book. Let it rise again another hour.

When the buzzer rings again, on a well floured surface, roll out and stretch out the dough to two o four thin disks. Top the disks with cherry tomatoes, and if you wish, with olives cut into halves. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for 20 minutes. Before serving drizzle the focaccia with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (preferably Apulian olive oil!)

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COD IN SCAPECE – BACCALA’ IN SCAPECE (Chef Bia Nicolantonio’s modern recipe version – Bar San Nicola, Bari)

Cod has been part of the Apulian’s diet, probably at least since the XV century if not earlier. Normans who settled in the South of Italy must have known the dried or the salted cod from Normandy or from their home land Norway; after all Normans were of Viking origin and had the cod as their important food supply. Today Northern cod is imported in Apulia either from Norway or from Iceland; it is imported either dried or salted and called either STOCCO or STOCCAFISSO or BACCALA.’ The fish labeled as merluzzo in Apulia is not the Gadus morhua but another smaller type of fish belonging to a Mediterranean “cod” variety.

Serves 4

400 gr. water-soaked deboned filets of cod, enough milk, 5 leaves of bay leaf (fresh or dried)*, 1/8 tsp dried thyme, 2 cloves of garlic, peeled, 1 onion, peeled and cut into quarts, 150 gr. fresh cherry tomatoes, 50 ml white vinegar, green pitted olives (cut in 4 pieces), a bunch fresh fennel greens, enough extra virgin olive oil (preferably Apulian), salt and pepper, 1 small zucchini, sliced thin, ½ stem of fresh celery, chopped or sliced thin, sugar, 1/2 Tbsp. powdered saffron (or dried saffron filaments)

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Remove the cod’s skin and bake it for 10 minutes while the skinless cod still remains in the milk together with the leaves of bay leave, the thyme and the fennel greens. Sauté the sliced zucchini and the celery with the garlic until the vegetables are soft; moisten with vinegar, season with salt and sugar and set aside. Cook the onion and one clove of garlic in the saffron water. Fry the baked cod skin in oil. Remove the cod from the milk, sauté it in oil with the cherry tomatoes making sure to keep the tomatoes away from the cod. Add the sautéed zucchini and celery, the drained boiled saffron onion and moisten everything with vinegar and saffron water. Serve the fish with the fried skin and topped with fresh chive blossoms, julienned peeled carrots, olives and saffron gravy.

*Bari’s culinary superstition reports that using bay leaves in uneven number will bring good luck.          

MORE ABOUT BARI

During WWI and WWII, Bari never ceased to serve as useful port for moving people or goods sent for various fighting factions. Taken over by Allied forces during WWII, on December 2nd 1943, Bari’s port and city also experienced a terrible chemical warfare disaster. Over 20 Allied war ships were sunk by German bombers, including the American carrier John Harvey which secretly had carried mustard gas. German bombs hit the ships and various quayside loads of mustard gas which had not been moved into storage by locals who were unaware of the chemical danger. The U.S. military commando had sent no information about the highly classified and lethal chemical agent. The mustard gas and the explosions decimated ships, people and seamen. For evaluation of damage, U.S. military authorities sent only one doctor, General Eisenhower’s medical staff Stewart F. Alexander to inquire; he too was not informed of the presence of mustard gas. By trail and error Dr. Alexander found out the cause of death of Bari’s victims.

There have been conflicting accounts on how many seamen and civilians died due to and after the terrible incident. The chemical warfare disaster was never openly declassified by the U.S. military authorities. Documents pertaining to the event were destroyed on the orders of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Minister Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. General Eisenhower. Later the incident was described in two books: Disaster at Bari by Gleen Infield and Nightmare in Bari, The World War II Liberty Ship Poison Gas Disaster and Coverup by Gerald Reminick.  

Pubblico dominio, https://it.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4903625       

PLACES WHERE TO STAY, TO VISIT AND WHERE TO EAT IN APULIA

MARGHERITA DI SAVOIA – MARGHERITA BOUTIQUE BED & BREAKFAST, (downtown and 2 blocks away from the beach); Via Rizzo 13, 76016 Margherita di Savoia (BT); Telephone: Italy (39) 3398953122 or 3345900259 – www.margheritaboutiquebeb.it

MARGHERITA DI SAVOIA – LIDO APULIA (Restaurant, bar, safe-guarded beach) Lungo Cristoforo Colombo (angolo via Cirio), 76016 Margherita di Savoia (BT); Telephone; Italy (39) 338 6840716 or (39) 3200147472 – lidoapulia@gmail.comwww.lidoapulia.it

SALINA MARGHERITA DI SAVOIA – SALINA – One of the largest sea salt mine of Europe. Open to visitors: Via Africa Orientale 50, Margherita di Savoia (BT); Telephone: Italy (39) 0883 657519 – info@salinamargheritadisavoia.it

Situated on the outskirts of town, 20 Km long, covering more than 10,000 acres of ground, the SALINA is one of the largest sea salt mine in Europe. State run, supervised by the Italian Arma dei Carabinieri, the salt mine is also a natural park reserve which is loved by water bird watchers. It is home to many water birds including herons and flamingos.

TRANI – DIMORE DEL SUD B & B, Via Aldo Moro 10/39, 76125 Trani (BT); Italy (39) 348 34 72 479 – www.dimoredelsud.it

TRANI – PESCHEF – RISTORANTE FAST FOOD (FISH, FISH, FISH AND MORE FISH facing the harbor!!!) – Via Statuti Marittimi 56, 76125 Trani  (BT); Telephone: Italy (39) 0883 4035 31 – email: info@peschef.it

BARI – PICCINNI28 – RESTAURANT – PIZZA, Via Piccinni 28, 70122 Bari; Italy (39) 080 528 9457 – www.piccinni28.co – email: info@piccinni28.com

BARI – BAR SAN NICOLA, Piazzetta 62 Marinai, 70122 Bari; contact on facebook

  

INTERESTING BOOKS TO READ AND SITES RELATED TO APULIA AND ITS HISTORY

Italian: Renato Frabasile. SULLE TRACCE DI FEDERICO II Itinerari in Italia alla riscoperta dello Stupor Mundi; 2018 Morellini Editor, Milan, Italy

English: John Julius Norwich. THE NORMANS IN THE SOUTH – 1016-1130; 2019 Faber and Faber, London, England (also available in Italian; Mursia Editore)

John Julius Norwich. THE KINGDOM IN THE SOUTH – 1130-1194; 2019 Faber and Faber, London, England (also available in Italian; Mursia Editore)

PUGLIA – WE ARE ART LOVERS IN PUGLIA – Art and Culture Guide; http://www.weareinpuglia.it

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