Just 40km South of Lecce is the sleepy little village of Specchia Gallone. Slap bang in the centre can be found the Church of Sant’ Anna, whose architecture dates back to the 1300’s. Inside, the walls are covered in frescoes ‘Il Ciclo Pittorico’ (possibly 1600’s) depicting the Old Testament on the left of the altar and the New to the right. The colours are gorgeously subtle.
We are here on the Grundtvig Project, visiting the Caroppo Bakery to see how the locals make Pane Casereccio. “Cucina Povera” or the regional peasant food which is largely plant based, high in fibre and unsaturated fats is considered by the medical profession to be conducive to a healthier, longer life.
The main ingredients usually present in Salento cooking are oven baked bread or pasta. Any meat present is usually chicken or mutton because the land does not support resource-hungry beef. Good, fresh veg such as courgettes or aubergines feature high on the list. They don’t seem to put much garlic in the food here. I’m told the further West and North you go, the more you find.
“Frisella” or Frisa is a local kind of bread which keeps a long time. Hard as rock, it is made with dark wheat or barley. To soften, drench in sea water for 30 seconds and top with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. I’ve seen something very similar in Malta…and it is, well….yum, although make sure you’ve got access to a good dentist! It’s nutritious, light and low in cholesterol. The dough is left to rise for 3 days and the yeast remains active which grows on top of the bread, creating craters and dimples on the surface.
Caponata, for topping Focaccia, is a veggie stew with peppers, zucchini and yellow tomatoes, a real taste of Summer. Legumes such as split yellow peas, influences from North Africa are often to be seen in ceramic pots bubbling away by the open fire. Another topping used is sheep’s cheese with olive oil. You can also make sweet versions with stewed fruit for pudding.
Pane Casereccio, home style bread, is baked in the oven at between 3-400 degrees. The yeast remains live in the centre and so it’s recommended that you cut the bread from the end to avoid bloating. The modern habit young Italians have of drinking beer with pizza means that two differing yeasts linger in the tum and cause havoc. A local wine like 14% Taranto is a much better idea! Made by a cooperative vineyard, its price is kept as low as possible so that everyone can benefit. Fresh raw Fennel is used as a digestive to clean the palate between courses.
Casereccio dough is very wet and has the texture of Mozzarella, slippery and stretchy. You can stir into the mix whole olives before baking. The water you use is also very important. Traditionally, the water was from Naples and the flour from Puglia, which went well together and were rich in calcium and minerals.
We are treated to a veritable feast, accompanied by a local band (although Sorin is not impressed by bitter Chicoria). One of the lads has fallen in love with a gorgeous girl, the bakery proprietor’s daughter, who dances La Pizzica with such stamina, she is wearing me out just filming her. Sporting blue jeggings that leave little to the imagination, she gyrates and rotates to everyone’s delight.
Thank you Specchia for making us all feel special.