Thursday, 27 August 2009

Favourite restaurants in Salento

Salento in Puglia, southern Italy, is famous for it’s food. Generally portions are hearty and made with fresh local produce. Fish is a popular feature on menus at coastal restaurants, whilst inland you’re more likely to find meat-based dishes on offer. Specialities include home-made orrechiette (ear-shaped pasta), cavallo (horse) and large plates of antipasti.

There are plenty of places to get a great meal, but these are my favourites. They’re the places we go back to again and again.

Naos, Ugento

Via Giannuzzi Capitano Ugo, 90
0833 955157
Naos is a great place to sample Salentine cooking at its heartiest. Worth trying are the homemade arancini, the ceceri and tria (handmade pasta in a chickpea sauce) and the penne with salmone. Portions are generous and many dishes are made with home-gown ingredients.

Retro, Castrignano del Capo

Whether you eat in the outside courtyard or the vaulted dining room, a meal at Retro never disappoints. This is one of those places without a menu, but whatever Salvatore (the chef and owner) offers you will taste great – don’t worry! There’s also a wide selection of wine and some delicious cakes and biscuits to sample.

Gnam, Santa Maria de Leuca

Lungomare C.Colombo
333 28 24 328
A popular spot for pizza at the bottom of Italy’s ‘heel”. The pizzas here are twice the size of normal ones, but they’ll put two different toppings on if you’re sharing and can’t agree on what you want. Tables are outdoors, on a flight of stairs opposite the seafront.

Lo Sturno, Parabita

Via Immacolata 2
0833 593477
This is a good choice if you want to eat where the locals eat. It’s situated in a stone cellar in the historical centre of Parabita, a small town about 15 minutes inland from Gallipoli. Everything I’ve tried here tastes great, but the meatballs in sauce (polpette al sugo) seem to be their signature dish. Get here early for lunch, as after 1pm it fills up with business people.

Osteria San Martino, Lecce

Via Marco Aurelio, 10 (near the park)
340 40 64 411
One of the best places we’ve found recently. Again there’s no menu, but they offer a wide variety of local specialities at really reasonable prices. And no-one speaks English, so it’s a great place to practise your Italian. It may not be the most glamorous restaurant in Lecce, but this is a great family-owned place and the food never disappoints.

Scoglio dele Sirene, Gallipoli

Great views of Gallipoli harbour from this restaurant on the sea wall. It’s especially romantic in the evening when the place is strewn with candles. This is one of the more expensive places on this list, but then again you are paying for the location. It’s great for super-fresh seafood and local specialities.

Tatanka, near Santa Maria de Leuca

Litoranea Leuca-Gallipoli
340 34 36 909
Another place with an amazing sea-view. Tatanka’s menu isn’t the biggest I’ve seen, but everything is cooked well and tastes great. The rocks opposite are a great place for a swim, if you don’t mind deep water. Daredevils jump from the cliffs into the clear sea, and there is a cave you can swim into. Just make sure you go swimming before lunch!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Denis Island - Marooned in paradise

No shoes, no keys, no phones - no worries. Leave the outside world behind on this tranquil private island, accessible only by light aircraft and just a 30-minute flight from Mahe. A small coral dot in the Indian Ocean, Denis is swathed in tropical vegetation and ringed by pristine beaches.

Originally a pirates' lair, Denis' secret treasure hoards are still to be discovered on its 375 acres. The island's real riches, however, are its natural delights: giant tortoises, rare bird species and colourful marine life. Few places in the world offer richer rewards underwater and Denis Island is a mecca for both sports fishermen and scuba-divers.

Heavenly surroundings are complemented by Denis Island Lodge's wonderful hospitality, fine cuisine and luxurious cottage accommodation. It's the perfect choice for discerning castaways. So if you want to be marooned in paradise, simply choose your Man Friday and... go.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Melanzane alla parmigiana (Aubergine and tomato bake)

This isn't the quickest dish to prepare, but it tastes amazing.


450g (1lb) of aubergines
1 large onion
olive oil
sunflower oil to fry the aubergine slices
2 garlic cloves
2 x 400g (14oz) cans plum tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
glass of red wine
225g (8oz) mozzarella cheese cut into 6mm slices
50g (2oz) grated Parmasan

Slice the aubergines into thin circles about ½ cm thick. Salt and leave to drain in a colander for ½ an hour.

In the meantime make a tomato sauce. Peel and chop the onion and peel and crush the garlic. Heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the onion, adding the garlic about 5 minutes later. Fry for a few more minutes, then add the tomatoes and their juice, the red wine and oregano. Break the tomatoes up a bit with the wooden spoon. Cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes. The sauce should reduce a fair bit so it is nice and thick. Season with salt and pepper.

Fry the aubergine circles in batches in the sunflower oil. Make sure the oil is hot otherwise the aubergine will soak it all up. When each batch is finished, drain on kitchen paper to remove the excess oil.

Put a layer of aubergines on the bottom of a lasagne dish, cover with some of the tomato sauce and then with sliced mozzarella. Continue until you have finished all the ingredients (you can usually do about 3 layers). Finish by sprinkling the grated parmesan on top.

Bake in a hot oven (220C, 425F, Gas mark 7) for 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden and the mixture is bubbling.

Serve with fresh bread and a green salad.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Loving words from a Grandmother

One thing I’ve always loved about Italy is the attitude towards children. You can take them anywhere and everyone seems to adore kids.

But slowly, as my Italian has improved, I’ve realised that this isn’t always the case. Take, for example, the scene I witnessed on the beach yesterday. A Mother was with her two daughters and their Grandmother. I’m guessing the girls were about one and six. Mum was in the sea with her two daughters, holding the one year old whilst the six year old was floating on an inflatable of some sort.

So the baby’s had enough and it’s time for her to get out of the water. Instead of the Grandmother wading into the sea to collect the tot, she waits on the shore with a towel whilst Mum brings her over, leaving the other daughter on the inflatable alone in the sea. The girl on the inflatable gets scared. “Mum” she cries “come back”. Her Mother says “I’m coming, I’m coming. Wait a minute”. The Grandmothers’ response to her Granddaughters’ pleas? “Stai zitto stronsa”, (shut up you piece of shit). Yeah – everyone loves children here.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

A new life in Italy

It’s been nearly a year since we moved here permanently. But, as anyone who has moved abroad knows, a year isn’t long to settle in. Language barriers aside, it takes a while to adapt to new customs, find new friends and understand the nitty-gritty of life in your new country.

We’re starting to find our feet and Salento feels more like home every day. Neighbours and local shopkeepers recognise us and say hello and my son is starting to understand and speak Italian. More than anything, though, the arrival of spring has helped us settle in. As the weather warms up, we’re rediscovering the Salento we originally fell in love with.

Moving house is never easy, and it’s even harder when you change countries. But I’m hopeful that we’ll make this work.