Pescheria, Lecce, Puglia

Pescheria

For my Fresno readers, if “Bulldog Grill and Pismo’s” had a love child in Italy they would have named it Pescheria. Pescheria is a restaurant where you order at the counter and have food delivered to the table; in this case, the counter is an open fish counter full of fresh fish. More Pismo's prices than Bulldog Grill prices.

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The ‘order at the counter’ model might work for apertivo, gelato, and panini. This concept is probably a stretch for many Italians, as prices are that of a sit down restaurant. My gut says the concept was created to cut costs on staff, so higher level of product, fresh seafood, can be served.

Squid “noodles” tossed with celery, hazelnuts and olive oil, crudo style. Raw squid body, sliced into ribbons, just like a pasta and tossed with raw celery of similar thickness along with some salt and olive oil. Garnished with some crushed hazelnuts and presto, squid crudo. Unlike Pismo’s, this calamari was not deep fried, breaded, or sautéed, it was raw. This might be a stretch for some people. I happened to enjoy it.

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Pachierri (oversized rigatoni) stuffed with bacala (salt cod) in a red sauce. Straight up, classic Pugliese style cuisine. A couple ingredients, some red sauce, salted fish; it doesn’t get any more traditional. Plenty of ways to cook salt cod in Italy and it seems popular in the winter. Several restaurants incorporate some form of bacala on the menu, I’ve already forgotten how many times I’ve had it.

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I thought the food quality was high and the execution solid. Most Italian restaurants I’ve been to generally don’t have lots of staff to begin with, one person can generally work the entire front of house even in a busy restaurant, so I didn’t feel like I had a lack of attention, but I’m not a native Italian either, just a traveler making an observation.

Mamma Elvira Double Down, Lecce, Puglia

I enjoyed both Mamma Elvira Cucina and Enoteca. The Cucina provides a more classic sit-down restaurant experience and full menu of Puglian specialties. The Enoteca also has an indoor area to eat, but the real action is on the patio (even in Winter). And when I say 'patio' I mean to say the dozen or so tables that are positioned on an active street in Lecce. Let me reiterate, an active street in Lecce. Several other adjacent restaurants and wine bars do exactly the same thing, perfectly Italian and wonderfully busy.

Mamma Elvira Cucina

Mamma Elvira Cucina is a full service restaurant, a newer place in Lecce, spun off from their wine bar (which I dined at on night one) in the center of town. They helped me find some of the Cantine Imperatore I liked so much.

I was offered an amuse of fried blooming onion without the heavy breading. A local tiny onion that was not harsh, however a hint bitter, similar to the braised onion I had at Elvira Cantina. The onion was well fried, not heavy on the seasoning; likely this dish is for an apertivo to be eaten with Aperol or Campari based cocktails. Not the best pairing with my wine, so I drank sparkling water.

Elvira_lecce_onion

Baccala fritters. Solid. This is basically the Puglian version of fish and chips, without the chips. If you're hungry, need protein and gluten in your life and some deep fat fryer grease, this is Nirvana. It's filling and I probably shouldn't have ordered it at 9pm, but I did, because I haven't had this version on my trip and it sat like a brick with me through my night terrors 5 hours later. And yes, I would order it again.

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Pasta was straight forward Puglian frutta di mare. Octopus was tender and the sauce was a simple pan sauce, fresh. Notice the seeds and connections were removed from the tomato; I love that attention to detail down here. Pasta was buckwheat, traditional for the area. This pasta to me is a Wednesday night, home cooked meal. It's served without pretense but beautiful. 

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Dessert was a tiramisu type of dessert, but richer in flavor. Could have been a yogurt base or some type of thicker cream. Dried fruit is a staple in Puglia and provides some texture to the dessert experience.

dessert_elvira_lecce

Mamma Elvira Enoteca

On my first night in Lecce, Marco showed me around town and suggested Mamma Elvira as one of his spots to eat. So I did.

Meatball 1: Bombette di Martina Franca, pork meatball filled w scamorzza cheese and sautéed more like a pork involtini as it's a pork cutlet rolled up and sautéed. It did not seemed like a braised piece of pork. The only sauce was a quick deglaze of the sauté pan with caramelized onions and probably a splash of wine.

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Meatball 2: A flattened meatball, quickly sautéed and finished with a red wine reduction and braised little local pearl onion. The beef didn’t seem to have the heavy seasoning of a sausage patty, more as billed, a flat meatball. The onion is a hint bitter, like bitter greens. Dark flavors here, braised meat flavors that actually make wine #2 a lot better.

I'd go back to both restaurants upon my return to Lecce, great wine lists at both.

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00 Doppiozero, Lecce, Puglia

00 Doppiozero

Another restaurant recommended by Marco, 00 Doppiozero was another favorite in Lecce. Easy to pop in for an espresso, pastry, amaro, or light lunch. Here's the highlights.

Lunch of some of the best selection of breads I've had to date, followed up by an oversized bruschetta of a light, creamy blue cheese with bitter greens, tomato and anchovies with olive oil and some red wine of local flavor. Easy and tasty.

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My Jedi Restaurant senses tell me this is a new model for Italian bar/restaurant/cantina in Puglia. It's open all day starting at about 730am, they do not close until midnight or 1am. You can buy a bottle of wine to take home at a discount to the dine-in cost. You can grab a espresso. You can buy bread. You can buy cured meats to take home. You can order at the counter or order at the table. You can have a full, sit down lunch or dinner (at 12 noon or 6pm), or you can do the Italian thing and have apertivo and sip Spritz and nosh on goodies.

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I've popped in for an Amaro, a coffee, a pastry on different days at different times. I like the access and the quality. I was even greeted by a regular after the third visit. The breakfast croissant filled with pastry cream is outstanding. I could have eaten one each day.

When nearly everything is closed at 3pm, "00" in Lecce is open. They are open on Sunday. I want them to be open when I return here. They do close at about 3pm on Monday though, otherwise open.

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Introduction to Lecce, Puglia

Lecce in southern Italy has long been called the Florence of the South. It's a trek to get down this far from Tuscany (Puglia is the heel of the boot), I won't lie about that. From Bologna by train, it's about an 8-10  hour trip depending upon the train you take and the delay factor. The nearest airport is Brindisi, about 30 minutes away by car. 

I hadn't been to Puglia since my 2009 trip. I only spent a few hours in Lecce back in 09 before moving further south to the town of Ugento. I promised myself back then to return to Lecce and give the town its due. I'm very happy that I returned for Tour d'Italia 2017.

Plenty of dining options in Lecce, from fast casual to full-blown multi-course formal. I'll detail my dining experiences in the next several posts, this post represents the overview.

Art on the streets of Lecce, Puglia

Art on the streets of Lecce, Puglia

Lots of pizza and good bread (00 Doppiozero) being consumed in this town. The pizza places aren't large dining establishments for sitting down, street dining is the thing around here, so an entire family will be huddled around a small table eating pizza together outside. Pizza is social, it's family, it's friends, it's take-away. It's also creative. Everyday I walked by Il Pizzicotto, Pizza al Taglio (my preferred place, thanks Marco), there was another version of pizza being displayed. I love the variety. Sure, I'm a sucker for pepperoni and cheese in the States, but it's hard to beat a truffle cheese pizza with mushrooms on a Sunday night. A word of note, Il Pizzicotto charges for its pizza by weight, as each individual piece is cut for the customer.

Il Pizzicotto, Pizza al Taglio , Lecce

Il Pizzicotto, Pizza al Taglio , Lecce

00 Doppiozero bread selection, the BEST

00 Doppiozero bread selection, the BEST

The town of Lecce is easy to navigate within the old city. Plenty of landmarks and churches to explore. Train station is a 5 minute walk to the center of town.

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Sunday's are busy in Lecce, unlike some towns in Tuscany which can be nearly shut down except for the most touristy towns. Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Lecce the streets are packed with people and nearly every bar and restaurant open. The main restaurants don't open until about 730pm, sometimes 830pm. Pizza is served in some places as early as 6pm.

Lecce_scooter_puglia

Monday’s in Lecce might lead you to believe that zombies attacked the town right after you walked safely back to your apartment on Sunday night. The streets are empty. Businesses are closed and you wonder where everyone is. I've never seen anything like it in a major town in Italy, there's always someone out. Not here. So remember to stock up on food for the day, because your options are limited.

This is one of two main squares in Lecce on a Monday morning.

This is one of two main squares in Lecce on a Monday morning.

I look forward to returning to Puglia. I would base my journey in Lecce but would rent a car to re-explore the towns around the region. 

Sale Grosso, Bologna

Sale Grosso in Bologna is a Southern Italian styled restaurant in the heart of Bologna and it was one of my favorite places to eat in Bologna.

Cream di Fave with cooked chicory and breadcrumbs with olive oil. Could this be just a big bowl of hummus? Yes. So you better like hummus. I’d say a little less dense than a typical hummus, this creamy bowl of beans is about as filling as it gets. This dish is Puglian and came up on several Lecce menus. If you like hummus, with less garlic and some wilted greens on top, this is your dish.

Orecchiette with broccoli and shrimp. One of the pasta highlights of the trip. Very Puglian in design, not Bolognian. Shrimp was cooked exactly right, plump and fresh. Hints of chili pepper flakes dotted the sauce, not overpowering. No butter, just olive oil and garlic. Post Script: As I'm in Lecce, I’m sticking with my assessment in Bologna that this dish was one of the highlights of the trip. A wonderfully fresh pasta, when most people think to do orecchiette with red sauce or rapini.

Salad with smoked Buffalo Mozzarella and anchovy with paprika. I ordered pasta, but received a salad. While my Italian is horrible, I did order a spaghetti dish, not something I'm going to pronounce poorly. Maybe the waiter sensed I needed more fiber in my Italian diet. What was presented was a welcome surprise. The smell of smoke is what I first noticed coming from the cheese, a smoked mozzarella. Each piece of Mozzarella was topped with anchovies, a combination I've never had. Normally, that many anchovies would be unwelcome; however, when combined with the smoked Mozzarella, they tasted great and didn't repeat on me an hour later. Genius.

For dessert, fresh ricotta with a generous portion of mixed berry coulis. Albeit this is a simple dish, I loved it. Plus, it was pretty on the plate.

I’d say for a fast lunch by Italian standards, less than an hour, the meal was one of the tops of the trip; eating Puglian food in Bologna. Go figure.

Fast Meals and Home Meals

A few pictures of travel meals, quick breakfast items, and the use of cold cuts that needed to be cleared out of the refrigerator before leaving the apartment. It's amazing what you can do with three different salumi and dry pasta.

It is now TRADITION since my first visit overseas, to eat exactly one McDonald’s hamburger.  I thoroughly enjoyed it for 1eu while transitioning through Florence.

Florence Train Station...1 McDonald's Hamburger please.

Florence Train Station...1 McDonald's Hamburger please.

Pathetic Chicken Sandwich. I needed a fix frankly. Something quick, something to remind me of the gas station complex in Ripon off Highway 99 in California. The picture below was from one of the bar places in Lucca on the way to the train station. I wouldn’t do it again, go find Caffe Monica for a take-away.

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Caffe Monica in Lucca just inside the gate wins for best sandwiches so far. Bread was outstanding and the meat and cheese quality were high. 2.50eu (look for the darker bread sandwich from the train station)

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Truffled Eggs, Truffled mortadella. My mortadella sandwich aka bologna sandwich for my 8+ hour train ride to Puglia was all I needed.

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Fusilli with truffle butter, sage and prosciutto. Nearing the end of what's in the refrigerator things get more simple. Version 2.0 was Fusilli with artichokes and sage. I think more representative of what might be seen in a restaurant.

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Lots of prosciutto, cheese, and bread for dinner at the apartment in Bologna. Breakfast tended to be eggs, toast, juice, coffee. Although my eggs with truffle butter took top marks in Lucca.

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Pizza in Three Cities, Lucca, Bologna, Lecce

Plenty of pizza was consumed for Tour d'Italia 2017, from Lucca to Lecce. Pizza at all the places I'm highlighting are sold by weight (you determine how much pizza you want to buy, they cut it and weigh it) Here's the highlight reel for the trip.

Forno Casale, Lucca
In addition to the bread they make each day (which is the best in Lucca), they do have cookies and pizza. I’d never had the pizza, so it was time for some take away. It was a classic sheet pan pizza I’ve had most of my life in Fresno, cooked by either my mother or grandmother. It was good at room temperature and the next day for breakfast. And it has an eye for the camera. I will stress the real highlight at Forno Casale is the breads. Outstanding and the best in Tuscany.

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Pizzartist, Bologna
Stumbled upon through a random walk back to the apartment. Delicious stuff.  Bought three different types, fungi, sausage with rapini, and smoked ham with tomato. All the crusts were great (translation:thin, not doughy, seasoned, crisp), the guys slinging the pie were excited to be there and they happily accept take out. Looked it up after the fact and it's one of the top restaurants in Bologna by TripAdvisor. Happy accident walking past the place.

pizzartist_bologna_mastro_scheidt

Pizza al Taglio, Lecce
Night 1: Three different pizza choices, filetto di Manzo with rucola in a stuffed pizza format, mushroom and sausage, and a light creamy Gorgonzola style but real light flavor with mushroom. Paired it with the Rosa Del Golfo Scaliere 2014 Negroamaro; which I ended up drinking for the next couple days and a match made in heaven, easy to drink and eat with the variety of pizza on the table.

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Night 2: Truffle cheese was outstanding, two pieces down before I made it home. Stuffed mortadella and provolone was richer than the filetto di Manzo. The salt on the crust really came through on round two and paired better with the wine.

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Day 3: Mushrooms and a stinky Italian cheese. Like the rest of the pizza I’ve had here, another winner. No I didn’t get the name of the cheese, but it had truffles in it. Pizza goooood.

lecce_pizza_mastro_scheidt

Morning After Pizza: For each night of pizza you see, there was a breakfast of pizza the next day. I generally would get ‘planned overs’ with each night of pizza. I have no problem with not having to cook breakfast when high quality cold pizza will do, next to my double shot out of the moka pot. 
 

Tour d'Italia 2017

As I did in early 2016, I visited Italy at the beginning of 2017. I explored new territory in Emilia Romagna, (specifically Bologna and Ferrara), returned to familiar ground in Tuscany, (the walled city of Lucca) and re-explored one town in Puglia, ) the Florence of the South, Lecce). 

On this blog, over the next couple weeks, I will try to summarize some of my experiences in Italian travel, food, and wine with both specific reviews of restaurants and wines to general travel writing about the regions in Italy I explored.

Like all travel stories, there were themes and story lines, plot twists and turns.

You'll see a lot of pasta, a theme I'm happy to explore, it's Italy after all. If there was a primary dish to sample, it had to be tagliatelle with meat sauce. While a flat ribbon noodle was sampled most, a stuffed pasta with basically the same ground meat sauce was a close second. A meat sauce with pasta is reliable, it will not let you down, and there's really no translation necessary, most people know what a ravioli is. The variables with pasta and meat sauce are salt level, sauce thickness and pasta thickness. Salt can make or break the dish and salt level seems to vary widely in this dish. Secondly, do the chefs finish the pasta in the sauce pan to absorb any pasta water? Thirdly, how thick is the pasta and to what level of al dente are they cooking it? A lot of variables for a simple dish.

pasta_mastro_scheidt

The story line of Puglia had to be baccala or dried salt cod in English. It’s on every menu in some fashion. I would have gotten on my pizza if I saw it offered, which if I had looked into al Taglio in Lecce every night, I probably would have found it. Sautéed, deep fried, brandade.

salt_cod_puglia_mastro_scheidt

The winter theme of nearly every restaurant in Italy was artichokes or carciofo in Italian. I ate a lot of artichokes this trip. Raw, boiled, sous vide, stewed, you name it, I had it. Inspiring really. So often, artichokes don’t pair well with wine and are left off of many menus. Secondly, artichokes are difficult to clean and prepare. Thirdly, artichokes tend to either get boiled and then grilled in much of the Central Valley and Central Coast of CA and then served with mayo or some kinda Ranch style dip.

artichoke_mastro_scheidt

The plot twist this year was being able to dine with someone regularly. Rarely do I have the opportunity to dine with others, not so on this trip. Dining with just one other person doubles the amount of wine and food I can try. So, when you see 6 or 8 pictures of food and wine in a single restaurant review, I was not dining alone. Even with my rather formidable eating skills, I can't plow down 8 dishes and two bottles of wine in one sitting.  

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I hope you enjoy my 2017 Tour d'Italia!

Christmas Feast Part 2

While I tend to believe that Christmas starts and ends with eating only ravioli and meatballs with a glass of Cabernet, there are others in the family that may not be as enthusiastic or set in their ways as I am.

So, several dishes for Christmas are made for the other 30 or so people that come over for dinner. A long-time favorite at Thanksgiving and Christmas is our grilled and sherry braised turkey. Now, don't get me wrong, I love our grilled turkey. I love using my cast iron Dutch oven to cook the whole 20 pound bird in, basically a version of Poulet en Cocotte. But turkey speaks Thanksgiving to me, not Christmas. 

Poulet en Cocotte

Anyway, cooking the turkey on Christmas is just a good excuse to burn a lot of oak staves, sit outside, drink Sangiovese (which pairs well with turkey, I do pick at the bird when I'm carving it) and utilize my Dutch oven. 

Mastro_Scheidt_BBQ_ Turkey

There is a vegan option (no one in my family is vegan, but my family does seem to like this gross blob of jelly): Canned Cranberry. I have no wine recommendations for canned cranberry and never will.

Vegan Option

There is a gluten-free option (no one in my family is gluten-free, we are more like Gluten Plus): Potatoes and Yams.

Christmas Feast

Tradition is the theme for Christmas at Mastro Scheidt, with emphasis on the MASTRO (Translation:Italian Tradition). 

Dough_roller_form_ravioli

Ravioli are traditionally made each year specifically for Christmas. Sure ravioli could be made any time of year, but the holiday requires that a very specific type of ravioli be made...the little ones. The filling (pictured below) is a combination of veal, beef, and spinach with onions pulsed separately in the Cuisinart and then blended together by hand.

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Most ravioli you see in restaurants these days are larger, one ravioli can be roughly half the size of a new iPhone. But to my Southern Italian relatives, "those big ravioli have too much dough and not enough filling". 

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Without question, the smaller ravioli are a little more difficult to make, using only a rolling pin, a ravioli form roller, and traditional cutter, every step of the process is hand-made. No machines, no fancy pasta roller, nothing but shoulder and tricep power rolling.

The results?

Mastro_Scheidt_Ravioli_Christmas

Merry Christmas! Yes, I was drinking my Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon with my Christmas meal.