If you’ve had the pleasure (modest much?) of talking to me in the last month, you would have also had the misfortune of hearing me whinge about being stuck. Stuck in London while everyone else seems to be jet setting off on exciting city breaks or relaxing beach holidays. Stuck without any exciting plans of our own and not even being to make any as we don’t know when we’ll be able to leave the country again. Being stuck kind of sucks. For those of you who don’t know, we’ve handed our passports over to the Home Office, hoping, begging, praying that they’ll give me a new visa, letting me stay past my current ‘get out of Britain’ date of early December.
When we first parted ways with them we were optimistic for a faster turnaround time than the six months they quoted, but now almost four months later, I think it’s safe to say we’re just hoping it’s not more than six months. It hasn’t been all bad though, we’ve embraced being stuck and had some wonderful (food) adventures in Britain, spending a couple of weekends in Cambridge and Brighton, and a longer weekend in Yorkshire. But I just want to go somewhere else… a place where the language is not one I speak, the wine is cheap, and people there live for their food.
So a couple of weeks ago I escaped to Pulia, in London Bridge. Not quite the region of Italy itself but easily the next best thing I can get without risking some questionable border crossing antics, which given the current situation, should not be joked about. Spanning the heel of the boot, this southern Italian region is well known for anything and everything from cheese to tomatoes to olives, and of course, their distinctive orecchiette pasta. Channeling my best ‘holiday mode’ mindset I went ahead and sampled all everything our generous hosts put in front of us.
We started with moreish little breadstick things accompanied by all sorts of delicious dips such as olive tapenade and red pepper pesto. I was happily nibbling away, chatting to Sheepa, Vicky and Andy when suddenly we were descended upon by platter upon platter of glorious Puglian food! Some serious table rearranging was required to fit the boards laden with Apulian ham and cheeses, served with salad, olives, and the sweetest little cherry tomatoes. The platters looked so inviting I had the neighbouring table ask me what it was because that was definitely what they wanted.
While I was savouring the creamiest of burratas freshly imported from Puglia, my nose caught a whiff of something hot, cheesy and undoubtedly delicious… then before I know it I’m biting into little crocches – mozzarella, mint and mashed potato, crumbed then fried, and rustici – puff pastry parcels of ricotta and spinach. I should point out that at this stage, I am rather full but I soldier on and wolf down some of a ham filled foccacia and half a tuna and courgette panzerotto, a traditional calzone. This was perhaps my favourite thing of the night, so simple and unassuming, the flavours were fantastic and the smooth, slightly chewy dough was just oh so good.
No trip to Pulia (or Puglia) would be complete without sampling orecchiette, the small ear shaped pasta synonymous with the region. We watched as ‘mama’ deftly put together a simple dough of semolina and water, efficiently kneading it until smooth, then rolling, cutting and shaping the little ears. As I found out, it is a lot harder than it looks to get the technique right… half of mine ripped and the ones that didn’t weren’t so much delicate little ears but fat little discs of dough.
Thank goodness we were served up some that were prepared earlier otherwise, I would be there all night. Served simply with cherry tomatoes, ricotta and basil, this dish was delicious; so delicious that the ladies on our end of the table couldn’t stop helping themselves to seconds and thirds despite proclaiming how we were near explosion.
We finished our feast with the sweets; an incredibly smooth and sharp ricotta lemon tart was highly enjoyable but somewhat upstaged by the pasticcioto, traditional little custard pies which have a cake-like outer with a gooey centre. I quite liked the chocolate version with hazelnut cream, but couldn’t agree more with the rest of the table, the custard one served with the mandarin infused olive oil was the perfect combination of sweet, sharp and rich flavours. I’ve never had a desire to drink olive oil, but I’ll shamefully admit that the thought did cross my mind that night. The good news is that they’ve bottled that good stuff and sell it instore… so perhaps I can drink it in the privacy of my own home…
For several hours on an otherwise normal weekday evening I was transported to Puglia. I’d forgotten that I was just round the corner from Borough Market, forgotten that I was stuck without a passport, and forgotten that there was no foreseeable end to my predicament. Instead, with every bite of food and sip of impeccable wine (highly recommend the reds they have on offer) I imagined I was in Italy, doing what I love to do most… eating good food, drinking good wine and having a laugh in fantastic company!
And as if they hadn’t already given us enough food, we were sent home with our own bag of freshly made orecchiette. I shared my taste of Puglia with a certain someone the next night, whipping up a cherry plum tomato and prawn orecchiette dish with a side of broccolini; probably not the most traditional but still pretty tasty.
Thank you to our generous hosts Georges and Sarah of Pulia, and of course Zomato for organising yet another pretty fabulous #ZomatoMeetup, but as always, all opinions are mine, mine, and mine alone!