The three of them rattle-up to our villa in their little car most nights lugging bags of fresh produce, and it’s through these lovely people, that we’re feeling truly integrated into Puglia . . . and connected to the earth around us.
One day this week, Marco and Isabella even went driving into the countryside to forage under old olive trees to collect a haul of special cardoncelli mushrooms to bake with fresh peppers and Italian sausages for us. (I have this dish on my ‘to do’ list.)
The opportunity to have true locals cook in our own villa kitchen (at reasonable prices), and at such a high standard, is a priceless part of our Puglia experience. We discuss menu options daily (using google translate), and then they buy the fresh vongole or mussels, and all other fresh meat, produce, local sausage and cheeses.
They are delighted with our enjoyment of their cooking. As we get to know their individual little quirks, our connection becomes closer. (I’ve graduated to a kiss on both cheeks as Marco arrives and departs each night. I trust girlfriend Isabella doesn’t find it untoward.)
Each evening, tantalising aromas waft from the kitchen like a clarion call to raise us from our siesta – for the ‘happy hour’ gathering before the meal. Marco serves the drinks and brings a steady stream of Mama’s freshly-cooked hors d’oeuvres while the dinner is being prepared. (Polpetti, little pork balls, and nipples with eggplant and zucchini in a light batter were my favourites.)
The dinner table ‘groans’ under the weight of the food and no amount of asking for ‘less’ tomorrow seems to sink-in with them. In fact, they bring us ‘special experiences’ that are not on our agreed menu – sweet black figs with the reddest flesh and grapes from their garden; and biscuits and chocolate-dipped fruit from their home kitchen.
Standing at the big round dining table after dinner service one evening, Mama peeled green walnuts one by one that she’d brought, and handed them to us – a little ‘astringent’ to the tongue, but very ‘walnut’ in flavor. We drank the whole bottle of her her home-made limoncello in minutes and asked her to bring more.
Thankfully, the little team doesn’t leave until the kitchen is looking sparkling new with all dishes washed and back in the cupboards.
This decision to eat dinner in, and have the locals cook for us means no night driving on narrow country roads; and no big catering chores for the “hostess” .. Simple local fare, pasta, seafood, rabbit and chicken – served with the freshest of ingredients, prepared with humour, love and warmth – it doesn’t get much better than this.
We are feeling truly integrated into the area, and connected to the earth around us thanks to our wonderful home-cooking experiences.