The Silver Spoon: Puglia is newest cookbook in the series of regional Italian cooking by Phaidon. It is the third in the series, following Tuscany and Sicily. This most recent installment offers an in-depth view of the cuisine of Puglia and neighboring Basilicata.
I am not well-versed in regional Italian cuisine, so this was the perfect book to learn about the area. Puglia and Basilicata are situated in the southeastern part of mainland Italy. Puglia became known as cucina povera (poor kitchen) and developed the ability to elevate foods from simple ingredients. Dishes are brought together based on what is available and in season. Wheat, olive oil, and wine are abundant. Other staples include fava beans, dairy, pork, lamb, peppers, seafood, and tomatoes. The cuisine has also been influenced by neighboring parts of Europe (especially Greece), Africa, and the Middle East. Food is a reason for celebration and used in a way to bring people together. Meals are an event with spreads of antipasti, pasta, main protein, and dessert.
I have a few Italian cookbooks, but most of the recipes in this book were new to me. Chapters are separated by province: Foggia, Barletta-Andria-Tranni, Bari, Taranto, Brindisi, Lecce, Potenza, and Matera. Each chapter has a handful of recipes ranging from first courses to desserts. The ingredients are listed in customary and metric measurements. Every recipe is mirrored by a beautiful full page photo of the finished product (plus more scenic photos of the region are throughout the book). The chapters are peppered with a few highlights and backgrounds of notable foods and dishes. There is also a chart in the beginning of the book showcasing the various food festivals arranged by month (Squid, wood-baked bread, and cherries are celebrated in May).
I first made Biscotti Glassati alle Noci, Iced Walnut Biscuits. These little walnut squares are topped with a hardened orange glaze. They reminded me a bit of the German Zimtsterne, only with walnuts. With the help of a food processor, the cookies took me less than 15 minutes to assemble. They are on the fragile side when warm from the oven, but harden as they cool.
I also made Pasta e Pomodori al Forno (Pasta and Tomato Bake), Torta di Bietoline e Ricotta (Chard and Ricotta Pie), Fusilli con la Mollica (Fusilli with Bread), and Cartellate (Honey Pastry Flowers). The Pasta e Pomodori al Forno was perfect for a tomato lover like me. Over four pounds of tomatoes are scored and salted to remove excess moisture, then layered with seasoned breadcrumbs and pasta (with an additional 1 3/4 pounds chopped tomatoes used in the sauce!). I wasn’t sure how I would feel at first with so many halved tomatoes cooking with the pasta, but they gently fell apart after baking and serving. The Torta di Bietoline e Ricotta reminded me of the Torta Pasqualina I made last year for Easter. This version was easier to assemble. A simple olive oil pastry dough is rolled into 4 sheets. Two sheets are placed on the bottom of the baking dish. It is filled with a swiss chard ricotta mixture, then covered with the remaining two sheets of dough. I actually made my pie a little smaller and used some of the dough to make a hand pie with the filling for Evan. This was a great way to get him to enjoy some of the greens. While I don’t mind a small amount of anchovy for flavor, I had yet to cook with them. I bought anchovies for the first time for Fusilli con la Mollica. The anchovies really do melt into the dish and add an extra boost of flavor. The fusilli was tossed with croutons, the dissolved anchovies, a little bit of red chilli powder, and Pecorino cheese. It was a nice, light dish for lunch. Cartellate are fried swirled pastries coated in honey and sprinkles. The dough is yeast risen and flavored with white wine and olive oil. It also doesn’t include any granulated sugar. All the sweetness comes from the honey coating. Even though it is fried, the Cartellate are still light and flaky thanks to the many layers of dough.
This is such a beautiful cookbook and I have enjoyed all the recipes tried so far. The recipes vary from easy to more complicated. There is also a great mixture of pasta, meat, seafood, vegetarian, and sweet dishes.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Phaidon for review. All opinions stated are my own. I am also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program and earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com
Biscotti Glassati alle Noci (Iced Walnut Biscuits)
Adapted from Puglia (The Silver Spoon’s)
9 ounces (2 1/2 cups, 250 grams) shelled walnuts
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) caster sugar, divided
2 egg whites, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine walnuts and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Process until finely chopped. Pour into a large bowl. Fold in 1 of the egg whites, salt, and 1/2 cup sugar until well combined and mixture sticks together.
Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Use a spatula to smooth the edges and press the mixture into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, egg white, and orange juice until smooth. Evenly pour over the formed rectangle.
Dip a sharp knife into cold water and cut the rectangle into 1 1/2 inch squares.
Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes. Allow to cool until hardened and gently transfer to a wire rack.