The festive season in Puglia is a magical time. Towns and villages bathed in stunning light displays come alive. Festive Christmas markets pop up in piazze, full of treats and traditions unique to the region and the season. Vivid nativity scenes are constructed with loving care, while families and friends gather for bountiful feasts of recipes perfected over centuries.
Lecce is wonderful at any time of the year, but it’s especially atmospheric at Christmastime. The city centre, still warm enough for outdoor festivities, is decorated in lights and buzzes with an artisan market, the Fiera dei Pupi, celebrating local artistic traditions, most importantly the presepi salentini, Papier Mache nativity scenes.
For Maurizio Ortona, our amazing pizza instructor and owner of Lecce’s favourite Pizzeria, Pizza & Co, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.
Photo courtesy of Paolo Laku, http://www.meteopugliainfoto.it
“To me, Christmas in the South means celebrating the magic of the Salento,” he explains. “It’s the aroma of fried pettole, the flavour of grape must that will soon become wine. It is Lecce robed in festivity and a thousand tastes of time-honoured sweets, the scent of fireplaces still kindled with the wood of olive trees burning for warmth, as everything is still, motionless, awaiting the moment of birth like a great living nativity. That is Christmas in the South.”
Our partner guest house, Mantatelure, joins in the holiday spirit. An adorable Christmas tree welcomes guests, while the entire palazzo is decked with glittering decorations, lights, candles and freshly baked goodies for guests.
Photos courtesy of Mantatelure
For our wonderful Cooking Instructor, the incomparable Gianna Greco of Cooking Experience, Christmas is a time for seasonal treats. And for her family, and countless others in and around Lecce, that means "Li Purceddhruzzi" (purr-ched-rootsy), a recipe handed down through generations of Salentini. The original recipe resembled the curled tails of pigs. Hence, Purceddhruzzi. Literally, “little pig tails” in local dialect.
Gianna has reached into her personal cookbook to share this unique taste of Christmas in the Salento. So if you do make Purceddhruzzi yourself, let us know how you get on. Send us your photos and we’ll share your creations on our Facebook and Twitter pages. In bocca al lupo!
Photo courtesy of Cooking Experience
500 g of flour “00”
100 g of semolina
50 g of extra virgin olive oil
75 ml of alcohol (a mix of aniseed liquer and brandy or rum works well)
60 g of sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla sugar or pure extract (or a vanilla pod)
¼ teaspoon baker's yeast (or ½ cube of beer yeast)
Pinch of salt
2 mandarin oranges
100 g white almonds
1 tablespoon toasted pinenuts
Oil for frying (such as peanut)
1 kg acacia honey or other flower honey
Assorted coloured sugar or sprinkles
With a peeler, remove the peel of the orange and lemon, avoiding the white part.
Heat the olive oil in a pan, adding the peels to make a citrus-flavoured oil. Leave for a few moments to infuse, then remove the oil from the heat and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, mix the flours together on a work surface, making a well in the centre. Add the cinnamon, vanilla, grated zest of the remaining citrus fruits, and yeast (if using beer yeast, crumble) into the centre of the well.
Squeeze the juice from the oranges and mandarins and set aside.
Once cooled, pour the citrus-flavoured olive oil into the well and start to knead, adding the alcohol and the citrus juices little by little. Continue to knead together until you have a soft, smooth yet durable dough.
Take a piece of the dough and roll into a rope about 1 cm in diameter.
Cut the rope into pieces and roll the pieces against a grater or fork (like you are making gnocchi). Arrange on a platter sprinkled with a little flour. You can also create different shapes with the dough – the most common shapes are: rings, knots, diamonds, butterflies and roses (carteddhrate in Leccese dialect).
Heat the oil. Deep-fry the almonds and set aside.
Continue deep-frying the various forms of dough in small batches.
Once the frying is complete, heat half the honey in a saucepan. As soon as it comes to the boil, add a handful of the dough shapes and some almonds into the heated honey. Stir with a slotted spoon. Remove as soon as the honey comes back to the boil.
Arrange the fried, sweetened dough on serving dishes and decorate with pine nuts and sprinkles.
Note: using beer yeast will result in a crispier purceddhruzzi.
That’s a gift from Gianna. And here’s one more from us.
We’re offering an exclusive holiday special offer. If you subscribe to our mailing list we’ll give you €100 per person off any weeklong 2015 tour. Just sign up at the bottom of this page. And if you book the tour before January 15th, 2015, we’ll automatically take off another €100 per person. That’s a €200 saving! Just sign up for our newsletter below and quote ‘Subscriber’ when you contact us.
Wherever and however you celebrate, the team at Espressino Travel would like to wish a very happy holidays to all our friends around the world. We hope you’re spending the festive season with friends, family and great food.
Buone Feste e Felice Anno Nuovo a Tutti! AUGURI!