Posts Tagged ‘Puglia’

International Cooking in Italy

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

Yes, yes, I know.  I live in Paradise, the land of the best pasta, coffee, wine, ice cream, etc. in the world, so why would I ever crave any other food?

Well, as much as I love the variety here, sometimes I miss things that I would eat at home in the States.  When I was living in Argentina, a good friend of mine, Joli, found a great recipe for flour tortillas.  Since there isn’t much variety in the food down there, it was a delight to be a guest in her house and be able to eat things such as fajitas or tacos. Things you just don’t find in Buenos Aires, and things you certainly don’t find in Lecce, Italy.

This week I am visiting a friend in Bari, which is just a couple hours north of Lecce, and I decided I wanted to prepare a meal as a sign of gratitude.  Well, we all know how Italians are when it comes to tasting other people’s cooking.  I’m always afraid to make traditional dishes here because on top of the “buono, buono!” I have to listen to “It needs more salt”, and “You make a good sauce, for an American”…  I seem to have the most luck when I prepare things that are not Italian.  My Italian friends rave about my international cooking and I find that they are always open and interested in trying new things.  Since I’m the straniera, foreigner, it’s probably more exciting and fun if I bring something new to the table.

Today I prepared fajitas, using the recipe Joli uses for tortillas.  You can find it here, and you’ll see that it’s quite easy.  For filling, I cut up small slices of beef, a couple of bell peppers, an onion, and since this is Southern Italy, a peperoncino, chili pepper, for spice.  I sauteed those together.  You can’t get sour cream in Italy, at least not here in the south, so I used Fage Total yogurt as it makes the best substitute for sour cream.

My friend and his daughter had fun putting the fajitas together, and I enjoyed sharing something new with them.

What are some recipes you simply can’t do without in your adopted country?

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes as well as on her own blog,Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

August in Italy

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

A common summer view in Italy

A common summer view in Italy

While the rest of the world carries on with its business, in the month of August, Italy shuts down, and lights up.  By mid-August half the country is on vacation, offices and stores are closed, and those running shops and restaurants in tourist locations become very, very busy.

Calici di Stelle - Lecce turns into one big wine tasting.

Calici di Stelle - Lecce turns into one big wine tasting.

Lecce has been completely on fire with Italian and European tourism.  Recently we had an event called Calici di Stelle, which is a wine tasting event that coincides with the meteor shower on the night of San Lorenzo.  The idea is that you buy a glass for ten Euros, and then wander about Lecce’s historical center, stopping at the various tasting stations, and eventually happening upon the observatory where you can watch the sky and hope to see a shooting star.  At the same time, local artist Alessandra Bray was exhibiting, and I was giving her a hand (between tastings, of course).  I have never seen Lecce so crowded – it was impossible to move!  While the idea of the historic center turning into one big wine tasting is a nice idea (and who doesn’t love Southern Italian wine?), it’s hard to really appreciate what you’re tasting when you are too busy dodging people.

I’ve managed to squeeze in some visits to the beach, and the difference between August and a couple months ago is huge.  In June, I could rent an umbrella with two lounge chairs and there would always be something available.  In August, if you don’t rent in advance you are out of luck.  So during the month of August, you can find me on the “spiaggia libera”, public beach, where none of the umbrellas match.  I don’t mind – I just feel lucky to live so close to the sea.

When I first heard about August vacations, I imagined a relaxing month – but I’m finding that it’s quite the opposite!  So much to do!  And if you really need to get something important done, best to wait until September when everyone is open again.  Even the local cinema was closed for a week!

What is August like where you live?

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Green Furniture – Interview With a Local Artist

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

One wonderful thing about exploring your adopted city (or any city, really) is discovering its artistic life.  Lecce in particular is booming with creativity around every corner.  Since I set foot in this city, I’ve been surrounded by dancers like myself, singers, musicians, painters, sculptors… though Lecce has a population of less than a hundred thousand, it feels as big as Buenos Aires (14 million people) with all its cultural activity.  There is always something to see, something to do.

Avanzi exhibition

Avanzi exhibition

Walk down Via Palmieri in the historical center of Lecce and you will find a deconsecrated church that now hosts art exhibitions, such as the recent exhibition of Avanzi, a truly original furniture/home décor line designed by Lecce local Alessandra Bray.  Her eco-friendly pieces, made of the surprising elements of cardboard and leather, were on display for a week at the church of San Giovanni di Dio, and tourists and locals alike were able to stop in and chat with Ms. Bray about her creations – and even touch their soft leather.  Since the best way to get to know a city is by conversing with its people, I used the opportunity to chat with her and learn more about Avanzi and what inspired the birth of such a line.

Why cardboard and leather?

“I’ve always loved leather and appreciate the delicate beauty of cardboard,” says Bray, “particularly how something as durable as leather protects the fragile cardboard.”  She hadn’t originally considered giving her pieces an eco-friendly aim, but in essence, that’s what it is.  She continues to say that she was inspired by the thought of “creating – building – with the materials that are available nearby.”  To me, this is truly eco-friendly.  Nothing specially ordered and shipped by plane from across the world; Bray uses material that she gets locally.

Salento, the creative land

Ra lamp

"Ra" lamp

As I’ve said before, I find this city to be absolutely rich with creativity.  I asked Ms. Bray why this area in particular is so full of artists.  “We are children of the taranta,” is her answer.  What is the taranta?  It is a spider from this region with a particularly venomous bite.  When bitten, its venom practically possesses you to the point of causing you to hallucinate and shake.  The local folk dance, the pizzica, was born of this legend. Bray goes on to explain that the people here basically tremble with creativity – they’ve been “bitten”, and the act of constantly expressing and creating is the antidote for the venom.  Don’t worry though, you probably won’t meet such a spider here in the city of Lecce –  historically its victims have been those who work in the fields.

Open shelf

"Open" shelf

Are there traces of this incredible land in Bray’s work?  “Absolutely.  The land can be found within the lines of each piece I create.”  She explains that this region is flat and if you look at the architecture, particularly the famous Leccese Baroque buildings, it’s an example of  a need to fill in the lines. “It’s horror vacui, which is Latin for the fear of empty spaces,” she explains.  While I find this land far from empty, I think it’s true what she says – there is constant creation – art, architecture, music, dance – and perhaps part of the inspiration is in the flat land which serves as a blank slate.  There is no empty space in Bray’s work;  it is rich and full.

Lecce, the creative city for foreigners

I’m not from here, yet I too feel constantly inspired to create.  I asked Bray if people from the outside find that it’s easy to live a creative life here.  “Yes,” she says, “this is a city that envelops you, and once you truly discover it, it doesn’t let you go.”

She is right.  This city has taken a hold of me and is not letting me go.

If you would like to learn more about Alessandra Bray and Avanzi, you can visit her website at  If you can read Italian, her recent exhibition has also been featured in a local online magazine, Lecce Prima.

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Colors of Southern Italy

Friday, June 25th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

This area of Italy is so colorful all year round it seems.  Lecce is particularly nice for its Leccese stone that glows in the sunlight.  Then there’s Palermo which is a very earthy shade of gold, it seems.  And living between two seas, you can imagine I get lots of blue.   Now that it’s summer the colors are that much more brilliant.  I’m having more and more of those “Oh my goodness, I live here!” moments.  The scenery is my second favorite part about being an expat in Italy (food being the first thing).   Instead of trying to describe everything, why don’t I show you what I mean?

Here are some of my favorite colors in Southern Italy:

The green of prickly pears against the blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

The white rocks that jut out of the earth.  I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere but here.  It’s like magic:

The red soil against dark green olive trees.

What colors stand out the most where you live?

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Italy and the Importance of Eating

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

Almost lunchtime in southern Italy

Almost lunchtime in southern Italy

I have had several American visitors over the past couple of months and have had a chance to hear firsthand what impressions people have when they visit – particularly when it comes to food.  I was lucky enough to grow up with a more Mediterranean eating style, but having others visit who are not used to it has opened my eyes to three things that are very important here in the culture, but perhaps strange for other people:

The importance of eating. If one thing is true about Italians, eating is very important for them.  Any time I go anywhere with a group to any sort of occasion, it either surrounds food, or by lunchtime (1 pm) or dinnertime (about 9 or 10 pm here in Puglia) we look at our watches, drop what we’re doing and dedicate ourselves to the meal – and if we’re at home this includes using a table cloth and setting the table properly.  This shocks (and pleases) my American visitors every time – in the American culture, sometimes you either grab something quick to eat at the computer while you’re working, or you are so busy you forget your mealtimes.  I can’t imagine most people I know here forgetting a mealtime, ever.  And considering how good the food is, I can’t blame them!

The importance of courses. The main observation my friends make when they visit is, “Gosh, they really eat a lot here!  It’s too much food!”  I had to think about this, because it sounded rather strange.  Here in southern Italy I find the portions are perfectly reasonable compared to those in the U.S.  But I think people who visit may feel so full after a meal because they are not used to taking their time and eating one course at a time.  It’s really not *that* much food, it’s just separated into courses and one thing is eaten at a time. That does tend to fill you up faster.  I also tend to believe that the ingredients are so whole and unadulterated down here that food seems a lot more filling, so even though you’re eating less, you’re filling yourself up with all kinds of great nutrients, instead of eating a lot of empty calories.  Just a thought.  Have no fear though – if lunch is big, dinner is small, and vice versa.

The importance of generosity. Of course, if you are a guest in a Mediterranean home, the whole “moderation” thing goes out the window. The people here love to host and love to be generous with what they have.  It’s a favorite thing of mine about living here – people have no problem being generous, be it food or a ride or the washing machine (yes, I borrow friends’ washing machines at the moment).  My secret, in case you plan to visit and are a guest in someone’s home, is eat slowly and understand that nobody is trying to wreck your diet, they just want to embrace you and make you feel welcome.  And no, we don’t eat like that every day, only when we have special guests.  It’s all about you.  It’s overwhelming if you’re not accustomed to such meals that can last quite a while, but that’s what grappa and espresso are for at the end of the meal. ;-)   Buon appetito!

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Between Two Seas

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

I’ve returned to the Salento (as I’ve mentioned before, it’s in the heel of the boot) as I just can’t get enough.  My favorite thing about the city of Lecce, apart from its breathtaking architecture and open, warm people, is the fact that it’s between two seas.

I can choose from the Ionian or the Adriatic, depending on which wind (the Scirocco or the Tramontana) is blowing.   The other night I was chatting with two friends at a local tango event, and learned that some people are passionate about which sea they prefer.  I was asked the fierce question, “Do you like the Adriatic or the Ionian better?”  I said I didn’t know, that I liked both but that I was more familiar with the Adriatic.  “Mah!” my friend said, “There is nothing like the Ionian Sea!”

I personally will take either sea – I feel fortunate that I can so easily get to the water.  Be it the Adriatic or the Ionian, I don’t see how one could possibly take sides!

I’ll let you decide for yourself:

The Adriatic…?

….or the Ionian?

Tina Ferrari is a translator, writer and tango dancer based between Umbria and Puglia (where she teaches tango), in Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Ricci di Mare – An Unexpected Delight in the Heel of the Boot

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

I recently spent just over a week in Puglia; Lecce, to be exact, on the Salento peninsula.  Looking at a map of Italy, you’ll find it near the bottom of the “stiletto heel”.

A friend brought me to the ancient town of Gallipoli one morning.  Located about 45 minutes from Lecce on the Ionian Sea, Gallipoli in February is sleepy and warm.  After a cold and gray winter in Perugia, it felt good to walk along the water without a jacket, breathing in the salty air.

While my friend was at an appointment, I took the opportunity to walk around the town a little bit and peek into stores. I came across a shop selling things like local olive oil and wine.  I decided to go in, and the man running the shop offered me tastes of very green olive oil and a glass of wine.  We chatted about grapes and olives (two of my favorite things) as I sipped my negroamaro.

Ricci di mare

Ricci di mare

Afterwards, with a newly purchased bottle of wine in my bag, I found my friend again and she said, “Tina, you have to taste ricci!”  I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about until we came upon a group of fishermen who had laid out a nice-sized pile of very fresh spiny sea urchins on a table.  She asked if I could taste one since I had never had them before.  One of the men obliged and with a swift move and a “crack!”, a sea urchin was cut in half to reveal it’s red and orange roe, and offered to me with a spoon.

It was quite a delight to taste and smell the salty sea in such a way.  “Do you like them?” they asked me.  I nodded my head happily and we bought a big container of them.

Our fresh lunch on the sea

Our fresh lunch on the sea

We found an open supermarket and brought some bread and water, and sat at a table overlooking one of the beaches.  The sun warmed our backs as we contentedly scooped out the ricci with bread, without a care in the world.  The ricci were a pleasant surprise, and perhaps my favorite culinary discovery on this trip.

Tina Ferrari is a translator, writer and tango dancer based in Umbria, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Interview with an Expat: Sara Donahue in Puglia, Italy

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

While it is true there are an endless number of expats in Italy, the blogosphere, like a good cocktail party, pulls us party-going bloggers together, helps us mingle, gives us the courage to interact. One of the newest bloggers I’ve been chatting it up with lately is another southern Italy expat, located just across the foot of the boot, in Puglia.

1. So tell us, Sara, how did you end up in Molfetta, Italy?

I had been teaching English in Japan and felt I wanted a change. After taking a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at the School for International Training in Vermont, I started sending out applications for jobs around Europe.

I had a few different offers, but decided to take a job at a private language school in Bari. Through a friend of a friend I ended up meeting my future husband, Francesco. Our relationship got off to a rocky start because after we had been dating for only a couple of months a series of events led me to leave Italy and return to the States: the Gulf War broke out and sentiment was rather anti-American around Bari, my father had an emergency operation back in the States, the school I was working for never got around to getting me a work visa…

I said good-by to Italy and Francesco and thought that that was that. But, Francesco had other ideas and followed me around the world, even coming to Japan, where I had returned to teach again, and in the end convinced me to come back to Italy and give life with him a try. He was born and raised in Molfetta, so that’s how I ended up here.

2. What are some of the differences between the US and southern Italy when it comes to rearing your children?

I’ve never raised children in the US, so any differences that I have noticed are more products of my memory of being raised in the US than anything else. And I was a child a long time ago! One thing I really appreciate about Italians is their love of children. They love kids’ energy and noise and accept it much more readily than many other cultures do. However, that causes us some problems when my perfectly well-behaved children (by Italian standards) go to the US and are perceived as being too noisy, undisciplined and even rude.

It’s hard on them because they are suddenly expected to behave differently, and hard on me, too, because I hate for them to be seen as behaving inappropriately. Something that used to drive me crazy about having small children in Italy was the way that Italians feel perfectly justified in coming up to you and giving you unsolicited advice, or even scolding you, because you are treating your child in some way that is different from what the Italian advice-giver would expect.

The Italians accept noise and confusion and little kids staying up till midnight and running around the pizzeria like maniacs, but they go into a panic if your child doesn’t wear 3 or 4 layers of wool, including cap with ear-flaps after the first day of winter, irregardless of what the weather is actually like! And let’s not even mention the whole issue of catching a draught after working up a sweat, it seems like the number one Italian parental fear. As an American I always thought that a good gust of wind would dry me off if I were sweating, never imagined it could bring on illness and who knows what other dread conditions! You can really get caught in a cross-cultural bind of contrasting expectations!

3. What family traditions have you started in Italy?

As a bi-cultural family, we have tried to combine the best traditions from both cultures. We celebrate all the Italian holidays, plus as many American ones as possible. We usually have both a Halloween party and a Carnival party. We open gifts from family members on Christmas eve in the Italian tradition, but then Santa Claus comes during the night, American-style. On December 6, San Nicola leaves gifts for my children and the Befana leaves them candies on the night of January 6. At Easter we participate in all of the Italian church activities and processions, but we also paint Easter eggs and leave them in baskets for the Easter Bunny to hide during the night. You could say that we do it all!

4. What do you miss the most from home-besides family and friends, of course?

I first came to Italy in 1990 and then returned definitively in 1992, so while I’ll always be American in my heart, southern Italy has become my “normal.” This is where I have my home and where I feel “at home.” I don’t really miss life in the USA much, to be honest. But, there are some things… For one, I miss US TV. I’m not a big TV watcher, but I wish I could see the new shows as they come out each year.

Another thing I miss is access to a variety of ethnic foods. Italian food is great (as any Italian will be quick to tell you!), but I miss Thai, Japanese, Mexican, barbeque… These things may even be available in the distant north part of Italy (for me that includes Rome!), but in the deep south such things can only be dreamed of!

And the main thing I miss is the abundant choice that is available in the US. Choice in everything: foods, household goods, educational options, sports, clothes, you name it. When I go back to the States I always want to stock up on so many products that I can’t get around here. I limit myself to Tollhouse chocolate chips, vanilla flavouring and Ziplock bags, otherwise my suitcase would be way over my weight limit!

5. What is your favorite thing about Puglia?

Puglia is a beautiful region. We have miles and miles and miles of beautiful coastline along the Adriatic Sea. There are many lovely little towns with historical centers well-worth visiting. There are castles, archaeological sites, nature preserves. The local food is simple but delicious. It’s a great area!

Thank you, Sara! You can learn more about Sara and Puglia by visiting her blogs Amid the Olive Trees and Molfetta Daily Photos.

Cherrye Moore is an American freelance writer living in southern Italy. In addition to, she writes about living and traveling in Calabria on her site, My Bella Vita. Comments and messages are welcome on both sites. All photos by Sara of Molfetta Daily Photo.

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