This article from the Times is great, it sums up the essence of the cuisine here in Puglia. There is so much that is wonderful about the food that it’s hard to know where to start – and even more, where to stop! I’m always amazed at how many ways the locals can cook the same ingredients to produce dishes that are always interesting and varied. Take the aubergine; for a start they grow the beautiful dark purple ones here which we are used to seeing, but also bright violet and white ones. And when there is a glut of them through the summer the local housewives and chefs will pickle them, preserve them under oil, make pasta sauces, stuff them, all manners of antipasta dishes, Parmigiana of course (although this is really a Northern Italian dish) and aubergine polpette. Polpette is the name used for meatballs, but being Puglia they are often made with just breadcrumbs, egg and seasoning and of course fried in olive oil. Last weekend I was taught the following recipe by my good friend Paula. Here you can’t just be given a recipe, you have to witness it being made. I used to think that people were being obtuse when they couldn’t tell me how many grammes of this or that – but actually they really don’t know. They just add enough so that it looks right, and looks like mamma used to make.
Polpette di melanzane
Put half a loaf of stale country bread in a bowl of water to soak.
Peel 1kg of aubergines and cut into 2″ pieces. Boil in salted water, covering them with a plate to keep the aubergines under the water. Drain and allow to cool. Squeeze out the water from the aubergines by wringing handfuls between your palms. (This is quite unattractive, and as Paula said, really something that you should do in private!) When they are as dry as you can get them, chop the mush up so there are no big pieces.
Chop a handful of basil and add to the aubergine. Squeeze out the water from the stale bread and crumble into pieces. Mix the bread and aubergine together (about two thirds bread to aubergine). Add salt, a handful of grated parmesan and an egg. Mix all together and make into patties about 6 – 8 cm in diameter and 1 – 2 cm thick. Coat in semola flour and fry in a pan 1cm deep of olive oil.