14 March 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Song of the South

SARONNO, Italy – On Sunday I’m planning to post an article on Lecce, a fantastic city in the region of Puglia. The article came out of an assignment for the Italian Ministry of Culture that took me on a 10 hour train ride to Bari and Lecce. I had never been to Puglia before and the only things I had ever heard about it were not good. As I’ve written in other posts, Bari was the number one bugaboo city that I had been warned about and it turned out to be one fantastic place that completely captured my heart. 
 Tiella Barese
 Lecce was also a surprise. It is a city of jaw dropping beauty with a complexity of architecture I had never seen before.  But more about that on Sunday. Today is food day. 

What charmed the pants off of me in Bari were the women sitting out in front of their houses making orrechietti by hand. Young and old, big and small, they sat around ricky tables rolling and cutting and forming the little ears of pasta with a quick flick of their thumbs.  When they finished, they would lay the orrechietti on kitchen towels, and put them out to dry in the sun. 

Pugliese food was a complete surprise. Since it was in April, restaurants were offering a spring puree of fresh fava beans with a side of chicory fried in a little fragrant Pugliese olive oil and garlic. Other local favorites are tajeddha (layered potatoes, rice, and mussels), ciceri e tria (boiled and crisp-fried pasta with chickpeas) and pezzetti di cavallo (stewed horse meat in tomato sauce.  

Today’s recipe is called Tiella Barese, it’s a version of tajeddha, layered potatoes, rice, and mussels.   I’ll tell you right now, there are as many versions of this as there are stars in the sky, and every family believes with all their heart that theirs is the one and only original and best recipe. 
Tiella Barese


Hot water                    500 ml
Garlic                          2 heads
Red onions                  2
Mussels                       500 grams
Olive Oil                     5 tablespoons
Potatoes                      500 grams
Pecorino                      70 grams – grated
Cherry Tomatoes         500 grams
Parsley                         30 grams
Aborio Rice                 250 grams

Start by cleaning the mussels. Once they are clean, put them in a frying pan with high sides (1), add some water and a little white wine, cover them and let them cook until they open. Drain them, reserving the liquid,  (2) take off the upper part of the shell and put them in another pan (3).  
Clean the cherry tomatoes and cut them into quarters (4). Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin (5), and then put them in a bowl of cold water and set aside. Thinly slice the red onions (6) and  

Finely chop the parsely and garlic, and mix them together with 2 spoons of olive oil (7). Grease a baking dish with a high border, and put the sliced onions on the bottom of it (8). Sprinkle them with the garlic parsley mixture (9). 
 Place the cherry tomatoes on top of the onions, garlic, parsely (10), and half of the pecorino cheese (11). Then add a layer of potato slices, fanning them out around the dish (12).  

Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper (13-14) and then cover the potatoes with a layer of rice, evenly distributing them over the top (15).   

Then add the layer of mussels (16-17), and another layer of cherry tomatoes (18) and the rest of the pecorino cheese.  
The potatoes are the last layer (19). Then add the liquid from the mussels and enough water to make a total of 500 ml (20). Heat the oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F). Cook in a hot oven for 50/60 minutes. After the first 40 minutes you can lower the temperature to 180 degrees C (365/370 degrees F). Cover the dish with a sheet of aluminum foil and let it cook for another 20 minutes or so.Let it cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes and serve.

The Tiella Barese, like Spanish paella, gets its name from the dish it's cooked in. A tiella, or tieed, in Barsese dialect means baking dish. The beauty of this dish is that it utilizes ingredients typical of the area, tomatoes, potatoes and mussels. A layer of sliced zucchini can also be added to the mix, I would put them under the tomatoes.

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