We landed in Bari on a Saturday in September, past dinner time. We had spent the day – the week even – in anticipation, thinking about our first meal in Puglia, perhaps outside on a terrace, with the air still balmy and the white wine well chilled. We both needed this weekend away so desperately. Not because of London per se – the weather had been particularly lovely lately. But we were restless and exhausted. We needed a few days of that lifestyle we both adore and miss so much: easy, slow and warm.
The little flat we had booked looked promising from the listing – bright, new and with a rooftop overlooking the roofs of Polignano. We had decided not to rent a car but to walk everywhere instead, so our host offered to pick us up at the airport. His name was Paolo.
A fifty-minute drive separates the Bari airport from the stunning seaside town of Polignano. Paolo was chatty enough to make the journey go pleasantly fast. In his broken English, he asked us a lot of innocent yet personal questions, of the kind a stranger would hardly ever ask. “Let me ask you this – why Polignano?” he said at one point. Well, why not Polignano? Wasn’t it one of the most beautiful places on earth – peaceful and yet dramatic, with stunning aquamarine sea and breathtaking scenic vistas? We gave him all of these reasons, but he still didn’t quite understand – to him, it was just another provincial town in southern Italy.
Our stay was everything we hoped for. Polignano was as stunning as we remembered it. The weather was perfect and the food unbelievably good. Our apartment was lovely and cool, and the terrace turned out to be the perfect spot for lazy breakfasts and evening glasses of rosé. As for the rest, we had the quiet time we had been craving, simply wondering around or reading at the beach, and eating lovely meals by the water.
Sadly, it all went too fast. Paolo came to pick us up on the dot, wearing sunglasses and a warm smile. He found us descending the steep stairs leading to the front door as slowly as we could. The ride seemed a bit slower, and words were fewer this time. The landscape of olive trees, prickly pear cactus, and white houses had become a series of black outlines against the sky on fire – Puglia was giving us its very own farewell with a sunset we could never forget.
Orecchiette with Cime di Rapa
Grated pecorino romano, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the leafy part of the greens and blanch them for 2 minutes, then drain and set aside. Keep the water at a low simmer.
Next, heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the crushed garlic, the anchovies, and the chilli flakes. Fry gently over a medium-low heat until the anchovies have melted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Add the orecchiette and the turnip top stems to the pot of boiling water. Cook very al dente, then drain and add to the skillet with the anchovy sauce together with the reserved blanched leaves.
Finally, lace the skillet back over a medium heat and saute the pasta and the greens for a couple of minutes, so as to coat them in the sauce. Finish the dish with freshly ground black pepper and some grated pecorino.