Tag Archives: Puglia

Taieddhra: potatoes, rice and mussels

Puglia’s cuisine left such an impression on me that here I go picking out a recipe with a name that I don’t know how to pronounce. The ingredients are simple, and taieddhra refers to the pan (teglia) used for this oven-baked meal of potatoes, rice and mussels. Cooking taieddhra is a matter of personal taste: I’ve found recipes varying from province to province and cook to cook. Should it be with or without zucchini? That’s up to the cook, but I believe zucchini are a definite must in the version from Bari province. Intent on getting it right on the first go, I’ve enlisted the help of a few grandmas via YouTube who say to…


• At the bottom you need to put garlic, onions, parsley, tomatoes, salt and oil.
• Then you put the potatoes, tomatoes, pepper and parsley.
• Then you put a handful of rice…
• And the rice goes inside the mussels.
• And zucchini, you see…
• Plenty of zucchini.
• Certain old folks put eggs in the middle.
• Let’s say we make three layers.
• You add the water and then you cook it.
• And see what you eat! The teglia…potatoes, rice and mussels!
• I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but mine is very good.
• The way I make it, it’s out of this world.
• Is it ready? [Very ready] Well then!

Taieddhra ingredients

3 large potatoes, sliced into approximately ¼-inch thick rounds
1 small white onion, sliced into thin rings or wedges
2 medium tomatoes, rough chop
generous handful of chopped italian parsley
1 large clove garlic, minced and stirred into the parsley
1½ pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and halved (reserve juices and discard remaining shells)
1 cup carnaroli rice, soaked briefly for 10 minutes (opt.)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano
olive oil, salt, pepper and a handful of bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 390°F. Amounts will ultimately depend on the size of the baking dish as it needs to be deep enough to comfortably hold 3 layers (veggies/mussels/veggies) – I used a 9½-inch pot. Some recipes ask that you pre-soak the rice but I personally found the texture to be a bit overdone after the cooking time was up. Timing can also vary – count on at least 45 minutes to an hour until the dish is finished. Between the MotH and myself, a quarter of the pot remained after we had our fill. This makes a great Sunday lunch!

Taieddhra illo #1

1st layer: Drizzle olive oil to coat the pan. Scatter onions in a layer on the bottom, then add half of the potatoes and 1/3 of the tomatoes. Sprinkle 1/3 of the parsley-garlic mixture over all then 1/3 of the parmigiano. Season lightly with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

2nd layer: Place mussels in their half shells in a tight layer over the vegetables and sprinkle the rice over the top to cover. Add half of the remaining tomatoes and half of the parsley, plus a third of the parmigiano and season lightly with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

3rd layer: Layer in the remaining potatoes, tomatoes, parsley, parmigiano, salt and lastly the bread crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Pour the reserved mussel juices along the side of the pan (so as not to disturb the layers) and add enough water in the same way so that it comes to just within the level of the top layer; about 2 cups. Baked, uncovered, until liquids have been absorbed and potatoes are tender; approximately 45 minutes to an hour.

Taieddhra illo #2

Opening mussels does take some careful skill (and nerve!) and what worked best for me was to hold the curved side in my palm and insert the tip of a paring knife about 1/4 inch from the top where the shells connect. Once the knife is securely in, run it around the perimeter of the mussel to open completely. By a stroke of luck I didn’t hurt myself on any one of them.

Open up you munkey!

Eating in Puglia: I ate what I didn’t know how to pronounce

FACT: you won’t find a decent trattoria/pizzeria in Salento that caters to diners looking for early-bird specials. It just doesn’t swing that way in the south. But to be fair, not all northern italians eat while there’s still some light left in the sky. The norm is 8:30pm from what I’ve witnessed in restaurants, yet in some places you can walk in at 7pm and no problem. It was different in Puglia when MotH called for 7:30pm reservations. The man on the other end of the line said it wasn’t possible. Can we do 8? 8:30? The voice informs, “We open at 8.”

Dining in Salento
Left to right: ciceri e tria (a very simple but well-flavored soup dish with chick peas and short strips of both boiled and fried tagliatelle *tria*), grilled imperial prawns, fave e cicureddha (fava bean puree with braised wild chicory).

With only 4 days to fill up on pugliese cooking, I dove right in and went for dishes that I had no idea how to say correctly. Grecanico or griko is a neo-greek dialect spoken in the historical language of Greek Salento (Salento’s past is very interesting). Some of the names reflected that influence, as in fave e cicureddha (fava bean puree w/ braised chicory and fried bread), turcinieddhri (rolls made with lamb’s liver, heart, lungs, etc and cooked over hot coals), and taieddhra (a rice dish with zucchini, potatoes and mussels). I couldn’t manage desserts since dinner portions were generous and because we ate so late. Our favorite place was Olo Kalò in Corigliano d’Otranto. It means “all the best” which is to say that everything they put out are among the best dishes of the Salento area.

Pastry shops and gelato

I may have skipped dessert after dinner but I didn’t skip dessert before lunch. We went to Pasticceria Chèri in Campi Salentina (Via San Francesco, 3) just outside of Lecce for these pasticciotti and walked out with 4 chocolate, 4 pistacchio, and 4 cream. The chocolate was the best.

Pasticciotti

And what’s an eating tour without creamy gelato in the heat of the day? We didn’t search for a particular address – just plopped ourselves like heavy stones and ordered whatever looked good. The gelati in these images were taken at cafes in Galatina which says how much we loved hanging around this beautiful town.

So right when it's 23°C outside
Sit-down at the Caffè della Basilica: cream and cherry gelato; shakerato with the addition of almond milk – it was delicious.

Gelato twins before lunch
On the 2nd visit to Galatina: no calorie-counting when on vacation.

On silent streets there were churches with intricate carvings and curious histories. Directly below, La Basilica di Santa Caterina di Alessandria was right next to the cafe/gelateria and is worth visiting for its narrative frescoes. It’s easy to recognize as soon as you see Jesus and the 12 Apostles above the entrance.

La Basilica di Santa Caterina di Alessandria

The Church of the Most Holy Trinity

Taken from the description fronting another church:
The Church of the Most Holy Trinity is an interesting example of both Renaissance architecture of the Salento area and religious life in the territory of Otranto. Its construction, commenced in 1579, is attributed to the Nardò-born architect Giovanni Maria Tarantino, and the edifice was the seat of the Brotherhood of Mercy or the Flagellants as they were called because of a severe regulation that obliged the brothers to practice bloody self-flagellation and to wear the cilice.

Galatina

Side street in Galatina

The sea urchin merchants of Gallipoli

Sea urchin stand

2nd day in Salento – it was the briny smell of salt air that first welcomed me. There we were heading towards the historical center of Gallipoli, half-attentive to what the GPS navigator was saying, when out of the corner of my eye I see a small gathering of men standing next to what looked like to be a food stall. What in the? No way, it couldn’t be. Sea urchins? Just like that out in the open? And they’re eating them at 10:30 in the morning??? I couldn’t tell MotH to stop the car. In that moment it was a mess of vehicles moving at a steady pace, and he was taking care not to run over any slow pedestrians.

Known as riccio di mare (REE-choh dee MAH-reh), uni in Japan, and ha’uke’uke in Hawaii, along with the more venomous wana that is best to avoid, sea urchin is an acquired taste. I grew up eating the helmet or shingle urchin types as a child, so for me this was 100% comfort food. The ones served in Italy are of the paracentrotus lividus species – Black Sea Urchin – and its eggs, or gonads, are what makes for exquisite consumption. The best way to eat them in this country is fresh on a plate of spaghetti. It is gustatory nirvana. Delicately sweet, rich, silky with a hint of iodine, forbidden… We each ordered a plate to enjoy all to our own, as there was not going to be any food sharing at the table that night.

Gallipoli is a beautiful old town to wander in and you’ll want to head to the little island at the end that is attached to the mainland by way of a short bridge. Unfortunately I never got a better look at the urchin stands, only that shot above as we sped by to the next destination.

Would you eat this?
Osteria del Pozzo Vecchio, via M. Silvestro 16, Cavallino LECCE – listed in the Slow Food restaurant guide. Traditional cuisine and pizzas made in a wood-burning stove.

Gallipoli
Walking the narrow streets in the old historical center.