A Taste of Puglia with “Little Ear” Pasta and Affordable Wine

When the cold of winter starts to wear on me, I find myself dreaming about warm, sunny places, like southern Italy... 

It seems serendipitous that as the temperature keeps dropping in Colorado, the next Italian Food, Wine & Travel Bloggers group will be tasting and discussing wines from Puglia. Ah yes; sunny and carefree Puglia! The "heel" of Italy's boot, surrounded by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas with beautiful coastlines and olive groves and vineyards in between!

At the bottom of this post you'll find links to other blog posts about this stunning region written by members of the Italian Food Wine and Travel bloggers group. I've also included details on how to join our twitter discussion on Puglia this Saturday, Janurary 6th!

Polignano a mare, Puglia

Polignano a Mare and the Adriatic Coast


A bike tour between the seas

A couple years back, my husband and I pedaled all around Puglia on a self-supported bike tour. Seeing it this way made me realize what a hidden gem this southern corner of Italy is. The uniqueness is what intrigued me the most. The little cone shaped "trulli" houses, the massive olive trees and the polished white city to name a few. We loved the charming seaside towns built on jagged coastlines, as well as the less visited towns and farmland inland. We enjoyed fresh seafood, orecchiette pasta and delicious, plush wines. 

Touring bikes parked at a beach on the Ionian Coast

Loaded touring bikes parked at a beach on the Ionian Coast, south of Taranto

"Dreamland" Arbelobello

"What is this dreamland that I have entered?"

Trulli in Arbelobello

Ancient "Trulli" dwellings with their conical rooftops in Alberbello

Ostuni, Puglia

Ostuni, the white city

Turnip field in Puglia

Turnip field with old dwelling still intact

Some olive trees have lived a thousand years!

Puglia used to be known for producing mass quantities of uninteresting jug wine but today many of the wines are structured and rich. The hot summer sun and cool nights provide the right environment to ripen grapes until they are sweet and juicy. The plump grapes with ample sugar are fermented into fruit-forward wine -- more so than many other Italian reds that tend to be on the leaner side.

The hot climate is also perfect for olive trees. They say that there is one olive tree for every Italian, some 50 million. Puglia is responsible for producing half of Italy's production. That's a lot of olive trees! I can believe it, because in the first few days of our bike tour we were completely surrounded by them. They were everywhere! Some even live up to a thousand years old and have trunks the size of small cars!

olive trees in Puglia

Rows of olive trees, both young and old, line the narrow inland roads

Impressions of Puglia

We found the people in Puglia to be warm, welcoming and carefree. No one seemed to be in a hurry and we were offered homemade bread, olive oil, cooking tips, tastes of this or that and even a bottle of wine with some pasta from a lady who took pity on us because the store was closed for "riposo" (Italy's siesta). Puglia is one of the poorest regions in Italy but it is rich with generous hospitality. We were amazed by the kindness and warmth of complete strangers. Puglia is also rich with fish, olive oil and cheap (but good) wine. We ate and drank well without spending a lot of money.

Fresh catch of the day carved table side at a restaurant in Savelletri

Fresh catch of the day carved table side at a restaurant in Savelletri

The cuisine of Puglia

My handsome man enjoying gnocchi with zucchini in Gorgonzola sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed my papardelle with mussels, tomatoes and white beans in a garlic wine sauce!

This server insisted that we taste Borsci, the after-dinner drink from his home town of Taranto


 Traditional orecchiette pasta from Puglia,

Orecchiette alle cime di rape

Probably the most typical dish in Puglia is orecchiette alle cime di rape, (orecchiette pasta with turnip greens). Orecchiette means "little ears" in Italian, named after their shape (it's kind of a stretch but if you're imaginative you can see the resemblance).These little pasta ears are a classic symbol of Puglia, as they have been around since the 12th century! They are strictly made by hand and consist of semolina flour, salt and water (no eggs). The package that I picked up at the grocery store would probably be scoffed at by the Italian granny nonna's who make these precious babies by hand, but I was excited nonetheless to find them! I was also impressed that this particular brand, HemisFares (get it?) imports their pasta from Italy and even taught me something new with the description on the package: Apparently, although Orecchiette means "little ears" according to local legend, the shape was inspired by the conical roofs of the ancient Apullian houses, the "trulli". Hmm! I wonder if the nonnas would agree. What do you think?


I decided to try and recreate this Apulian specialty and open up some wine from Puglia to go with it. I generally prefer a tomato-based sauce with pasta, however in the spirit of respecting Puglia's most classic dish I decided to accompany these little pasta ears with the traditional turnip green sauce.

Orecchiette alle cime di rape, Puglia's typical dish

Orecchiette alle cime di rape, Puglia's typical dish

It turned out to be a very easy and simple dish: To make it, you actually boil the turnip greens together with the pasta. Then you drain and toss it all together in a sauté pan with a good amount of Italian extra virgin olive oil, garlic and anchovies. Yes, anchovies. I wasn't all that excited about this addition, but they really add a good salty element to the dish without making it fishy.  In fact, if I make it again I will probably add more! To serve, top it with freshly grated pecorino or parmesan, black pepper and a drizzle more of olive oil. Paired with some crusty bread and wine, it's a unique and delightful meal. (Full recipe at the bottom of this post).

The wine

Puglia produces mostly red wines, the two most common being Negroamaro and Primitivo.  Negroamaro is made from the indigenous grapes with the same name that are grown almost exclusively in Puglia. The name, Negro Amaro translates to "black bitter" in Italian. It is a deep, dark wine with ripe fruit, floral aromas and low tannins. I would not describe it as bitter, however it does have a hint of earthiness.

Primitivo is genetically related to California's Red Zinfandel (Zin) and is arguably Puglia's most highly revered red. Compared to Red Zin that can be quite expensive, Primitivo's are generally in the modest $10-$15 range. Styles can vary, but often these wines are robust with jammy flavor and medium to high alcohol and tannins. I would suggest both Negroamaro and Primitivo as "gateway" Italian wines for people who want to branch out from drinking California Zin, Merlot and Argentinian Malbec.

Primitivo and Negroamaro

 Puglia's stars, Negroamaro and Primitivo are delicious and affordable

I decided to open one of each to taste with our orecchiette dish. I picked up the 12 e Mezzo of Primitivo and Negroamaro, each $12.99 retail. This particular producer makes sustainable wines "for today's younger generation". Their website states: "Created by Marzia, Angelo and Francesca, the 3 “under 30” children of the Varvaglione family, the brand focuses on lower alcohol and fashionable labels – combining the millennial style of easy drinking, quality wines with cool, eye-catching design."  http://www.winesu.com/12-e-mezzo.html

Primitivo and Negroamaro

12 e Mezzo

I'd be lying if said these labels didn't catch my eye. I was also intrigued that these wines were much lower in alcohol than others that I have seen (only 12.5% for each). The Negroamaro was flavorful with sweet ripe cherries and very low tannins. It's the kind of wine that goes down a little too easy, if you know what I mean.

The Primitivo was also fruit-forward but it had a bit more structure and notes of vanilla and spice. It was evident that this wine had spent some time in oak. It turns out that it is aged in American oak for one year before release. Both wines surprisingly paired nicely with the pasta. I thought that the anchovies would clash with the red wine, but it wasn't so. I think that since the anchovies added more of a salty than fishy element with ample olive oil and the fact that neither wine was hugely tannic, it made a descent pair. Most importantly, the wine and pasta brought back warm and wonderful memories of our time spent cycling around Puglia. It's a place that I would be happy to visit again and again, and I do; everytime I open up a bottle of Primitivo or Negroamaro!

The Ionian Coast of Puglia

Taking in the sun and the cool water on the Ionian coast of Puglia

Have you ever been to Puglia? If so, what were your impressions? Have you tasted Primitivo, Negroamaro or orecchiette? What did you think?

Join the discussion:

This Saturday from 9am-10am Mountain Time the Italian Food, Wine and Travel bloggers group will be chatting about all things Puglia from travel, cuisine, wine and personal experiences. We would love for you to join us! All you need to do is sign into Twitter at the designated time and search #ItalianFWT. Click on latest to see the discussion and please feel free to chime in!

I also recommend these other blog posts about Puglia, written by the knowledgeable and entertaining members of our bloggers group! Check them out!

Katarina, at Grapevine Adventures will share the article Let’s Talk Nero di Troia and Primitivo in Puglia.

Wendy Klik at A Day in the Life on the Farm gives us a wine and food pairing tip with Primitivo and Pasta from Puglia.

Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Orecchiette e Tormaresca Neprica.

Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares Traveling to Puglia via South Florida: My Adopted Italian Grandparents.

Susannah at Avvinare shares Puglia – A Land of Abundance.

Jill at L’Occasion shares Vineyards of Puglia.


Orecchiette alle cima di rape

  1. 8oz of orecchiette pasta
  2. 1 bunch turnip greens
  3. 4-6 anchovies, chopped into little pieces
  4. 1/2 cup Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  5. 2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped finely
  6. 1/4 cup perorino or parmesan cheese
  7. salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  1. Remove turnip leaves from their stalks
  2. Boil pasta and turnip leaves together in one pot
  3. Meanwhile sautee garlic and anchovies in olive oil on medium for about 5 minutes
  4. Drain pasta and turnip greens and toss in the sautee pan with the olive oil, garlic and anchovies
  5. Stir for a couple more minutes, being sure to coat pasta with olive oil mixture
  6. Plate up and drizzle with fresh olive oil, grated pecorino cheese and salt and cracked pepper
  7. Enjoy with an affordable wine from Puglia and let the meal take you away to this sunny, carefree corner of Italy!
The Traveling Somm http://thetravelingsomm.net/

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  1. I nearly made this same recipe and I did use the same brand of pasta. Great minds….Puglia looks wonderful…I envy you your trip.

    • Wendy, I think a combination of both of our recipes would be delish – turnip greens with sausage and tomatoes…might leave out the anchovies for that one though. Puglia IS wonderful, and so often overlooked by visitors.

  2. Beautiful photos and a great recipe to boot! Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  3. Thank you for sharing these inspirational thoughts and photos with us! I’ve always wanted to do a bike tour – do you frequently travel by two wheels?

    Wonderful post!

    • Jill, you absolutely should do it! Bicycle touring is one of the most liberating feelings I’ve ever had – pure independence and self-reliance! I’ve been on over a dozen self-supported bike tours and it’s something that I hope to continue to do as long as my body allows it!. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  4. Beautiful…your trip sounds to have been amazing. 🙂 Cool that you picked the Varvaglione wine for this article this month. Last summer, I visited their winery and met Marzia, etc…

    • Yes it was truly amazing…except for getting caught in hurricane Sicorro winds and being totally exposed on bicycles! (I left that part out ;)) But other than that we LOVED it! That is so cool that you’ve visited the winery! Not that I am surprised 😉 Thanks for hosting and reading!

  5. What an incredible trip! Your photos and stories of Puglia truly make me want to leave winter stateside and travel to Southern Italy right NOW!
    So happy to discovered your blog through #ItalianFWT.

    • Thank you, what a great compliment! I’m with you – the winter months make me want to go to southern Italy too!

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