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Christmas in Apulia

Right down in the heel of Italy’s boot sits Apulia. This is the land that Restaurant Manager Gianrico calls home. Since his return to the Manor Gianrico’s been educating the team on his region’s wines; Nero di Troia, Minutolo and Faraone make a happy trio. Today we’re chatting about Christmas in Apulia. 

In Italy the Christmas tradition is very connected to the real meaning of Christmas. With religion at the forefront, the most important thing is family. Trains and motorways are full as everyone travels home in time for mass on Christmas Eve and then to spend as much time with family as possible. The Italians are renowned for having very long Christmas meals. We will sit at 1pm, and not stand up until around 7pm/ 8pm in the evening. That doesn’t mean we’re solely eating! We’re chatting, playing games, and laughing together.

In the village where I come from our live nativity is very well recognised. All of the village take part, about 300 actors in total, and people from all around hire coaches to attend. You have Joseph, Maria and baby Jesus in the middle in a grotto, and around them are stalls representing the old artisanal traditions of the region: making baskets with dry branches, repairing antique Greek clay pots or cooking and making bread in the bread oven. Three years ago when my daughter was two and a half months old I played the role of Joseph, my wife was Maria, and our daughter played Jesus. There are seven days of Christmas and the nativity takes place every day starting on the 26th and finishing on the 6th January when we celebrate the three kings visiting Jesus. Every night all 300 actors party together and eat the food that they have prepared.

The traditional dishes in Apulia are connected to the agricultural traditions of the region but also to the sea republics which imported a lot of food from across the world. Oddly enough then, one of the traditional foods in Apulia is salted cod imported from Norway. The cod may come deep fried or cooked in a pan with tomatoes, capers, olives and onion. Another traditional food is fresh grilled eel. The typical pasta from Apulia is Orecchiette; that’s the typical shape of handmade pasta and it’s served with turnip tops and salted anchovies. It’s a very wintery dish. Then there’s also roasted lamb with tassel hyacinth which is a kind of edible hyacinth; you only eat the bulb and that grows underground in very pure lands.

Christmas time is the time of the olive oil making, so you may have a lot of bruschetta with olive oil, and also a kind of sourdough with potatoes which we deep fry. There are two kinds of these ‘pettola’; the salty and the sweet. You kneed chopped tomato, chopped capers, and chopped anchovies, into the salty one, then deep fry. The sweet one is served with sapa which is a concentrated grape juice, very very sweet, almost like honey.

… our very own Apulia nativity superstar will be chatting to us in January about the differences between Italian and English hospitality. 

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