Puglia, Italy

Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Orecchiette in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Traveling has become a second job for me and Italy is the country that we have had the pleasure of traveling to the most in our few years in Europe. We’ve been to Milan, Venice, Verona, the Italian Alps, Val D’Aosta, Piemonte, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Lucca, Turin, Rome, Florence, Bologne, Pisa, Sienna, Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and many more tiny little villages in between. You name it, we’ve been there. Usually we end up in Italy somewhere because the draw of the sunshine and the delicious food always wins out over other options. Not only that, but there is so much to see and do as the country is very diverse from top to bottom.

Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

However, we realized we had really been missing out on a very important part of Italy. THE SOUTH. We have heard so much about this magical place (most of all about the beautiful beaches and abundant fresh veggies) and were dying to explore. So when a couple of our Italian friends were visiting Puglia for a long holiday, we were lucky enough to be invited along and as you can imagine we jumped at the chance.

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Puglia is relatively untouched compared to the more well known parts of Italy. The landscape and architecture in this corner of the world is beautiful in its own right and the weather is absolutely amazing! The sun shines most of the day and blue skies are the norm. The people are incredibly friendly and the food is so fresh and flavorful. You can see tomatoes getting red in the intense sun, huge watermelon fields on the sides of the roads and olive trees just about everywhere you look. If you look a bit closer, you’ll be sure to see fig, lemon, orange, almond and pomegranate trees and zucchini and chili plants growing in every tiny untouched piece of earth. The super sunny climate is perfect for growing some of my favorite fruits and vegetables and you can very much taste the difference. The tomatoes are especially flavorful and should most definitely be eaten with every meal in some shape or form!

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Patu in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Patu in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Though all the locally grown produce is absolutely delicious, the seafood must not be forgotten. Mussels, clams, calamari and fish of all sorts are in abundance. The best place to indulge is right by the sea where you can either buy the super fresh catch of the day to take home or find a little restaurant that will serve some up for you. We couldn’t resist doing both many times!

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Life is slow and relaxed and you can very quickly find yourself adapting to this way of life! You don’t ever need a watch, you can tell the time of day by when people take a lengthy afternoon siesta and when they rise again. Long afternoon naps in the heat suited me just fine.

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

We stayed in a beautiful tiny little village close to the very tip of the boot where the Adriatic and Ionic seas meet. With either sea only 15 minutes east or west, Patu is the perfect place to spend your days by the sea and your evenings enjoying the cooler temperatures, watching the locals slowly come out and catch up with each other about the days events.

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Vongole Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

I’m always so amazed at the kindness of people, especially the ones who invite you into their homes to share cooking secrets and their favorite local foods. I suppose it’s not really that surprising because food is a thing to be shared and culturally it’s natural to eat with others. Especially here in this part of Italy where food is given with love and in huge quantities.

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

I was so excited to spend the afternoon with Francesca, her mother and a couple of her local friends. Francesca owns a little B&B in Patu called Buongiorno (how fitting) and loves cooking and food as much as I do! She has a cellar full of all her organic canned tomatoes and fruit jams- all done at home from local produce of course. She is passionate about the quality of her ingredients as much as she is about the end product itself.

We spent the afternoon making a very local pasta that is made without eggs and twisted up into lovely long twirls called Sagne Torte. After I had some lessons in the correct twirling form, I tried my hand at the most delicious (and incredibly fattening) traditional pastries from the area, called Pasticciotto Leccese. These were also lots of fun to make using local ingredients along with the homemade mandarin jam that was delectably hidden in the middle of these beautiful sweets.  They were delicious right out of the oven and just as delicious a couple hours later when we snuck another yummy bite! Even though we didn’t share any of the same languages, the language of food is strong enough and we had a lovely time cooking together!

Pasticciotto Leccese , Italy | Fig + Honey
Pasticciotto Leccese , Italy | Fig + Honey
Pasticciotto Leccese , Italy | Fig + Honey

Most parts of Italy are amazing, but if you’re looking for the more untouched, less touristy and very authentic part, then Puglia is where you must go. You will find yourself enjoying the slow ways of life and very obvious connection to the land and sea that all the people seem to have. Theres a lot of passion about this place and if you’re lucky, you might find someone that will share theirs with you. Can’t wait to return!

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Pasticciotto Leccese , Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Where we stayed

A Patu in Corte  – A beautifully decorated apartment right in the middle of the village behind a very unassuming door.  Great cooking facilities, beautiful decor and lovely stone sinks! Perfect place to spend a week and very very close to both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

Where we relaxed

Lido Gold Beach Club – A relatively small quiet piece of beach overlooking the Ionian sea compared to the huge and full beach clubs on either side.  Great beach chairs and umbrellas and much nicer design than some of the competition and a little farther down the beach to escape some of the crowds!

 

Matera, Italy

Sassi in Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

It’s rather unfortunate to say, but after traveling all of Europe for the past three years, most of the little medieval villages across the continent tend to blend together. It’s not that they’re not all uniquely beautiful and equally amazing, it’s just that most of these places were built in a similar time period with similar materials for similar purposes.

Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera Sassi, Italy | Fig + Honey

Matera however, breaks all of the rules. It’s so uniquely different to anywhere I have been to in Europe so far (or the rest of the world for that matter) and it was very much unexpected. Matera is located all the way down south in the heel of the Italian boot where the sun always shines. Supposedly it was created in the 3rd century BC making it significantly older than most of the European settlements that I’ve visited before. I have a hard time wrapping my head around these numbers as you expect the world to have changed so much more in so much time.

Matera, Italy | Fig + HoneyMatera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sassi in Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

The Sassi (stone built houses) of Matera are really what have made this place so famous. As the world moved into more modern times, thousands of people came to live in these caves and houses built into the landscape. However, as there was no running water or modern conveniences, they were considered completely unlivable and very much associated with complete poverty. In the 50’s this “shame of Italy” was completely emptied by the government and its inhabitants relocated to housing projects. Over the years, these buildings are slowly transforming again into livable and modern hotels and houses, but many still remain abandoned.

Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sassi in Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

The background is just so fascinating but it’s probably enough of the history lesson. By far, this is one of my favorite places in the world and it’s very easy to see why. The color palate is completely muted and is really what makes Matera feel so surreal. Neutral tones everywhere contrast deeply with the windows letting very little light into these stone buildings. The result makes you really feel like you are transported back in time.

Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

We were lucky to get a room in the Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita which has transformed quite a few of these Sassi into a very modern hotel. The original furniture throughout is starkly contrasted with the beautiful bathtub in the corner of a candlelit room. However everything comes together just perfectly and is actually incredibly romantic. The large breakfast spread is all locally sourced and of course delicious. Mozzarella for breakfast works so well!

You must visit this little corner of the world if you ever have the opportunity. It’s breathtaking, fascinating, beautiful and humbling all in one go.

Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

Where we stayed:

Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita – A very historically restored hotel set a little off the beaten path.  Amazing views, beautiful rooms and a great mission to protect the heritage of Italy.

Where we ate:

PaneCotto – Great lunch spot serving locally made food.  You must try the mozzarella and the fried dried peppers.  The focaccia is one of the best I’ve ever had and is perfect with the proscuitto and local tomatoes!

Il Terrazzino – Restaurant with the perfect view overlooking the Sassi di Matera.  Try the baked orecchiette – it’s delicious but incredibly filling!

Trattoria Lucana – We went here based on so many good reviews of the place but were a bit disappointed.  The food was mediocre, the atmosphere was lacking and wine was relatively overpriced. After talking to some locals it sounds like the place has changed hands and has been declining in popularity for some time now.

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey

Santorini is a breathtakingly beautiful place. You see the pictures of this amazing Greek island all over the place. In magazines, Pinterest, your Instagram feed and you never seem to come across a bad picture. The views are absolutely spectacular and definitely unforgettable.

On our way from Folegandros, we made a pit stop on the island of Santorini. We were lucky enough to stay in Oia, the little village at the very tip of the island known for its amazing sunset views. And amazing sunset views it did deliver. My husband managed to find a little cave house at the absolute tip of the island with an enormous private patio with nothing else to look at but the horizon. Needless to say, I was very fortunate to spend my birthday in this little slice of paradise!

Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey

The only downside was that we were only able to spend one day and night there and had little chance to explore the rest of the island (which I’m told is also beautiful). Oia is filled little boutiques and restaurants all with a great view of the caldera. The caldera for those of you that don’t know (I found out when I got there) is the collapsed remains of a volcano. Santorini’s windy, up and down paths are fun to navigate and slightly precarious at times. I managed to slip and fall on my ass within hours of being there, smashing our only postcard in the process. However, that could just be because I’m rather clumsy at times!

Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey Santorini, Greece | Fig and Honey

A couple of days in the high season would be enough to enjoy this paradise as it’s quite full of tourists. But if you can find a secluded spot like ours, I would recommend at least a week! 

Where we stayed:

White Pearl Sunset Villa

The views were magnificent from this villa. It’s located on the furthest point of the island and boasts the most amazing sunset view. It was lovely having a gorgeous patio to ourselves as many people start looking for the perfect spot to view the sunset quite early as space is limited in the village!

Folegandros, Greece

Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey

With our time in Europe flying by and traveling to see the best of what it has to offer, I’m really not sure why we waited so long to visit Greece and all its many islands. It was the perfect location for much needed relaxation for both my husband and I. The landscape is very inspiring and unlike a lot of the areas we have explored so far. Then you have the weather which makes it just perfect for a vacation.

The summer in Germany often leaves much to be desired and although it does have its good days, a lot of the produce is flown in so there is variety. Most of the time it comes from the south of Europe which for the most part has beautiful weather. When ever we travel to the south, we tend to stay in hotels so I never have the chance to cook with all this fantastic fresh and very local produce. This time we decided that we were going to do things a bit differently and try out a rental house for a week. Yes, I know people do this all the time, but in my head were visions of hideously decorated tiled apartments complete with dingy mini-kitchenettes. Wow was I wrong! These types of apartments still do exist, but there are some absolutely beautiful options out there.

Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey

We ended up renting a beautiful house on the Greek island of Folegandros. The island is perfectly quiet and relatively untouched by tourism which is exactly how I like it. The only way to reach the island is by ferry or by helicopter- we opted for the first option for obvious reasons! Once you leave the port, there is basically one road that goes straight up the island from one end to the other. After a few days of exploring the island by foot and getting some much needed exercise, we rented an ATV (or Quad bike if you’re British) and cruised down to the port to convince the fishermen to sell us some freshly caught Red Mullet. After a bit of help from a local who spoke fantastic English, the fisherman reluctantly sold us some and I started dreaming up ideas of how to cook it! Having a set of wheels also let us drive the entire island exploring secluded beaches and beautiful sunsets.

Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey Folegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey

Since there are no major sites to be seen on the island, we took full advantage of our free time and happily ate, drank, read, hiked and sunbathed the day away. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else! After a whirlwind year so far, this was the perfect seclusion and relaxation to set us back on track to enjoy what the rest of the year has to bring!

Folegandros, Greece | Fig & HoneyFolegandros, Greece | Fig & HoneyFolegandros, Greece | Fig & HoneyFolegandros, Greece | Fig & HoneyFolegandros, Greece | Fig & HoneyFolegandros, Greece | Fig & Honey 
Where we stayed:

Villa Lithia – These beautiful villas are just a stones throw from Chora. They’re far enough to feel a bit secluded and close enough that you can walk into town, which is just what we wanted. We stayed in the larger of the three, Villa Levanda which had phenomenal views, was tastefully decorated and well appointed.  We were provided with lovely fresh bread, greek yogurt and loads of fresh fruit every day. Sara and Haris are great hosts and make you feel very welcome. If you’re in Folegandros, you must stay here!

Where we ate:

Chic Restaurant – The food was lovely here and the little square was very lively.  We really enjoyed the lamb with prunes and the giant beans! The best part was that everything was locally grown and raised either on the island or within 100km.

Rakendia Bar – It’s just on the outskirts of Chora and has the most beautiful view of the water, especially when the sun sets!

Cooking at Castello Di Verduno, Italy

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

For the past two weeks, I’ve been spending my days in Turin, Italy. Lucky for me, my husband had to travel there for work and instead of staying home alone, I decided to go with him. Who wouldn’t want to sit in a lovely Italian cafe and have a coffee and go shopping for beautiful leather shoes! I had a lovely time to say the least and just couldn’t get enough of the amazing gelato and pizza – my favorite foods!

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

On the weekend, we decided to get out of the city and drive south to the Piemonte countryside. It’s absolutely beautiful much like Tuscany with old medieval villages scattered across rolling hills of farmland. It was even better that Spring was in full swing and the blossoms were out all over the landscape. This corner of the world still has that untouched feeling that is fading slightly in other parts of Italy. Piemonte is home to the famous truffles of Alba, the famous chocolate of Torino and some of my favorite red wines in the world, Barbereso and Barolo.

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

I’m always eager to try the local cuisine of the places that we visit. Usually I spend ages finding the perfect places to go and dishes to eat as I’m never satisfied with tourist fare. One of my dreams is to cook in as many countries around the world as I can! Lucky for me, that the lovely Alessandra from Castello di Verduno agreed to spend one day teaching me some traditional Italian dishes from the region in her kitchen. To start the day off, we went shopping for ingredients in Alba. The whole city of Alba is actually filled with market stalls every saturday selling everything from fruits and vegetables to cleaning supplies and clothes. All the people from the surrounding countryside come to do their weekly shop and catch up with friends.

Alba Italy | Fig & Honey

We headed straight for the farmers market which is tucked away in an open air shed across the road from everything else. Here, all the produce comes straight from the farm and is sold usually by the farmers themselves. It was beautiful to see such variety in produce from so many leafy greens to glossy onions. And did you know that during this time of year, most kiwis come from this region of Italy? Apparently even New Zealand has them shipped over since they’re out of season over there.

Alba Italy | Fig & Honey Alba Italy | Fig & Honey

I just loved seeing the relationship between the customers and the farmers. Everyone searching for the best quality and the farmers eager to provide it. Now if only I could find something similar here in Köln!

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

After the farmers market, we headed back to Castello di Verduno to start cooking! We found so many seasonal goodies at the market that we had quite a lot of work to do in the kitchen preparing all sorts of different dishes.We spent quite a few hours learning and cooking the many dishes that follow and happily enjoyed it all after with lovely bottle of local wine.

Piemonte Italy | Fig & HoneyPiemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

The menu ended up starting with a fresh green salad with greens and radishes from the market accompanied by some fresh flowers that I picked in the garden. We then made Bagna Cauda which is an olive oil, garlic and anchovy sauce local to the area that goes perfectly with cardoon.

We also made a delicious stinging nettle soup with leek and potatoes. In the past, I’ve only had nettles in tea which I have a love hate relationship with.  However, it came out the perfect color green and was surprisingly good!

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

After, we made some vegetarian agnolotti that were filled with cabbage, leek, green onions, and potatoes. These were fun to make and came out beautifully. The vegetarian versions were quite a bit larger than their meat counterparts but were the perfect size for a good bite and a lot of flavor. They tasted delicious with just a simple sage and butter sauce.

Piemonte Italy | Fig & HoneyPiemonte Italy | Fig & Honey 

We also were able to find some fresh hops at the farmers market which are found only in the spring. These are gorgeous blanched and served with a poached egg yolk and a cheese zabaglione. They have such a unique flavor and texture thats different to everything I’ve tasted before. It’s amazing these hops are used later on in the season for beer!

Vegetarian Agnolotti | Fig & Honey

Next for mains, we had some pan fried quail with sautéed artichokes and potatoes. With the little room we had left in our stomachs at this point, we finished it all off with the traditional Bunet – a Piedmontese steamed chocolate and amaretti cake.

Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is a treat for me. I’m always so excited to get out of my own and learn different cuisines and techniques. It’s amazing how similar ingredients can be used in so many different ways around the world. After a full day in the kitchen and overly satisfied stomachs we thanked our hosts and finally made our way back to our hotel. If you’re in the area definitely stop in to eat at this great place or if you’re feeling adventurous, try cooking your food too!

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

Where we cooked: 

Castello di Verduno
Via Umberto I, 9, 12060 Verduno, Italia
Tel. +39 0172 470 125
http://castellodiverduno.com

Where we stayed:

The lovely Palazzo Righini is a luxuriously restored an old convent in the town of Fossano. The service is impeccable and the rooms and grounds are just beautiful. Definitely a perfect place to stay if you are in this area of Italy.

Palazzo Righini
Via Giovanni Negri, 20, 12045 Fossano Cuneo, Italy
+39 0172 666666
www.palazzorighini.it/EN/

Italy-combo12sm

Zimtsterne – German Christmas Cookies

Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

Christmas cookies are quite possibly my favorite thing about Christmas. I love that certain foods are very specific to certain times of the year. On Christmas Eve most years, my family and I bake a batch of sugar cookies and spend the afternoon decorating them in the most perfect way.

My sister always has the most precise and beautiful intricate creations.  My brother will normally spend the entire time decorating one prized cookie that usually looks too good to eat.  My husband usually piles on as much icing as the cookie can handle because he likes the more icing to cookie ratio. For me, usually the first few start out quite well, then I start getting more and more fed up and aim for quantity not quality! It’s always a struggle for the perfectionist in me. However, this afternoon is definitely one of my favorite traditions and the results are usually too good to eat!
Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

This year we’ve been trying lots of different German Christmas cookies.  My favorite so far has been this Zimtsterne. These are traditional cookies that are found in bakeries, markets and supermarkets all over at this time of year.  Translated directly as Cinnamon Stars, they are a meringue based cookie with ground almonds and flavored with cinnamon and lemon zest.  It’s quite simple really and very delicious.  They are however, a pain to make!

The meringue base makes things extra sticky. Usually only copious amounts of powdered sugar can help to solve this problem. Then once you have managed to cut out the stars, the meringue topping must be evenly spread on top of each one. Though for others this might not be a huge issue, for me it’s super time consuming. I like everything to be perfect and that can only be achieved with time! In the end, they didn’t turn out perfect, but they were very delicious! I like to think that the rough edges add to the charm!
Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

Zimtsterne

Makes about 40 -50 stars

  • 3 egg whites
  • 250 g powdered sugar
  • 360 g ground almonds
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • zest of 2 small lemons
  • pinch of salt

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat egg whites until foamy with the whisk attachment. Make sure your bowl is completely clean and free from any oils before you start. Begin adding the powdered sugar in small batches while the mixer is running. Beat until the meringue is very shiny, but before very stiff peaks form.

In a small bowl, remove 50 g of the meringue. Cover and refrigerate.

Next, fold in the ground almonds, cinnamon, zest and salt into the remaining meringue mixture. Fold until evenly distributed, but be careful not to over mix. Tip the contents out onto a large sheet of parchment paper sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with some more powdered sugar and top with another sheet of parchment paper. Roll out the dough till about 1cm thick. Place the whole thing in the refrigerator to cool for a 1/2 hour to an 1 hour. This step is not completely necessary, but things can get very sticky so it makes life a bit easier!

Once the dough is cooled, you can begin cutting. Remove the top sheet of parchment and sprinkle again with a bit of powdered sugar. Dipping your star cookie cutter into powdered sugar each time, cut out the stars and place onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Continue to collect the dough into a bowl and roll out until all is used up.

Preheat the oven to 150°C.Using a offset spatula or a knife, spread the remaining meringue mixture evenly across all stars making sure it doesn’t drip down the sides. Place into the oven and bake fore 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye on them towards the end of 1o minutes so the meringue doesn’t begin to brown.

Let cool on the baking tray for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy when fully cooled and store in an airtight container for up to a few weeks.