Ai Tre Santi
There is something rather special about Puglia. This is not the verdant landscape of Tuscany or Umbria, the towns are all whitewashed and blindingly white under the baking summer sun and it often feels more Greek than Italian. Here, in this parched countryside, there are more olive trees than people.
Puglia is the heel of the Italian peninsula and it feels a long way from anywhere. This isolation has resulted in a culture of independence and self-reliance that makes it very different to the rest of Italy and a fascinating place to visit for many reasons, not least the amazing cuisine which is very different from other Italian regions. It’s also a region which has experienced great poverty in the past and the phrase cucina povera really does mean something here. One of the best-known traditional dishes is fave e cicoria or La ‘Ncapriata which is the simplest of dishes, absolutely delicious, and is often served as part of the antipasti course.
Pugliese cuisine has grown beyond cucina povera but it still relies on the seasonal ingredients grown and produced locally and this is what makes it - and Italian food generally - so good. It doesn’t hurt that the olive oil and wine produced locally is excellent too.
The restaurants in Locorotondo are generally good and serve excellent local food. However, if you can get a table at Ai Tre Santi for lunch or dinner then we suggest you eat there. Situated away from the more touristy parts of town in one of the beautifully manicured whitewashed backstreets it is a delight to enjoy a meal in such timeless surroundings.
For antipasti, try the polpette di pane or meatless meatballs made from stale bread. Here’s that cucina povera again - Italians do not waste food and the recipes using up stale bread are legion. Try the beef carpaccio which seemed very popular. Another utterly delicious dish on the menu is the burrata with beautiful sun-ripened tomatoes, basil, and Pugliese olive oil. Pretty close to heaven…
The pasta dishes are fairly standard for what you would expect to find but the orecchiette con ragu and the ravioli made with cinghiale are all recommended. There is no separate vegetarian menu but that doesn’t mean that as a vegetarian you can’t eat well - Italian cuisine generally is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Also on the menu was the fave e cicoria, so much part of the Pugliese culinary fabric.
Having stuffed ourselves with the antipasti and pasta courses we declined secondi which included bistecca, veal, and rabbit. Some people tend to be a little squeamish when it comes to eating rabbit but the Italians will prepare a meltingly delicious meal with rabbit which will have you sopping up the juices with a hunk of bread - or fare una scarpetta as they say.. If you eat meat, try the rabbit with patate al forne.
Nobody ever eats dessert because they’re still hungry, do they? So, even if you’re sated, try either the pannacotta or the tiramisu - cliches they might be but they are good nonetheless.
After a great meal, enjoy a stroll along the Lungomare, - which might seem a little odd because Locorotondo isn’t near the sea. Lungomare, also known as Via Nardelli, connects the town gardens with the market square and the street is full of restaurants and bars where you can join the Italians on their passeggiata on summer evenings. The Lungomare also has fabulous views over the Itria Valley and you can look out over the ancient olive trees, trulli, and in the distance you will see I Pastini, a vineyard run by Gianni Carparelli. Gianni produces some excellent wines so if you have not already done so, book a tasting at http://www.ipastini.it