S.A.L.T. Lab Lessons From Puglia: We Tweak a Classic Orecchiette, and It’s Divine
In this series of stories, we share some of the most popular recipes taught at S.A.L.T. Lab, all inspired by our experiences in the Mediterranean. We hope you’ll join us, both onboard and off.
As Italians we know a thing or two about lunch boxes. We’ve even built dishes around them. Take the fagioli al fiasco (literally “beans in a flask”): For this traditional rustic Tuscan recipe, beans were slow-braised overnight in the fireplace in a terra cotta flask with water, olive oil, salt, garlic and herbs, using residual embers from the day’s cooking. The next morning, the flask was ready to be taken to the fields, the factory or the artisanal bottega.
Then there’s the tiella, a clay pot with a lid, which used to be wrapped in a cloth to keep the dish warm and the lid in place as it was transported by farmers and shepherds. Tiella was also the name of the dish cooked in it: This was typically a casserole, and the original recipe called for baked white rice and mussels.
At S.A.L.T. Lab we’ve used the concept of a tiella to put a fresh spin on an all-too-popular Pugliese specialty: orecchiette con le cime di rapa (orecchiette with broccoli rabe). That dish has become so ubiquitous it’s hard to think of anything else when ordering at a local restaurant, but any true Pugliese will tell you there is so much more to taste.
When Adam Sachs, global director of the S.A.L.T. program, and I set out to select Italian recipes to teach at S.A.L.T. Lab, the on-board kitchen-laboratory hosting our destination-inspired cooking sessions, we knew we wanted to create a strong connection with our shore experiences. For Puglia we turned to the Montaruli brothers, Francesco and Vincenzo, and this tiella of baked, cheesy orecchiette is their idea.
The brothers, who own restaurant Mezza Pagnotta and also maintain a residency at the gorgeous Villa Fenicia in Ruvo di Puglia, near Bari, are hosts of S.A.L.T. Experiences: “The Wild Side of Puglia.” On this adventure with the region’s legendary foragers, they take guests to forage and cook with them on the Altopiano delle Murge.
For this unique trip, best suited for guests who like to hike, we head to a karkastic plain, barren and almost moon-like, shaped like a rectangle, between the Tavoliere delle Puglie (“Italy’s barn,” sown with wheat and oat), to the north, and picture-perfect Salento, to the south, is a soul-stirring place.
That’s where for centuries the locals have gone to pick wild vegetables. The Montarulis forage on the Murge with a local legend, an old man called Ciccillo, who sports a huge silver moustache and rides a Gilera motorcycle with off road wheels, a massive bunch of wild herbs and flowers strapped to strapped to the back.
The Montarulis specialize in smack-your-lips, veggie-centric Mediterranean cuisine; much of the “new cucina italiana” is going in this direction. Our guests love to hear about the new league of Italian chefs and how they’re rethinking our classics. At the beginning of our classes I show them the book I published on the subject (The New Cucina Italiana, 2021, Rizzoli New York), as we keep a copy in the Lab. There’s even a chapter on the Montarulis. Then we get to work.
I found as we were teaching this recipe at S.A.L.T. Lab that many of our guests knew orecchiette (literally “tiny ears”, because of their shape), which are common in the south of Italy, particularly in Puglia. Some of them had even taken pasta classes and knew how to make them from scratch.
What most people didn’t know however was that there’s a substantial difference between fresh pasta made in the north of Italy and fresh pasta made in the center-south.
In the north, pasta for tagliatelle, tortellini, etc. calls for eggs and common wheat flour (the so-called “tipo 00”). There are few exceptions to this: Passatelli, for instance, are a kind of fresh pasta that uses fewer eggs but incorporates Parmesan and bread crumbs. In the center and south, fresh pasta is just Durum wheat flour (semola) and water, nothing else.
Such is the case for orecchiette: the dough is rolled, then cut in cubes, which are flattened and dragged out on the bench with the tip of the thumb and finally turned inside out.
Other popular formats in Puglia are troccoli (sort of thicker tagliolini) and cavatelli (elongated gnocchi, folded in the middle). Some pastifici even make fogliette di ulivo (olive leaves) to honor the region’s most famous natural symbol. As we make this dish in the Lab, many point to the similarities with baked ziti. After all, they’re both types of pasta al forno, baked pasta au gratin, a versatile preparation.
While we clean, blanch and sauté the cime di rapa, we talk about the many ways this same concept – making pasta, adding a sauce, meat, vegetables, topping it with cheese and finishing it in the oven until crispy golden on top and gooey inside – can be applied to many recipes.
For this tiella we use caciocavallo, a stretch-curd cheese made from either cow’s or sheep’s milk, very common in the Center and South of Italy where it takes on different nuances depending on what milk is used (in some cases it has to come from a specific cow’s breed) and how it’s cooked and aged. If you can’t find it, you can substitute it with provolone (which belongs to the same family). Pro tip for you: always remember to reserve some pasta water (which in this case in the same water the broccoli rabe were blanched in), as the starch released by the pasta while cooking will help you thicken any sauce. Enjoy!
TIELLA DI ORECCHIETTE AL FORNO
INGREDIENTS / Serves 4
2 pounds or 1 kilo turnip greens
14 ounces or 400 grams orecchiette pasta
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 chile, minced
7 ounces or 200 grams grated caciocavallo
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 350F.
- Prepare the turnip greens by removing the stems. Keep all the young and tender floral shoots.
- Bring a pot with plenty of salted water to a boil. As soon as the water boils, add the turnip greens in it and let them cook just until soft.
- Remove them from the water and let them cool under cold water. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a pan, and sauté the garlic and chile. In the same cooking water add the orecchiette and let them cook for about 10 minutes. When ready, drain the pasta, and add it together with the turnip greens into the pan with the garlic and chile.
- Add the grated caciocavallo mixing well to incorporate all the ingredients.
- Transfer to a serving dish, lightly greased with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle the surface with more grated caciocavallo.
- Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Onboard Silversea’s Silver Moon and Silver Dawn (and soon to debut on Silver Nova) Silversea’s S.A.L.T., which stands for Sea and Land Taste, is an innovative new program celebrating the culinary arts of our destinations. There are four pillars to S.A.L.T. At S.A.L.T. Kitchen, a restaurant dedicated to showcasing food and wine from the region in which the ship is traveling, the regional menu offers daily-changing options based on the port of the day. In S.A.L.T. Lab, guests enjoy the challenge of cooking regional dishes. S.A.L.T. Bar celebrates cocktails made with local ingredients. All aim to bring the experience of life onshore onto Silver Moon. The S.A.L.T. Experiences program moves in the opposite direction. This exclusive-to-Silversea series of shore excursions, hand-curated by local experts in the worlds of cuisine and wine, offer personal connections to the places we visit.