Ottimo with its emphasis on showcasing traditional Italian cuisine, brings to us the food from the region of Apulia or Puglia till the 18th of June. Popularly known as the ‘heel of Italy’s boot’ this sun blessed region enjoys all the benefits of hugging the Mediterranean coastline. The produce is fresh and the rustic dishes are kissed by the sea. You have just a week to enjoy these signature dishes that Chef Greco Vittoria has lovingly crafted.
While Santorini enjoys all the Instagram fame with its whitewashed walls, turquoise blue oceans and stunning views – Apulia in Italy shares the same attributes without all the hype. The centuries-old farmland and proximity to the sea, make this a gourmet heaven. Puglia is famous for its ‘Cucina Povera’ or dishes from the ‘Kitchen of the Poor’ and that should give you an idea of the honest-to- goodness food you can expect. The town is also famous for its food fairs which reach their peak in the Summer and we get to experience a small glimpse of that in Ottimo.
Zucchini Flowers are all the rage in Summer and the Antipasti goes the traditional way and serves us Zucchini Flowers stuffed with Ricotta and Smoked Scarmoza. The non-vegetarian version comes stuffed with Seabass, but in this case the smoky scarmoza blew the seabass out of the water. One of my favourite courses for the evening, the zucchini flowers were served with zucchini spirals and a red pepper sauce. Art on a plate and a party in your mouth!
The next antipasti came with a very interesting story. The Friselle looks like a flattened doughnut that has been sitting on the counter too long. If you and I walked by a bakery in Puglia, we would probably ignore this rock hard bread. But that’s because we don’t know what to do with it! The Friselle is a twice baked hardy bread that is meant to last for ages. Fishermen took it with them on long fishing trips as they did not go bad. When it was time to eat, they cleverly soaked them in water (or the stories say seawater) and then piled them high with tomatoes and olive oil. This rock hard bread then transforms into a lovely chewy base with a sweet aftertaste. Ottimo served the Friselle With Heirloom Tomatoes, Cucumber slices and Onions with a drizzle of Puglian EVOO. Definitely a first for me!
The Pasta course is rustic and wholesome with an interesting variant called Capunti. Originating in Puglia, this eggless pasta resembles a mini canoe and is favourite gluteny treat to hold the robust sauces. The pasta is traditionally handmade and Chef Vittoria said he spent a good couple of hours training his team here to make it the same way! The capunti reminded me of chewy orecchiette and made a perfect accompaniment to the ragout it was served with. A Wild Mushroom Ragout one for the veggies and an incredible Lamb Ragout with Ricotta Salata for the meat lovers.
Another handmade pasta shaped like a braid called Lorighittas is also on offer with Zucchini Flowers and Prawns. If the Capunti took some serious learning to make, I’m convinced the lorighittas need a degree! The seafood sauce was sublime and the pink prawns made this a very memorable dish.
Puglia also serves some fabulous pizzas (it’s in Italy after all) and we tried a slice of each of the varieties. The Pizza Frutti di Mare came loaded with prawns, calamari and beautiful white fish in a fresh tomato sauce and the Cherry Tomato and Olive Pizza came loaded with chunks of the most delicious Burrata. A win-win combination!
We ended the meal with the famed Ottimo Tiramisu, though I was sad to see that there was no Puglian dessert. I’ve heard that Pasticciotto, a flaky pastry encasing a custard filling flavored with cherries, is quite the dreamy treat. We’ll just have to wait for it next year I suppose!
The Apulia festival is on till the 18th of June for dinner at Ottimo. For reservations call +91 80 4345 5000.
All Pictures Courtesy: ITC Gardenia
1 Residency Road, Bangalore 560025.
Parking: Valet Available
Cost: Rs. 4000/++ for a meal for two with drinks.