2015 – Italy – Manduria and the Sea

Sunday in Manduria – well, let’s just say if you’re not going to church, the church makes sure you are awake. At 8:00am they start ringing bells that reverberate throughout the streets. I thought we were IN the bell tower by the volume of the bells. Luckily we get up early so didn’t disturb our sleep and it was pleasant – almost movie like. So I pictured Sofia Loren casually walking to church in a 1950’s dress and speaking to everyone on the street she passed along the way. In reality, Dick and I left our room through quaint back alleys (didn’t want to get caught in the rush to church) and made our way to the cafe for espresso and juice. Yesterday, Daniela (our expert driver) wore a dress that belonged to her grandmother. She looked exquisite and almost created the Sofia Loren look.

One of our adventures of the day was to go to Antimo’s family olive grove and do an olive oil tasting. Oh my, I think I enjoyed that more than wine tasting. This grove of trees was hundreds of years old. You can tell by the circumference of the trunk of the tree and gnarly growth. It all added to the tree’s charm.

Anna (Antimo’s mom) makes her own olive oil – several ways. If they pick the olives before they mature and fall to the ground, the oil has a slightly bitter taste, and if they wait for the olives to fully ripen and fall to the ground, they have a sweeter taste. Antimo also brought a semi-commercial brand of olive oil that a friend produces to compare. The manufactured olive oil had a sharper flavor with a peppery bite at the back of the mouth. We learned the right acidity level for extra virgin olive oil (between .02-.08). I will have to check my bottle of olive oil from Costco (Italian friends, don’t faint, I use it for bulk stuff, not refined cooking and eating in salads) to see if the label tells the acidity level. All olive oils we tasted were good, but I think I prefer Anna’s the best.

After the tasting we tried frise – a very dry bread shaped like a bagel. In order to eat it you have to soak it in water for a few seconds. Then we slathered it with olive oil, and tomatoes. Who needs cream cheese and salmon? Although that would have been good too. We are just loving the rustic charm of this area and the food is so fresh – you can almost taste it from the aroma of the fruit/vegetable. If the frise are processed correctly (dried with no moisture left), they can be stored for 6-8 months.

The sun was warm and rising in the sky so we were off to the beach. The sand here is white and nice to walk in. The water is very clear it seems like you can see the bottom forever. We walked out into the ocean about 100 yards and we could still touch the bottom. Temperature of the water similar to the pool at Tukwila. I could have stayed in the water for hours but we had more plans for the day, so caught a little sun to dry off, no time to sit and tan today. Now we were off to a cousin’s house for lunch (Antimo has a lot of cousins as you might guess in a small town). I forgot it was a cooking class day too! We were in the oldest part of town in Manduria. The streets were barely wide enough for his small car.

We arrived at this beautiful very tall home. We were escorted through the main floor (living room and kitchen) to the 3rd floor where they had a massada – which is a party or entertaining area. Half of this was a large outside terrace and inside was a large room with another kitchen. This is where I had my cooking class. The main dish for lunch was to be the risotto primitivo – I hoped that today I would be better at cooking this dish or the cat might be eating it instead of us. Thankfully it was a simple dish – warm up olive oil and butter, put in some onions so they are cooked but not caramelized, then add the risotto (Italian measurement – 2 handfuls per person) and a little sage and coat the risotto with the oil/butter/onion mixture. Stir, stir, stir and then add the sausage and primitivo wine. From there it’s stir, add more wine, stir, drink some wine, etc. I think most of the wine got into the dish and not drunk by me, because I was still standing after 45 minutes of cooking, although others were debating that fact. The dish is finished off with parmesan cheese and a little more sage. Perfecto!

Of course no Italian family would sit you down for lunch with just one dish – so out come the appetizers, cheeses, olives, breads, nuts, then eggplant parmesan (better than I’ve ever tasted). We were offered salad but we were too full. Fruits were next (white melon and peaches) followed by cookies, espresso and digestive drink. You can just picture the spread. The family was so gracious.

And I’m thoroughly impressed by the children we’ve encountered – they are between 12-16 years old and they are so polite, stay at the table, and do not have their nose in a cell phone. It is 4:00 pm and we needed a nap – so back to the BNB to rest before going out for dinner. Are you laughing because I just can’t imagine eating another morsel today!!

Did I mention the mosquitos found me the moment I stepped on Italian soil. I don’t know why they don’t bother Dick. My extremities look like a battle field with bloody bites and dead mosquito bits.

We did some laundry in our room and it didn’t dry in time so I got out the hair dryer so we would at least have the essentials if you know what I mean. That created a whole new meaning to “hot pants”. I’m thinking I might even do this at home on cold days. What does one do on a Sunday afternoon between 5:00 and 8:00 pm? All the shops are closed because it is Sunday. We could turn on the TV but we don’t understand enough Italian – although the soap operas are hilarious. We could walk around the town, which we did and found a little flea market outside the church. We ran into Vincenze (Antimo’s dad) and had a short conversation – mostly using our hands and the few Italian words we all knew. If you can’t think of anything else, you drink wine, right? That was our conclusion. 

We found a cute little restaurant and ordered some wine and a short time later, here comes friends from Portland. So we joined them and ended up ordering a pizza and talking for hours. Then Antimo and his friend wandered by our table – they were going to dinner together. Fun to experience this small town atmosphere. Didn’t get back to our BNB until 11:00 pm, but that’s earlier than we’ve gotten home in weeks.

The Old Man and the Olive Tree

Olive oil tasting under the olive trees

About every side street in Manduria turns into a restaurant at 8:00 pm. They just block off the street with a car at each end and put up some trellis, tables and chairs and it transforms into an outside dining experience.

Old olive trees on Antimo’s family property

Cooking class in session

Looks awful but tasted oh so good when cooked

Water spigot outside on the masada

Primitivo risotto ready to eat!

Saw this on our walk about town. Do you see where the run off from this air conditioner is going? Into a plastic jug. Okay then, problem solved.

Antimo and Daniela stopping by our table for a glass of wine before enjoying their evening dinner together.

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