Teresa and the Olive Tree

By Mary Bailey.

A few years ago, I attended Cibus, a specialty food show in Parma, with Teresa Spinelli of the Italian Centre and some of the managers. An Italian food show is really like no other, with an espresso stand every 20 metres, and every variety of ham, coffee, olive oil, cheese, and cookies taking up most of the real estate. While there we stumbled upon the Pellegrino booth, tasted the oil, liked it, and most importantly, liked them, Maria Teresa and her brother Elia.

Fast forward to another trip, this one to San Pietro al Tanagro in Campania (for Teresa’s big birthday celebration) with a side trip to Puglia to see the Pellegrinos, a family with deep roots in agriculture. Their ancestors had bought the Masseria la Spineta, with 138 hectares in olive trees, in 1929. Now they farm 23,000 olive trees, mostly Coratina, with 10 per cent Ogliarola Barese, Peranzana, and Caroleao, each variety bringing different flavour characteristics to their oils. Grown at 250 metres above sea level, the fruit is ideal for high-quality oil.

Think of extra virgin olive oil as a selection. The same way wineries select their best fruit for top-quality bottlings, the best oil is selected to become extra virgin. It is regulated; the oil has to pass a sensory test and be under a certain level of acidity. Add in other regulations such as the actual location of the trees, organic certifications etc. and you have detailed information as to where the oil is actually from and its quality level.

The Pellegrinos make their oil in a straightforward process, combining both ancient — grinding the olives into paste between massive pink granite stones, and modern — cold centrifuge and aseptic bottling techniques.

Teresa chose four oils:

La Spineta Extra Virgin DOP Terra di Bari is made from Coratina olives grown at La Spineta, between the Adriatic sea and Murgia, northwest of Andria. Golden yellow with green glints, intensely fruity when young, developing a sweet almond flavour as the oil matures — excellent for finishing, salads and pizza.

Petraia Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP Terra di Bari is selected from a special parcel, 30 hectares in the heart of la Spineta, from primarily ancient Coratina. A vivid green with golden hues, intensely herbal, with a bitter artichoke finish. Use on salads or as a finishing oil.

Olio Novello blends bitter/spicy Coratina with the sweeter Beranzana variety and is probably the oil that tastes most like olives. It’s made from the first olives to ripen in November — its fresh intensity is well-suited to beans, soups and salumi.

Cru is an extra virgin novello oil in an attractive smaller bottle.

Orecchiette with rapini

Rapini was readily available in Puglia in late September and every day brought another rendition of orecchiette with rapini — sometimes slow cooked until the rapini almost melted into the pasta, sometimes as a pasta you could make for a quick meal. Maria Teresa took us to a portside place in Trani where it was served in the quicker, just-cooked style, so fresh and delicious, like this.

  • 500g orecchiette (or follow package directions for four people)
  • 1-2 bunches rapini
  • 2 pepperoncini (to taste)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper

Trim the rapini of tough ends and wilted leaves. Wash carefully, as rapini can be gritty, but do not dry. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add pasta. Cook to al dente, then drain, reserving some cooking water.

Heat the garlic in the pan until fragrant. Add the rapini to the pan and sauté until wilted, while the pasta is boiling. Remove the garlic, then toss rapini with the hot pasta, over heat, adding a little cooking water to create a sauce.

Add the pepperoncini if using, grate over ricotta salata or pecorino and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a first course.

Cavatelli with beef roll-ups

This simplified version of a classic Italian dish is adapted from The Puglian Cookbook, Bringing the Flavors of Pulgia Home, by Viktorija Todorovska. I met Viktorija on a French Wine Academy study trip to the Rhone Valley a few years ago. Viktorija, who lives and teaches wine and cooking in Chicago, had just finished the manuscript. I was thrilled to see her book listed on Amazon the next year. It captures the essential flavours, and also the ease, of Pugliese cooking.

  • ½ lb sirloin
  • ½ c grated pecorino cheese
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled, sliced thin
  • salt and fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 2 c red wine
  • 1 can (28 oz) tomatoes, chopped

Thinly slice beef into four pieces and pound to about 1/8 inch thick (or have the butcher do this). Evenly divide the cheese, garlic and parsley among the sirloin pieces, leaving a border of about ½ inch. Roll up the slices and tie with kitchen string or secure with a toothpick.

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Brown beef rolls evenly, about 6 minutes. Add wine and cook over high heat until the wine begins to evaporate. Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat to low and cook for about two hours. Check seasoning and remove string or toothpicks before serving.

In a large pot, boil 4 litres of water. Salt generously, add the cavatelli and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Toss the pasta with the sauce and add more cheese if desired.

Orecchiette di grano arso con cime di zucchine

(Burnt Wheat Orecchiette Pasta with Garlic and Zucchini Tops)

Another specialty of Puglia is grano arso, or burnt wheat. If refers to the grains of wheat that would be left in the field, which would be scavenged later, often when it was dried or burnt by the sun. It is often available at the Italian Centre as a flour or a ready-made pasta. It has a delicious roasted flavour, which suits greens.

Why would someone make pasta with only the leaves and tops of zucchini? It’s about using every edible bit. Grow zucchini, harvest some young and use the greens and tops in a delicious pasta. Another tip: cook the garlic carefully, so it browns into nutty bits of roasted garlic savouriness. Garlic burns easily, becoming very bitter. Alternatively, roast the garlic and add as a purée near the end. You won’t have the crunch of the little roasted garlic bits, but you will have the rich, roasted garlic flavour. Adapted from Puglia in Cucina (2011, Sime Books).

  • 2 c (½ kilo) grano di arso (or follow package directions for four people)
  • 3-5 young zucchini
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • aged ricotta
  • extra virgin olive oil

Clean the zucchini, choosing most tender tops and smallest leaves.

Cook in salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. When cooked, place the pasta in the same pot. While the pasta cooks, fry the garlic in oil until soft and browned.

When the orecchiette are almost cooked, drain everything and sauté well in pan with the garlic and oil until an almost-cream forms. Serve with grated, aged ricotta (ricotta salata). Serves 4.

purée di fave e cicoria

Fava Bean Puree with Wilted Wild Greens

This dish is made from two staples found in the region, fava beans and wild chicory. This bitter green is rarely found in our markets; make with rapini, kale, Swiss chard, dandelion greens or a mixture of all instead. Resist the urge to steam or cook the leaves and tops al dente, as the long cooking ‘melts’ the greens into sauce. Adaped from Puglia in Cucina (2011, Sime Books).

Fava bean puree

  • 500 g (approx ½ pound) dried fava beans, preferably Italian, peeled
  • 1 med carrot
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 sml potato, peeled
  • handful Italian parsley, trimmed
  • sea salt and white pepper

Boil all but the potato gently in water until the beans are soft, approximately two hours. Skim off foam that rises to the surface. Add the potato about halfway through the cooking time. Cool in the cooking water, then mash or press through a purée sieve. The texture should be similar to polenta — creamy, not runny. Reserve some of the cooking water in case you need to add for the right texture. Reserve. (Can be used to sauce orecchiette as well, especially if you add roasted, pitted black olives, a drizzle of fruity Puglian oil and a squeeze of lemon juice before serving.)


  • 1 lb mixed greens, dandelion, arugula, chicory, Swiss chard
  • 1 T + ½ t salt
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil (to cook garlic and greens)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½ c cool water
  • ¼ c extra virgin olive oil (to drizzle)

Wash and sort the greens, removing tough stems. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, drain and set aside. Do not squeeze dry.

Warm the olive oil with the garlic in a deep, wide skillet on medium. When the garlic releases aroma, add the greens with whatever water as collected.

Cook the greens for 30 minutes, adding water as needed to prevent the greens from sticking. Uncover, season if necessary, and discard the garlic.

To serve: Place purée and greens beside each other and drizzle with more oil. Drizzle the fava bean purée and the greens with the olive oil. Enjoy hot.

Serves 4 as a first course.


This mussel and potato recipe is adapted from The Puglian Cookbook, Bringing the Flavors of Pulgia Home, by Viktorija Todorovska. Her intro to this recipe tells the story of asking the restaurant owner how to make it. “‘It’s just potatoes and mussels’ she shrugged.” Sure, easy for her to say. But as Victorija tells it, it is actually very easy to make.

The dish is also called taiedda; some recipes for the coastal specialty call for zucchini, don’t use rice and don’t cook or shell the mussels first.

  • 1 lb mussels
  • 1 c dry white wine
  • 1 lg yellow onion, peeled and sliced
  • 4 lg Yukon gold (or equivalent) potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil (preferably Puglian)
  • salt to taste
  • 10 grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 c uncooked white rice
  • ½ c fresh-grated pecorino
  • ½ c toasted breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Wash mussels, discarding any that are open. Put in medium pan, add wine and cook until the shells open, about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, allow to cool until they can be handled, then take mussels out of their shells and set aside. Reserve cooking liquid.

In a medium baking dish, arrange a layer of the onions, then a layer of sliced potatoes. Drizzle a spoonful of oil, season and continue layering with half the tomatoes. Distribute half the rice over and add the mussels. Add more layers of onions, rice and tomatoes, ending with a layer of potatoes. Drizzle with the rest of the oil, the grated pecorino and the breadcrumbs. Add the cooking liquid from the mussels and more water if necessary until liquid comes almost ¾ of the way up the dish. Cook for about an hour, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

Serves 4-5.

Almond cake

On the Masseria San Martino breakfast buffet — along with a fresh cheese made that morning, little yellow plums plucked from trees on the property, bread and various home-made jams, yogurt, sliced ham and provolone, and coffee made in a stove-top Bialetti — was cake. Yes, cake for breakfast, and not as decadent as it sounds, what are muffins but a little cake? This recipe from Puglia in Cucina highlights the almonds grown in Puglia.

  • 1 c (250g) peeled almonds
  • ¾ c (200g) sugar
  • ½ c cold water
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 T grated lemon zest (no pith)
  • 3 egg whites
  • butter for pan

Grease a round 8-inch cake tin and place a round of parchment in the bottom. Reserve. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Grind the almonds with the sugar to make a fine flour. Put the mixture in a pan with the water. Stir over medium heat for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. When cool, stir in the zest and the yolks until well mixed.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold into the almond mixture, then pour into the prepared baking pan.

Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Orecchiette with anchovy, chile and broccoli rabe (cima de rape)

Adapted from In Nonna’s Kitchen by Carol Field (HarperCollins).

  • 2 t extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 fillets anchovy, packed in olive oil, drained and chopped
  • 2 dried chili peppers, crumbled, or ½ t chili flakes
  • 2 T salt, or to taste
  • 2 bunches (1 lb) broccoli rabe, yellow buds and tough stems removed, chopped
  • 1 lb orecchiette (or follow package directions for four people)
  • 1 c freshly grated Pecorino Romano (omit if using anchovies)

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook 10 seconds; stir in the anchovies and crush them into the olive oil with the back of a fork. Fold in the chili flakes and keep warm.

Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt, broccoli rabe, and orecchiette. Cook until the orecchiette are al dente, stirring often. Drain and return to the pot. Pour in the warm garlic oil from the skillet, stir in the Pecorino if you like, and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Mary Bailey is the editor of The Tomato and a lover of zesty oils.