After loading up on ceramics in Cutrofiano, we continued heading west towards the sea. Dena’s goal for Saturday was to see two seas in one day. Since Puglia is a peninsula it’s actually not that difficult to make the drive from the Ionian coast to the Adriatic.
So lunch in Gallipoli (that would be on the Ionian side of things) seemed like a perfect idea. Located on a spit of land about a third of the way up the coast, the old part of town is actually an island, connected by a bridge to the mainland. So, it was going to be a fishy kind of lunch.
We chose La Puritate, based on tons of recommendations including one from the owner of Cibus. It’s definitely on the ‘fancy’ side of things: starched white linen-topped tables, brocade-covered chairs and a wood paneled dining room. The menu matched the interiors: it was extremely straightforward, nothing fancy or creative, just fresh fish in the most classic of ways.
The pastas were all excellent. Avrum chose the linguine alle vongole, in bianco, which had just the right amount (like, a lot!) of perfectly fresh plump clams. Martha chose the house pasta, linguine alla Puritate, which paired bright green zucchini with fresh cherry tomatoes and fat pink shrimp. I think I loved my choice the best: Spaghettini al Limone, which was simply barely cooked shrimp tossed with lemon dressed pasta. All of the pastas were obviously finished in the pan with rich seafood broth which made them much more than just the ingredients I’m listing here.
You kind of forget how great fried calamari can be of all you’re used to squid that have been frozen then fried without too much care. The deep fried tangle of totani that Domenico and Avrum ordered still tasted of the sea, with a crisp, light crust and a sprinkling of sea salt.
I ordered the house specialty: gamberoni al sale. I was so curious about this dish that I went into the kitchen to see how it was done. A pool of olive oil is poured onto a serving dish, then a half dozen of the freshest reddest shrimp are place on top and flipped a few times to coat them. At that point the chef took a couple handfuls of sale grosso and covered the tail portion of the shrimp in a thick white blanket, along with some chopped parsley. He then popped it into an extremely hot oven for just 5 minutes. Once done, the chef then removed about 3/4 of the salt before the plate was sent to the table.
Once the waiter set down the serving platter, he showed me how to ‘rinse’ off each shrimp, to remove the excess salt, by turning it a few times in the olive oil, before moving it to my plate.
All I can say is that if you ever get your hands on shrimp so fresh they almost swim away, this is the way to cook them. They were the perfect balance of raw and barely cooked, and the olive oil bath and salt was the only seasoning they needed.
As we finished our lunch (which included me licking every last bit of shrimpy goodness from the shrimp heads) Domenico chatted up the waiter to ask what the name of the restaurant referred to, since it sounded sort of odd to his ears. “It’s in honor and reverence to our neighbor, the church next door,” he explained.
So of course, the minute we set out for our post-lunch walk around Gallipoli we tried to visit La Chiesa di Santa Maria della Purita’, a.k.a. La Puritate as it’s known by the locals. As with most churches in Italy, the main doors were locked tight. Luckily Domenico spotted a small door, wedged in between the church and the restaurant, that was open. As it turned out, the room, part of the church, was full of members of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Purity since it was the day of the festival of the church. They kindly unlocked the front door so we could have a peek.
If you think you know Baroque splendor, you haven’t seen anything unless you’ve been down to this part of the world to see what is called the Barocco Leccese version of it. Over the top is putting it lightly. Every square inch was a riot of color, pattern, gilt and glitz. Even the floors were a brilliant melange of tiles from Vietri.
As we wandered around, the members of the confraternity continued to ready the church for the evening’s celebrations, as well as spruce up Our Lady for her walk about town during the yearly procession.
After being fuller than we though possible – of both delicious food and 17th century splendor – we headed out. First for a walk along the lungomare of Gallipoil, and then, back into the car, and East towards Otranto. Because, remember, Dena had to get her other sea in.