Primitivo and Pasta from the Heel of the Boot #ItalianFWT

Italian Food, Wine & Travel Explores Puglia
This month, we’re traveling (virtually of course) to Puglia, in the far south of Italy.  Puglia is the high-heel of the ever fashionable boot that is Italy.

ISS photo of Puglia

Puglia shows the fashionable high-heel of the boot of Italy. Photo courtesy of the ISS.

If you look carefully, you can tell a lot from the photo above.  While much of Italy is marked by the spine of the Appenine mountains, Puglia is a plain.  All that land translates into an abundance of agriculture, producing a wide variety of crops for the rest of the country. Wheat for pasta, vegetables, olives, you name it, even some spicy red peppers.

orecchiette pasta with broccoli and pancetta

What’s this? The broccoli outnumbers the pancetta? Only in Puglia!

The Food
In researching Puglia, I found that all that agricultural area produced something we haven’t seen in other parts of Italy: veggie-heavy dishes! Not vegetarian, mind you, but dishes that feature lots of vegetables. Of course, we’ll always add savory flavor with pancetta, etc… but we rarely see vegetables figuring into a Piemontese dish, for example.

Not vegetarian, but a broccoli heavy first course!

Not vegetarian, but a broccoli heavy first course!

The pasta in Puglia, like much of the south, is based on flour and water, no eggs. Not a problem, just a difference to keep in mind. This also means you can find very nice dry, hand-made pasta; much easier than spending the afternoon making your own!

We know spring is on the way, but we still have a ways to go in Minnesota.

We know spring is on the way, but we still have a ways to go in Minnesota.

The Wine
That far south, you might also guess that Puglia is warm, and you’d be right.  We look to Puglia for rich, ripe red wines. Our #ItalianFWT friends Orna and Tom tell us some of the best Rosato’s in Italy come from Puglia. Sadly, it’s not really Rosato season yet in Minnesota and the store shelves are not yet stocked for the summer, so Puglian versions have been hard to find. We’ll see in the coming weeks!

Primitivo is one of the main Puglian wines we see here in the states. DNA testing has shown it’s either the same grape as American Zinfandel, or a close relative. We’ll have some fun today comparing Puglian versions to what we know about our local choices.

Primaterra Primitivo

Primaterra Primitivo

Primaterra Primitivo IGT 2013 ($13 at Solo Vino Wines)
The Primaterra winery appears to be part of a large group of wineries from all over Italy. They are aimed at making affordable, approachable wines for export. Their Primitivo wine is 100% Primitivo and is fermented for 20-30 days in stainless steel. It is aged in a combination of oak and stainless steel.

Eye: Dark ruby, opaque almost to a bright purple edge.
Nose: Pruny dark fruit, almost to raisins but not quite. Earthy component underneath, a touch meaty and smoky.
Mouth: Full bodied with ripe dark fruit, a bit raisiny. Medium acidity, low tannins. Overall impression: Ripe fruit at a nice price point while retaining Italian character.

Compared to American Zinfandel? The Primaterra has the ripe, sweet fruit we expect, however, it isn’t as heavily oaked and this vintage only weighed in at 13.5% alcohol, which is a bit light compared to a typical California Zin. An enjoyable wine for drinking today, not much reason to let it age, also pretty comparable.

Puglian Primitivo is a nice choice with Broccoli Orrechiette

Puglian Primitivo is a nice choice with Broccoli Orrechiette

Wine Pairing: Puglian Primitivo with Orecchiette and Broccoli
The wine works nicely with this dish. The ripe fruit and body work well with the savory elements from the pancetta. While the pasta is filling, it doesn’t really need to be offset with a very tannic wine.  All in all, a success.

Italian Food, Wine & Travel Group
This Saturday April 2nd you’ll get a variety of what our Italian bloggers group has to offer and here is a preview below. Make sure to also join our live Twitter chat at 10am CDT on #ItalianFWT.

Vino Travels – Penne Con I Broccoli with Salice Salento Rose’
Paradise of Exiles – Three Wine Bars in Lecce
Orna O’Reilly – A Taste of Puglia
Culinary Adventures with Camilla – Insalata con Polpi in Umido e Patate
Rockin Red Blog – Puglia: Take Me Away!
Cooking Chat – Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Kale
The Palladian Traveler – Savoring the Salento
Vigneto Communications – Indigenous Grapes of Puglia
Postcardz from Victoria – A Tuscan Wine Legend Finds Inspiration in Puglia
The Wining Hour – Pleasures of Puglia: Primitivo, Cavatelli and Shrimp & Eggplant Arrabbiata
L’Occasion – A Night In: Celebrate Puglia at Home

There's no Italian equivalent of "Mise en Place" but the principal is important with pasta. Have everything organized and ready before you start.

There’s no Italian equivalent of “Mise en Place” but the principal is important with pasta. Have everything organized and ready before you start.

Orecchiette Pasta with Cauliflower

This is such a classic recipe from Puglia that you’ll find twenty different variations with just a few minutes searching. As always, use the best ingredients you can find. Spend a little extra and get some pasta from Italy!


  • 4 oz. pancetta, finely diced
  • 1 full head of romanesco or green cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets.
  • 10 oz. dry orecchiette pasta
  • 2 oz. grated cheese such as Pecorino, or Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • Set a large pot of well-salted water on the stove and allow it to come to a boil
  • Lightly brown the pancetta in a frying pan over a medium low flame. Pour off any rendered fat and set the pancetta aside on a plate.
  • Add the orecchiette to the pasta pot and cook for 8 minutes
  • Add the broccoli florets to the pasta pot at the 8 minute point, and continue to cook the pasta and broccoli for 4 more minutes, monitoring the pasta to taste.
  • Drain the pasta pot, reserving about a cup of the pasta water if needed.
  • Place the pasta and broccoli into a warm serving bowl, mixing in the pancetta, the grated cheese and the red pepper flakes.
  • If needed, add a bit of the reserved pasta water if the dish seems a bit too dry.
  • Finish the dish with a fresh grind of black pepper.

puglia_cauliflower_pasta_primitivo 20160327 27

19 Responses to “Primitivo and Pasta from the Heel of the Boot #ItalianFWT”
  1. Duff's Wines says:

    I spent a week in Puglia a couple years ago. You’ve captured the essence of the region. It is so different from the other regions that I’ve visited there. less or no emphasis on tourists. Simple cuisine, simple wines. The food was so tied to the land. As always great post.

  2. culinarycam says:

    Jeff, this looks fantastic! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great article. Very informative. Your Orecchiette Pasta with Cauliflower looks delicious!

  4. Nicely done, Jeff. I look forward to your critique of the Salentino rosati WHEN you can find them in MN. Salute e buon appetito!

  5. Cooking Chat says:

    looks like my kind of pasta dish. I read about orecchiette being popular in Puglia after making my dish with ziti, too bad as I like the shape a lot!

  6. orna2013 says:

    Lovely blog Jeff. I must say that it was nice for me, personally, not to have to travel “virtually” to beautiful Puglia, my favourite region in all of Italy. And that’s saying a lot in the Bel Paese!

  7. TheWiningHour says:

    Great information and your pasta looks delicious!

  8. veggies, veggies and more veggies. The dishes I’ve prepared from Puglia also are heavy veggies but delicious! Like the comparison of Primitivo & Zin.

    • Thanks, Jen. I agree, the veggie emphasis is such a refreshing difference. It just reinforces the fact that there is no single “Italian Cooking”; every region is unique.

  9. samba2017 says:

    Thanks this brought back sunny memories of a lovely trip to Puglia with my friend a few years ago. I have a poetry blog here on WordPress and today’s poem is about wine in case you have time to look? Have a good day, Sam 🙂

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