Baroque Lecce, deep into the heel, equidistant from the raucous backpacking set on the spring board to Greece in Brindisi and solemn Gallipoli, was constructed almost entirely in the second half of the 17th century out of golden “pietra di lecce”, the local marble cognate.
Spectacular in its unified styling, Lecce remains one of the most singular and uncompromising versions of the high baroque and is stunning in its consistency of vision. The magnificent plains of Puglia yield an exquisite wheat that is the basis of the best bread making and hard pasta production in all of Italy, most obvious in the town of Altamura near Bari, where bread bakers from everywhere make a pilgrimage to try and unlock the simple secrets of the oven. This excellence pervades all of Puglia and Lecce is no exception.
In the city of Lecce these are my faves:
La Magiada corso v Emanuele
48 tel 0832 247081
A perfect simple trattoria with a garden and indoor dining room, tween the Duomo and piazza san Oronzo, serving meat and fish, including eggplant and octopus “polpette”, linguine with local young lobster, sword fish with fresh porcini and an ample local wine list
Trattoria Cucina Casereccia
via c a costadura 19 tel 0832 245178
This place is called “le zie” in town (the auntie’s) and truly feels like the home of sgra Cantoro, the chef/owner. The dish to try is ciceri e tria, where the pasta is parboiled in water and then fried in olive oil with ceci to create a spectacularly unique texture and the flavor of baked bread in the noodle. The sagne ‘ncannulate are also magnificent, a long noodle with a sauce of tomato and intense ricotta that will order another bottle of local negro amaro itself if you do not.
Osteria degli Spiriti
via cesare battisti 4 tel 0832 246274
Classic cucina salentina served under an arched ceiling with excellent antipasti of cooked and raw vegetables from local foragers including the famous wild onions “lampascioni” which you should order everytime you see them, and wild cicoria di campo. “Ncapriata, the reknowned dish of pureed fava and cooked chicory is splendid here as are the orecchiette with bitter broccoli. For the secondo, let it go and try the “pezzetti di cavallo al sugo” or the roasted baby lamb. Desserts are all homemade but remarkable are the “pasticiotti leccesi” stuffed with almond custard.