September 26, 2008 - The Awaiting Table in Lecce, Italy

Have I mentioned yet how much I love the morning coffee ritual in Italy? We wander out of the portico of our B&B and get a hearty "Buon giorno!" from Antonio.
This morning the ritual was made extra special - as we sat sipping our drinks, a British tour group came in and attempted to overtake the shop, without so much as a nod to Antonio. This clearly angered him, and he refused to serve them - totally the opposite of the gracious service we received every morning.
Timothy joined us at the bar to finish our tour of Lecce which had been cut short by the weather. We wandered through hidden squares, heard the story of St. Irene's, and went into the Cathedral (busy with yet another wedding). Timothy is a wealth of knowledge, and somewhat of a nerd in the very best sense of that word.
Stephanie and Janet went off on their own to explore the newer part of Lecce and shop while the rest of us met up with Silvestro and Carolyn at the market to buy supplies for dinner.
We returned to school to make lunch, which was a HUGE fish soup, incredibly good, and I surprised even myself be eating the tentacle portions of the squid.We rolled out pasta and shaped them into maccherone so they would have a chance to dry a bit before dinner. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed making pasta by hand, and love both the taste and the denser texture of the pasta made with barley flour.At the conclusion of lunch, Giuseppe announced that would be our last lesson with him as he was leaving to go visit friends and family. We all bid arrivederci, sad not to be seeing him again (you can see why from the photos!).
I made the mistake of visiting Antonio for another espresso macchiato after lunch which meant I was unable to nap, so instead I wandered through the town of Lecce, photographing the beauty it had to offer.
I loved this photo of an older Italian man strolling through the park in the center of the city.
Although much of our week was focused on olive oil, this was the only photo of any actual olives growing that I captured.
We reconvened at school to prepare our farewell dinner, an extravaganza of food that we had selected based on our week's lessons.Perhaps the single most decadent thing of the week was the boratta cheese, so we used it again, this time in a salad with tomatoes and basil.Our second course was a pasta with a ragu made from tomatoes and onions, followed by the entree of baby lamb with olives and herbs.We finished the evening with pears poached in Primitivo with a Primitivo reduction.The table below filled with bottles and wine glasses is typical of how the table looked after every meal.We had our group photo taken and said our farewells, but not before Alessandro the olive oil guy could share his recipes withe me (he said I cooked like his mother which was the highest compliment coming from an Italian man!)

September 25, 2008 - The Awaiting Table in Lecce, Italy

Thursday began as usual, with a quick espresso or cappuccino at Bar Martinica before heading to the market with Silvestro. Our goal: to purchase fresh fish for dinner that night, which meant getting to the market early that morning. We also grabbed some produce on the way and bread to make sausage sandwiches for our day trip to Otranto, a beach town on the Adriatic about 90 minutes from Lecce. Back at the school, we assembled sandwiches with sliced sausages, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, melanzane and a garlic vinaigrette. Then we made our way immediately to the waterfront (via Antonio the body builder who fills in as a van driver). I wedged myself into the front seat between Antonio and Silvestro and hung on tight while Antonio pushed the van up to 140 km/hr and nearly got the van up onto two wheels.We arrived intact and camped out with some tablecloths, then dug right in to the sausage sandwiches paired with a nice Primitivo and some chips from the store. After lunch, we wandered through the town of Otranto, which is famous for the Turkish massacre of 800 Christians in a single day - most of those bones including skulls are on display in a nave in the Cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral Di Santa Maria is an enormous Tree of Life mosaic covering the entire floor. The Cathedral also contains one of the few black Madonna and Child frescoes.
After touring the Cathedral, we set off for gelato. I'm convinced Italians can't seem to get through the day without an espresso in the morning and a gelato in the afternoon - and I was loving this ritual, even if my pants were slowly getting snugger. Silvestro says there is no difference in how gelato, which just means ice cream to the Italians, is made, but that it's served slightly warmer and therefore softer, giving it that silky texture.

After the gelato break, Antonio (of the shaved arms and many girlfriends I also learned) got us home safely so we could spend an hour shopping in Lecce before heading to Silvestro's to cook dinner.
Stephanie and I dug into this ridiculously large platter of squid, octopus and cuttlefish, pulling out the gelatinous vertebrae and inky blood, removing the beaks (like their teeth), and cutting them up for our frito misto for the evening - not a job for those of you with weak stomachs, and now I know why they sell everything cleaned and trimmed at Whole Foods. While Silvestro and I were frying up the seafood in a light batter (that for some reason wouldn't stick) the group enjoyed linguine con scampi, which was better than I thought given it was made with "factory pasta". I guessed I'd officially become a pasta snob!
We went home relatively early from dinner, everyone tired from a day in Otranto and satiated from the food and wine. As our week was winding down my excitement about my husband arriving on Sunday was building, and I went to bed happy and ready for the next day.