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If you're wondering what to eat in Brindisi, your first thought will probably be seafood - after all, the town has been a thriving port since the days of the ancient Romans. However, there's another local delight waiting to be discovered in old Brindisi's restaurants and quaint family-run trattorias: the delicious regional pasta known as "Orecchiette pugliesi".
Orecchiette means "little ears", and this perfectly describes the pasta's distinctive dish-shaped appearance. This shape is achieved by placing a ball of dough into the palm of the hand, inserting the thumb of the other hand into it, then rocking the palm from side to side to make the indentation - a painstaking process that has been carried on through the generations. Made from fibrous semolina flour, the pasta has a texture unlike any other, meltingly soft in the centre and al dente around the edges.
There is some disagreement about the origins of Orecchiette pugliesi, but it's most likely that it was introduced into the region from the south of France in the 12th century or some time shortly afterwards, when the Dukes of Anjou reigned over much of southern Italy. Whether this is the real truth or not, this dish has become so popular over the centuries, it has given rise to numerous subtle regional variations such as Cisternino's "ears of the priest" (a larger version made with coarsely ground durum wheat).
This cornerstone of Apulian cuisine can be presented in several traditional ways. The simplest is to serve it with a simple tomato ragù and a spoonful of ricotta cheese. Alternatively, it goes deliciously with smoky bacon and red peppers, with meatballs, with prawns, or with sausage and sweetcorn. However, the really classic Orecchiette pugliesi dishes usually see the pasta twinned with a selection of seasonal vegetables - with cauliflower and shallots, cherry tomatoes, chestnuts, broad beans and, most famously of all, with rapini (often referred to in English as broccoli rabe).
Washed down with a glass of intense, ruby-red Brindisi DOC wine, these hearty, rustic dishes are just the thing to make you feel that little bit more at home in the beautiful surroundings of Southern Italy. So if you're planning a trip to Brindisi, remember to keep your eyes peeled for a plate of those tasty little ears.