Inspiration

Sawday’s Food: Manuela & Salvatore at Palazzo Frangipane

Chris Elmes

5 min read

We talk to the owners of Palazzo Frangipane about bringing together the love, work, and knowledge of their community to create perfect and simple food. Salvatore and Manuela also share two traditional Puglian recipes: meatballs with basil sauce and swordfish alla pizzaiola.

“I ask people if they want to eat here tonight and if they say yes, I say ok, but you have to eat whatever I prepare.” Salvatore grins as he says this and later admits that he and his partner Manuela do allow some negotiation over the menu for dinner, which they serve in the beautiful, informal setting of Palazzo Frangipane, a couple of kilometres from the sea on the heel of Italy’s boot.  

Although he was born in the south of Italy, Salvatore grew up in northern Tirol and it was a long and winding road, through England and south-east Asia, that brought him back to Lecce. He drew on that global experience to create restaurants all over Italy, but while he began his career washing dishes in London, he credits his mother for his passion for food.  

“Everybody loves food “how mama used to make” right? So, I was working in the kitchens and watching the chefs to see how they work, but then applying that to the food my mother used to cook. Both my parents were from Puglia, so that was the food I grew up with.”  Puglian cuisine is full of fish, beans, lentils and the strong flavours of herbs that thrive in the sunny, humid climate. Even though Salvatore may have travelled the culinary world, he swears by the simplicity that good produce gives you the freedom to cook with.   

“Here it gets to 40 degrees during the day, but then at night you get the humidity from the sea, so everything is growing like mad. And the sea brings the salt too, you can add salt if you want but you don’t need even that. A bit of oil maybe.” He talks of guests from abroad, particularly some recent English visitors, being amazed by the natural flavour in every ingredient. “Every product has their own salt,” he says, “if you add too many things, it tastes of nothing, all you really need is the sun and the water.” 

And wood. He lights up as he talks about the heart of his kitchen, a multi-level wood-fired oven that achieves incredible temperatures and infuses whatever he cooks in it with a rich tang. “Steaks, or fish? Zak zak!” he flips his hand over twice to imply speed, “it’s done, and it’s got the taste of the woodsmoke.”  He talks at length about the heavier, more wintery cuisine of Tirol and the Thai flavours of ginger and lemongrass that he still loves from his time there, but it’s clear that cooking is about more than food to him. 

A meal is a complete experience, which begins with morning trips to the markets and collecting the eggs from the hens, and ends with everyone cooking and eating together, although he stresses that all of this optional for guests. “It’s great when everyone is in together, talking and cooking. When we sit down to eat, someone’s hands still smell from cleaning the garlic, or chopping the onions, but this is it. Real food.”   

Salvatore and Manuela have considered running formal cooking courses but feel that to do so can give people the wrong idea. “If someone comes here and wants to become a pizza chef in one night, that’s not going to happen. But they can come and learn to love food the way we do.” That way is with a depth and understanding of how the production and consumption of food are, or should be, a network of natural and social interactions. What you’re sharing, on the shaded terrace among the orange trees of Palazzo Frangipane, is the culmination of many people’s love, work and knowledge, like the final note of a beautiful symphony. 

Traditional Apulian recipes by chef Salvatore of Palazzo Frangipane 

Polpette pugliesi al sugo con basilico –  Apulian meatballs with basil sauce 

This is a recipe my mother, Angelina, gave me, with all her love. On the meatballs themselves, she had many tips to make them perfectly compact and soft. 

For the meatballs 

  • 500 g mixed mince 
  • 2 eggs (large) 
  • 4 tablespoons Grana Padano cheese 
  • 100 g breadcrumbs  
  • q.b. Salt (q.b = quanto basta, to taste, lit: as much as is enough) 
  • q.b pepper 
  • q.b chopped parsley 
  • 1 clove Garlic 
  • 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 

For the sauce 

  • Tomato sauce (homemade would be ideal) 
  • 1 onion 
  • q.b. extra virgin olive oil 
  • q.b. salt 
  • 2 carrots 
  • 1 celery stalk 
  • q.b fresh basil 

Method: 

Finely chop onion, garlic, carrots and celery and put them in a saucepan with 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. 

In a separate bowl, place the minced meat, eggs, chopped parsley, breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. Mix all the ingredients well and place in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes. 

After 15 minutes, wet your hands with a little cold water and form round patties of the desired size. 

Turn on the heat under the saucepan and brown the previously prepared ingredients on high heat, then introduce the meatballs and brown them slowly, taking care not to break them. 

When they are well browned on all sides, introduce the tomato sauce and 200 ml water. 

Cover with a lid and simmer for about an hour. 

When the cooking is finished, add chopped basil or whole leaves. 

The meatballs are now ready to be served as a main course or with the typical Apulian pasta, orecchiette. 

Chef’s tip: don’t make the meatballs too small because they break more easily. 

Pesce Spada alla Pizzaiola – Swordfish alla pizzaiola

Ingredients: 

  • 600 gr. swordfish strips 
  • 500 gr. cherry tomatoes 
  • 100 gr. black olives 
  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • q.b oregano  
  • q.b basil  
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil 
  • q.b salt 
  • q.b pepper 

Method: 

Dice the cherry tomatoes and mince the garlic. 

Then brown them with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan. When they have wilted, turn off the heat. 

In another saucepan, put the two tablespoons of olive oil and brown the swordfish steaks on both sides – about two minutes per side over high heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  

When they are nicely browned and golden, add the cherry tomatoes and garlic, wilted separately, and the oregano  

Leave to simmer for another ten minutes, taking care to cover the casserole dish with a lid. 

When cooked, serve the swordfish garnished with a few fresh basil leaves. 

Enjoy your meal….. 

Octopus in Pignata

Octopus in pignata is an ancient Salento recipe whose name derives from the typical terracotta pot in which it was cooked: the pignata. Every family has handed down their own version for generations. This is mine: 

Ingredients:

1.2 kg octopus  

600 g ripe tomatoes  

1 onion 

two table spoons of extra virgin olive oil 

2 cloves of garlic 

2 bay leaves 

300 ml water 

q.b pepper 

q.b parsley 

Method: 

Put an earthenware casserole with a lid on the stove, add the extra virgin olive oil, chopped garlic, chopped onion, bay leaves and octopus.  

Allow to brown for a few minutes over a high heat.  

Add the chopped tomatoes, 300 ml water and cover the casserole dish with a lid and cook over a low heat for about an hour. 

Remove the lid and cook on high heat for another twenty minutes or so, so that the water evaporates. 

Serve in pignata with a sprinkling of parsley and toasted bread croutons. 

Chef’s tip: half an hour before the end of the cooking time, add some large diced yellow pasta potatoes for a delicious one-pot meal. 

Enjoy your meal!!! 

Palazzo Frangipane

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  • From €128 p/n
  • Bed & Breakfast
  • 6 rooms for 2

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