• Pasticciotto Leccese - custard pies made in the Italian town of Lecce - have been described as "amazing" and "higher level custard pie". (Flickr/myboxtv/Michele Mariano)
And 3 other delicious reasons the new season of Italy Unpacked will have you planning your next holiday in the land of pasta, pizza and pastry.
Alyssa Braithwaite

4 May 2017 - 12:10 PM  UPDATED 25 Oct 2017 - 12:36 PM

It's no secret that Italy produces some of the best food you'll find anywhere in the world.

But beyond the pizza of Rome or the pasta of Naples, there are many foodie gems off the well-trodden tourist paths, just waiting to be discovered. 

That's where UK-based Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli and British art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon can help.

The duo have been traversing the length and breadth of the country in Italy Unpacked (watch the new season on Food Network Australia and SBS On Demand), exploring the art, architecture and food that Italy is famed for.

In series 3 of Italy Unpacked, Locatelli and Graham-Dixon travel around picturesque Puglia, in the heel of Italy, taking in the towns of Matera, Lecce and Alberobello, and feasting on the local delights.

Here are some of their best discoveries:


1. Pasticciotto 

These custard pies are distinct to Lecce, a city where you can admire the baroque buildings while you indulge in the sweet treats. 

Pasticciotto are custard encased in short crust pastry made from lard, which chefs say is essential to produce a pastry that is soft rather than crunchy. 

The pastry is thought to have been invented in 1745 by Nicola Ascalone at Pasticceria Ascalone in Galatina, a small town south of Lecce (the bakery is still open and still selling pasticciotto). 

When Locatelli takes Graham-Dixon to Lecce, he says pasticciotto are something he has to try.

"When you come to Lecce, you've got to have these," says Locatelli.

"This is representative of this place. Look, it's so beautiful, and look what's inside."

The egg custard filling has been described as "heaven on a spoon",  and Graham-Dixon is quickly won over by the little oval-shaped treats.

"It's a sort of higher level custard pie," he says. "It's amazing."

2.  Caciocavallo 

Made from milk produced by Podolico cows that graze on the wild rocket and grass on the hills around Matera, caciocavallo is a "cheese so ancient, it was mentioned by the Greek writer Hippocrates in 500 BC", says Locatelli.

The curd is hand-stretched - a process that requries great strength, and realigns the protein to give the cheese its characteristic texture.

It is then turned inside out and moulded into the shape of a small pot.

"Have you seen his hands? This guy's hands have got a strength you can't even imagine," Locatelli says of the cheese-maker.

"When you say hand-made, it really means handmade - made with your hands!"

Aged for a year, the end result is "so good! 11 out of 10",says Graham-Dixon. "It has the same kind of intensity as a really fantastic cheddar." 

"But a bit more grainy than a cheddar?" suggests Locatelli. 

"Yes, it's a bit more towards parmesan in that sense. It's fantastic!" 

3. Apulian gelato 

In need of a cool snack on a hot Italian day, Locatelli takes Graham-Dixon to a Gelateria Caffetteria Arte Fredda in Alberobello where they make gelato using products from the surrounding countryside.

So rather than your typical gelato flavours like raspberry and chocolate, Locatelli organises for Graham-Dixon to taste-test three local specialties.

The first is fiorone, the first green figs of the season.  The second is percocche, a large, juicy peach that only grows in Puglia. And the third is almond. 

"The flavours change according to the seasons," Locatelli says. 

"Eating the percocche ice-cream was like summer itself," Graham-Dixon sums up.

4. Orecchiette 

Sure you might have eaten orecchiette before, and you may well know the name means 'little ears' in Italian.

But have you had it hand-made by an Italian woman in her home? Well, you should.

"Orecchiette used to be a peasant food and now like so many other poor man's dishes has become a gourmet hit," says Locatelli, as he and Graham-Dixon are taught to make the small, round pasta by Cosima. 

For Graham-Dixon, eating it was a revelation.

"It's not like any pasta I've ever eaten before," he says.

"Every single one of these little ears, orecchiette, each one has done what you have thought it would do, which is... this side has scooped up the sauce and the other side has trapped the sauce and they have all done that.

"I think this is just delicious, fantastic. Thank you!"

Watch Italy Unpacked on Food Network Australia then on SBS on Demand.  Here's the first episode:

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