Golden Day Ninety-Nine: Lecce with Cinzia Rascazzo
I’m happy to have connected with Cinzia Rascazzo, a native of Lecce, who with her sister Marika founded the Stile Mediterraneo Cooking School. The school celebrates southern Italian cuisine, that’s been handed down in their family from mother to daughter for generations (As Cinzia says: “No Italian men were ever admitted into the home kitchen!”).
Cinzia has a beautiful blog, with great travel advice for the area and also recipes, for such classics as Orecchiette with Cime di Rapa , that was featured in La Cucina Italia magazine. And check out the ebook they wrote: The Cuisine of Southern Italian Women: Mediterranean Secrets for a Happy and Healthy Life.I’m so grateful she’s joined in to give advice for a Golden Day in Lecce:
When friends come to visit me in Lecce and ask what to do, I always answer: “Follow the locals’ schedule and have fun! And mostly importantly, do not skip naps!”
Yes there are many beautiful baroque monuments in the old town of Lecce, but what I think really makes it special is the general lifestyle–a relaxed way of life, partly due to the sunny weather, but also to the way people are, eat, and live.
Leccese are very proud of our beautiful town and if you come here you will notice that we “live” our town fully. We spend most of our day in the old town, going for coffee, buying food, meeting friends (and working!). In the evening we go out for food and drinks and stroll around until late. You will never feel unsafe. Moreover, we love foreigners so everybody will be super friendly.
To have a day like a local start with caffe at Alvino bar, (Piazza Sant Oronzo, 30)
Here you should try our typical coffee (we call it espressino) and pasticciotto (this is a pastry with custard cream). At Alvino, you should sit in one of the outdoor tables and read the local newspaper (Quotidiano) where you will find information about local events. Or if you don’t read Italian, have fun watching the locals.
Next, spend the morning strolling around the beautiful old, baroque town.
First, go to the Roman Amphitheatre in the Sant’Oronzo Square.
From there head to the Santa Croce Church (Via Basilicata), that is the best example of Baroque architecture in Southern Italy.
Then visit the Duomo (Piazza del Duomo).
*Note that all churches close at 12:30pm.
From the Duomo, you can walk all the way up to Porta Rudiae, which is the ancient gate to access the old town.
Now it’s time to eat!
Lunch is the most important meal for locals. Most go home, and then take a rest from 1 till 4:30pm, when all shops and activities close.
You can get delicious snacks from gourmet coffee and pastry places in the Sant’Oronzo square. Try a rustico (savory and round dough filled with mozzarella and cheese) from Alvino caffe, or a stuffed focaccia from the little bakery, Il Fornaio, in the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Don’t miss a gelato from Natale Pasticceria, Via Tevere. My favorite flavors are nocciola (hazelnut) and pistacchio.
You can also visit the shops in the morning and buy good things to bring home, such as Puglia’s red wine (look for primitivo or negroamaro grapes), excellent extra virgin olive oil, or the taralli bread.
After your afternoon nap, it’s time for activities…
Of course, I recommend a cooking class at the Stile Mediterraneo Cooking School. My sister Marika and I run it from a beautiful ancient olive oil press that we turned into an elegant cooking school. A driver can meet you in Lecce, and then drive you from the old town to Squinzano.
In class, you will learn how to taste extra virgin olive oil with me (I’m a certified extra virgin olive oil taster) and make Puglieses classics, such as home made orecchiette pasta (taught by my mamma), the famous Rascazzo’s fresh tomato sauce, and almond cake that my grandmother invented. I’m also a wine sommelier and will teach you about the best local wines.
The mission of our school is to improve people’s quality of life through the Southern Italian’s Mediterranean cuisine, so we do not just teach traditional recipes. Marika (a cardiologist) and I promote a way of eating, cooking and living that can contribute to the improvement of people’s health and wellbeing–not just through the healthy ingredients (extra virgin olive oil, seafood, etc), but also partly due to our specific cooking methods.
After dinner (and wine!) the driver will drive you back and you can enjoy the evening passeggiata in the Lecce old town. There will be people walking around and chatting until very late.
Grazie Cinzia, for the delicious day in Lecce!
AND for more Lecce advice, check out the Lecce post by Country Walker’s Guide Marcello Polignano–he’s also a Caffe Alvino fan!