Let’s discover together the best food in Lecce, not to be missed during your holiday!
The city of Lecce (also called “the lady of the baroque”) is described as a veritable open-air museum. Strolling through the streets of its historical center, one is lucky enough to admire majestic Baroque architecture, impressive religious monuments and incredible squares.
In addition to its cultural richness and crystal-clear sea, this city is also known and appreciated for its exceptional food and wine. The local cuisine is characterized by poor but genuine ingredients from both the sea and the land, capable of offering unique and decisive flavors to its dishes. This is why very often travelers, when they visit Lecce and its surroundings, choose to take home as souvenirs some typical specialties such as taralli, orecchiette, extra virgin olive oil, frisa and wines to remind them of the area.
Have I made your mouth water? Then follow me, because in this article I am going to list some of the best typical dishes from Lecce that you absolutely must not miss during your holiday through typical trattorias, farms and tasty street food! 👇
What to eat in Lecce
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Would you like to savor everything that the city of Lecce and its surroundings have to offer? Then you’re reading the article that’s right for you! Together we will discover everything you need to know about the best dishes of Lecce cuisine, from their origins to their preparation and lesser-known curiosities.
1. Ciceri and tria
This is a typical Salento dish whose basic ingredients are chickpeas from the province of Lecce and a type of fresh handmade pasta that resembles tagliatelle.
Its recipe has ancient origins: it was mentioned by the poet Horace as early as 35 BC. The particularity is the double cooking of the pasta; one part is boiled in water and the other is fried in boiling olive oil to make it crispy and tasty (“tria”, meaning fried pasta) but there are also several variations. In some areas, the pasta is twisted around itself like fusilli and in others, tomato puree is added.
Besides being the symbol of Apulian cuisine, they are also a testimony to Apulia’s glorious past; in fact, they are said to have spread during Norman rule. They are a type of fresh pasta prepared exclusively by hand using a dough of semolina and water; so called because of its rounded shape that resembles a small ear.
The most commonly used condiment is turnip greens but other vegetables, such as broccoli or cauliflower, can also be used. In Lecce, they are usually seasoned with meatball sauce left to simmer for a long time in tomato puree and topped with the inevitable grated salted ricotta cheese.
This is a type of fresh pasta similar in shape to fusilli, prepared by hand using barley flour typical of Salento. Tradition dictates that it is seasoned exclusively with fresh tomato sauce and grated ricotta cheese, but it is also excellent with pesto.
The particularity of Minchiareddhri is linked to the tool used for its traditional preparation; namely a small square wire, called “lu fierru te la pasta” in dialect.
4. Sagne n’cannulate
This is a simple and genuine dish of fresh pasta made with durum wheat semolina flour or barley flour. The word Ncannulata means “twisted”, and represents precisely the way in which this type of pasta is prepared. Traditionally, this dish was prepared on Sundays and seasoned with only seasonal products such as ripe tomato sauce “rich in the Puglia sun” and a generous grating of strong ricotta, called “schianta”.
5. Torchinieddi or gnummareddi
This is a typical Apulian meat specialty that is also found in the cuisine of Lecce. They are cylindrical rolls made from lamb or kid innards in gut that are flavored with whole parsley leaves. The name in dialect means “little twisted” as they are usually made with sweetbreads rolled in lamb gut and then roasted over embers.
This is a traditional peasant recipe using snails, which can be bought at the various town markets or collected after the heavy summer rains, when the heat forces them into hibernation; a phase in which they become very tasty. This delicious ingredient, to which the town of Cannole dedicates an annual festival, can be cooked in many different ways; some prefer them with sauce, some in white sauce, and some with a little oregano and onion.
7. Galletto di Sant’Oronzo
This is a real typical dish from Lecce that is brought to the table every year on 26 August. It is strictly made with a small free-range rooster weighing 2 kg, cooked in stew with tomato sauce, in honour of Saint Oronzo. In the past, in order to make it, it was reared in its own henhouse as early as March. This was because, being the “essential and unavoidable symbol of the feast”, not eating it was tantamount to disrespecting the patron saint.
This is one of the most characteristic dishes of Apulian cuisine and owes its name to the terracotta pot where, in ancient times, this tasty recipe was prepared. The basic ingredients for cooking it are mussels, rice and potatoes from the Lecce area, but the original recipe also lends itself well to other different appetizing variations.
This dish was originally called “poor”, as it was made with all the ingredients one had on hand, and “substantial”, as it was used as the only nourishment during a working day. Today, customs have changed but tajeddha has remained and is offered as a main dish in most restaurants and there are many festivals dedicated to it.
9. Rustico leccese
This is a “street” finger food, typical of Lecce cuisine that can be bought in local rotisseries and bars. They are a fragrant 10 to 12 cm disc of puff pastry, with a tasty filling of béchamel, tomato and mozzarella inside. Great to eat warm as a snack at any time of day and easy to prepare.
This is a soup made with fish, mussels, shellfish and vegetables. In ancient times, this typical dish from Lecce consisted of “pizzicato” fish, (bitten by other fish species and therefore not saleable on the market) and readily available “poor” vegetables, such as tomatoes and spring onions, and was usually eaten by fishermen on the boat. The name of this dish comes from the word “quatara”, a large copper pot where this tasty mix of discarded fish was put to cook. It recently obtained the authoritative recognition of Traditional Food Product from the Ministry of Agriculture.
This is a characteristic dish of Salento’s gastronomic culture and originates from the peasant tradition. The poor and genuine ingredients used in its preparation are legumes (broad beans, beans, or chickpeas), olive oil, a few slices of Apulian bread (preferably stale), vegetables (such as chicory, turnips or chard) and finally garlic, salt, pepper and chilli pepper, giving the palate a pleasure that is now hard to find in more modern preparations.
12. Horse pieces with sauce
This characteristic dish can easily be found at one of the many village festivals and traditional Apulian restaurants. It is a cut of horse meat that is traditionally cooked in pignate (terracotta pots). Afterwards, it can be used as a sandwich filling or served in large terracotta dishes, accompanied by plenty of bread with which to make the inevitable scarpetta.
This is a mixture of small fish that are floured and fried in plenty of boiling oil. Once fried, they are salted and served freshly hot.
14. Scapece from Gallipoli
This is a traditional dish from the city of Gallipoli with ancient origins dating back to the period between the Middle Ages and the 16th century, when Gallipoli was under siege by the Mediterranean powers. The recipe calls for small fish initially fried and then marinated between layers of breadcrumbs soaked in vinegar and saffron inside chestnut wood vats called “calette”. Today, this dish is served as a gastronomic specialty in restaurants or kiosks, especially in summer, and is typical of patron saints’ festivals in the Salento area.
15. Polpo alla pignata
This is a tasty second course from the Salento tradition. Its name comes from the pignata, in which the octopus is cooked together with its own water, in order to release all its flavor directly into the tomato sauce and obtain a very soft and succulent meat. The recipe is very old and there are different versions; in some areas, for example, potatoes or other aromatic herbs are added. One thing that cannot be missed, however, is the thick sauce with which the octopus is accompanied.
16. Other fish dishes
Apulia is famous for its beautiful beaches and the always fresh fish that arrives on the piers every morning along with mussels, sea urchins, red oysters, purple shrimps from Gallipoli and many other seafood! Usually in restaurants people prefer to eat raw fish, but fried mussels are a traditional Apulian appetizer that cannot be missed on the menu. To make them, you first have to open them, stuff them with a batter of flour and dry white wine and then fry them; only in this way will they remain tender and release all their tasty sea flavor!
These bulbs are very well known and appreciated especially in Puglia, and are excellent both fried and baked. The name may vary from region to region; they are usually called pampasciuni in the Apulian dialect. It is a distant relative of garlic, but differs in taste and shape; in fact, aesthetically it resembles an onion more and it is important to harvest it by hand so as not to damage it.
18. Types of Apulian bread
In Apulia, the different wheat variants from which flour for bread-making is made number around 300. For this reason, Apulia is nicknamed “the granary of Italy”. Considering that there are many varieties of wheat, there are just as many varieties of bread that can be made.
These include the Puccia, a tall and compact type of bread, especially popular in Salento, where you can also find the “Uliata” type, i.e. with pitted black olives traditionally baked on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (7 December). This type of bread can be filled in different ways, depending on where in Apulia you are; in Gallipoli it is topped with capers and salted anchovies, while in Lecce it is usually topped with cherry tomatoes, onion and tuna; the same filling is also used to top the Pizzi leccesi, which are more flattened and wider than the Puccia.
It is a large loaf of durum wheat or barley that is baked, cut in two and then baked again to make it crispier. The traditional recipe calls for a sauce made with cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and a pinch of salt, but starting with this sauce, there are also three other variations; one with anchovies, capers and olives characterized by a strong and decisive flavor, the delicate version with olives and basil, and the delicious variant characterized by the addition of stracciatella and taralli.
20. Fried Muersi
This is a poor but tasty dish from the peasant tradition based on simple and nutritious ingredients. The recipe calls for the addition of cleaned turnip tops or chicory from Galatina, dried green peas, olive oil, salt, tomatoes, onion, garlic and some parsley. These ingredients are then cooked in the traditional terracotta “pignata” and at the end of cooking, the previously fried bread is added.
21. Calzone leccese
This is one of the Salento’s most popular rotisserie products. It is a fried, crescent-shaped dough, filled with tomato sauce, mozzarella and oregano, but there are also other versions with ham or other ingredients. This typical Lecce dish, unlike the Bari panzerotto, is “thicker”, being characterized by a dough half a centimeter thick.
22. Pitta di patate
This is a tasty rustic dish using some typical local ingredients, perfect to serve as an appetizer or as a main course either hot or cold. Pitta is made with a mixture of boiled potatoes, eggs and cheese and usually filled with a tomato, onion, olive and caper sauce, but depending on taste and slight variations, canned tuna, ham or sardines can also be added.
They are small balls of fried leavened dough, excellent in both sweet and savory versions, characterized externally by a golden crust and internally by a soft dough prepared using water, flour and yeast. They used to be prepared on 8 December (the day of the Immaculate Conception), at Christmas and on 11 November (St Martin’s Day) accompanied by new wine. Today, however, every occasion is a good one to taste this Salento delicacy!
24. Taralli leccesi
These are baked products of the typical Lecce cuisine, which are also widespread in various versions in the rest of southern Italy. They are made from a dough of flour, water, white wine and extra-virgin olive oil, from which ring-shaped loaves are made, which are boiled and then baked to obtain a golden surface and a crispy texture. Starting with this version, one can find many other delicious variations such as those with herbs or fennel seeds; perfect for aperitifs and appetizers.
In addition to the salted taralli, there are also those in the sweet version; they are eaten for breakfast or a snack and characterized by a soft and crumbly texture. These sweet taralli are also called ‘mbriachidd (from the Apulian dialect “ubriachelli”) precisely because wine is present in their dough.
It is a characteristic dessert of Lecce cuisine, consisting of a crunchy short pastry shell and a custard filling; excellent eaten hot, but also cold. The traditional recipe calls for the filling to be enriched with sour cherries and for the short pastry to be made with lard. Another important detail is the choice of leavening agent; for a true Leccese pasticciotto, ammonia for cakes is used, so that the shortcrust pastry cover remains soft even after 2-3 days.
They are tasty and fragrant sweets, named so because of their shape, reminiscent of little pigs. They are sweet, fried dumplings covered with honey and colored sprinkles that are usually given as gifts during the holidays or served at the end of Christmas lunch, together with coffee or a small glass of liqueur. Aesthetically they resemble the Neapolitan struffoli, but inside they differ in the absence of eggs in the dough, which makes them crumblier.
This is a delicious dessert from Lecce that looks very similar to the pasticciotto, but tastes quite different. Instead of custard, it is filled with a tasty jam (usually quince, sour cherry or pear) and almond cream and decorated on the surface with dark chocolate chips, strictly crunchy.
These are typical Christmas biscuits made with almonds, cocoa, cooked must and various spices. The recipe has ancient origins; it is said to derive from Arab cuisine. These sweets are usually prepared to enrich the Christmas table, especially in Lecce and throughout the Salento region, where they can be found rhomboid-shaped or rounded.
These are traditional sweets of Lecce cuisine prepared during the Christmas holidays. Their recipe is very simple and the ingredients used for the dough are just flour, extra virgin olive oil and grated lemon peel. Pitteddhre can be made in the form of small star-shaped tarts or they can be closed in a crescent shape like panzerottini and filled with grape mostarda (jam), usually home-made and stored inside jars throughout the winter.
Wines from Lecce and Salento
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The Salento has always been a land of production of the best wines with DOC and IGT appellations. Among the most famous grape varieties are Primitivo and Negramaro.
The most famous wine of the first variety is undoubtedly the DOC Primitivo di Manduria – characterized by a fruity taste and an intense ruby red color – which, despite its fairly high alcohol content, is nevertheless able to be loved on any occasion and is perfect with meat dishes or mature cheeses.
As for the Negroamaro variety, compared to Primitivo, it produces much younger wines that are much appreciated for their fruity aroma and full flavor. One of the most famous of these is the Negroamaro del Salento IGT wine – characterized by its dark red color – which is served at room temperature; it is perfect for all kinds of meals, especially meat dishes.
Events to taste Lecce traditional food
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One of the best ways to discover the customs and culture of a place is to participate in festivals and village fairs, and Lecce is full of them:
- Festival of Lecce pasticciotto and Mediterranean flavors on 28 July in Surano
- Festa te la uliata from 27 to 29 July in Caprarica di Lecce
- Sagra del maiale from 6 to 8 September in Villa Baldassarri
- Novello in festa from 8 to 10 November 2023 in Leverano
And now that you know what to eat in and around Lecce, what are you waiting for? Book your next holidays in Puglia now and add some special food and wine experiences to your stay! Remember that with Italia Delight you can organize the trip that suits you best! 😍
Cover photo: francesco-la-corte, unsplash
Featured photo: maria-hadzhipetkova, unsplash