from poverty for many hundreds of years and so the traditional
cuisine is peasanty, based on vegetables, durum wheat, fish and mutton/lamb (when it
could be afforded).
Hence you will find meals built around the following:
Vegetables such as
tomatoes, artichokes, fava beans, courgettes, peppers, lettuce, wild
chicory, fennel, peppers, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, turnip tops,
cauliflower, aubergine, chickpeas, olives, capers, parsley and even
the bulb of the wild tassel hyacinth.
Pasta made from
durum wheat and sometimes buckwheat, especially the little ear-shaped pasta called "orecchiette", macaroni,
spaghetti, cavatelli and tiny gnocchi. The best pasta is made using ancient brass dies that impart surface roughness, the better to hold the sauce.
"Maccheroni al forno" is
different from elsewhere in Italy. The macaroni is mixed with meatballs and hard boiled eggs then topped with a pie crust before being put in the oven.
Bread made of durum
wheat, often in small bakeries.
Fish including red mullet,
anchovies, bream, mussels, sea bass, cuttlefish, oysters,
mussels and clams.
Meat, particularly lamb, horse,
pork and beef.
Cheese from sheep,
cow or water buffalo milk. (Buffalo Mozzarella balls can make a great end of the day snack).
Desserts are often
almond based along with honey, ricotta and figs. This area is a major source of table
grapes so in season they will be on the menu too.
Portions can be huge, which is good news for hungry cyclists. But don't think you have to eat your way through every course on the menu (antipasti, pasta, fish, meat, pudding, cheese), just pick what you fancy. It is quite in order just to order a pasta dish, with perhaps ice cream to follow. (There will often be a wide choice of ice cream flavours, and it will be of high quality.) Pizzas are sometimes to be had in ordinary restaurants, but you would do better to look out for a pizzeria with a wood-fired oven if that is what you want.
For lunchtime snacks, panini fit the bill well. These are toasted sandwiches made using ciabatta bread and they come with a wide variety of fillings. Cafes, bars and bread shops will often have ready made ones in a chill cabinet, you just choose which you want and it will be toasted for you.
If you prefer to eat your main meal at lunchtime (and it makes sense to keep out of the sun for a while in the heat of the day), then try to ensure that you are approaching a large village or small town just before the church clock strikes noon. Look out for agricultural workers heading into town, or builders leaving construction sites, and follow them to whichever bar-restaurant they are going to. You will get a two or three course meal with as much local wine (or water) as you can drink for a very reasonable price, but there will be little or no choice and the quality is seldom wonderful. However, this is a good way of finding out what the locals eat.