Jan 18th 2017

I Contadini: Exceptional Preserved Vegetables and Spreads from Puglia

hand harvesting puglia-grown peppers at i contadini
Hand harvesting Puglia-grown peppers at I Contadini

The Farm and Process

The “I Contadini” farm is a third generation family business based in the Puglia region of Italy (the heel of the boot) - near where our Maglio chocolates come from. Puglia is known for its excellent growing climate for all sorts of grains, olive trees and vegetables. I Contadini utilizes this optimal climate to grow wonderfully flavorful vegetables for their preserves and spreads, made with their grandparents' recipes.

Simply translated, 'I Contadini' is Italian for 'the farmers' or 'the peasants.' The farmers' lives exist within 30 hectares of land where they grow a variety of vegetables on the open field, including peppers, eggplant, artichokes, olives, and tomatoes. The company operates all aspects of the business: growing the produce, naturally drying vegetables in the hot Italian sun, and preparing the jars for retail.

i contadini - on the farm
Hard work at the I Contadini Farm

The drying of the vegetables in the sun is an ancient practice and now almost totally abandoned. This is a shame as the delicate practice delivers a totally unique result in the produce: perfect aromas, aesthetic appearance, and texture coupled with the conservation of essential vitamins, proteins, and minerals.

We are excited to import a few of their products, any of which make delicious accompaniments to cheese plates, mezze platters, or sandwiches.

The Preserves and Spreads

i contadini spreads and preservesI Contadini Spreads and Preserves

Conserve Mara

This is a traditional spread that takes a long time and great care to produce. Named for grandmother Mara, this spread features a spicy preparation in which tomatoes, hot red peppers, sweet red peppers, onions, fresh basil, cider vinegar, lemon juice and sea salt are cooked together gently and integrated in a thick paste. The paste is placed in draining containers (imagine cheese cloth spread out on large colanders), and left in the sun to concentrate further. After several days of sundrying and draining, the remaining paste is turned out onto tables where it is sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and kneaded by hand to obtain the finished product. All in all, 100 kilograms of raw materials are required to produce just 500 grams! Use sparingly as a little bit of this concentrated paste goes a long way.

Sun-dried cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are cultivated in April and harvested by hand in July. The tomatoes are selected for quality, washed, cut, and salted before they are laid out on wooden frames in the sun to dry for 4-5 days. At this time the dried tomatoes are again hand-selected (only the best make the cut), washed, and seasoned lightly before they are submerged in jars of extra virgin olive oil.

Grande Antipasto of Salento

This jar is a perfect ready-to-go antipasto with tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, eggplant and zucchini preserved in extra virgin olive oil and flavored with capers, a touch of peperoncino, coarse sea salt, cider vinegar, garlic, mint, herbs, and lemon juice. The vegetables are cultivated from April to May and harvested between June and September. The vegetables are selected, washed, and sliced before they are laid out on wooden frames in the sun to dry for 3-4 days. Once dried, the vegetables are selected, washed, and preserved in olive oil.

Carciofini Candini alla Crudaiola

This jar contains carefully selected baby artichokes grown in Brindisi (central Puglia). The specific variety of artichoke is called “Brindisino,” distinguished by its particularly tender and flavorful buds and especially the dense, fleshy, and tender base. The term “Candini” refers to the fact that these artichokes are picked in May at the end of the season when they are at their most tender. These tiny artichokes are hand-trimmed, gently steamed, and neatly submerged in a bath of olive oil, cider vinegar, sea salt and lemon juice. Add these to your mezze platter for an otherworldly treat. 

Pâté Bomba del Salento

Made using the “cornetti” pepper grown in an open field from May to August (or sometimes as late as October). The red peppers are harvested, washed, stemmed and cut into rings. The rings are salted and left to mature for several days. The peppers are then mixed with classic Mediterranean herbs and blended with extra virgin olive oil, sweet red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, cider vinegar, sea salt and lemon juice. Use this spicy mixture in smaller quantities to add zip to and sauce or soup, or combine with another mild spread to kick your bruschetta up a notch.

*First two photos courtesy of I Contadini

Author, Beth Wittenstein is a cheesemonger at Formaggio South End and Online Media Manager for Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge. When she isn’t taking photos of cheese, you can find her making intricate confections in her kitchen.