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Foodie Cinema | More than a Miracle in the Apulia of the basilisks

(by Andrea Gropplero - Cinecittario: Archivio Luce)

We are lucky to still have Apulia, the region that gives Italy her shape. Her geographical shape of course: without that heel, Italy would not be a boot. Conquered by the Romans, the region contributed writers like Livius Andronicus, Ennius and Marcus Pacuvius to Latin literature while Cicero wrote Letters from Brindisi here and Virgil died in Brindisi. With a human settlement that dates to 80,000 years ago, Apulia is one of the most important palaeolithic sites in Europe. Today the quality of life and the wealth and variety of its landscapes and food, an authentic treasure trove of the Mediterranean diet, make it one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.

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The locations

Region: Puglia Type: Città Territory: borgo, centro storico, città, mare
Gravina in Puglia
Region: Puglia Type: Paese Territory: borgo, campagna, centro storico, cittadina, collina
Region: Puglia Type: Paese Territory: cittadina, collina

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More than a Miracle

More than a Miracle (1967), the film shot by Francesco Rosi in Gravina and Tavoliere delle Puglie, is a fairy tale freely adapted from Lo cunto de li cunti by Giovan Battista Basile. The Baroque novelist from Naples was the first to use the fairy story as a form of popular expression. More recently Matteo Garrone drew on his most important work when directing the film Tale of Tales.
In an Apulia ruled by the kingdom of Naples, the Spanish Prince Rodrigo Fernandez (Omar Sharif) falls in love with a beautiful peasant girl, Isabella Candeloro (Sophia Loren). The king of Spain has ordered him to marry within the week. After various adventures and with the help of St. Joseph of Cupertino, the love between the prince and the peasant girl triumphs. The saint actually appears to the prince, providing him with flour that the potential candidates must use to make seven gnocchi, only once he has eaten them all will he find the right wife. Isabella makes excellent gnocchi with flour, water and salt (the typically Apulian recipe), giving them a generous shape, measuring 3 cm by 2 cm, and dented in the centre to gather more sauce, so they are almost orecchiette. Isabella is an excellent cook and, in this food-themed tale, she takes a leading role.
The saint appears a second time, this time to Isabella, when he tells her how to win the prince: she should enter into service at the prince’s court as an assistant and bottlewasher for his cook, the monzù. The monzù was a very fashionable figure in 17th century Europe, the title deriving from monsieur as the court cooks and those of the French nobility were known. The figure of the monzù, court cook and great master of ceremonies, flourished in the kingdom of Naples under the Angevin dynasty. The monzù was entrusted with organizing banquets and the most important of ceremonies, his brilliance reflecting directly on the social standing of the family. This was the first film to provide such a precise picture of the monzù, although in this case he is famous but a buffoon and also unlucky given that a group of witches ruins his extremely elaborate dishes while casting enchantments to help Isabella win the prince’s heart.

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Minervino Murge

The Basilisks

Lina Wertmuller’s masterpiece The Basilisks (1963) opens in a house in the South, the bare white walls accentuated by the magnificent monochrome of Gianni Di Venanzo’s photography, with a family from the South seated at the dining table, eating heartily. What are they eating? The greedy enthusiasm of the diners’ approach would suggest that the food is orecchiette alle cime di rapa, perhaps with the addition of sausage. This is one of the best cinema debuts of all time, with Lina Wertmuller setting the film almost entirely in Minervino Murge and Spinazzola. The basilisks (in Greek reucci) are the young men of the village whose every day features the same activities of the day before:  a stroll down the main thoroughfare of the village, two slices of spicy salami, the fanciful announcement of an improbable project. The film follows in the wake of I vitelloni (1953) by Federico Fellini for whom Lina Wertmuller acted as assistant director on 8 1/2.
This story of an apathy without aspirations, of a life focussed on decorous survival lead by the three main characters – Antonio (Antonio Petrucci), Francesco (Stefano Satta Flores), Sergio (Sergio Ferraino) – is brusquely interrupted when Antonio’s aunt arrives in Minervino Murge. She comes to town in a convertible accompanied by her husband and a snobbish friend who uses her film camera to shoot footage of the villagers as if they were animals in a zoo. She asks Antonio about the Cerignola farm workers protest in ’47 about which he knows nothing, although Cerignola is only several km from Minervino Murge. The three convince Antonio to come with them to Rome and sign up for university. However, when he returns to the village to gather the documents he needs, Antonio decides to stay, lulled by the complacency of habits and his mother’s orecchiette.

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My Brother-in-Law

My Brother-in-Law (2003) is the second film that director Alessandro Piva set in his city of Bari, following his exhilarating debut, La capa gira (The Head is Spinning) (1999), which won a David di Donatello and Nastro d’argento for Best New Director that year. During the baptism of the son of a businessman from Bari with links to organized crime – Vito (Sergio Rubini) – the car belonging to his brother-in-law, Toni (Luigi Lo Cascio), is stolen. From this starting point, the ruined party and Vito’s obvious disapproval, the pair begin a frenetic tour of Bari by night, in search of the stolen car. The relationship between the two develops during their various escapades and an open conflict with the local mafia. Encountering a frisella with tomato, olio and basil and a homemade tomato passata along the way, by dawn they find the car and also a dramatic epilogue.

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Brief history of Apulian cuisine

Apulian cooking is apparently a very frugal type of cuisine whose main ingredients are grano duro, oil, a vast range of garden vegetables, fish from both her seas – the Adriatic to the East and the Ionian to the South – and wine. A type of frugality that was the alimentary model for the cuisines of ancient Greece and Rome, the two most significant dominations seen in this region. However, there are also traces of the passing of the Byzantines, Arabs, Swabians and Spanish in the culture and, therefore, also in the cooking traditions.
If universities in America (and elsewhere) believe that the Mediterranean diet (of which Apulia is probably the best representation) is the healthiest of all, the reason for this can be identified in the fact that its inhabitants (today almost 4 million) are industrious farmers, herders, fishermen who know how to handle the produce available to them with skill – and equal simplicity since the beginning of time. The result is a strictly seasonal cuisine of flavours and fancies, of scents and quirks, practised with love and passion, with tradition and a knowledge that has been handed down orally from mother to daughter. All these characteristics are the key fruit of an ancient history: the earliest certified human presence here is that of the “Man of Altamura”, an archaic example of homo neanderthalensis who lived 250,000 years ago. In approximately 1,000 B.C.E., this generous land was settled by the Daunians, the Peucetians and the Messapians, people who probably came from Illyria. During the later Hellenistic age, the region became a part of Magna Grecia.
It is a long and fascinating history where each epoch has left clear and significant traces on the territory, of which its simple, yet equally ingenious, cuisine is a representative and efficient synthesis.

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Orecchiette alle cime di rapa

Le orecchiette alle cime di rapa

Recipe from Puglia.com


  • 300 g orecchiette
  • 1 kg cime di rapa (broccoli rabe)
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 4-5 tablespoons of Extra Virgin olive oil
  • chili pepper to taste
  • garlic to taste
  • salt to taste


It is easy to make orecchiette con cime di rapa as it is an uncomplicated dish. What is important is the choice of ingredients, the broccoli rabe should have green leaves and not have flowered.

  • First wash and cull the cime di rapa, selecting the best leaves and removing the hard stalks.
  • Bring water to the boil in a pan large enough to hold the cime di rapa, and the orecchiette.
  • First throw the rabe into the water to soften.
  • Add the pasta to the pan. Cook together so that the pasta absorbs the flavour of the vegetables.
  • Meanwhile, warm oil with 2 crushed cloves of garlic and 4 deboned anchovies in a frying pan. Cook until the anchovies have dissolved into the mixture and add chili pepper as desired.
  • When the orecchiette are ready, add the contents of the pot to the frying pan and sauté all the ingredients together for several minutes so that the pasta absorbs all the flavours.

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Recipe to make your own trailer on food and film in Apulia

This game is for anyone who wants to make a homemade trailer about More than a Miracle in the Apulia of the basilisks. We’re providing the time codes for the film clips.  Any edit program will work for this.  Input the following data into the timeline and you’ll have your trailer in minutes.

  • Download the film titles for More than a Miracle
  • Attach to sequence from 23.33 to 25.55
  • Attach to sequence from 31.21 to 35.15
  • Attach to sequence from 01h.04.07 to 01h.05.03
  • Attach to sequence from 01h.08.08 to 01h.12.35
  • Download the film titles for The Basilisks
  • Attach to sequence from 01.48 to 03.29
  • Attach to sequence from 21.22 to 22.30
  • Download the film titles for My Brother-in-law
  • Attach to sequence from 21.48 to 25.41
  • Attach to sequence from 44.15 to 45.49
  • Attach to sequence from 01h.10.10 to 01h.11.08
  • Add the end title card “End”
  • Enjoy it in company and, if you haven’t yet seen the films, watch them.

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