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our birthday: making la salsa

I suppose we could do just about about anything to celebrate our little school’s birthday each year, but for the last 7 we’ve chosen it as the week to make la salsa, a Southern Italian ritual very,very close to my heart.  After San Martino, it just might be my favourite week of the year. Do we finish each night bobbing in the baron’s pool? Of course. Do we drink ice cold beer as we work, ‘to keep up the moral’? Of course we do. Do we eat the year’s first salsa for dinner that night? Of course. But there is something deeper than all of these simple pleasures,  and in my opinion, it’s what makes our little school something special.

 How it’s done, is actually very simple to do, as long as you don’t try to skip any steps. Here, Antonio (even if his passport insists that his name is ‘Giorgio’) has drawn out a map of the various stations.


First you wash the tomatoes.



(Here we pose for a class picture with the last cases during il lavaggio, or washing phase).

Yellow boots?

Southern Italian babe magnets.

If my boot’s fans become too aggressive I rattle a jar of coins at them or aim a garden hose their way. In the worst case scenario,

I’ve resorted to carrying a rather large stick


Then you need to cut the tomatoes,to ensure that they don’t float while inside the cauldron, eventually only to explode with boiling liquid. The smaller the pieces, the faster they cook.

GELATO-17 Stirring the giant pot oddly uses the often forgotten muscles between the shoulder blades, the same ones used while rowing a boat. Here ‘Antonio’ goes for the gold. There will be lamentations and perhaps mild profanity at the sore muscles tomorrow.



Aside from the ice cold buckets of ‘moral’, I’ve taken to breaking up the phases, to include lunch, pool and naps: Both amphetamine usage- and pact-suicides- are way down, for those that tend to take note of such things. We come together as the sun starts to set.



 The bottling phase is certainly everyone’s favourite, as it ‘team builds’ as the day’s work starts to come together. We run the salsa through our macchinetta, or mechaniczed food mill, which removes the skins and seeds.

Then we place a single basil leaf in each bottle, fill the bottle with ceramic wine pitcher’s full of the boiling liquid, then run them over to the station that I always run, the capping station, which secures the metal beer caps.

Then they go into either a water bath, which is what we ‘usually’ do, or the woolen blankets, which slow the cooling of la salsa to a degree that any possible bacteria go belly up.

(We still have gli affreschi at my home in Lecce, from the last time we tried the woolen blanket technique, when three days later the fermentation exploded 85 bottles of salsa, one at a time over the course of 5 days. I’ve never hated anyone enough to wish it upon him.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Awaiting Table Cookery School’s 2012 vintage. If you visit this next year, this is what you’ll have at least once during your time with us.

And this is odd place that our school often finds itself, keeping alive the traditions that modern life seems so content on discarding.

If you’d like to play your own part, come next September for our 10th birthday party, when we’ll make la salsa again. Or the year after that. Or the year after that. We’ll be here.


We’ll even hand you the big spoon.

To our 2013 calendar

Silvestro Silvestori
Sommelier / Owner / Director of The Awaiting Table Cookery School, Lecce, Italy

Silvestro Silvestori, the owner, founder and director of The Awaiting Table Cookery School, Lecce, Italy has been teaching the food and wine of Puglia and particular- Italy’s Salentine peninsula since 2003. In addition to his knowledge of Pugliese food and culture, Silvestro is a nationally-certified sommelier in Italy, and a staff writer for Wine & Spirits magazine, covering all their Southern Italian food and wine content. He has also appeared on American, Australian, Belgian, British, Chinese, Dutch and Italian television, and Italy’s most respected newspaper called him, ‘A national treasure’, and ‘THE anthropologist of the traditional cuisine of the Salento’ for his work in preservation and promotion of Salentine’s food and wine.


  • deborah jerome
    September 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Lookin’ good, guys! Is that Giorgio behind the beard?

  • Johnny
    September 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Lovely article super photos too

  • AdriBarr
    September 12, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Great post! Thanks for a thorough lesson delivered with a healthy dose of humor. You made me laugh out loud, a rarity for this hour of the morning. Love your photographs. Love your yellow boots. And it is good to hear that drug usage and suicide rates are down in Lecce.

  • Jenny @ Savour the Senses
    September 14, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Love this post. I recall taking a swim in the baron’s pool… although it caused more of an uproar that necessary =)

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