Bringing Abruzzo Home

Saragolla wheat pasta and lentils from Santo Stefano
Sharing a meal of eggplant parmigiana accompanied by saragolla wheat pasta from Morro D’oro and lentils from Santo Stefano Sessanio

Normally, at home in Australia we pride ourselves on how lucky we are to have a great climate (mediterranean, in the case of Adelaide) which gives us access to a variety of fresh local food and produce, year round.  Living by the low food miles philosophy is possible here. Sometimes I break from the philosophy, particularly when I come back from Italy laden with goodies as I did this year.

Legions of migrants have enriched Australian food culture enormously. One of the earliest ‘foreign’ cuisines in Australia was Italian and it is still much loved here resulting in formerly exotic varieties of fruits, vegetables and other ingredients being quite common now. We have great producers of  Italian-style meats, cheeses, wines, pastas and sweets. Siamo fortunati! We are lucky.

My recent trip to Italy was impulsive,  brief (for me) and truly enlightening. I’ve been to the Abruzzo region in central Italy many times now but this last time I felt that I connected in a more meaningful way. It’s always my aim when I travel to immerse myself in all a place has to offer in the way of history, culture and local tradition. Nothing speaks more of cultural patrimony than what people grow, raise, produce and consume.

In Santo Stefano Sessanio, near L’Aquila, high up in the mountains of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, we ate at a restaurant, Il Ristoro degli Elfi. The Lentil soup alone was worth the trip, and we complimented our hosts Anna and Silvan on its flavour and delicacy. After finishing our meal and settling the account, our hosts presented my fellow diners and I with a bag of lentils each.  We had eaten Slow Food designated lentils, and as well as being restaurateur, Silvan Fulgenzi was the grower of the lentils.  So we were eating at the source.

The lentils of Santo Stefano Sessanio
The lentils of Santo Stefano Sessanio – produce by Silvan Fulgenzi

At my wonderful and quirky little B & B in Roseto degli Abruzzi, my grandfather’s hometown,  I was lucky to befriend the owner, Lucia Simioni.  She is passionate about the Abruzzo region and all it has to offer in the way of art, historic hill towns, ancient ruins and interesting initiatives by local people. She has a wonderful garden full of flowering plants and herbs all of which she obtained from a local supplier –  a medicinal botanical garden and agricultural enterprise near the tiny town of Morro D’oro, where my grandmother came from. One day we made an appointment to visit the garden.

The beautiful Giardino Officinale (Orto Botanico Azienda Agricola) with its small classroom and shop, is run by the friendly and knowledgable  Filippo Torzolini.  If you have been to the Abbey at Santa Maria di Propezzano then you were very close.  Filippo opens the gardens, classroom and shop to students and visitors interested in learning about the medicinal value of plants. Products made from plants, such as essential oils and flower-infused liquors and cordial drinks are available.  Filippo also told us about their pasta manufactured from the ancient grain Saragolla. This grain had fallen out of fashion, but he is now growing and producing various pasta shapes. I bought a few bags to try.

Saragolla Pasta
Saragolla Pasta

Click the photos below to see a slide show.

When I returned to Australia I had a cache or lovely Abruzzo products to share with my loved ones. As well as the pasta and lentils I had saffron from Barisciano, also near L’Aquila. And I was armed with techniques and ideas for meals to share.

Other bloggers have sung the praises of Abruzzo producers who are passionate about retaining their long history of gastronomy and I want to add my voice to the chorus that salutes their efforts. I urge you to read my new friend and fellow blogger Michelle’s recent post on this topic at Majella Home Cooking.

We are fortunate to have wonderful products in Australia to cook with and we owe a lot to our Italian migrants who have kept up traditions that bind families and communities together. May we be fortunate enough to go back to the source often. Buon appetito e salute a tutti!

Flashback to: Ten Weeks in Italy 2010

Loro Ciuffenna, Toscana
Loro Ciuffenna, Toscana

Flashback to: Ten Weeks in Italy 2010

In 2010, my older sister and I were fortunate to be able to spend five weeks together, studying, visiting relatives and travelling in Italy. Then my husband joined me for another five weeks in Italy with a few days in Singapore on the way back to Australia.

I did a separate blog for the ten week trip as I have done for other trips (on main MLT at Large page see My Travel Sites links for others) and I was very new to blogging. The blog starts at the end of our trip with our stopover in Singapore via London, and works back. This 2010 visit to Italy still stands out as one of my top trips ever for a variety of reasons (though, seriously, none have disappointed). I hope to do many more.

I re-lived some of that fun with my sister more recently with a quick trip to the Abruzzo and beyond; and I learned so much attending Let’s Blog Abruzzo and just being there with a different purpose. I drank new wines, learned new recipes, saw incredibly beautiful parts of the Abruzzo. As well, I have made some new friends and acquaintances and renewed my relationship with cousins.

I’m still trying to find my blogging place in the world. Re-visiting these 2010 posts puts me in a happy frame of mind so I wanted to share some of that happy with newer followers. I would love to hear some critiques from readers and other bloggers. Click the link under the photo up the top to see my Ten Weeks in Italy blog.

Ciao for now…MLT

Italy ~ a nation of foodies

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When in Italy, the conversation always turns to food. Whether on the bus, riding a bike along the lungomare (esplanade), sitting on the train, waiting at the post office, at a coffee bar, with friends and family. It’s everywhere. There is talk about foods in season, the price of cheese, the colour of apricots, different types of tomatoes and their qualities, the preparation of a particular ingredient, legendary family cooks and their dishes, regional specialities. It is endless this talk. There is passion and memory and pride.

On occasion I manage to get photos of the foods I eat but sometimes I get so excited I dig right in completely forgetting the photos until after…

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In one day as I went about my way in Roseto degli Abruzzo, I overheard these words:

Pranzo = lunch
Ai fungi = with mushrooms
Prosciutto = cured ham
Magre = thin (describing someone who did not ‘mangia’ enough)
Sale = salt
Mela = apple
Melanzana = eggplant
Salsicce = sausage
Frittura = fried, as in a frittura di pesce, a mixed fried fish dish (drool)
Sugo = sauce
Olio = oil
Piccante = hot (spicy)
Pasta = pasta or pastry, such as for baking
Limone = lemon
Pistaccio = pistachio
Alla braccia = on the grill
Al forno = in the oven

The speakers of these words were from all walks of life. Two men in business attire at a coffee bar discussed cooking salsicce alla braccia. An older woman and a young mother on the beach compared methods for making a torta di mela and the consistence of the pasta for the base. Two teenage girls expressed their love for the fritto misto (frittura di pesce) at a local beach restaurant. A vigorous discussion took place by the beach with three 20-something guys discussing the best gelateria in town. From the passion and the hand waving I was sure the discussion had to be about calcio (soccer/futbol), but no. A consensus was not reached in the end.

A friend waxed lyrical about her mother’s timballo and then invited me to lunch with the family. My Bed and Breakfast host Lucia and her husband Fernando have a penchant for the foods of Puglia and shared with me, amongst other things, the famous pasta and ceci. Simple, tasty, squisito.

Home cooks and restaurant chefs alike prepare food all over Italy with a long culinary history, simple ingredients and above all pride. I am so fortunate to have shared their passion for good food, lovingly prepared.

Thank you Sabrina and her parents Elisa and Dorino, cousins Walter, Adriana, Stefano and Annamaria, as well as new friends and proprietors of Luci a’ammare, Lucia and Fernando.

I applaud the chef Carlo and staff at Il Covo del Pirata for being brave and serving raw fish antipasti. All dishes show flair and are well executed.

Also, mention goes to the old favourite, Lo Spizzico for great fried seafood and that Crema Catalan. We’ll be back.

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Day Trip from Sulmona to Scanno

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If you find yourself in Sulmono, a town in the L’Aquila province within the Abruzzo region, ‘senza macchina’ – without a car – it is worth the effort to catch the local bus to picturesque Scanno. And if you go on a school day when the teenagers from Scanno are travelling home from Sulmona, expect a little adventure.

On the day we went, a normal city bus departed Sulmona and climbed up through a forested, hilly area, with ever narrowing roads. Eventually we reached a small tunnel and I thought, “no way this bus will get through that”. The driver stopped and all of the teenagers piled out of the bus. My sister and I looked at one another. In my broken Italian I asked if we had to get out. A girl responded yes and indicated we should follow her.

So, off we got and followed the others into a side track where there was a minibus parked. The group of 40 people crammed into the 22 seater. Some older women (not my sister and I) told the teenagers to get up and give their seats to ‘l’anziane’ – the elderly. We sat. After a 20 point turn, the driver maneuvered out of the side track, on to the road and through the tunnel. When we reached the other end of the tunnel we all piled out and into another full size bus waiting at the side of the road to make the rest of the journey to Scanno! I was a little curious as to why we didn’t stay in the little bus but one does not question the wily ways of Italian public transport, especially in a remote place!

We managed to have a little bit of sunshine while we walked around the old town but the afternoon came over all rainy. Not before we got a few pictures of the old town, il centro storico.

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Scanno is known for its women dressed in traditional costume but on this rainy, mid-week, off-season day, we only saw a few stray dogs and some teenagers in the old town. I expect the women had watched the weather forecast…