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!

An Italian Obsession

It started with a photo. My grandparent’s wedding photo.

I always had a sense that we were different. My mother’s parents had a funny accent when they spoke English and they talked real loud. My friends couldn’t understand our grandfather. I was used to it and explained that my Pop-Pop was Italian and that he was from ‘the Abruzzi’.

He did have a thick accent but we must have grown used to it. Mom-Mom not so much. Pop-Pop was only 13 when he arrived in America and he was already a tailor. His schooling lasted 3 years before he was taught a trade at age 9. Imagine that today. Mom-mom arrived with her mother and a one of her sisters to join their father who was already in Philadelphia. She went to high school and although Italian was the language of home, she was educated in English through her high school years in ‘l’America’.

But the photo. I was a little obsessed with it for some years. It seemed like something from another time and place than our rather normal Anglo existence, it was foreign and exotic and we just weren’t!

I don’t remember seeing the wedding photo for the first time until I was in High School, probably after my grandmother died and my grandfather sold up and moved to the Jersey Shore. It turned up at my parent’s house amongst the possessions that Pop-Pop no longer needed in his tiny apartment on California Avenue, Atlantic City. He had been totally dedicated to Mom-Mom, Anna. He use to refer to her as ‘my Annie’. He survived another 18 years after she was gone.

But I digress. The photo was taken in 1922 in Philadelphia and I don’t know the other people in it other than my grandparents, the bride and groom. They were 9 years apart. My grandmother was only 18 and my grandfather 27 or so. The bride, bridesmaid and  flower girl have the best hats and the biggest flowers, but the little boy ring-bearer is jut the funniest looking little fellow with wild hair that looks like he jut tumbled out of bed.  They all look so serious.

I have been inspired to think about this photo again as a fellow Italy-obsessed blogger Debra recently posted an entry about a wonderful looking museum with some equally great photos from the Museo Paolo Cresci in Lucca. Refer to the post here.

So here’s a copy of my lovely grandparent’s wedding photo. It started me on  journey to discover my Italian heritage, to visit Italy many times over to meet my grandparent’s families and see their villages in Abruzzo and to try to learn how to speak the most basic sentences in Italian.

I would love to hear what you think or if you have a story (or even an obsession) associated with a family photo.

Anna Mezacappa and Giovanni Pergolini
Anna Mezzacappa and Giovanni Pergolini