Monthly Archives: June 2014

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!

Food inspiration ~ Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

 

Food inspiration takes many forms: a favourite meal remembered, a key ingredient you’ve been wanting to try, a special request from a loved one, a new recipe. Well, my beloved husband Roo has been the lucky recipient of a new kitchen tool, a little press for cutting out ravioli. This is his inspiration.

IMG_0029

I recently arrived back from a month in Italy during which time I attended a blogging conference in the Abruzzo region of Italy. There were inspired speakers and technical sessions as well as a bit of food and wine! Most of the bloggers were focussed on food, wine and tourism with a particular interest in the Abruzzo. As a thank you for keeping the home fires burning I brought my husband a few kitchen implements and the ravioli cutter was amongst them.

Armed with the ravioli cutter, a bag of locally grown Pangkarra stone-milled wholegrain durum wheat, and some fresh ricotta and spinach, Roo decided on spinach and ricotta ravioli with a simple tomato sugo. Rather than describe the process, I have photographed it. The recipe will follow the pictures.

The Recipe ~ Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli  (about 40 ravioli – four servings)

Pasta:
200 grams Pangkarra wholegrain durum flour
1/3 cup water
2 eggs
Pinch of salt
Dash of olive oil
2/3 of a beaten egg for helping pastry stick
Grated pecorino cheese and pepperoncini to serve
Filling:
125 grams ricotta
1/3 of a beaten egg
1 large handful of blanched spinach
Pinch of nutmeg
2 teaspoons of pecorino cheese
Salt & Pepper
For the pasta:
  • Blend ingredients (except pecorino, beaten egg and pepperoncini) in a food processor (or just create a well in the flour and mixing with hands) until combined.
  • Knead until smooth, about 10 to 15 minutes. Moisten with more water if the pasta seems too dry (wholemeal flour is more absorbent).
  • Roll the pasta into a ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the filling:
  • Blanch, cool and strain the spinach.
  • Season the ricotta with salt pepper and some pecorino cheese.
  • Blend the cooled spinach into the ricotta.
After resting the pasta:
  • Put a bit of flour on the bench and begin rolling out the pasta with a rolling pin. Note: if you have a machine, flatten the dough a bit to fit through the machine then start running it through the machine.
  • Continue rolling out, trying to keep the pasta thin and in a rectangular shape. You want a thin and satiny pasta.
  • Roughly mark out half of the pasta sheet, using the cutter to determine the size of each raviolo. You need to make sure you have 2 more or less equal pieces of pasta as one has to lay over the top of the other after the filling has been placed at intervals.
  • You can put a few light marks in the dough with the cutter to indicate each square, being careful not to push right through.
  • Place a dollop of the ricotta in each square that you have marked out.
  • Brush some of the beaten egg around the perimeter of each dollop.
  • Loosely cover the pasta sheet that you dolloped the ricotta onto with the top sheet.
  • Lightly press around each dollop to remove air bubbles.
  • Use the cutter to press through and create individual squares (see picture).
Pop the ravioli into a pan of boiling salted water and cook for about 8 minutes (this may seem excessive, but wholegrain flour takes a little longer).
Strain and serve with a simple tomato sauce  topped with grated pecorino and pepperoncini (or your favourite sauce).
Buon Appetito!

Italy ~ a nation of foodies

When in Italy, the conversation always turns to food. Whether on the bus, riding a bike along the lungomare (seaside 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. Here are some images from my 10 days in my grandfather’s village, Roseto degli Abruzzi, in 2013.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 consistency of the pastry 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 (Creme Brûlée). We’ll be back.

Day trip from Sulmona to Scanno

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.

20130608-185727.jpg

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.

 

20130608-184045.jpg

20130608-184317.jpg

20130608-183417.jpg

Scanno is a charming town and 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…

Learning to be a better blogger in Abruzzo

I have to admit that the idea of going to Abruzzo to learn more about the art and craft of blogging has struck some of my friends and colleagues as an odd thing. To be honest, most of them have never heard of Abruzzo. Unless, of course it’s just the humorous mention of it by a character in the recent Australian film ‘Red Dog’. The mine worker, Vanno, is always singing the praises of his homeland in Italy, “Ah, now in the Abruzzi…” followed by any of “…the women are the most beautiful” or “…the food is the best in the world” or “…the scenery is fantastic”. As a migrant in a desolate, woman-less, remote mining outpost of Western Australia in the 1970s it’s easy to see how Vanno would have a sense of Abruzzo as a paradise on earth! But there’s a lot of truth in this idealised vision of our character’s homeland.

Casa DRocco Morro d'Oro

From the kitchen window of the DiRocco family home in Morro d’Oro, Abruzzo

As someone who also has heritage in Abruzzo, I seem to have an attraction to web sites or blogs that discuss Italy (refer previous post here) and more so if the content mentions the word ‘Abruzzo’. So when I learnt of the Let’s Blog Abruzzo event (yes I have been following the blog of one of the organisers) I thought, “what a wonderful alignment of the planets”. A visit to Bell’Abruzzo. A room full of people all interested in Abruzzo food, wine and tourism. A room full of people who know so much more than me about blogging. A session to help me with my photography. A list of sponsors who produce food and wine that we will be able to taste. An opportunity to meet people whose blogs I have been following for ages. It was a ‘no brainer’…

I am so looking forward to seeing family, attending the conference in a part of Abruzzo that I’ve not been to before – the hill-top town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio – and immersing myself in all that Let’s Blog Abruzzo has to offer. Ci vediamo presto!

An Italian Obsession

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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 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, who he referred to 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 just the funniest looking little fellow with wild hair that looks like he had recently tumbled out of bed.  They all look so serious.

I was reminded of this photo again when a fellow Italy obsessed blogger Debra recently posted a blog entry about a wonderful looking museum with equally great photos from the Museo Paolo Cresci in Lucca. Refer to the post here.

So, my lovely grandparent’s wedding photo started me on a journey to discover my Italian heritage. It encouraged me to visit Italy numerous times to meet my grandparent’s families and see their villages in Abruzzo and learn how to speak some sort of Italian!

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