After three weeks in Lanciano, I was a little sad to leave, but also excited to see more of Abruzzo. The still-hot weather drew me to the coast and the ancient city of Vasto.
Vasto has a great seafaring and fishing tradition which is expressed with perfection in the most famous dish of the region, the Brodetto Vastese (in dialect, ‘lu Vrudatte’). Unlike other soups, this brodetto does not begin with a ‘soffritto’ which is a mix of things like onion, celery, garlic and carrot to start a soup, sauce or stew. The brodetto is made while at sea and uses seasonal fish and shell-fish to create the ‘broth’. Depending on what was available when the crew left shore, there could be tomatoes garlic and parsley to throw into the pot for added flavour and nutrition. Some old bread, toasted over a flame or on a grill is served with the dish to sop up the broth.
Most local restaurants serve a Brodetto Vastese and it’s usually designed for two. Travelling alone has its benefits, but when it comes to trying a variety of dishes or dishes designed for two, well, sometimes you have to miss out.
On the recommendation of a local, I decided to have lunch at Cibo Matto. There was only one couple in the restaurant when I arrived. I usually prefer a full restaurant as a sign that the food will be good, but I decided to trust local knowledge and stayed.
The couple seated near me had just received a large clay serving dish at their table and I knew it was the brodetto. With their permission I took a few photos and entreated them to enjoy!
Back at my table I happily ordered a glass of local Pecorino wine (not to be confused with the sheep’s milk cheese), a first course of pesce crudo and a main course of spaghetti vongole, one of my favourite meals in Italy when done well.
Between my courses one of my neighbouring diners approached my table with a small plate containing a generous portion of their Brodetto Vastese. She explained that it was just too much food for the two of them. Since I was alone and didn’t have the opportunity to try the dish alone, she wanted me to have a taste. My eyes welled with tears at her utter kindness to me, a perfect stranger. This generous soul was Lucia Egidio from near Benevento in Campania. She works as an ‘Estetiste’ or beautician, but also has training in the travel industry and would like to make a career in that field. I wish her well and hope that her generous nature and personality give her an edge in life. I will think fondly of her always.
I thoroughly enjoyed the strong fish flavour balanced with tomato, both fresh and dried herbs plus a little olive oil. I didn’t waste a drop of the lovely broth and left nothing but some small bones in my dish.
Having tasted the signature dish of the town, I was able to then get on with the business of being a tourist.
Vasto has a close affiliation with the City of Perth in Western Australia and the local commune flies an Australian flag. Many emigrants, including my American cousins’ father, have family who came from Vasto. There is a small park with a statue commemorating the many who left for the new world.
A famous son of the town, (exiled to England) the writer and patriot Gabriele Rossetti, is honoured with a statue in the main piazza of the old town. Rossetti’s daughter was the poet Christina Rossetti.
I visited a number of churches but the remains of San Pietro were most captivating, sitting alone on the edge of a cliff. An old building which formerly housed wealthy citizens, Palazzo d’Avalos, now houses art galleries and an archaeology museum. The grounds of the palazzo are beautiful and lush and include some Roman columns.
I spent many a happy hour walking the long ‘belvedere’ on the edge of town, drinking in the view and contemplating the next stop in my ‘giro d’Abruzzo’, Manoppello. But more on that later.