Tag Archives: Abruzzo Food

The Slow Food Train in Abruzzo

There’s a striking railway journey that connects the Abruzzo province with neighbouring Molise. This journey is named the TranSiberiana d’Italia due to the evocative and remote scenery of the trip which crosses the Appenines, covered in snow much of the year.

Historic towns, railway stations, mountains, valleys and plains of wild beauty are traversed on a formerly-abandoned railway line. The journeys are organised in major part by the ‘Amici della Ferrovia – Le Rotaie Molise‘ a volunteer organisation created to preserve old trains, promote train modelling, and since 2014, carry tourists on historic routes with themed journeys. Collaboration with the Foundazione FS Italiane (the Italian rail foundation) ensures the train line stays alive.

In 2015, Le Rotaie Molise was awarded a GoSlow prize from Co.Mo.Do (Confederazione Mobilità Dolce) – ‘comodo’ translates as ‘comfortable’ –  an organisation that aims to promote a national ‘soft mobility network’ through the recovery of abandoned land infrastructure such as railways, roadways, embankments and historical paths.

I was fortunate to acquire a ticket to ride on the Slow Food themed train journey from Sulmona to Roccaraso, which is about half of the potential journey to Isernia, Molise.  All of this trip was within Abruzzo.

Click to enlarge, scroll and read captions.

The journey began at 9am when we met and departed from Sulmona Station. We returned to Sulmona just before 7pm. In between, we made five station stops along the way. At each there was a degustation of artisan-produced foods such as cheese from cow, goat or sheep milk; various honeys; traditionally produced and preserved salami; peperoni dolci – sweet peppers; truffles; artisanal beer; porchetta from the black pig, seasoned with fennel and farro; wines of the Peligna Valley; genziana, a locally made amaro (bitter liqueur)  of the Gentian root; various local sweet treats; and polenta.

The train was from the 1930s and had old wooden seats. The trains were used during the 30s and 40s to transport soldiers and supplies. But comfort didn’t matter; the views along the way were breathtaking and I spent little time in my seat, always trying to grab a good photo of the passing beauty. Most of the journey passed through the Parco Nazionale della Majella (Majella National Park).

On board were volunteers of the Amici della Ferrovia to explain anything we wanted to know about the journey or the train. Also on board were volunteers of the Peligna Slow Food convivium to tell us more about the territory we would pass through and what foods were historically (and still) produced in each zone. The passion for all things slow was clearly visible with a large crew of volunteers on hand at the stations as well. The volunteers I spoke with were so proud of their land and traditions, and rightfully so.

The photos below show the scenery, the people and some of the foods encountered along the way.

Click to enlarge, scroll and read captions.

If you are planning a trip to the Abruzzo or Molise provinces, check with the Amici della Ferrovia–Le Rotaie Molise and join one of their journeys. Each train ride is different and station stops vary according to theme. A journey’s theme could be artisan beer, local wine, or Christmas. Some trips simply celebrate the art and culture of various villages (borghi) along the route. Even if the train didn’t stop, the territory is unbelievably grand as it passes through Italy’s green heart.

The current calendar of journeys can be found on the Le Rotaie Molise site here. Or send an email Le Rotaie Molise on info@lerotaie.com. Their English is, well, better than my Italian…

Ciambellone – an Abruzzo specialty

The Ciambellone is the sweet symbol of every Abruzzese nonna (grandmother). Recipes vary from nonna to nonna.  Some incorporate a touch of sweet, citrus-scented liquor; some a spoonful of cocoa powder; and others a sprinkling of crusty, crystallised sugar on top.


This recipe is based on the recipe used by Lucia at my favourite B&B in Roseto degli Abruzzi. Grazie Lucia per la ricetta!

Lucia's Ciambellone with cocoa

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

Serves 6-8 people, depending on how hungry!

  • 300 g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 150 g sugar
  • 3 whole eggs
  • a drop of vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 glass of milk
  • 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
  • 1 packet of lievito per dolci (16 g) if you can find it *
  • butter and a little more flour to grease the pan

* Substitute 1 tablespoon of baking powder & 2 teaspoons baking soda if you can’t find lievito. See picture below.

Method

  1. Add all dry and wet ingredients, except the cocoa, into a bowl.
  2. Using a hand mixer, mix for 15 minutes until blended thoroughly.
  3. Heat the oven to 150 centigrade (@305 F).
  4. Butter and flour a ring (kuglehopf/bundt) pan.
  5. Add half of the batter to the pan.
  6. Sift most of the cocoa onto the batter and gently run a skewer through in a wave pattern to mix the cocoa in (this will give you subtle stripes of cocoa, not a chocolate cake).
  7. Pour the rest of the batter into the pan.
  8. Sprinkle the remaining cocoa on top in a random fashion.
  9. Cook in the oven for about 35 minutes or until done.
  10. Allow to cool on a rack then turn onto a plate.
  11. When cool, sprinkle with a small amount of confectioner’s sugar to serve.

Delicious for breakfast, morning tea or afternoon coffee break (pretty much anytime, actually).

The ‘lievito per dolci’ is pictured below, along with a serving suggestion for breakfast! There are many brands available in Italy but I have never noticed it in Australia.

Buon Appetito!

An ‘Abruzzo’ evening in Melbourne at La Cucina di Sandra

IMG_0774 A few weeks ago I had the pleasure, along with my husband and five other diners, of attending a cooking class with Sandra del Greco. Sandra runs cooking classes for small groups at her home, which she shares with husband Alf, in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond. From the moment you arrive, you feel you have entered an intimate, private dinner club. Sandra’s classes each focus on a different aspect of Italian cooking, but don’t be fooled into thinking that she only cooks Italian. No, Sandra is accomplished in many world cuisines such as Thai and Moroccan amongst others. Her eclectic home has floor to ceiling shelves to contain her numerous cookbooks. But with her new venture, La Cucina di Sandra (just over 14 months old now), she focuses on regional Italian food as well as special focus classes on say mushrooms, or matching pasta shapes with sauces, or zuppe e minestre (types of soups). We were fortunate to attend the class  La Cucina Abruzzese ~ the cuisine of Abruzzo. This is Sandra’s home region; she was born in Pescara on the Adriatic coast. Abruzzo is well known for its many delicious seafood dishes but as its geography also includes rolling hills and mountains that run along the central spine of central Italy, the dishes of the shepherds feature prominently as well. After introductions and a welcome beverage and spuntino (a snack of parmesan biscuits to have with our wine), we gathered at Sandra’s long kitchen bench and watched the proceedings. Lively conversation and debate ensued about fresh vs dried pasta, cheese with fish, misconceptions about Italian food, how emigration has created different ‘Italian’ dishes, plus imported or local ingredients, small goods and cheeses available for home cooks in Australia. Sandra continued to cook through all the discussion, explaining each step along the way. So what did we eat? Our first course of Minestra di brodo di Pesce (a fish soup with broccoli and pasta). It contained lovely pieces of firm white ling and whiting, plus prawns in a very refined clear fish stock. IMG_0836 Next, we enjoyed Cozze ripieni al forno (stuffed baked mussels). The oven cooking created a savoury crust without over-cooking the mussels. IMG_0780 For the next course we moved inland. Sandra browned finely minced lamb with white wine, saffron, sage and stock. This formed the base upon which rested rigatoni pasta that had been tossed through beaten egg. The process of blending the wheat starch from the still-slightly-wet pasta with the raw beaten egg created a beautiful, satiny emulsification. Topped with freshly grated pecorino, this had to be my dish of the night ~ Rigatoni all’Abruzzese con salsa allo zafferano (rigatoni with saffron sauce). IMG_0799 I am not a sweets lover as a rule, but I love a desert that includes cheese. Sandra’s desert course, Ricotta all zafferano (saffron ricotta) used ricotta sourced from local Melbourne business La Latteria. She had drained the ricotta overnight then flavoured it with lemon, saffron sugar and some sweet Marsala wine. Topped with shaved chocolate, chopped hazelnuts and a crostoli biscuit, this was a fresh and light finish to a great meal. IMG_0801 Before attending her class we had never met Sandra, but already we’re talking about how we can swing another trip to Melbourne. Sandra’s passion for Italy and generosity with her knowledge make this an experience worth travelling for. We drove eight hours from Adelaide to get to La Cucina di Sandra and it was indeed ‘vale la pena’ – worth the effort! Here’s all you need to know to book your own evening or buy a class for a friend. So go ahead – take a trip to Italy, if only for an evening.

La Cucina di Sandra

62 Lyndhurst Street Richmond Victoria 3121 Australia Telephone: 0419 503 805 or (03) 9421 1883 Email:          lacucina.disandra@ozemail.com.au Website:      http://www.lacucinadisandra.com.au/

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Arrosticini days

Arrosticini are skewers of cubed lamb meat cooked over charcoal and are a specialty of the Abruzzo region of Italy. Historically, arrosticini were prepared by shepherds on the move. Now they can be found at many festivals in the region, at social gatherings, conference lunches and some restaurants.

Most of the foods that we grew up with reflected the ethnic identity of our grandparents. On our father’s side, Anglo-Celtic and German, and on our mother’s side Italian (Abruzzese). But our Italian grandfather was from the coast and never really liked the taste of sheep meat. So, my first discovery of arrosticini was at a restaurant on Lungomare Roma in Roseto degli Abruzzi – Lo Spizzico – which my sister and I visited in 2010 with our cousin Walter.

On my next visit to Abruzzo I was pleased to have more of these tasty lamb morsels at lunch one day while attending Let’s Blog Abruzzo 2013.

Note the narrow gutter-like grill for cooking the arrosticini - Santo Stefano di Sessanio (AQ)

Note the narrow gutter-like grill for cooking the arrosticini – Santo Stefano di Sessanio (AQ)

My husband is an afficianado of cooking over charcoal and when I suggested we get some lamb from our butcher, he was keen. After all, it’s summer in Australia and  open BBQ season. Our garden was, and still is, ripe with juicy tomatoes and fragrant basil for an accompanying salad of locally made buffalo mozzarella, salted capers and peppery rocket (arugula).

Adelaide’s mediterranean climate provides us with a variety of excellent local olive oils and wines to match with any meal. Once the lamb was skewered and sizzling over the coals, the biggest giveaway that we weren’t in Abruzzo was that we don’t have a proper arrosticini grill. We substituted our little Weber charcoal grill. Our cut of meat was probably slightly leaner that in Abruzzo but Andrew ensured all the cubes of meat were small enough and evenly cut so as to cook evenly without drying out and added a drizzle of oil to each.

With summer still here for some time, we will be enjoying many more ‘arrosticini days’.

Uncle Mike’s Pizzelle

Our great uncle Michael Izzo married into the Mezzacappa family and acquired not only his wife, my great aunt Ethel, but four more sisters.  All potential suitors had to be scrutinised by our great grandfather Nicola Mezzacappa, who could be, by all accounts, somewhat frightening and very protective of his five daughters. So having passed muster, you knew he had to be a decent man.

My grandmother Anna, her older sister Maria Luisa and their parents were born in Morro d’Oro which is in the Teramo province of the Abruzzo region. The three younger sisters, Agnes, Filomena and Ethel, were born in Philadelphia after the family migrated in 1909. Like millions of migrants before and since, their food traditions were their connection to the motherland.

Uncle Mike was a warm man who loved food and his adopted family. From what I remember he was often in the kitchen helping his beloved Ethel.  It’s Mike’s pizzelle recipe that’s made its way from Abruzzo to Australia, via Philadelphia and Minneapolis.

Pizzelle are a typical sweet from Abruzzo. I have also heard them called cancelle or ferratelle. They are like a waffle but made thin and crisp. You can also form them into little cones as you take them off the iron (there’s a special wooden tool for this) while they are still pliable. But you have to be quick as they become crisp as they cool down.

My sister Annie acquired our grandmother’s pizzelle iron which had ended up with Mike and Ethel after our grandmother died. Uncle Mike dictated the recipe to Annie over the phone. She wrote it on a card and gave it to me on one of my trips to Minneapolis.

Irons for sale at the Wednesday market in Roseto degli Abruzzi

Irons for sale at the Wednesday market in Roseto degli Abruzzi

When we bought our pizzelle iron a trip to Roseto degli Abruzzi in 1998, we considered buying a modern electric one that makes two pizzelle at a time, but the single manual style was easier to transport around Europe and back to Australia.

On a recent Saturday we needed a light desert to serve with coffee and tea. August is still officially winter in Adelaide and pizzelle always remind me of winter, each one looking like a snowflake. So, my husband got out the trusty pizzelle iron and in no time had made the perfect post lunch treat.

Uncle Mike’s recipe calls for anise, and we usually split the recipe into two batches – in half the batter we substitute a splash of lemon and some lemon zest. I love both flavours.

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The master at work

With salted caramel ice cream!

Since we lack the tool to make cones (you can do it by hand) we just made ice cream sandwiches!

And here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

Uncle Mike’s Pizzelle

Ingredients

3 beaten eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup melted butter
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoon anise seeds

Method

Heat the iron and brush or spray once with oil.
Drop a tablespoon at a time of batter onto the hot side of the iron (if using a manual iron).
Close the iron and cook for one minute.
Turn the iron over for 20 seconds or so to cook the other side thoroughly.
As the iron gets hotter, reduce the cooking time. You want each pizzelle to finish with a golden colour.
Place the cooked pizzelle on a cake rack to cool so they will crisp up.
Repeat until all batter is gone.
Once thoroughly cooled, pizzelle can be stored in sealed tins or containers for up to a month, if they last.