Tag Archives: cibo

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…

Advertisements

Pescara seafood feasting

Abruzzo’s most populous city, Pescara, has a reputation as a brash new city, however its history pre-dates the Roman Empire.  The Lombards, Spaniards, Turks and French have all attacked or ruled over the centuries.

As a key Adriatic port city, much of the old medieval centre was bombed and destroyed during WWII. It has the appearance of a new city. Luckily, there is a wealth of tradition here and enough of a vibrant young population to put Pescara on a culinary par with better known cities.

The Romans dubbed it Aternum, which was also the name of the river that divides the northern and southern parts of the city. It wasn’t until 12th century that Pescara was known by something resembling its current name – then it was Piscaria, meaning ‘abundant in fish’. I visited in October, after the summer high-demand period when fish stocks are low, so luckily, I was able to taste some of this bounty.

When it comes to the old and the new of food in Pescara, you are spoiled for choice. I was wowed by the few restaurant meals I had and the flavours in one establishment were as edgy as any I have had in the ‘new world’.

Twice I lunched at Berardo Caffé, a big open air establishment at the beach end of Corso Umberto I. The front of the building is a popular coffee, cake and gelato place, and the back, a restaurant with just a few choices and specials on offer.

The setting is modern, but the treatment of the food was quite authentic and true to the region known for seafood.

There was a selection of different vegetables on display and one day I simply needed veggies.  So I indulged in the grilled pepper, zucchini, fennel and chicory accompanied by the delicious homemade bread and a glass of local Ceresuola wine. This wine is rosè in colour but has none of the lolly sweetness of some rosè wines. It is made from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape but spends less time on the skin to achieve its beautiful hue.

Another day, I dined with friend Amanda on the timeless classic Frittura di Pesce, a delicately battered then deep-fried mixed seafood dish. We followed with spaghetti vongole (my death bed meal) tossed with fresh cherry tomatoes that had just been lightly crushed. The vongole (clams) at Berardo were pan steamed with the tomatoes then the pasta was tossed in and warmed together to create a lovely emulsification. And veggies, more veggies.

Fritto Misto - Frittura di pesce - plus a side of roasted and grilled veggies at Berardo Caffè, Pescara. Classic, timeless, perfect.

Fritto Misto – Frittura di pesce – plus a side of roasted and grilled veggies at Berardo Caffè, Pescara. Classic, timeless, perfect.

 

Spaghetti Vongole at Berardo Caffè, Pescara.

Spaghetti Vongole at Berardo Caffè, Pescara.

 

One evening I was lucky to catch up with the sister of a my friend Sandra. Sandra runs the wonderful La Cucina di Sandra in Melbourne, Australia and she and sister Paola are natives of Pescara. Paola and her beau Simone were fortunately free one evening while we were in Pescara and suggested a restaurant I’d had my eye on! So with my friend Amanda, we joined Paola and Simone at La Baracaccia, around the corner from the Esplanade Hotel.

Me with locals Simone and Paola at La Barcaccia, Pescara

Me with locals Simone and Paola at La Barcaccia, Pescara

What we experienced next was nothing short of fabulous. The restaurant inside appeared quite old school formal and the service was impeccable. However, the  food was as modern and fresh as any I have eaten anywhere. So I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

Raw fish paired with fruits and other flavours. Genius!

Raw fish paired with fruits and other flavours. Genius!

 

Raw prawns with pear and pomegranate. Who thinks of these yummy combos? They deserve a prize.

Raw prawns with pear and pomegranate. Who thinks of these yummy combos? They deserve a prize.

 

Squid, lemony oil, onion and chilli. Just the right amount of hot!

Baby squid, lemony oil, onion and chilli. Just the right amount of hot!

 

Calamari with orange, olive oil and hazlenuts. Insanely delicious.

Calamari with orange, olive oil and hazlenuts. Insanely delicious.

 

Large prawns with passionfruit. I know, just crazy, but it works.

Large prawns with passionfruit. I know, just crazy, but it works.

 

Spaghetti with mussels and squid. This was subtle and divine.

Chitarrini with mussels and squid. This was subtle and divine.

 

For years I have treated Pescara as a transit hub, but from now on I vow to go to Pescara each trip to Abruzzo and try more of the delicious offerings.

 

Postcard from Vasto, Abruzzo

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.

Views galore

Views galore along the belvedere – lookout

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!

thumb_P1000620_1024

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.

Statue of Vasto local Gabriele Rossetti

Statue of Vasto local Gabriele 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.