Tag Archives: friends

A slow bike ride and a Slow Food lunch in Pacentro

On a dark and very rainy day in 2013, I first visited Pacentro, a medieval village perched at 690 meters above sea level on the side of Monte Morrone, near Sulmona.

Lucky to be in Sulmona again in this year, I decided to see nearby Pacentro in the sunshine. I thought, “I’ll rent a bike for the day and ride there. There’s just a bit of a hill at the end”. Well, there is a hill at the end, but I underestimated it big time.

The ride

Riding out of Porta Napoli in Sulmona, I located a small side road that my map promised would rejoin the busier road, the SR487, further along, close to Pacentro. The trip was full of surprises.

I didn’t expect to ride four kilometres on a gravel track only to find a washed-out bridge, causing me to turn back and find an alternative route. But, like many detours, the alternative turned out to be as good, if no better. I pedalled through beautiful small farms on a sunny, late-spring day in the heart of Abruzzo. There were olive groves, fruit orchards, grapevines, dairy cattle, and newly mown hay for the animals.

I passed no other bikes and only one or two cars for the two hours. The ride didn’t require two hours, but I was compelled to stop often and take photos. And that last kilometre was all uphill.

Lunch

Proud that I hadn’t needed to dismount my trusted rental bike on the final push uphill into Pacentro, I decided to treat myself to a proper sit-down lunch. Not just a panino in the piazza. The first restaurant I came to once in town was Taverna de li Caldora.

Needing to freshen up after the hill, I nipped into the ladies room to behold the best washroom view in Abruzzo, overlooking old tiled roofs towards the Valle Peligna (Peligna Valley).

A glass of local Cerasuola (a rosé from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape) and a bowl of ravioli (sheep’s milk ricotta-filled) were all I needed to replace the carbs spent cycling. It was a Monday afternoon, and though off-season, the restaurant was busy. The buzz of happy lunchers warmed me so, replacing the memory of that rainy June day three years prior.

When I had paid ‘il conto’ I had a look around the other rooms in the restaurant and there was my second surprise of the day. The archway of one room was adorned with awards from the Slow Food movement, one for each of the last 10 years.

snail

The iconic snail on the Slow Food award (appropriately, a dinner plate) indicates that the establishment has been judged by its peers to contribute to the quality, authenticity and sustainability of the local food supply. And all that takes time…

I hadn’t set out to eat in a Slow food recognised restaurant, so I was pleased to support a local business that has a similar food ethic to my own. May the Taverna de li Caldora continue to serve excellent food and collect more snails.

A castle

After lunch I left my bike parked and strolled uphill through narrow passages, past piazzas, the local coffee bar, Monday laundry drying on balconies and the parish church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

At the high point of the village sits the Castello Caldora (Caldora Castle) with its three tall square towers and four smaller, round reinforcing towers at corners of a roughly square base. Parts of the castle date to the ninth through 13th centuries, although restorations have occurred as recently as the 1970s. It was closed when I got there so I couldn’t go inside. I later saw a sign post indicating that the Castle is only open by appointment.

My return bike ride to Sulmona was gloriously downhill all the way. I was back to town within 45 minutes, plenty of time for a shower and a museum visit before dinner.

Roseto degli Abruzzi – finalmente

Reaching Roseto degli Abruzzo is easy from Rome. There is a Baltour ticket window at Tiburtina Station. Buses depart in morning, midday and late afternoon and take about 2 and a half hours.

On departing Tiburtina, you’re soon out of the built up urban area and the scenery changes from light industrial to rural. The Apennine mountains appear quickly in the distance then suddenly you are amongst them, going through tunnels and coming out to a different world on the other side. It’s wild and rugged and lush and green. After a while, the scarred city of L’Aquila appears with more cranes on the horizon than I can count. Signs of the ‘terremoto’, earthquake, of April 2009 are clearly visible.

Soon the mountains give way to hills and I get my first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea. My grandfather, Giovanni Pergolini couldn’t talk about the bounty of the Adriatic without welling up with tears. I smile remembering him.

I am greeted by my great friend Lucia at the station where the bus me off, and we go to her B&B for an aperitivo and spuntini (a glass of wine and some nibbles).

After a swim and a shower I wander up to the centre of Roseto to see my cousin Walter at his shop, the Cartolibreria D’Ilario. Near closing time, Adriana, Walter’s wife, arrives to ride home with him. We chat. I ask her where to get the best gelato in town and she points me in the direction of her favourite, a family business that is pumping with holiday-makers, even at 10.30 on a weeknight.

At Gelateria Mario Magrini, undeterred by the crowd, I wait until my number comes up. I choose lemon, a classic benchmark for gelaterie everywhere, and a local seasonal flavour called Fichi di Montepagano which is fig from the local hilltop village where my grandfather and generations of the Pergolini and De Angelis families were born. The lemon is perfectly tart and the fichi rich and creamy, but not overly sweet. I ponder the number of trees that must be on that hillside surrounding the medieval village of Montepagano.

Walter has told me that his sister is in Roseto for a few weeks to enjoy the end of summer with her daughters and granddaughters. I have never met Gabriella and I’m excited at the prospect of meeting more cousins.

The next day I pedal up to see Walter again and Gabriella arrives at the same time with her charming and cheeky little granddaughter. I promise to go to the house later and meet the rest of the family who were holidaying together.

I have now met six more cousins: Gabriella, who is my mother’s first cousin’s daughter, plus her two daughters, two granddaughters and a son-in-law. We share family stories, look at old photos and dine on pizza and beer. I return to Lucia’s tired and happy after a short stroll along the beachfront. The moon is full and I have a stupid grin on my face. I really like these new cousins and I’m more motivated to continue to improve my Italian.

It’s so comfortable staying with Lucia, who makes all her guests feel at home with lovely touches like cake on the breakfast table! ‘Il ciambellone’ is a typical ‘dolce delle nonna’, a real nonna specialty. The recipe varies in each family. Lucia’s is divine. I’ll post a recipe soon.

Click any picture for a slide show.

I’m ready to settle in happily for a few days. But I’m registered to attend Athena International Italian Language School and the Abruzzo town of Lanciano is calling me…

Food, Love and Memories ~ Scrippelle ‘Mbusse

One thing is for sure – soup is the most curative of substances. From sniffles to broken hearts, nothing is as comforting and warming as a well prepared bowl of soup. What you put in it depends entirely on personal taste and probably a bit on your heritage.

My grandparents Giovanni and Anna were both from the Teramo province of Abruzzo and one of the typical dishes of ‘la cucina teremana’ is Scrippelle ‘Mbusse, a simple dish of seasoned crepes in a clear broth.

Our mother’s best friend Grace, also the daughter of Italian migrants, was a legendary cook who loved nothing more that to cook and tell stories. She often came to visit my mother in her retirement village bringing with her all the fixings for my mother’s favourite dishes. I can still hear Grace saying to my mother Louise, “Lou, I brought you some scripelle and with those nice little pancakes”. Grace’s scrippelle ‘mbusse had a lovely clear chicken broth with a few tiny bits of chicken and carrot visible. She would season the crepes with pecorino (“never parmesan Lou”). Then she would roll them up tight, cut them into strips, portion them out in the bowls and ladle the broth over the strips. We would eat and talk and laugh.

Louise and Grace are sadly no longer with us in this world, but their memory lives on in a bowl of scrippelle ‘mbusse prepared recently by my husband Andrew. He borrowed from Domenica Marchetti’s recipe and the Silver Spoon cook book and served with the crepes rolled up whole and the broth clear and piping hot. And with a generous pinch of love. Grazie Andrea.