Tag Archives: homemade

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…

Abruzzo and my mother

Abruzzo is never far from my mind.  I am planning a trip of my own later this year. But, as always in April, my thoughts turn to my late mother Louise Pergolini Tucker. She would have been 89 this week. Not only was she born on the 10th of April but she also died on her 81st birthday. So the date holds even more significance and bitter-sweet memories.

Ironically, our mother never visited Abruzzo, but she was our link to her parent’s place. We are connected by a long line of people with the names of Pergolini, DeAngelis, Mezzacappa, DiRocco, Fagà, Marini, Marani, Ettore, Tassone. Villages like Morro d’Oro, Rosburgo, Montepagano, Montorio al Vomano, Notaresco, Scoppito, Roio Piano and more.

Through the years photos kept our migrant grandparents in touch with their family. Travel was not easy, money was short.

The first picture below shows our great-grandmother Sofia DeAngelis with her youngest child Vittorio Pergolini taken in Roseto degli Abruzzi. Vittorio was born in 1910, a year after his older brother (my grandfather Giovanni – John ) left for America. The brothers met 50 years after this photo was taken. Four of Sophia’s six children emigrated to ‘L’America’.

The next photo is of our mother’s grandfather Nicola Mezzacappa,  from Morro d’Oro, Abruzzo, pictured on the front porch steep at Thompson Street, Philadelphia in the 1940s. He left his wife behind until he got settled, then sent for his family, which included my grandmother.

The third photo shows the brothers:my grandfather John, my grandmother Anna Mezzacappa and Zio Vittorio. It was taken in Rome when John and Anna made their one-and-only trip back to Italy in 1963. The brothers first met on this trip.

The last photo shows more of Louise’s Abruzzo influences. Her own mother, our grandfather’s brother’s wives and a neighbour at a beach house in Delaware, cleaning up after a clamming expedition and meal, no doubt.

Click for a slideshow of images.

Vittorio Pergolini Sofia DeAngelis

Vittorio and mother Sofia, Roseto degli Abruzzi

Nicola Mezzacappa

Nicola Mezzacappa, from Morro d’Oro to Philadelphia

Anna and John united in Rome with Vittorio, 1963

Anna and John united in Rome with Vittorio, 1963

Pergolini women

The women cleaning up after a fish dinner.

It’s almost unfathomable to us now, with ease of travel and modern communication methods, that brothers could not meet until they were in their 50s and 60s. But they wrote affectionate letters and sent photos back and forth to maintain the relationship. Thanks to the relationships they kept, some of us have been fortunate to meet our mother’s cousins and their children and grandchildren. The journey of discovery, not only of our family, but of the beautiful rich culture of Abruzzo, continues.

For all of our mother’s modernity, forging her way in the new world, there was no denying her Italian roots. Last year, before I started this blog, I wrote on my other blog about Louise’s love of Mussels. Soon after, on this blog I wrote about the connection with her heritage symbolised by the dish Scripelle ‘Mbusse. Food is surely the biggest connection to ones heritage.

I’m reminded of Louise’s resistance to make lasagne because it was so labour intensive. After all she had six children, a part-time job as a nurse and a home to run. But we always convinced her to make lasagne for special occasions. She didn’t make her own pasta though. No, she was a modern woman who knew where to buy the good stuff!

Her lasagne was truly worth the wait. She never used a recipe. Feeding a large family was intuitive for her. For quantities, she worked back from how many people she needed to feed on the occasion. Then she doubled it in case any unexpected guests arrived. Nothing could be more embarrassing than to run out of food!

Louise’s lasagne was a tightly packed, multi-layered affair, and in hindsight was more like a timballo. Traditionally a timballo from the Teramo region is made with super-thin crepes (screpelle) instead of pasta. However, Louise used layers of fresh egg pasta, mozzarella, a homemade tomato sugo (starting with ‘un soffritto’ of garlic, olive oil, carrot, celery, onion and herbs) with minced (ground) beef, some vegetables like zucchini or eggplant if in season and topped with more mozzarella and pecorino cheese.

It’s surprising that I don’t have a photo of my mother’s famous lasagne to show here. Maybe one of my siblings has a photo of the Christmas table to share. If you’re reading guys, send me your photos!

Instead of Louise’s lasagne I will show you our modern American mother of Italian heritage, caught between cultures and managing both with great legs, and a martini…or two. Salute!

Louise at age 38 or so, already the mother of 5.

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’.

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!