Tag Archives: pasta

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.

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The simple things

Out of sheer necessity, my mother Louise Pergolini, made simple meals at home. She was usually feeding anywhere from eight to 12 people each day.

When she knew she’d be home for a few hours, she’d often made a big stock pot of sugo, an all-purpose tomato sauce for pasta meals or braised meat dishes. It normally contained, depending on the season, whole fresh or tinned tomatoes, a soffritto of onion, carrot and celery (aka the holy trinity), a bit of fresh garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, dried oregano and basil plus a bit of red wine. Depending on what was in the fridge, it might have been enhanced with some spicy pork sausages or some pork ribs, or both. Or there may have been time to make meatballs, consigning a few of us kids to help form the little balls of pork and veal. Some of the sugo was for the evening meal and some was destined for the freezer to provide quick week-night meals.

Our stock pot was enormous and the long wooden stirrer was nearly immersed to reach the bottom. The smell was divine and us kids couldn’t resist nipping past with a corner of crusty white continental bread and dipping into the pot for a taste. I’m sure all mothers have ears in the back of their heads because Louise would sing out just as we dunked, “Hands out of the pot. There won’t be any left for dinner”.

Fast forward to 2014. The work week is busy for my husband and I, so when we have time in the kitchen together, we like to get a nice pot of sugo simmering. This weekend, it started with the soffritto of onion, carrot and celery. Then we browned some pork ribs procured earlier in the day from our Italian butcher, Marino Meats at the Adelaide Central Market. We added a few tins of whole tomatoes; some herbs – oregano, basil, thyme (both fresh and dried from our garden); a dash of Tempranillo (OK, it’s not Italian, but it was open!); garlic; red hot chillies from the garden and some dried pepperoncini. Everyone has a favourite recipe, probably like your grandmother’s with seasonal variations and accounting for heat.

While the sauce simmered away and filled the house with savoury aromas, Andrew got on to the pasta. A local grain grower Pankarra, stone mills their own wholegrain durum wheat. Combining the Pangkarra with equal parts of ’00’ flour from Molini Pizzuti we have found works well for different shapes of pasta. Add fresh eggs from our friend Ben’s chooks.

Salted water boiling, pasta in, garden-fresh parsley chopped, cheese grated and ‘voila!’, dinner.

Sometimes the simplest things are the most satisfying.

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.

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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!