by Michele Scicolone
The Abruzzo region of Italy located to the east of Rome has everything going for it. There are beautiful national parks, a long coastline on the Adriatic, rugged snowcapped Apennine Mountains, and little medieval towns perched precariously on hill tops. But on this visit, Charles and I were invited to Abruzzo to experience great wine and cuisine. These are some of the highlights of the food.
When we arrived at Cataldi Madonna Winery in Ofena, we were greeted by the owner’s daughter Giulia, and welcomed with an array of their wines to taste. For Charles’ report on the wines, go to http://www.charlesscicolone.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/return-to-the-cataldi-madonna-winery/ Two cooks were frying small disks of dough dusted with sea salt for pizze fritte, meant to be eaten hot with the hand sliced local prosciutto.
The warmth of the bread brought out the earthy flavors of the prosciutto and an assortment of other salumi. There were also several cheeses made from sheep’s milk.
After our snack, the next stop was a walk up to the Rocca Calascio, an 11th Century fort, one of the oldest in Italy, located within the Gran Sasso National Park. Lunch followed at a rustic restaurant.
We began with a hearty bean soup topped with crisp croutons,
followed by polenta with pork ribs in a tomato sauce. The Abruzzese love spicy food and a bowl of ground dried chilies, peperoncino, was passed with each dish. We drank the wines of Cataldi Mandonna that we had tasted at the winery.
Later we visited the spectacular Zacagnini Winery. Mr. Enzo Vogliolo, the marketing director accompanied us to dinner where we began with delicate crepes, crespelle, to eat with culatello, a type of ham similar to prosciutto, made from the choicest part of the pig.
There were more delicious cheeses, accompanied by local honey and preserves.
Next came arrosticini, an icon of Abruzzese cooking, small pieces of precisely cut cubes of lamb grilled on bamboo skewers. Mr. Vogliolo said the meat was agnellone, from mature lambs. Though we had arrosticini on several occasions on this trip, this version was by far the best. The lamb was tender and juicy and infused with the smoky flavors of the grill. A few members of our group competed to see who could devour the most skewers.
We drank the Zaccagnini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo and the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with our meal.
The next day we visited the medieval town of Pretoro and had lunch at La Torre Restaurant. There, Concetta, the owner and chef, gave us a lesson in how to make pasta alla chitarra, the classic square shaped spaghetti of Abruzzo. She is a master of the art and her tips and tricks were invaluable. “Farina, farina, farina,” she would say, tossing clouds of flour at our pasta to be sure it would not stick.
Michele getting ready to make pasta alla chitarra
To make it, you will need to have a chitarra to cut the pasta. It is a wooden frame strung with wires that resembles a guitar and you can purchase one on the web.
Concetta cooked and sauced our pasta with a classic lamb ragu.
We also had time to try our hands at making potato gnocchi which we ate with a green vegetable sauce. Afterward we had lamb two ways, one rolled and stuffed with spinach and cheese, and the other roasted.
We drank the Cerasuolo d’ Abruzzo and the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the co-op Lunaria.
That night we had dinner on a trabocco. Fishermen traditionally used these wooden piers topped with a shed that jut far out from the shore to catch fish from. The one we visited had been converted to a restaurant.
We began with hot, crispy fritto misto wrapped in a paper cone.
Then there was a plate of cold seafood. Baked scallops came next,
followed by heaping platters of small sea snails cooked in a tomato sauce.
While some of our group were not interested in eating the snails, others couldn’t seem to get enough.
The snails were followed by rigatoni in a mixed seafood sauce, then fish fillets baked in paper thin potato slices.
We drank the Cuvé Prestige 830 and the Riseis from Agriverde.
Possibly my favorite meal of the whole trip was the one we enjoyed at Agriturismo Grappolo D’Oro.
A group of local musicians singing folk music and playing traditional instruments greeted us.
The antipasto consisted of an assortment of Abruzzese bread and focaccia, frittatas, vegetables and cheeses.
We all loved the bread “meatballs,” just like meatballs but made without meat and shaped like sausages simmered in a tomato sauce. As we watched, our hosts prepared pasta alla chitarra, but this version was made with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine, and took on a purplish color. It was topped simply with cheese and good olive oil.
Grilled plump, juicy sausages followed, some sweet and some spicy hot. We ended with bocconoti, tender individual pies filled with pastry cream accompanied by fresh cherries. There was more music and lots of wine throughout the meal.
We drank the Fenaroli Brut 36 Metodo Classico and the Ferzo Pecorino and Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo from Citra a large co-op.
Later that day we attended the grand tasting of wines from Abruzzo at Villa Estea, a beautiful palazzo overlooking the ocean. Dozens of winemakers attended and we were able to taste a variety of wines from all over the region.