We left Rome on Thursday and drove through snow capped mountains into the neighbouring region of Abruzzo. Mark and I had been invited to stay there by the lovely Giulia who runs a Bed and Breakfast and a restaurant called Casale Centurione, wedged between the seaside city of Pescara and the elegant mountain town of Sulmona.
I had never been to the region before and knew about it mainly because there are so many Abruzzesi in Australia. I was filled with some trepidation as we crossed the mountains that separate Abruzzo from the Mediterranean coast of Italy as I had not been expecting there to be snow. Giulia had organised an amazing couple of days for Mark and me, starting with staying at the gorgeous Casale Centurione and learning about the traditions of la cucina Abruzzese (Abruzzese cooking). One of the things I was keen to do was to make pasta alla chitarra (pasta which is square in cross section and made using a chitarra, or guitar, to cut a thicker pasta sheet into spaghetti). Francesca, who cooks at the restaurant and is also Giulia’s mother-in-law, showed me her grandmother’s ancient chitarra (below), which is no longer used but is a family heirloom.
In addition to pasta alla chitarra, we made sagne (a type of pasta that we ate with chickpeas grown on the property) using the local solina flour (from an ancient grain grown in the Majella mountains), cheese filled fiadoni and tiny polpettine al cacio e uova (little cheese and egg balls). We ate cured meats (including an incredible liver salame – salsiccine di fegato) that were either made by Giulia’s family or made by other locals. Everyday for breakfast there was another amazing cake. I was especially impressed with the crostata made with farro. Everywhere I looked, things were made from scratch, seasonal and local.
I fell in love with Abruzzese cooking and the passion that Giulia and her friends have for Abruzzo is infectious. As she says, they are “trying to put Abruzzo on the map”, for people from other countries to visit and enjoy in addition to the popular Tuscany and Umbria. Judging from the beautiful things that I saw in my brief time there, it certainly has a lot to give.
I will be writing more blog posts about Abruzzo in the coming months (as Giulia packed so much in our three days there). In the meantime, please look up Giulia’s website for Casale Centurione and follow her on Instagram @casalecenturioneabruzzo or the Casale Centurione Facebook page. I can’t wait to return one summer to enjoy other seasonal delights from this amazing part of the world and see my good friend Giulia again.