There are certain foods I associate with different countries. I’m not necessarily talking about a national dish but more a meal that I discovered in that country and whenever I taste it I can instantly imagine myself back there.
Years ago, when I worked in Germany, I tasted schnitzel and wurst in their many forms and although it’s years since I had a jaeger schnitzel (pork with creamy mushroom sauce) or a zigeuner schnitzel (pork with a paprika sauce) I feel I’ll be transported back to Bavaria if I ever taste them again.
But I think Italy is different, or at least my perception of Italy is different. I don’t think about a national dish, I think about regional dishes. Once again it may not be what’s considered typical of the region, but its taste, its smell and the very thought of it transports me back to where I first tasted it.
I’ll always associate spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) with our honeymoon in Liguria, pappardelle al cinghiale (pasta with wild boar sauce) with Tuscany and anything with ceci (chickpeas) with Abruzzo.
Each of these regions have many other standout dishes so I’m not trying to say that these are what they’re famous for, I’m just saying that whenever I see these foods offered on a menu I automatically remember when I was there.
From a culinary point of view I think Italy is very different to most countries I’ve visited. In the same way as there are political and geographical borders I think there are culinary borders. What I mean is that as you travel from one region to the other, as you admire the changing landscape, recognise the changing customs, you’ll also see that the food eaten in homes and on offer in restaurants also changes.
Despite the fact that Navelli (AQ) is one of the most significant sources of saffron I don’t think I’ve ever seen risotto on a restaurant menu in Abruzzo. Maybe I haven’t gone to the right restaurants but I tend to associate risotto with the northern regions of Italy.
Where am I going with this?
On New Year’s Eve we were meeting the family Parlione for lunch at a restaurant in Silvi Alta (TE) called Locanda del Frate. It’s a lovely restaurant and as it’s a locanda (guesthouse) it also has rooms where you can stay. The owner said he has regulars that come each year from Italy and many other European countries who base themselves in Silvi Alta while spending their days by the sea at Silvi Marina or Pineto just a few kilometres away.
On their brochure they say
On an attractive natural terrace overlooking the sea 3km from the beach, but also close to the mountains for those who enjoy relaxing excursions, in Silvi’s town square, we find the “Locanda del Frate”.
My first choice from their menu was pappardelle al sugo di papera (pasta with duck sauce), another dish I associate with Abruzzo, but I was out of luck as they were all out of duck. The owner said the pappardelle al cinghiale was excellent so I went for that instead.
He was right. It was excellent. The pappardelle was perfectly cooked and the sauce was rich but not too heavy. It worked perfectly with a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (what else? ) from Colle Moro of Guastameroli di Frisa (CH).
But I was surprised to see pappardelle al cinghiale (pasta with wild boar sauce) on the menu. In general I like to eat typical food of the region and the province of Teramo is certainly a great place to go to sample many wonderful choices, but when I saw pasta with wild boar sauce I immediately started thinking about Tuscany and in particular Siena with its medieval cityscape and its palio (horse race). In 2006 I spent 10 days there doing a crash course in Italian as I also discovered the beauty of Florence, San Gimignano and Montalcino.
And here’s a photo to prove it!
These days there are more foods that remind me of Abruzzo than any other region of Italy. Not really surprising as I’ve spent so much more time in Abruzzo than anywhere else. But the pappardelle al cinghiale made me curious. Is it common enough in Abruzzo? Have I been mistaken thinking it was a dish from Tuscany?
That afternoon I actually had a plan to eat lightly for lunch as we were invited to a friend’s house for a celebratory dinner to ring in the New Year later on. I was warned to arrive hungry as we were going to have a series of very special courses.
But my plan evaporated.
The combination of beautiful surroundings, great conversation with a very welcoming family and the food on offer meant that I just got sucked in and enjoyed the experience. It was lovely to meet Max, Rita, Ernesto, Nanda, Manuela and Alessio and enjoy good food, a little wine and excellent conversation. Alessio stole the show by treating us to some Abruzzese folk songs during and after the meal.
At one point I looked around the table and noticed that everyone was talking or laughing, enjoying their lunch, looking relaxed even though it was the first time some of us met.
I think that’s one of the things I really like about my experiences of meeting new people in Abruzzo, often all it takes is a little conversation, a coffee or a plate of pasta and you can have the foundation of a great friendship.
For dessert I had a truly stunning and extremely light tiramisu made with orange flower instead of the usual coffee.
The walk around Silvi afterwards was nice and relaxing. Everyone seemed comfortable moving between little groupings, from conversation to conversation, from family members to ex-strangers and back again.
Many thanks Max and Rita for organising it.