Tag Archives: abruzzo

Dinner at Plistia restaurant, Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

This post does not feature beer. But it does feature some bread, as well as as soup containing grains. And a little cake. Some of which is photographed with my rubbish phone’s rubbish camera.

I know, I know, quality blogging is all about quality photography, especially when food is involved, but generally we’re not lugging the DSLR around with us when we eat and drink. I really need to get a decent phone with a decent camera, or even a new compact camera.

In my defence, I’d say I was more of a writer than a photographer, so hopefully I can describe these dishes through the medium of the English language, to compensate for the blurry pics.

So, the weekend of Saturday 29 June 2013, we headed out of Rome to get some mountain air in Abruzzo. We stayed in the town of Pescasseroli, at the heart of Abruzzo National Park. I’ve written about our hikes here; at the end of our second, long hike, we had a restaurant booked for Fran’s birthday dinner. This was Plistia, a restaurant and albergo located on the main road through the small town.

A kind of pasty - ok, a calzone - in Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

First, however, we had an aperitivo in a bar on the nearby piazza. The snacks included this Abruzzo “pasty” (probably actually a type of calzone, but they’re all related right?), and some sparkling Pecorino.

Many people don’t realise it, but Pecorino isn’t just the name of sheep’s milk cheese, it’s also a very good white wine from Abruzzo and adjoining regions, or more specifically a grape variety. Since we moved to Italy and started learning more about the vast number of Italian wines that don’t make an impression in the export market, it’s become our go-to white wine. Although Pecorinos (Pecorini?) vary, they’re generally slightly foral wines with some body – and as such a very nice versatile alternative to something like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. When we moved on to Plistia, the host, Cicitto, settled us in and filled our glasses with more Pecorino.

No menus were offered, but we were absotuly happy with his. He just said, “We’re going to feed you, lots of food, take it slowly”. Considering you enter the restaurant via a dogleg hallway with a view straight into the open kitchen, they’re clearly confident about their food. Fran had researched the place more than me, but I was also reassured by this confidence, and years of Slow Food certificates on the wall.

On our honeymoon, in Croatia and Italy, Fran and I had agreed that for a couple of taster menus we had arranged, we would eat everything, despite our personal preferences (hers: red meat; mine: very little red meat). When Cicitto went to get the first dish, Fran and I shook on “Croatia rules”. Of course, this being inland Italy, where the food is hearty and the red meat ready and bleeding, that was always going to be more in her favour, but hey – it was her birthday!

The first course was a cheese plate. Cicitto said four of the seven cheeses were world champions. I don’t know anything about cheese world championships (it doesn’t really get the TV coverage of the World Cup, say), but they were delicious: five sheeps’ milk and one goats’ milk, of varying characteristics: young and sweet, mature and crunchy. The two harder, more mature ones we were instructed to eat with a strawberry sauce with balsamic, and a very nice combination it was too.

lardo bread

Next up we had something that was apparently an invention of the chef, Laura, Cicitto’s wife, rather than a traditional Abruzzo item with a name… I think. I could be wrong. Anyway, it was basically like a savoury doughnut, swathed in lardo. People assume lardo is just Italian for lard, but it’s a false friend. Lard is actually struzzo. Lardo is in fact a cured meat, like prosciutto crudo but with an emphasis on the fat. Racheleats discusses of the differences between several types of salumipancetta, guanciale and lardo – and has a good photo to illustrate it:

pancetta, guanciale, lardo from Racheleats

Again, despite the crapness of my photo it was delicious. The bread, made with a lievito madre (natural leaven), was white and soft inside, and the crust was crunchy and fatty, from the cooking oil and from the flavoursome melting lardo. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d never naturally be inclined to try, but loved when I did.

Next up was a soup. This was exactly the sort of thing I would naturally want to eat: a thoroughly rustic minestra. This one was made with grains, beans and greens. The grains were farro decorticato, or more specifically they were husked emmer. The beans were cannellini, or similar. The greens were an Abruzzo spinach. It was one of those soups that had such depth of flavour you wonder how it was achieved with such simple ingredients. It wasn’t even made with a meat stock, apparently. Fab. As much as I enjoyed the whole meal, the soup alone would have made me happy.

Soup at Plistia, Pescasseroli

After the soup we had not one but two pasta primi. The first was caramelle, that is filled pasta shapes that resemble wrapped hard sweets, or like ravioli that have had their ends twisted. The filling here was faraona – guinea fowl – and they had a buttery sauce with juniper berries. The latter are an important part of Abruzzo cuisine it seems.

Caramelle at Plistia, Pescasseroli

The second pasta was made with short, flat noodle pieces (possibly maltagliata – “badly cut”) that had parsley and pecorino cheese in the dough. It was served with a sauce with a little guanciale, saffron and some thin so-called wild asparagus. This was one of the meal’s weaker courses as it was a little salty and the asparagus was a bit woody. I’m surprised they had it, as over in Lazio we’re way past asparagus season. Sure there’s a different climate in the mountains of Abruzzo, but asparagus is a spring vegetable, and it was 30 June.

After all this, we were pieno come le uova (“full like eggs”), but meataholic Fran could hardly resist the offer of a steak. I don’t really eat steak, so we had one between us and she had the lion’s share. It was tender and bloody, and came in a deglazing sauce of red wine with black peppercorns and more juniper.

We were officially full by this point, but it seemed almost rude to deflect the offer of a desert. We had one plate, with a meringue and a kind of light custard, a ricotto cake and a chocolate form filled with more of the custard. These provided a sugary hit, but didn’t really compare with the flavoursome savoury courses.

Overall though, a suberb meal, and one of the best I’ve had in Italy. Furthermore, it cost about €40 a head – a price you could easily pay in Rome for just two mediocre courses and a few glasses of wine. Most certainly a meal with buon rapporto qualità-prezzo. So if you find yourself in Abruzzo, perhaps doing some hiking in the beautiful mountains, we heartily recommend a visit to Cicitto and Laura at Plistia’s restaurant.

Infodump:
Plistia, Via Principe di Napoli 28, 67032 Pescasseroli, Abruzzo
albergoristoranteplistia.it / info@albergoristoranteplistia.it / +39 (0) 863 910 732

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Filed under Misc, Other food, Restaurants etc

Flapjack action photos

Not really. A certain amount of inaction actually, but here are the flapjacks I blogged about before, being eaten in the mountains around Pescasseroli, in Abruzzo National Park.

Flapjack break, near the ruins of Castel Mancino, above Pescasseroli

Flapjack break, near the ruins of Castel Mancino, above Pescasseroli

Flapjack and wild thyme, etc

Flapjack with wild thyme and other flowers

Flapjack at Rifugio di Lorio

Flapjack at Rifugio di Lorio (1830m), Rocca Ridge, west of Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

If you’re interested in hiking in Abruzzo and the Apennines, I’ve done another post here, on my other, not-specifically-foodie-blog.

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Filed under Discussion, Misc, Other food

Two days of hiking in Abruzzo National Park

We’ve just done a couple of days of hiking in Abruzzo National Park, in the central Apennines of Italy. We stayed at the small town of Pescasseroli, a very friendly place located in the centre of the park and at an elevation of around 1150m.

We followed a couple of routes from the Lonely Planet book Hiking in Italy by Brendan Sainsbury. We caught a bus direct from Rome to Pescasseroli, then just started our walks in the town.

Day 1 – short walk above Pescasseroli

We headed out of the town into a valley to the west. This is path B3, which climbs from pasture and into pine forest on the hillside. On the map we used, the hill and ridge are called Bocca di Forno – “The Oven’s Mouth”.

The path curved around the hillside, continuing through pine forest, with some clearings that were full of flowers and butterflies.

The path then descended into the ruins of Castel Mancino, a mysterious 10th-11th century fortress that fell into disuse then became a source of building stones for the village below. Seeing the first ruined tower among the pine trees was like something out of Skyrim. Fab.

And here’s Fran.

Day 2 – Rocca Ridge

This was our main walk. Sainsbury gives his route at 19.5km, but we finished it by looping back onto part of the path we followed yesterday, heading for a bar by a more scenic route, so we did around 22km (about 13.5 miles).

We headed up a valley due south of Pescasseroli, onto path C1, then, leaving behind a farm, onto path C3. The whole landscape here is shaped by transhumance, and we immediately encounterd a herd of white cows grazing among the beech trees by Rifugio della Difesa. There were guarded by a very professional Maremmano who barked at us until we were a decent distance beyong the herd.

Path C3 takes you up through beatiful beech forest, which reminded me of the Amon Hen woodland where Frodo separates himself from the Fellowship in the denouement the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. New Zealand beech (Nothofagus) is in an entirely different botanical family to European beech (Fagus) though.

Although most of these trails are fairly well blazed, especially in the woods, occasionally the markings can be baffling, never mind the fact that the colour coding changes and the route names seem to be being revised. (This pic is probably out of order, can’t remember specifically where it was.)

We continued on, past the slightly sorry church of Santa Maria di Monte Tranquillo (at around 1600m), then up to a high pasture at the fairly derelict, private Rifugio (shelter) di Monte Tranquillo. There, four people on horses passed us, with the leader going all cowboy and chasing a grazing herd higher up the mountainside.

Although it’s hard to capture with a photograph, things got a bit steeper here as we climbed up around Monte Pietroso (1876m).

Fran, who has a kind of steep-slopes-vertigo, suddenly found herself facing one of her worst fears. Even though she’d chosen the route… clearly named “Rocca Ridge” in the book. (Another of her worst fears is formidable dogs. She’s even quite nervous around cows. So, so far, the walk was going well, challenging her fears and phobias!). The path up round Pietroso isn’t clear, but soon you reach the ridge itself.

Shortly after we got up to the highest point of the walk, La Rocca itself, with the 1924m summit marked by a cairn.

We continued along the ridge, heading north along path C5. Fran pushed the pace here as she wanted off. Steep slopes on both sides weren’t an ideal birthday present. (I won’t even mention her anxiety about thunder storms.) It was a fabulous walk though, with flowers everywhere,  including several types of geranium, greater celandine, wild thymes, several types of euphorbia, viper’s bugloss (love that name; it’s great in Italian too – viperina azzurra. Nicer thatn Echium vulgare) and many many others, like wild chives. I never realised chives liked mountaintops that are covered in snow and ice for several months of the year.

And gentians. Such an amazing colour.

There were even the remants of some snow. If you look at one of the pics above, the beech forest seems to be tinged in Autumnal red, but this is actually withered and dying leaves – I suspect the spring growth was hit by some late snow-fall.

And some more rugged mountain horses. I’ve never seen horses as sure-footed and mountain goat-like as these.

Although there are a few dozen brown bears left in the area, wolves, golden eagles, and allegedly even lynx, our wildlife encounters included some raptors (possibly Buteo buteo, the common buzzard), innumerable butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers, and swifts whistling around our ears on the ridge. Best of all, however, was thisVulpes vulpes specimen, who came jogging along the the ridge path from the other direction.

We thought he’d run off when saw us, but he kept getting closer, until he stopped at our feet, like a pet dog expecting a treat. I suspect hikers do feed the foxes, hence the behaviour, but it was still a wonderful moment, as foxes are among my favourite animals. I even thought about patting him like a dog until the word “rabies” popped into my mind. He was a very healthy looking specimen though, so it was probably just my turn to be paranoid.

We eventually left the ridge at Rifugio di Lorio (padlocked – apparently you have to get the keys from the park authorities. Which seems pretty silly, to have a shelter you can’t access if you’re caught in a storm). I had a flapjack break, then we started the descent.

Path B4, dropped to the east, took us back into the beech forest and onto path B1, though this seemed to be called something else on the blazes (R7?), just to confuse things.

We even subsequently saw a small, weathered sign pinned to a tree that said we weren’t even supposed to have walked C5, the ridge route, without a guide, as part of the bear conservation programme. Maybe having some info on the park website, pinning the signs at both ends of the park, and, oh, opening the tourist office, might have been a better way to disseminate this info. Presumably none of the other half-dozen hikers we’d seen on the path had received this info either. So Italian.

We descended through the forest, past some ski facilities (absurd looking without snow), then back onto part of the path we’d done yesterday, under the castle ruins. I was craving a beer, but when we finally made it to Pescasseroli’s only birreria they only had foreign muck and industrial beer, so I forwent that essential part of any hike and settled instead for an aperitivo later.

We were joined by another Marammano, presumably retired. These guys are ubiquitious in Pescasseroli, wandering to the streets blagging stuzzichini (aperitivo snacks).

All in all, a great walk. Despite Fran’s uncertainties. Soon forgotten, after a glass and a half of prosecco. (Only a half – a big dog barged the table, smashing the glasss, before Fran could finish her second one.)

We concluded the day with one of the best meals we’ve had in Italy.

(Apologies – the pics are mostly taken on my rubbish phone’s 5MP camera I’m afraid. Fran is the real photographer with the proper DSLR. Maybe she’ll put some on Flickr at some point, and I can link to them.)

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Filed under Italy, Main thread

Flapjacks

plate of flapjacks

Growing up in Britain, I was quite confused when I first heard the American English usage of “flapjack”. I ate a lot of flapjacks when I was a kid, and it was a staple of my university years, so the idea that the name could be used for anything other than a sweet slab of oaty goodness did not compute. Apparently the American usage of the word is for a pancake, something made with batter and fried in a pan. Wuh? What in blazes? What the flip?

I’ve experienced a lot of this low-level cultural confusion lately, having done three months in the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome. Some days I’d talk to a California colleague and they’d look at me totally blankly, following neither my accent nor my idiom. Other days, it seemed like everyone was doing comedy English accents, taking the piss. Anyway, I digress (as usual).

This is a flapjack. It’s made with rolled oats.

oats

We’re – finally – going hiking in the mountains this weekend, and when you’re hiking, you need energy food. Oats are perhaps the best straightfoward, real energy food you can get. Feed them to working horses and they’ll go and go. Eat porridge (gah – oatmeal!), muesli or granola for breakfast and you’re set till lunchtime. It’s all about the slow energy release from the complex carbohydrates. Oats are also great because the bran (the high fibre bit)  reduces low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol”. I should probably say “some research indicates” it reduces LDL or something, but I thought there was a pretty good scientific consensus these days. Oats are also high in protein – not the increasingly problematic proteins of starchy modern wheat, but a different type that’s reportedly akin to meat or egg protein.

Humble, but a real superfood.

So flapjacks are great. Except for the fact that, when making them, you undo a lot of the good work of the oat in its natural state by slathering it with butter and refined sugars, in the form of sugar and golden syrup.

Golden Syrup

The butter is essential for proper flapjacks, but what defines them is really the golden syrup. Ah, golden syrup. I believe this doesn’t exist many parts of the world, but in my British upbringing it was v important – notably for the quintessential winter steamed pudding known as treacle sponge. Which isn’t made with treacle (black, ie molasses) but is made with golden syrup (golden). It looks like honey, but is basically a viscous liquid sugar. Technically it’s an inverted sugar syrup. Felicity Cloake in The Guardian also dedicates one of her “How to make the perfect…” blogs to flapjacks. She discusses the whole crunchy vs chewy thing, so I’m not going to go into that. She also includes a link to this useful site, with an in-depth discussion of flapjacks.

Suffice to say, flapjacks are stupidly simple and unsophisticated, they’re packed with rolled oats, they’re very sweet, and they’ll help you get across mountains. I just hope it doesn’t thunder and lighting when we’re up there among the peaks of Abruzzo National Park, as that’d totally freak out Fran. And, as much as I’d dearly dearly love to see one of western Europe’s few (really tragically few – maybe a three dozen or) remaining brown bears, let’s just hope one doesn’t get too excited about the flapjacks, as that’s totally freak us both out. We should be alright; if they were made with honey, that’d be another story, as bears love honey right?

As for a recipe. Well, I made a lot of flapjacks when I was at universty, and played around with the recipe extensively. I’ve not made them for years though, and my recipe is tucked away somewhere, in another country, in a shed, in a box, in a knackered old blue scrapbook. So instead, I used Cloake’s, with a few minor tweaks that I’d probably tweak some more were I to make them again any time soon.

sugary fatty goodness

Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).

Line a baking tin with baking parchment. Cloake suggests a 30x20cm tin, but I think these would be better thicker, so if you have a tin a size down from that, I’d recommend using it.

Melt 250g butter in a large pan, along with 70g of brown sugar (Demerara is traditional; I used more of a soft brown as sugar types are little different here in Italy to in the UK) and 150g golden syrup. (Guys – seriously, electronic scales, tare function, easy. Tablespooning golden syrup is messy and inaccurate. Not that accuracy really matters for a recipe like this. It’s not a fancy cake with exacting chemical reactions.)

When the mix is all melted, add 450g of rolled oats. You can use a mixture of jumbo and quick-cook porridge oats, whatever you fancy. Add a pinch of salt too, if you’ve used unsalted butter.

Bake for about 25 minutes until nice and golden brown. Mine are a bit underbaked but the darned oven in our rental flat has very aggressive bottom heat so I didn’t want to char the bottom trying to get a golden brown top. I’ve had a charred bottom before, and it’s not fun.

sugary fatty oaty goodness

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Filed under Biscuits, cookies, Other food, Recipes