Tag Archives: arrosticini

Little Easter – Big Meal, Italy’s Traditional Post-Easter Sunday Picnic

A feast to make you feel like you’ve died and gone to Heaven

I grew up in the United States where we celebrated Easter this way: an egg hunt in the morning, usually indoors because Wisconsin spring weather rarely cooperated; late morning Church services; and a big lunch with family. Although, I grew up in a Catholic family, I first found out about Little Easter Monday in Italy. Perhaps, because we were mostly German.

Linda's famous lasagna

Pasquetta, or Easter Monday, is, in theory, an important religious holiday. I keep forgetting why. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the day before––Easter Sunday–– but with all the lasagna, roast lamb, potatoes with fresh picked rosemary, artichokes, wine, and visits from friends and family, there’s never been time to talk about the spiritual meaning of the Monday after. I would like to know what the spiritual importance of Easter Monday is, but for years, just as I begin to recover from Easter Sunday, but before I find the energy to ask, we set out on the annual Pasquetta picnic. Or, because we are in Navelli, the area around L’Aquila, we start setting plates on the long table in the basement taverna. This is because of yet another spring snow storm. Sometimes you can ski in Abruzzo, less than two hours from Rome, deep into May

Pasquetta is Italy’s other picnic holiday, an old-world cousin of Memorial Day or Labor Day in the U.S. Grill-outs with arrosticini (http://wp.me/pfkhI-1W), local pork sausages, bruschetta (grilled bread with olive oil on top–– and diced fresh tomatoes in the summer), fried artichokes, lamb ribs, more lasagna, salami and pizza di pasqua (not really pizza but a semi-sweet traditional bread), aged pecorino cheese, and lots of wine. Pasquetta is one of those occasions when I prefer a chilled Cerasuolo, the rosé made from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes. It goes well with the slight burning of the mountain sun on your face and the wild mixture of foods.

Easter Dinner 2010, My Plate

Good rosés, like the Cerasuolo’s from Cataldi Madonna (Ofena) or Valle Reale (Popoli) are never compromises.

This year I’ll be going easy on the wine. Pasquetta 2010 falls on the eve of the first anniversary of the disastrous earthquake that hit L’Aquila and over forty surrounding towns. The earthquake that killed over 300 people and routed tens of thousands from their homes (including us). The earthquake that seriously damaged one of Italy’s largest historical centers. The center that is still l mostly off-limits to all but firefighters and work crews clearing the rubble.

Lamb, potatoes, Pasqua 2010

We will celebrate Easter and celebrate Pasquetta. We will commemorate our city and the friends and relatives and daily life we lost at 3.32 in the morning of April 6, 2009.
We want L’Aquila, which means “the Eagle” to rise up and fly again. It’s an obvious metaphor, but then it’s also obvious that L’Aquila should be rebuilt. Not just the buildings, but its economy, traditions, and community.

- Joshua Lawrence

PS: The other Italian picnic holiday, Italy’s traditional picnic per eccellenza, is Ferragosto (August 15th). Although it, too, is an important religious holiday, its spiritual significance escapes me for the same reason––I’m too busy digesting.

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Skewered Liver & Onions

The Revenge of Happiness on a Stick

Montesilvano, the beachfront modern extension of Pescara is mainly know for two things – summer hotels for families and arrosticini. Even though we spent 4 months there following the L’Aquila quake, we never did get around to seeing if the latter was a reputation well deserved.

Emily's blacktruffle pizza

I was not in much of a hurry – Abruzzo itself is famous for the little mutton skewers. Anyone with a place to grill out has one of the characteristic long and thin arrosticini grills, and I’ve become good at them myself -but much of the credit for those goes to the butcher in San Pio delle Camere. If you’re in a place where a flock of sheep can block the road, the mutton is usually pretty good. Here on the Adriatic coast it’s a common follow-up to pizza, at Sofia’s parent-student Christmas pizza party they served arrosticini in terra-cotta vases to keep them warm.

(By the way, if find yourself stranded in a swarm of sheep in Abruzzo, do not get out of the car to take pictures until after you talk to the Shepherd. There are probably a few of the beautiful, massive and overly protective Pastore Abruzzese sheep guard dogs blending in with the flock).

So last night Piero, the father of one of Emily’s friends took us to one of his favorite places, the Locanda di Crocitto. La Locanda, is a noisy neighborhood pizza joint in a modern, inland part of town, is not Montesilvano’s most famous place for arrosticini (I’ll write about them when we go there), but it did have a few pleasant surprises. Emily enjoyed her black truffle pizza, and Silvia’s huge ravioli with ricotta from the ancient buffalo breed were excellent.
Piero, however, had called ahead to make sure they had enough of the liver arrosticini set aside for us.
Arrosticini, as a general rule, are made from some form of mutton. Usually adults, not lamb. Part of the reason they are cut into little cubes and roasted over red glowing coals is to turn tougher meat into tender, greasy addictive tidbits you can pull off the stick with your teeth like a viking. Fun and primordial. And that’s what Emily and her friend did with a dozen of the mutton ones, forgetting half their pizzas.

Arrosticini di fegato, stage front, ravioli backstage

Piero and I had a few of those, per devozione, to “keep the faith”, as they say in Italy. But we made room for scores of the liver ones. Choice chunks of liver alternating with laurel leaves, diced pancetta and quarters of baby onions. You don’t actually eat the laurel, but I did discover they joy of nibbling at the toasted corners.
It aint just chopped liver.

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Wild Garbanzos

I just adore cicerchia. Pronounced “chee-cher-ki-ya” (more or less), it is one of those ancient foods have almost disappeared from the tables of the world.
In English they are known as red peas or flatpod peavines (and many other strange names) but I had never heard of them before I first savored them years ago a the Sagra della Cicerchia in Castelvecchio Calvisio near Santo Stefano on top of the Gran Sasso. They are almost wild (according to some websites they are wild) and grow well in places with difficult climates and poor soils throughout the Mediterranean and the middle east. Small yields and unbelievably long cooking times (and food poisoning if you don’t drain the water away enough), they were mainly an emergency crop in isolated areas, to eat when other crops fail. Or so it seems.
They are related to chick peas, and look as though a chick pea was squished into an uneven cube. But it’s the flavor – a cross between italian chick peas and upper Wisconsin wild rice – that makes a simple plate of cicierchia and sagne pasta (with tomato sauce and olive oil) make you feel rugged and warm.
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The Sagra di Castelvecchio was always one of my favorites. But not just for the food; it was held in the narrow medieval streets of this tiny old town perched up on a promontory below the Castle in Calascio. The earthquake last April put an end to it, for now. This year they teamed up with other towns and cicerchia were on hand at nearby Santo Stefano da Sessanio.
To this year they were even tastier.
Great with arrosticini.

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Happiness on a Stick – Arrosticini

September is ending and the hustle of work and school has once again taken over our lives. In the mountains of Abruzzo weekends can go from warm and sunny on Saturday morning to rainy and chilly on Saturday evening (enough to get a fire blazing in the fireplace) to short-sleeve sunny again on Sunday. Perfect days to sneak in the last few grill-outs of the season.

Which brings me once again to arrosticini.

Arrosticini are to Italian picnic and sagre (small town fairs) like hot-dogs are to the the Fourth of July picnics and county fairs back in the United States. They are tiny shish-kebabs, little chunks of mutton on tiny wooden skewers. The are gilled over coal and are so common in Abruzzo that many families have two outdoor grills, one for most other meets, cheeses and vegetables, another for arrosticini. These grills are long and skinny so that they little sticks rest on the sides and the cook can turn them over with his bare fingers. The fine cut of the mutton and the heat of the coals make otherwise chewy meat tender and and almost primitively delicious.
Arrosticini at the Sagra di Santo Stefano - just a 45 minute wait
You have to eat them right off the gril, before they cool and lose their tenderness and flavor. Usually whole plates are places in the middle of the table and people reach and grab a few sticks.

I usually avoid them at sagre, because the lines are too long and chaotic (but this only confirms how popular they are). In our garden in Navelli they are much more fun too cook, shooting the breeze with friends, drinking a bottle of Peroni beer or a glass of local wine. Kids first, then the rest of us. In Abruzzo, as in most of Italy, when it’s dinner with family and friends, there is always more than enough to drink.

Arrosticini - instructions for use

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Sunny Aftermath

Today is one of those sunny Sundays in Navelli where the intensity of the light play subtle tricks on your eyes. From the shade of the gazebo in the family garden the trees between me and the crisp blue sky seem like layers of scenery on a too real to be real cinemascope movie background. The cumulous clouds would be cut outs if the didn’t slowly change in and move by in the sky. Soon it will be lunchtime. The earthquake seems so far away.
Yesterday the sky and light were the same, but it was much more than that.
It was Ferragosto.
Ferragosto is Italy’s Labour Day and Fourth of July weekends rolled into one. In theory it’s a religious holiday (it’s the day the Virgin Mary rose to heaven) but beyond those who go to church services in the morning, the day revolves around picnicking with friends and family. Everybody is eating in large groups, and if weather permits, you must eat outdoors.
Grilled meats are king. Sausages, lamb, ribs, fresh pancetta and more. In Abruzzo arrosticini (little skewers of tiny cubes of mutton roast over coals), are everywhere. The smell of smoke and grizzling fat remind me of the childhood cookouts on Lake Wingra in Madison, Wisconsin. Then I open my eyes and see the mountains and not the canoe filled lakes of my memories.
Yesterday the garden in Navelli was filled with friends and relatives, sitting and milling along the long row of tables between the pine trees and the roses. Some where here for the the whole day, others stopping in on the way to or from other outdoor feasts. Lunch revolved around Linda’s roast lamb and her famous lasagna. Following the local tradition it’s made of fresh pasta, local mozzarella and ragù (tomato and meat sauce). No béchamel here. Antipasto was local pecorino cheese with honey with crushed pistachios, local salami and hand cut prosciutto ham with figs.
If you’ve tried prosciutto e melone (dried ham and cantaloupe), try graduating up to prosciutto and fresh figs. The contrast of sappy sweet and salty are part of what makes summers in Italy a step closer to taste bud heaven. (Honey and cheese can be done all year round, and in the winter you can put it cheeses after roasting them over a fire).
I’ll just let you imagine the rest.

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Except for the wine: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo. Chilled. Unlike Sicily’s ruby red and blood thick Cerasuolo della Vittoria, Cerasuolo from Montepulciano is a rosé. The name “cerasuolo” traces it’s root to cherries, just different cherries. If you don’t like rosé wines, you just have not tried a good Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Good “pink” wines are not compromises between white and red, they are a category all their own.
Yesterday ours were Valle Reale’s Vigne Nuove table wine label from the valleys near Popoli and the Villa Gemma label from Masciarelli (near the coast). My favorites of all time have been from Caldadi Madonna in the Tirino valley next to us, below the town of Ofena.
Time for lunch. Then a nap. It is Sunday, after all.

Geraniums on the front porch in Navelli

Geraniums on the front porch in Navelli

The Chick Pea Dry Run

It’s confirmed, not even a devastating earthquake can cancel Navelli’s annual chick pea and saffron feast (Sagra di Ceci e dello Zafferano). The village’s Pro Loco association is already frenetically preparing for one of Abruzzo’s most loved summer events. The town is full of signs organizing this and that. One of the most delicate parts is ensuring that the Pro Loco gets its hands one enough of the local variety of chick pea from the small producers.
We had a small taste of things to come last night. A cover band played in Piazza San Pelino in support of the local earthquake recovery and Emily and Sofia and their middle school-aged friends danced away.
The pro loco prepared a delicious garbanzo bean soup and small, baton-shaped pizze fritte (salted fried dough) that we washed down with cool Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo rosè wine from the Abruzzo coast (or Paulaner beer on tap). For the meat-eaters there were arrosticini (snack sized mutton skewers) for the kids and a good porchetta. Porchetta is an entire boned pig roast on a spit and then sliced horizontally and eat either alone or on sandwiches. Good, but never as good as Gianni’s. But then that’s another story.
The Sagra will be Saturday August 22nd and Sunday the 23rd. It’s great food with indigenous ingredients and lots of dancing; line, group and ballroom in the main square and a disco until the small hours of the night nearby.
The star attraction is the Sunday afternoon donkey race, a play on the Palio di Siena. It’s a must for anyone who loves Italian asses, big and small.

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