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.
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.