Tag Archives: l’aquila earthquake

Navelli, The Town That Saffron Built

Red gold, yellow joy, and what makes Milan’s most famous rice dish so special


Or Saffron Seduction

If you drive from Sulmona to L’Aquila, chances are you’ll pass through the town of Navelli, the historic heart of saffron country in the high rising around the Appennines largest mountain: Gran Sasso. Centuries as the source of some of Europe’s most prized saffron helped build L’Aquila into one of Italy most beautiful but lesser known art cities. L’Aquila is still beautiful today, although devastated and off-limits from the earthquake 18 months ago. Despite this tradition, the hair-thin red threads (the colour changes to yellow in food and dies) have only recently made it into the local culinary culture because it was too expensive for its’ growers to eat – you didn’t eat your livelyhood in these breathtaking but cold mountain valleys.

Some experts say that the variety of bulbs used, soil and specific climate help produce some of the best saffron in the world. At least everyone in Abruzzo says will tell you that – and so would Remy, the mouse chef from the movie Ratatouille if he wasn’t a fictional cartoon character.

Lo Zafferano is still probably the world’s most expensive spice, but it’s now within reach of most of our pocketbooks; the tenth of a gram (a tenth the weight of a paperclip) of powdered Navelli saffron needed for the recipe below can be yours for around ten euros if bought in locally here in L’Aquila or the surrounding midieval castle towns. If it costs much less than that, you know it’s fake.

Given this historical importance the town of Navelli – were my mother-in-law is from and where we still spend much of our summers – it’s not surprising that it’s one of the two local products featured in Navelli’s sagra (local agricultural feast). The other food is the town’s tiny but delicous mountain ceci (chick peas).

Navelli’s Pro Loco association (http://www.prolocodinavelli.it/ ) has been putting on the Sagra dei Ceci e dello Zafferano one the first weekend after Ferragosto (August 15th) for 33 years, even in the aftermath of earthquakes. And the Palio dei Asini, a send-up of Siena’s Palio where untrained donkeys run instead of trained racehorses has been a natural satirical draw for thirty years. My niece was part of the trio – boy, girl and donkey – that won this year.

While saffron helped build L’Aquila and many of internal Abruzzo’s most beautiful cities and towns, the locals never dreamt of eating it. So Italy’s the most famous saffron dish comes from the northern city of Milan. The following recipe, the one used at the Navelli’s “sagra”, is a gem for it’s simplicity and how it draws out the best from it’s ingredients.

Risotto alla Milanese – Risotto allo zafferano.

Ingredients

Risotto allo zafferano (otherwise know as Risotto alla Milanese)
500 g of rice (a little less than half a pound)
100 g of butter (about a quarter pound
1-fifth of a white onion.
50 g parmigiano reggiano, grano padano or another classic Italian grated cheese
1 envelope of saffron from L’Aquila (with a tenth of a gram of pure saffron)
a half pot of broth broth

Instructions
Dice the onion and simmer in a spoonful of butter until lightly golden, then add the rise and stir continuously as you slowly add broth. In the meantime mix the saffron in a small cup of broth. When the rice is almost done (that is, the broth is almost entirely absorbed by the rice), add the remaining butter and pour in the saffron-broth mix. Sprinkle the parmesan on top just before serving. My wife Silvia’s trick is to add a tablespoon full of the saffron liquor that Navelli’s saffron cooperative sells.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

This recipe was also included with four others on a guest post promoting George Clooney’s recent move “The American”, set mostly in some of the most beautiful corners of Abruzzo.
http://www.focusfeatures.com/article/the_cuisine_of_abruzzo?pageref=5

Saffron on FoodistaSaffron


Arborio Rice


Risotto

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Pecorino, Why Drinking Little Sheep is Better Than Counting Them

Osteria Papavero: As Close As it Gets To Italian Dining in Madison

(a guest post from Gillian Nevers)

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, Dan and I had dinner at Osteria Papavero.

I love Papavero. It’s small, smartly lit and feels very much like a neighborhood restaurant. Eating there is the closest to eating in Italy that you can get in Madison, Wisconsin. That is probably because the Chef and owner, Francesco Mangana, was not only born in Belonga, but studied and trained there. The food is traditional Tuscan, beautifully and simply prepared, with attention paid to using ingredients produced locally.

It was our twentieth anniversary, counting from the first time we got married. We’ll celebrate our nineteenth in June, if you count from the second time. But, that’s another story.

We began our meal sharing a plate of Antipasto di Tartufo, passing up my favorite, Antipasto Misto di Verdure (vegetables are very much apparent on the menu), then moved on to the entrées. Dan ordered the Tagliatelle ai Fungi; I ordered Guancie, one of the specials, mostly because I’d never eaten beef cheeks. I was not disappointed. The house-smoked, then slowly cooked, cheek came served on top of a slice of grilled polenta, surrounded by just the right amount of red wine sauce made with a hint of balsamic vinegar. Of course, we ordered wine: Dan a red, and I a white––a 2008 Barone di Valforte Pecorino from the Abruzzo, to be exact.

Gillian Nevers near L'Aquila

Pecorino has been my wine of choice (if I can find it in Madison) since I discovered it the last time we were in L’Aquila. As was our habit, while in L’Aquila, Dan and I walked to the center before dinner, stopping for a glass of wine before meeting up with family. One evening, we stopped at La Fenice, a wine bar near the Palazzo del Governo, we had first been to with Joshua. La Fenice was also one of Joshua’s favorite haunts for morning coffee, because it had a comfy chair, more or less, hidden away, where he could read the newspaper, and the owner, Maurizio, had a large collection of old jazz tapes. It was also a well-stocked wine store. **

I asked the bartender to recommend a white, preferably on the dry side. He poured a small amount of a Pecorino, and after tasting it, I asked him to fill the glass. The full bodied white had the flavor of a blend of fresh fruits, but without the strong acidity of some Chardonnay’s. I thanked the bartender for suggesting it and attempted to make a joke by telling him it was preferable to drinking formaggio. Or, did I say it was preferable to drinking sheep? After all, a pecorino is a cheese famous in the Abruzzo. It is also a little sheep, and it is thought the Pecorino grape got its name because it was once a favorite snack of sheep as they were driven through vineyard lands on their way to lower pastures.

Whether it was because my Italian was so bad or he just didn’t think it was funny, the bartender didn’t laugh. But, he did bring us another little bowl of potato chips.

**La Fenice has been off limits since the April 6, 2009 earthquake. Maurizio, the owner is looking for a new location. When he finds one, he will need to build his wine stock from scratch. After the government opened the neighborhood to private companies, not just to fire fighters, to build the scaffolding to prop up buildings and make the streets safe, thieves broke into the bar and stole the remaining bottles of wine.

Note, if you are reading this on Facebook, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

Ostaria Papavero: http://www.osteriapapavero.net/

Wine on FoodistaWine