Tag Archives: zafferano di navelli

Yellow Pasta Geometry.

Saffron Seduction II

The first time I saw real, raw saffron my host and cook was holding up the tiny ruby filaments up in the middle of the kitchen like it was some newly unearthed relic: “Behold, red gold” I’m not sure he really said that, but memories are there to be embellished.

Joshua at Irene's communion

He was actually talking about how hard it was to find in that form; it was over twenty years ago in the midwest. I’m assuming that in 20 years Madison, Wisconsin has come a long way in easy access to an ever wider array of spices, but that does not dethrone the importance of great, and by that I mean real and uncut, saffron.

What's a party in Abruzzo without Montepulciano?

That night saffron and the best Valencian paella ever cooked on a frigid December evening are still with me and I wonder how many dinners are preludes to where our life will be going later. When that paella evening happened I had already lived a year in Bologna, Italy, where I had begun my transition away from my picky eater past by wandering the open air market on via Sant’Apollonia or the traditional, closed market near Piazza Maggiore. I had discovered fresh fennel and rosemary, both sweet blood and sour Sicilian oranges, dozens of varieties of new tomatoes (new to me, at least). It was discovery with an open nose and a closed budget. Real saffron would have to wait – and the Paella on the tour through Spain lived down to it’s price on the menu.

When I walk with friends or family through the mountain town of Navelli, I’m reminded that the arches, carved doorways and stone-paved streets were all built on saffron, as were many of the buildings and churches in L’Aquila and the surrounding towns scarred and broken by the quake almost two years ago.

Saffron Maltagliatti

Saffron is a traditional crop here in Abruzzo, but not a traditional ingredient. Local cooks have however been busily developing new ways to make up for lost time. L’Antica Taverna in Navelli adds it to their version of Maccheroni alla Boscaiola; long egg maccheroni with sausage, and mushrooms. They also do wonderful things with local black truffles
Saffron is a spice that is sometimes at its best when carrying a dish on it’s own – like in Risotto alla Milanese – or dancing with at most one other decisive partner, like at Irene’s first communion dinner.

That day this Autumn Irene and her friends ran around the restaurant looking like maidens in an old pastoral painting, dressed in white with flowers braided into her short dark hair. She presided over the children’s table at La Mora Nera just outside of L’Aquila like Alice having tea with the Doormouse and Mad Hatter. She and her mother chose the menu together, so there was a particular tension towards the simplicity that smaller children often insist on. This can lead towards a few gems.

Maltagliatti up close and personal

The prize this time was maltagliatti and saffron. This simple, very essential dish, was a plate of roughly diamond shaped homemade pasta in a balanced Navelli saffron béchamel-like sauce (probably based and cow milk ricotta) with slight traces of guanciale (similar to pancetta, which is similar to bacon). I didn’t get a chance to ask the waiters between as overdressed children ran in and out of the restaurant as the friends we share with Irene and her mom talked about other great meals and rebuilding plans. I’ll just have to go back.

And so will you.

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Other great simple dishes that day

L'Aquila style potato gnocchi with a light meat sauce


Great grilled meats too....

Saffron on FoodistaSaffron

Maccheroni on Foodista

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Saffron, Pancetta and Ricotta – Oh My!

It is Monday and the Saffron and Chick Pea feast is over. But just for this year. The Earthquake and the threat of rain (just a few drops) kept a few people away, but throngs of people came for the Palio degli Asini (a donkey race created as a send-up of the famous Palio di Siena horse race in that beautiful Tuscan hill-town), and, of course, for the saffron and chick pea based dishes.
This year I stuck to the saffron-based foods, having had a summer full of chick pea based dishes at my mother-in-law’s. The saffron supplì, fried balls of saffron rice, were tasty. The risotto alla milanese (rice dish made by cooking in broth and saffron) was a bit paler and more liquid than previous years.
But despite being cooked in a festival camp the Penne allo Zafferano was amazing. Once again the true Italian cooking secrets of simplicity and access to amazing ingredients won out against the adversity of mass-production. Pennette, short straight pasta similar to maccheroni were covered with a blend of fresh local ricotta cheese and saffron and simmered pancetta (similar to bacon, salt-cured but not smoked).
Great food.
On a side note, my niece daughter was in the Palio degli Asini, the donkey race that rivals the saffron as an attraction. Six teams, each with a donkey, a rider and a page (each one a boy-girl team) raced four times around a track traced out more by the crowds of laughing spectators than the plastic tape. Her donkey broke away from the pack in the last lap, only to stop a yard before the finish line and not budge. Then another did the same, stopping next to theirs, then a third, this time wandering over the finish line.
Gaia and Mario at the end of the Palio degli Asini
My niece’s ass came in second. And wee all won. Especially those of us who had the penne allo zafferano.
Gaia Palio 3
Mark your calendar for the first full weekend after the Ferragosto holiday (August 15th). See you there.

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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On Saffron, Garbanzos, and Donkeys

Just a quick note to let you all know that the Sagra di Ceci e dello Zafferano, Navelli’s annual summer feast will be held as usual in the first weekend after the Ferragosto (this year August 22nd and 23rd, I believe). Two years ago the July fire that destroyed the area reserved for the Sagra did not stop them (it has been held in the main square below).
This year the people in Navelli decided that a Devastating earthquake wouldn’t either. If you can make it to the area, please do stop in for the saffron and chick pea based dishes and dessert (and of course, wine, beer, arrosticini, porchetta, music, dancing, etc.)
The big crowd pleaser is always the Sunday afternoon donkey race. Conceived a quarter of a century back as a live-action satirical take on the Palio di Siena, the race is still fun and unpredictable.
See you there
More to come on Saffron, chick peas and more.

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