Friday night Appy Hour at the Vatican. An "early" 8 o'clock Bucatini Amatriciana dinner. A weekend drive to the Adriatic. Then it got serious, I couldn't stop thinking about her rounded domes, old bell towers, lovers in the park, well-dressed men, runway shoes, hilltop towns, and gelato...
Oh the gelato.
No place has gotten under my skin quite like Italy. I walk off the plane to a chorus of "brlaavo, brlaavo" and well-scarfed individuals filling words with hand gestures and impassioned brio. Immediately I too become life artist, lover, poet. Espresso is my afternoon ceremony. I dance to the street sounds that play like music.
We head east from Rome four hours to the region of Abruzzo. Palazzo Tour D'Eau is the destination, a cooking school in Carunchio, (Ca roon kio) a hill top village dating back to the 1100's. Chosen as one of Italy's 50 Best Towns, we are surrounded by old Italy; steep and skinny cobble streets, color-aged wooden cellar doors of many styles, snow-capped peaks, and a vista of other hill top towns miles across the Alp-like, green valley below us. You know, Italy did not become Italia until 1861. Before then, nobels built their palazzos (palaces) on top of these hills to keep watch over Saracen (Turkish) invaders who dared climb the mountain to plunder the town.
The Gerarro Criscio family finished major renovations on Palazzo Tour D'Eau in the early 2000's, complete with a teaching kitchen of original stone and modern mosaic. Chef Dino Paganelli is at the helm, trained at Giovanni Marchitelli in Villa Santa Maria.
Unfortunately web links and pictures of some classic Italian dishes such as Cavatelli Rigati and Tiramasu Carunchio-style are tough. Though the palazzo halls are filled with marble and majesty, the mid evil wifi connection is old world and slow.
Non problema. We happily leave electronics behind and enter a region where black summer truffles are hunted (June - September), saffron grows wild (harvested November) and canola oil is illegal. (It's illegal throughout Italy). This is currant and berry country with a shellfish / red-headed mullet coast. Many of the classic dishes are vegetarian because locals were peasants who couldn't afford much meat, except for the pig each house cured into their regional prosciutto and sausage.
Carunchio, a town of 400 souls, including the dogs and the sheep, hosts two Catholic Churches; the main one next to the palazzo on the tippy top of this 2,200 ft hill. The tower bell rings each quarter hour, keeping the time, but also reminding us God is watching and somehow calling the shots.
Ten dongs and two dings. It's 10:30 and time to gather for cooking class. Here's some of the things we made and ate.
My fellow classmates are from the US and Canada. A fun group of foodies who like to cook. Oh, and drink...especially those Canadians :). Il vino rosso della casa pours freely all week; we drink the tour's average allotment by Wednesday. It's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, one of the regions' four grapes, which grows in a unique canopy-style, yielding 2.5 times the volume of the other 155 Italian indigenous grape varietals. Trained sommelier and gracious host Massimo Criscio leads us in a tasting. "Italy has 21 wine regions. I prefer red. Want to know why we chill white? To make it drinkable of course! White wine is defective, it has more sulfites than red and tastes like cat piss. Of our reds, I think the Primativo grape offers the best quality for the price. Actually, I like a 'red meditation wine,' one you drink near a window on a rainy day and it makes you cry."
During the week we travel to Vasto on the Adriatic Sea /east coast, an olive oil farm, and to Terresacre Winery to taste the rare-but-trendy Tintilia, a small Italian grape with low yield. We also visit Di Pasquo, an Angone cheese maker that specializes in Caciocavallo, a semi dry mozzarella,
and burrata, which I never knew was made by blowing up a mozzarella skin "balloon" and piping in stracciatella (ground mozzarella) and whole cream.
When researching your next vacation, consider la dolce vita at Abruzzo Cibus Culinary School. It was light on the culinary for mio, but just right for many. I agree with Massimo about the Italian white wine....but the food was delicious, location so unique, and staff, mostly cute Italian men, excellent. What is it about those Italian men? We'll get to that next week.
Alora, now I know this trip, nor the country are perfetto (perfect) - but true love never is. Non importa, Italy teaches when life gives you lemons, make Lemoncello! Or was it Jack the Canadian who said that? Andiamo! Un'altra Lemoncello Martini si prega.
The church bell rings, eights dongs and two dings. After a great week, it's time to drive back across the countryside to Rome, and north to Amelia and Tuscania where our Italian Food Party! continues.
Until then, dip your homemade biscotti in red wine and be Italian tonight.
Arrivederci for now.
Inspired by Christian Bonetto