The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again — George Miller
It all started with a crazy idea back in Sulmona in the fall: What if we brought over our two chef friends and did a few cooking classes? Would Americans go for it? Would Novelia really board a plane for the first time in 40 years? Could Amalia pull herself away from her busy life in Santo Stefano di Sessanio and leave everything to Nonna Aida? What if we asked Marco at ONDA-TV to come, too, and film it all? Was there a germ of an idea here?
A few weeks later, back stateside, Vicky and I sent out a “Save the Date” e-mail for a couple of classes that would be scheduled over a two-week period in March. Novelia and Amalia had said yes, and so the gears were set in motion. Within 48 hours, we were more than fully booked. Oversubscribed. People on waiting lists for the one Sunday class. And three classes soon became four. And then the gang down in the North End got involved, and we were happily ensconced in the whirlwind of activities of the Frattaroli family which has deep roots in Sulmona and owns several Boston area restaurants, among them Filippo on Causeway Street.
Marco was there to film it all. And SATV was there for the first installment, so watch for a show some time in April. Even the Boston Globe got into the act with a lovely article about the series.
Word of mouth grew and we were turning people down every day, right up until the last class. Amazing!
The first obstacle was that our friends don’t consider themselves chefs. They say they’re only “casalinge” (housewives) who learned how to cook from their mothers and grandmothers. Horsefeathers. In addition to working for the Italian government, Novelia runs a B&B and frequently cooks for her guests. And Amalia runs an inn where the kitchen is the centerpiece of the experience. Besides, who needs grumpy Gordon Ramsey when you can have two attractive, enthusiastic Italians who are devoted to preserving the traditions of their native region?
And what traditions they are! In Abruzzo, they include lenticche
(lentils), miele (honey) and zafferano (saffron) from Santo Stefano, red garlic from Sulmona, pecorino cheese from L’Aquila, wines from nearby Vittorito and the machine that pulls it all together: la chitarra, the traditional guitar-stringed pasta maker of Abruzzo.
The belle donne created a menu that included a soup of lentichhe and volarelle (a small square-shaped cut fetuccini); pasta alla chitarra with white truffle sauce and also classic tomato sauce; grilled sausage with either cabbage or peas; shepherd’s cheese balls; and a torta della spossa (bride’s cake) with marvelous cream in and on it and sprinkled to look like the Italian flag.
Wines included (thanks to our favorite winery, Pietrantonj), Trebbiano and Cerasuolo with our appetizers and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with dinner. The appetizers were flown in from Abruzzo: a hearty salumi selection from Pingue and rich pecorino cheese from Castel del Monte And of course, no Abruzzese event is complete without confetti — the candy coated Sicilian almonds (and many newer variations) — graciously donated by Pelino, Sulmona’s star producer.
I will tell you that this was a lot of work on everybody’s part. Possibly the Invasion of Normandy took less planning. In the end, though, our 40+ participants went home happy and sated and delighted that they had made pasta this new (old) way. And our chefs, who were admittedly a little nervous about doing this, saw that they had used their magic to charm even more people on yet another continent.
We were blessed by the welcome given by the four couples who opened
their homes and kitchens and pots and pans to us and we will never be able to repay them. We were gobsmacked by the generosity of Pingue, Pelino, Pietrantonj and Sr. Petronio who donated much of the food and wine. We were thrilled by our two videographers, one from Sulmona and one from Salem, who have recorded this for posterity. And we were honored to be recognized by State Senator Joan Lovely and State Representative Paul Tucker, who have declared their intention to work towards making Sulmona and Salem sister cities, thereby beginning an annual exchange based on food and friendship.
Things don’t get any better than that.
Vicky and I are on a mission to introduce Americans to Abruzzo — to its food, to its warm and wonderful people and to its beauty (stunningly showcased by videos created by Marco and shown at every event). We achieved that here for sure, and it’s only the beginning. We both hope that you will want to come to Abruzzo with us and share in the magic of this region.
You won’t regret it and you’ll eat better than you ever have!
Buon appetito e Buon viaggio!