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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Chieti and Orvieto

View of the Abruzzo countryside from my monastery room
From Rome we had a frantic, running-late bus ride to Chieti, about 3 hours away near the Adriatic coast. In retrospect, planning a concert on our second night in Europe, after a full-on two days was not the best decision! But the offer was made to us, and we were keen to get as many gigs as possible, so off to the Abruzzo we went., and with another religious order we stayed (this time old Italian monks).
I hadn't realised how green and mountainous that area of Italy would be; it's really beautiful, and after spending time in Tuscany and deciding it was a bit overrated and so famous because it's so well-known, I think this area is an overlooked gem. The mid-east coast of Italy is not widely touristy, but it has the incredible countryside and beautiful towns of the more famous northern areas. We only had 1 night, and barely got to see anything of Chieti apart from our walk from the bus to the church, and the church to the restaurant to have dinner at 11pm (yep, as per standart Italian-eating time). A four-course 11pm dinner after a big concert was really just perfect for our jet-lagged group. No, nobody nodded off in their antipasti at all. No, we don't have photos of anybody with their head on the table....!
Luckily, following the gaze of the local men with eyes on stalks, the television showing the Miss Italia 2006 quest managed to keep most of us awake enough to enjoy our dinner (when did all the Italian girls become blonde?!). And anyone who fell asleep during their first course, does not ever deserve to eat again. We were served quite simply, THE BEST LASAGNE IN THE WORLD!!

In Italy there are varying ways of making lasagne. My family, from the north, have made what most people know as traditional lasagne; with lots of cheese, bechemal and bolognese sauce. But in the south, they do a lighter, more tomatoey, less-cheesy version. My aunt, who married a southerner, makes this and I love it as well. This Chieti-lasagne was a southern version; there were sheets of silky-soft pasta, layered with a perfect tomato sauce and a little mozarella. Seriously, I dream of this lasagne. That would have been enough to win me over, but in between every third pasta sheet or so was a layer of hundreds of teeny tiny pork meatballs, about the size of your little fingernail!! These meatballs had amazing flavour and stayed moist surrounded by the tomato sauce. This blew me away. Imagine making those thousands of tiny meatballs, every day?! That's real cooking for love. That's Italy. I am in love with whoever made this lasagne. My nonna is under instructions to recreate it...

I crashed a local wedding outside Orvieto Cathedral...
From Chieti we headed north-west to Tuscany, with a lunch-stop on the way in Orvieto. For those who've been there, isn't it the most beautiful town! To get to it, you leave your car at the bottom of the cliffs and catch a funicular up to the pedestrianised town. The town has preserved its medieval feel, with tiny wandering alleys and cobblestoned paths, always with the tips of the cathedral peeking out of the light to help keep you oriented. Didn't help my friend and I, though, as we wandered further and further through the alleys (and even crashed a local wedding in the piazza).
We only had a short time in the town, and realised we wouldn't have time for a proper restaurant lunch, so made our way back to an enoteca I'd seen in one of the alleys off the main square; advertising a porchetta or prosciutto roll and glass of wine for 5 Euros. Bargain! It was one of those amazing artisinal food & wine places you find in Italy, with local foods and wines from the region. This was evidently a time of best-evers, because this porchetta roll was the stuff of dreams. Maybe even wet-dreams, if you're that way inclined. It was spectacular!

As you see, my roll was stuffed with freshly carved porchetta, complete with stuffing and fresh sage and thyme, and generous quantities of crackling. Ohmygawd, it was amazing! I even took my friends leftovers - how could he even think of leaving some?! I think I was in a sort of delirium afterwards (could have been the glass of good red) and couldn't shut up about 'the most amazing meal I just had'. The others, who'd ended up in a place serving packet pasta from a microwave looked at me narrowly. You know, I'd go back to Orvieto just to have another porchetta roll. Umm, and the architecture and stuff too.... ;-)

Antica Bottega al Duomo
Enoteca - Gastronomia - Prodotti tipici locali

di Mario Serboni
Via Maitani, Orvieto
Tel. 00763.344216



  • Wow that roll looks amazingly beautiful!! I think I would go to Orvieto just to get one of these too (to be honest, I'd take any excuse to go to Italy though).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/24/2006 09:59:00 am  

  • Mmmmm, porchetta rolls! I could eat one right now, and I've just had dinner! And absolutely no comparison to packet pasta from the microwave ...

    By Blogger plum, at 11/26/2006 09:33:00 pm  

  • Yet another reason to visit Tuscany - that roll!! I love yuor description of the pedestrianised village - sounds like some of the hilltop villages in the south of France that are also just a mess of winding cobbled streets with a church spire and a piazza at the highest point. Sigh.

    And let's hear it for "crashing" foreign weddings! When I was in Granada, Friday night seemed to be wedding night and to sit near the church at the bottom of the Albaicin hill wiht a glass of wine was to be freely entertained by the beautiful brides and their ultra-stylish guests as they walked past.

    By Blogger Jeanne, at 12/02/2006 12:17:00 am  

  • Yum, now there's an Italian delicacy I've never tried (porchetta roll, I have had lasagna!). Sounds like it alone is worth paying a visit to Orvieto, not to mention the wandering alleys and no cars. Another wonderful post Niki, thank-you!

    By Blogger Cathy, at 12/10/2006 08:31:00 am  

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