One of the perks of being a blogger is that you meet wonderful people online. I was very lucky to get to know Anya Kassoff, a food blogger turned cookbook writer. I love her beautiful book of vegetarian and vegan recipes, The Vibrant Table, in which she turns simple ingredients into culinary masterpieces. Anya contacted me asking for advice about visiting Italy. Surely enough, I recommended her to see Abruzzo. So she did, and absolutely loved it! One of the highlights of the trip was her stay in Sulmona, Abruzzo. Here is how she describes her experience.
Sulmona did not resemble any other place that I’ve been to before, it was all like a dream. It combines the charm of a small historic town with an innate kind of sophistication. It felt very homely and relaxed, but being there was very exciting at the same time – there is definitely an energy running through those beautiful old streets. In Sulmona, I felt like a very dear guest to all of its hospitable inhabitants – there were no other tourists in sight. It was very surprising to see that this true gem of a town, as well as the whole region of Abruzzo, is still completely off the beaten path and hugely undiscovered. It is the place to see the authentic Italy, unencumbered, in all its glory.
Many things impressed me: the crisp mountain air that we breathed even in the narrowest old streets of town, the locals, all of them unbelievably elegant, the architecture, the food, not wanting to ever leave as soon as I stepped on the central Piazza Garibaldi.
Being a food writer, I made sure to try as much local food as possible: homemade pasta and risotto with local truffles, as well as freshly baked focaccia, the famous lentils from Santo Stefano, soffione (a typical cake with ricotta), tons of artisan ice cream. It is very hard to pick my favourite, but the homemade fettuccini pasta with local zafferano (saffron) and zucchini that I tried in the medieval village of San Stefano di Sessanio stands out in my mind.
The experience would not have been complete without visiting Sulmona market that is on every Wednesday and Saturday on the central Piazza Garibaldi.The colours and flavours of the local produce were fascinating. We were there in the middle of my favourite season, when local persimmons, figs and grapes were in abundance. It felt so incredibly romantic to stroll through the colourful market stalls in the middle of the most poetic piazza surrounded by the mountains, in the gentle October sun.
I do not think I have ever bought or eaten so many persimmons in such a short period as I did that day in Sulmona. Strawberry grapes were another treasure, along with honey-sweet figs, a variety of apples, pears and melons. I did not have a chance to cook while over there, if I did, I would have had a hard time choosing between the gorgeous zucchini blossoms, variety of eggplants, brassicas, peppers, fresh beans. I sampled a variety of pastries – all were delicious beyond words. I even brought some of the leftover potato focaccia with me on the plane ride home. Bellissimo!
I returned home inspired and have been experimenting with fall vegetables and fruit ever since, trying to recreate the wonderful medley of colours and flavours that I saw at the market in Sulmona. I only wish the produce here were as fresh and fragrant as it is in Abruzzo!
I would love to share the beauty of Abruzzo with my readers and take small groups for week-long retreats. We can explore this amazing region with help of the locals, learn from them how to forage wild vegetables, mushrooms and herbs, cook local dishes, learn about Italian cooking taste the famous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, hunt for truffles and stay in the most unique places that have remained unchanged for centuries. I have had some interest from my blog readers already and am preparing two retreats for 2015. I left my heart in Abruzzo!
Please email Anya at hello(at)golubkakitchen.com if you are interested in participating in her Abruzzo culinary retreats.
Photos by Anya Kassoff.