As many of my readers know I am in love with Italian food. I can talk for hours about Italian recipes, local specialties and good restaurants. Discovering a new ingredient makes me happy, being invited for lunch in a local family sends me into ecstasy! So, when my friend Novelia invited me to join her for Sunday lunch in a friend’s house in the stunning medieval village of Santo Stefano, Abruzzo, I felt on top of the world and very Italian.
I have read that 52% of Italian families still sit at the table every Sunday to eat the same style large meal as half a century ago: numerous starters, pasta, meat, potatoes or vegetables and a dessert (normally, a cake), so I had a light breakfast and no plans for dinner.
Amalia and her mother, Aida, welcomed me as an old friend and warned that there will be a lot of food, as usual. The 88 years old Aida was dressed up and busy in the kitchen, finishing her famous lentil soup. After a chat in the kichen and a short walk in the village we sat down to enjoy the feast. The food started arriving on the table: starters, home-made pasta, soups, chicken, meatballs, salads, a sponge cake.
Aida’s soup was made with local lentils that the area around Santo Stefano is famous for. Then there was tagliatelle pasta made with duck eggs and a creamy sauce of radicchio. Amalia cooked a delicious dish with sweet red peppers in a tomato sauce. She said that in old days poor villagers would make a large pot to last for a few days, and served dollops of it over slices of bread.
Sunday lunch is never rushed. We ate slowly, savoured local red wine and talked at length about food, old recipes and little tricks that women in the village had to come up with to feed big families on a tiny budget. To finish the meal the local tradition calls for an amaro, a bitter liquor to help the digestion. We had a few sips of genziana, a bitter-sweet concoction made with roots of a rare plant that grows here in the mountains.
Amalia told me the story of the house, which was built by her aunt. The aunt never married but she the house was always full of people as she rented rooms out. The house has been lovingly renovated and continues to welcome guests, who come to visit this beautiful part of Abruzzo. Aida is happy to share her knowledge and teaches guests how to prepare local dishes. And every Sunday she dons an apron and with the help of Amalia energetically serves delicious traditional lunches for the family and friends.