Discover Nature’s Magic

We’re lucky here in Abruzzo, there’s always something to keep us occupied; treks into the national parks, a visit to one of the many places of historical interest or simply quiet contemplation beside the sea. This region of Italy is so diverse, making it a great place to immerse yourself and take time out to visit more than your average tourist haunt. Despite not being a tourist I still enjoy a day trip out and at the end of last month we found a unique gem of a place, a perfect place for families with children and anyone who has an interest in living as naturally as possible.

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The place we discovered is situated in the L’Aquila region and is called, Fattoria Valle Magica (Magic Valley Farm). The farm may sit in a valley with awe-inspiring views of the rugged wilderness surrounding it, but what is more inspiring is the concept and ethos of the farm which is the brainchild of Ralph and Ninke.

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Our visit started with a warm welcome from Ralph and his family before he began to explain the vision for the farm. He explained that fed up with the stress of modern living and checking labels to see what his 4 children were eating, the family purchased the house and land and in the spring of 2015 began transforming a wild and neglected terrain into a place where they could raise rare breeds organically and live as naturally as possible.

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While we looked at the sheep and goats Ralph explained that the farm focuses on breeding and conserving rare and traditional Italian breeds that are no longer used in modern commercial farming. Using organic sensibilities these breeds may take longer to mature but the emphasis swings closer to the welfare of the animal rather than the profit margins. A quick call summoned a deluge of happy pigs that ran towards us from where they’d been foraging and we could see for ourselves how the group enjoyed living life as nature intended.

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We took a tour of the farm seeing the immense amount of work that had gone on to fence areas to protect the livestock from the local wolves: Ralph dug and sited around 700 fence posts by hand. We met the chickens, rabbits, turkeys and his collection of hives before heading back to the BBQ area for a glass of wine and to sample some home reared lonza (cured pork loin).

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The farm has plans to open an education centre and to welcome people for visits where they can purchase produce to take home or to cook al fresco in the BBQ area. We enjoyed our visit very much and found it both educational and thought provoking.

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If you’re visiting Abruzzo and looking for something different then I recommend you give Magic Valley Farm a visit, who knows you may even be lucky to help out with feeding the contented animals that reside there. The address for visits is, Località Ponte Amaro, 67020 Carapelle Calvisio AQ, Italy. But please note as this is a working farm and all bookings must be made in advance, to make a booking or for more information click this Website link

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Our day came to a close with us purchasing the produce we had originally ordered and we left Ralph to settle in his newly arrived native Abruzzese black pigs.

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As a postscript I can confirm that the quality of the produce we purchased surpassed anything we have previously bought from supermarkets and commercially farmed butchers.

Counterfeit Porchetta

Last week my cousin came to stay with us, it was his first trip to Abruzzo and we tried to fit as much as we could into his 7 day stay. We enjoyed trips out, seafood by the sea and a day in Rome too. One of the pleasures was introducing him to the joy of aperitivi and it was during an early evening Aperol spritz that the aroma of Italian porchetta wafted across the street to the bar.

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  Parked across the road was a mobile porchetta van, I checked that it was the local one that supplies the best Italian pork in the region. Happily, it was the one I hoped for, so I wandered over and purchased a tray, stealing a slice before joining the others and returned to my drink.

  The aroma drove my cousin wild and we informed him that it was out of bounds until the following day when were planning a beach picnic. Not being thoroughly rotten I allowed him a small morsel for tasting, this however went from a polite gesture to torture, as he had to endure the 14 hour wait for the delicious meat inside the parcel.

I love porchetta, the blend of herbs and slow roasted pork with crunchy crackling is the best street food when simply served between two slices of bread.

So thinking back, I thought I’d share my recipe for what I call, counterfeit porchetta. It’s my take on the dish and suitable for both a snack or dinner with friends.

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For my recipe I start with the following herbs and spices, as shown opposite. Fresh rosemary, sage, thyme and mint. Dried chillies, fennel seeds and star anise and some fresh garlic cloves.

Take a mortar and pestle and add the fresh herbs into a the bowl with a tablespoon of sea salt. Using the pestle crush and grind the leaves and garlic*, then add the remaining spices and continue to grind them. add a little olive oil and continue until you get a rustic, but not too smooth paste.

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Take your piece of pork and place it into an ovenproof dish; I’m using a 1.25 kg piece of fillet here. Smear the paste all over the meat: the only way to do this is with your hands as you can massage it in to the pork. Add two tablespoons of water to the dish, return the pork and cover with foil and let it sit in the fridge for eight hours absorbing the flavours of your paste.

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    Italian butchers tend to cut most of the fat from fillets of meat, so this recipe won’t have crispy crackling like porchetta should have but it will have the flavours, hence my calling it counterfeit porchetta.

  Preheat the oven to 190 degrees and roast for 45 minutes.

 

When roasted, let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into thick slices and serving with roast potatoes and vegetables or hot between two slices of crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil.

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* There’s no need to peel the garlic as the paper coating will burn away during the roasting process.

Simpatico… Oh well it could be worse.

Simpatico. A word I’ve heard on three occasions recently but only discovered what it meant last night. The first incidence was in the supermarket, I was waiting in line at the checkout when an elderly lady joined the queue behind me. As she only had two items and I had several I asked if she’d like to go in front of me. At first she said no, she was okay to wait, but I insisted and she took my place in line. She then asked if I was English, I told her I was indeed, then she stroked my cheek and said, “Sie simpatico.” This I took to mean I’m sympathetic to her needs, so I smiled and said thank you.

The second occasion happened when I was introduced to an Italian lady by a friend, as usual the lady asked me lots of questions, the first obviously was, are you German? This was then followed with the obligatory, so why is your hair so blond? Followed by, why did you come here? I answered all the questions: in fact I’ve become quite adept at having stock answers stored in my head. She then turned to my friend and used the word simpatico, my friend looked at me and agreed. I meant to ask what she had said, but as the waitress brought us an espresso and I answered her query about which water I wanted with it, I forgot as I replied, ‘Acqua frizzante.’

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Last night was the third time the word surfaced and this time I discovered its meaning. I had met a new friend and we were chatting over a drink when he said, “Tu simpatico.” Now as my new friend speaks better English than I do Italian I seized the opportunity to ask what it meant. His reply was, “It means you’re not handsome.” I must have looked upset as he then quickly said, “My translation is bad.”

Now I know I’m not in the Pitt/Clooney league, but I’ve never had any problems throughout my life picking someone up for… Shall we say extra curricular activities. My new friend then said, “Simpatico, it means you are nice looking, have a pleasant face, you’re lovely.” I smile and think, oh well, that’ll have to do. Besides it’s much better than when someone last year told me I had a lived in face and then said, “In the nicest possible way.” (Needless to say this is a person who wont be getting an invite to come and stay in Italy.)

Simpatico (persona) Nice, pleasant, likeable. Source: Collins Italian Dictionary and Grammar.

Italian by Absorption

I’m beginning to wonder if outside forces influence they way people are, surely our surroundings must dictate how we feel and how we perform, so can they make subtle changes to our personalities and habits? I ask this question because I’ve noticed that I’ve started to do things differently here in Italy. The first thing I’ve noticed is the change in dinner time. Back in the UK I always had dinner, or as we Stokies say, ‘me tea’ at 6pm, but here without realising it I’ve fallen into the Italian way of eating it at 8pm. Now I understand that on the days that the builder is here he leaves around 6pm, so that is a factor in the later dinner-time, but even on days when he isn’t here, we’ve eaten at 8pm.

Italian’s are naturally inquisitive people; notice I avoided using the term, nosey and I’ve caught the bug too. As soon as a car is heard I’m outside looking up towards the road to see who it is, and heaven forbid I catch a snippet of conversation, otherwise it means I slow down my pace to discover what’s being said and by whom. This nosiness has become quite acute and we vie for position, looking for the best vantage point, when we want to see who is driving past.

Here, the Abruzzese people live a more frugal life and wasting food is frowned upon.  Since moving here I’ve appreciated that fact that when it comes to fruit and vegetables the shops sell what’s in season. There’s no potatoes from Egypt or French beans from Kenya, and there’s no uniformity to it, a deflated looking pepper is as acceptable here as a plump round one, just as a display of fennel bulbs will have them of all sizes from medium through large to enormous. There’s no one from Brussels here with a micrometre and portable weighing scales. Unlike when I was back in the UK, I store what I know will perish before I have used it all. In the freezer I have pots of basil, chopped celery, parsley, and all manner of things, waiting to be used at a later date. I’ve even got my emergency sofritto (a mix of finely chopped carrot, celery and onion used as a base for stocks and sauces) and chopped tomatoes frozen in wine, should someone visit unexpectedly and need a pasta sauce making for lunch.

I also think I’ve absorbed a little of the contadino somehow. Outside the front door is a flower border, but knowing that flowers here are a luxury and that land should be used to grow crops first, I’ve used it for a sort of mini orto and planted out some onions, courgettes, chillies and tomatoes, sweet corn and a pumpkin. I have a little cluster of English bluebells I brought over tucked away in the corner, as I’d like to get these established further down on our land, where it’s shady and wild cyclamen grow. So until we get our land cum jungle sorted out the flower border will be put to better use.

Guaranteed, these are small changes to my lifestyle, but as they’ve happened without conscious effort maybe I’m becoming Italian by absorption or at the very least more Britalian than I was before.

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