Seafood in San Vito

Living so close to the coast means there’s an abundance of seafood available all year round and one of the most popular places to eat it, is the town of San Vito Chietino. This small town has everything from inexpensive outdoor eateries, to top class restaurants where you need to check your bank balance before you book a table. There’s even two trabocchi that serve dinner; but to be honest I think they’re more suited to the tourists who don’t mind paying over the odds for the same quality fare they can get up the road for just €5.00.

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My favourite place to eat there is the small roadside restaurant called La Locanda Del Mare. Each course is cooked to order; unlike some places where it’s sat waiting for the customer under heat lamps and a course costs just €5.00.

Over the last few weeks I’ve frequented the town more often as I had friends Becky and Matt come to stay and my cousin Alfie dropped by for a week too. I believe it’s always a good day when you can enjoy a leisurely lunch with friends with some delicious fare from the sea and a cool glass of wine.

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Alfie like myself loves nothing better than picking mussels and clams from their shells and devouring them with chittara pasta and tomato sauce. No one minds that you end up with a few splashes of red on your T-shirt and that your fingernails are stained with sauce, as long as there’s a plate filled with empty shells at the end of the course.

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Becky is a different type of diner altogether, she’s more cautious, but at our first lunch she threw her caution to the wind and ordered what Matt and I had. So the primo was a risotto with clams, mussels, monkfish liver and octopus and despite not wanting to try the octopus tentacles she ate the lot. The secondo was probably the most popular Friday fish dish, frittura mista, deep fried anchovies, small white fish, calamari and prawns. Another good secondo is baccala and potatoes. Baccala is salt dried cod that’s rehydrated and served with potatoes and black olives in an olive oil based sauce and there’s nothing more satisfying than the empty plate afterwards.

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My only criticism of these food outlets; like many over Italy is the use of plastic plates and cutlery. I shudder to think how much plastic waste the Italian food industry generates. Sadly it’s not only catering establishments that add to this, the population are bombarded with plastic dinner ware. Stores and supermarkets sell vast quantities of it, everything from plastic espresso cups to wine glasses and dinner plates to soup bowls. So much so that a large amount of this plastic dinnerware is used for large family gatherings.

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Following lunch and just before the stroll down to the beach there’s the matter of dolce to contend with. San Vito Chietino has two main pasticceria (cake shop) on the main street both of which sell ice-cream, however the gelateria that always gets my Euro is Pasticceria Iezzi Rossana, the reason being the staff are always polite and friendly and more welcoming than the other store.

So after all this activity, all that’s left is to dip ones’ toes in the Adriatic before taking a nap on the sandy beach.

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It’s all about food

Coming from Stoke on Trent in the UK I’ve discovered something that people from my town of birth have in common with the Italian people.

What can this be?

It’s food.

In Stoke people are always talking about food, you’ll often be asked what you had for breakfast, and even straight after dinner (we Stokies call lunch, dinner) you’ll be asked what you’re going to be having for your tea, (we Stokies call dinner, tea).

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The Italian people are passionate about food, mention that you’re going to the coast for a fish lunch and they’ll ask where will you be eating? What will you be having?  Talk about dinner the night before and they’ll ask how you prepared it and they are happy if you give them a step by step account of your cooking methods and ingredients.

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In Stoke the local delicacy is the oatcake, a soft savoury pancake made from oatmeal that’s served with breakfast ingredients like bacon, eggs, sausages etc. and local people are devoted to them.

In Abruzzo the local delicacy is arrosticini. Mutton skewers, more often than not, cooked out in the open and devoured with gusto with bread simply drizzled with olive oil and the local population love them.

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As summer brings in the warmer weather the one thing people from Italy and the UK have in common is eating outside. Italian’s like nothing better than meat cooked ‘sul braciere’ on the brazier, meaning over charcoal in the same way the Brits love their lamb chops and burgers cooked al fresco on the BBQ.

Maybe we’re not that different after all.

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As autumn takes over here in Abruzzo restaurant menus start to change to accommodate the season, warm bowls of polenta and sausages start to appear on tables and stinco makes its appearance on menus.

Stinco, or to give it its full name, stinco di maiale is a pork shank, or rather the shin bone and is a wonderful piece of comfort food for a cold evening. It’s sold all year round here in Italy in butchers shops (macelleria) but around October it appears in abundance even in a pre-cooked packaged form.

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In butcher’s shops and supermarkets it comes skinned and trimmed ready for the oven. Stinco is less fattier than a traditional hock and whereas a hock requires around 3 hours or more of slow roasting a stinco cooks in half the time. Most Italians cook it with potatoes seasoned with rosemary and garlic; a popular recipe that originated from the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige with its Southern Tyrol/Austrian influences.

In a local restaurant a typical autumn/winter dinner could consist of a first course of pasta with a meaty sauce or polenta and sausages followed by a second course of stinco with vegetables and potatoes. One local pizzeria in the latter part of the year sells hundreds of them roasted and served with chips for just €5.  

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The pre-cooked ones take just 30 minutes to cook in boiling water, it’s a case of drop the bag into a saucepan of water and simmer, then snip off the top and tip out onto a plate and watch as the meat just falls off the bone. These are great to have stocked up for times when the snow causes power cuts as they can be cooked on top of the wood burner and tonight we had one with roasted potatoes and red cabbage and apple.

Comfort food? – Oh yes.

Summer Season

Twelve weeks have slipped by since I last added to this blog and I apologise for neglecting it. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been too busy with work, however that’d only be a half truth as I’ve also been busy eating out and enjoying the summer.

It’s eating out during the tourist season that I’m writing about today. Out of season the restaurants are very happy for the local population to patronise their establishments and are often more attentive. However as soon as the tourists arrive the attitude as well as the food changes.

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I was having a conversation with a friend about this a month or so back after we had visited a restaurant we’d visited many times before and had a terrible experience. The season was winding down and when we entered the almost empty dining room we noticed that parts of the bar were already being packed away, meaning the small eatery will probably close over the autumn and winter months. Fair enough, if there’s not the custom to make it worthwhile opening then it makes sense, but surely if they remain open to diners they can pack up later. The waitress (eventually) strolled over to take our order and everything we asked for off their menu was no longer available. Sorry no pizza, sorry no fries, sorry no vongole, sorry no white wine, sorry red wine either only rosé. We all decided that as there was nothing available that we wanted we’d leave. The final insult after many weeks of eating there was to hear the waitress moan to the owner about us being miserable English tourists. Suffice to say, despite your usually friendly staff and great food, we’ll not be back again.

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One thing we as stranieri, ex-pats, immigrants, or however we label ourselves have noticed is that when the area is full of tourists the food quality in some not all establishments drops from excellent to average and portion sizes shrink faster than a slimmer at Weightwatchers. Service becomes rushed and the waiters that out of season are pleased to see you become less attentive; I put that down to increased trade, but regular patrons and locals do seem to get a rum deal when the tourists are in town.

I’m sure this isn’t indicative of just our area, I’m sure it must go on all over the world where bars and restaurants cater to tourists – it’s just a shame that it can make you reconsider where you’ll be spending your euro the following summer.

An Italian Day

A friend once mentioned to me that her neighbour went to the market or local shop everyday to buy provisions for that day’s lunch or dinner. She told me that if she did a weekly shop then she’d save herself a daily trip to the shops. I thought about this and spoke with an Italian friend about it and her reply was, “Of course we shop everyday, that way we know we have, cibo più fresco.” PING! on went the ‘of course’ light. In a society where seasonal is important, women have shopped daily for years to make certain they purchase the best and freshest produce.

Often people comment that Italian’s appear to be chaotic and disorganised, but that’s far from the truth. Italian’s are very organised in their day to day lives and as I think back to how my day has been today I realise I’ve adapted to some of these daily rituals easily and without actually thinking about it. So here’s a typical Britalian day for me and how it mirrors that of my Italian colleagues and friends.

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My day starts with strong black coffee and after breakfast I set off for work. Today I drive up into the mountains as I’m visiting the town of Torricella Peligna to take photos of an apartment that is being put up for sale. I have a pleasant morning with the owner and get the shots required to market her apartment. The sky is as clear and blue as a Ceylon sapphire as we leave the town and below us the road twists and turns through the countryside, with its patchwork of fields and olive groves. The car’s windows are open and the scent of jasmine is drawn inside making this journey a feast for the senses. We pass through the town of Roccascalegna and decide to drop in to check all is well with some new clients who purchased a house a few months back. I find that Sue, Keith and their beautiful daughter Sophie are settling in to their house well and are becoming happily embroiled into their Italian community.

It’s now one o’clock and time for that important of daily Italian customs, lunch.

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We drop into our local restaurant which is already filled with diners and after a ten minute wait we’re seated and ordering. Italian lunch is the most important meal of the day, it’s not to be rushed, it’s meant to be eaten in a relaxed manner to aid digestion. In complete contrast to the meagre Italian breakfast lunch is substantial. I order my primo;  chitarrina allo scoglio, a pasta dish made with the local Abruzzese square shaped spaghetti. The mussels and clams are sweet and the broth that lurks under the pasta has the fragrance of the sea. Around us the other diners are eating, drinking and chatting at a leisurely pace. Lunch isn’t something that should be rushed in Italy. More white wine: ice cold and fizzing in the carafe is delivered to our table and our dishes are cleared away in readiness for the secondo.

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Being an Italian restaurant there’s a television mounted on the wall and muted news reports are playing as the waiters clear tables and redress them in around 40 seconds for more waiting diners. My secondo arrives, a plump piece of salmon dressed simply with olive oil and a slice of lemon. My contorno (side dish) is slices of fresh tomato and wafer thin rings of red onion.

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Workers look at their watches in a relaxed manner, no one is rushing to get back to work yet; after all the standard time given over for lunch is two hours. I check the time and order coffee and stretch my arms above my head feeling happily full.

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After my two hour repast and having paid my €10  we leave and I go back to work. My afternoon is taken up with admin until it’s time to pack away the office for a few minutes and head off to the cantina. A short drive later, I’m loading boxes of wine into the boot of the car and I’m almost ready to leave when the assistant calls me over and gives me two free bottles of wine and tells me to have a good evening.

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Generosity seems to be an intrinsic part of the Italian psyche as is their cordiality, it’s customary to be told to have a good day, a pleasant evening, buon pranzo (have a good lunch) and all other manner of well wishes throughout your day. These salutations are never forced and they’re always received and reciprocated in a genuine way. I’m happy to say that there’s none of that dictated corporate bonhomie in Italy.

Back home, it’s time to sample the wine and a glass of excellent red is poured as I check the last of the emails for the day before setting off for the evening stroll in readiness for dinner. Passeggiata, the Italian custom of a stroll before dinner is a perfect way to catch up with gossip, and as soon as you get into the habit you realise it’s a perfect way to integrate with your community, it’s a sort of walking adhesive.

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It’s now around 8pm and the cars have started to arrive at the local restaurant, the tables outside are populated by people drinking aperitivi as the waiters finish setting up for the evening service. And all over Italy people are preparing for dinner, the same way it’s been done throughout generations.

Signs London

During a recent trip to the UK I spotted some signs in London that made me smile and so thought I’d share them with you all.

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The first one is quite boastful claiming they serve ‘’delectable’ ‘tantalizing’ (oh dear with a z) and ‘sumptuous’ food. Isn’t this rather setting themselves up for a fall? I was a little confused by their claim to serve Indian Chinese and the list of countries.

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Another food related sign, this restaurant claims to be specialists in out door caterers not outdoor, and surely if you have a hall isn’t that really indoor catering? And do you think it should have read, we have a specialised outdoor..?

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Apologies if anyone finds this one in poor taste, but there’s a show at London’s Olympia that I’m hoping no one forgets to attend.

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Finally, heaven forbid you’d need these lawyers. I can forgive them the over use of capitals but the spelling mistake means, sorry but if it was down to me I’d be saying, you’re fired.

Fish Food

I have never been a big fish eater, in fact back in the UK, I probably only ate fish three or four times per year, and I have never had, and have no desire to sample a fish finger sandwich. However we live just eighteen minutes from the coast and the plethora of fish restaurants that line the Adriatic. So, a few weeks ago our friends, Mark and Graham introduced us to a fish restaurant in San Vito Chietino on Strada Statale 84, 66038 Marina di San Vito CH, Italy and called, Gastropescheria Blu Mare.

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Since we’ve lived in Italy, I have been more adventurous regarding my consumption of all things fishy. I’ve tried octopus, discovered I like fried calamari, and even given prawns another go. I’ve been lucky enough at our favourite local restaurant to have superb baccalà (dried, salted cod) and I’ve always liked mussels, which they serve up with clams in a sauce and fresh pasta.

But despite this new approach to fish I still arrived at San Vito with trepidation: What if I don’t like anything on offer? I guess they’ll have mussels, I like those, so I can go for the easy option,  Parking the car I decided to man up and try something different, at least one new fish dish,

Everything in the restaurant is just €5 and there’s two service areas, outside you buy a mixed fried platter of calamari, prawns etc and inside is a veritable feast for the eyes, with everything from the sea laid out. Seafood salads rub fins with thin slivers of carpaccio, there’s fillets of every kind of fish local to the area and seafood pasta galore.

We opt for a plate of stuffed mussels, a portion of battered cod, some prawns with fried coins of courgette and swordfish carpaccio. The swordfish is cooked by the lemon juice and tastes divine, as does the rest of our selection. We sit in the sunshine and with great gusto tuck into our fishy feast. The afternoon is warm and after lunch what else is there to do in San Vito but go to the beach.

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The following day, we are telling friends about the fish restaurant and they ask if we can take them. We don’t need an excuse to visit again so a few days later we are back, this time I have a starter of anchovies marinated in vinegar and white wine, the swordfish carpaccio and some mussels. Viv has a large butterflied portion of salmon, Margaret has the anchovies and some prawns and Seppe tries the seafood pasta and a large portion of crab. We all enjoy the dinner, before sloping off for a gelato and pass the afternoon away strolling along the marina. The day ends with a beer at a seafront bar, who said life in Italy has hard?

A couple of days later, I’m on my way to Ikea and this gives me the excuse to have lunch out, and surprise, surprise, Gastropescheria Blu Mare isn’t too far away. We park the car and grab a table100_7472 as the lunchtime crowd are arriving and the restaurant is shrouded by workmen in overalls and office workers in suits. The queue stretches out of the door and along the road, it must be at least thirty-five people deep, and the girls behind the counter are serving fish like dervishes. My turn for service comes and the girl smiles, recognising me. Today we have a whole monkfish tail with a  breadcrumb topping and a portion of mixed fried fish, all washed down with a beer and all for the princely sum of just €12 per person.

If you ever find yourself passing by, I’d recommend you drop in and sample the fare.