L’Aquila, “the eagle”, sits upon a hillside in the middle of a narrow valley. Tall snow-capped mountains of the Gran Sasso massif flank the walled city, while a maze of narrow streets once entirely lined with baroque and Renaissance buildings and churches that opened into elegant piazzas and are now choked by debris from the recent 2009 earthquake. The alleys nestled in the Eagle’s periphery are nonetheless still redolent of saffron, its magical stigmas wafting in the air.
The city’s construction was begun by my favorite historic figure, Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and illuminated King of Sicily, as a bulwark against the bellicose power of the papacy. The name of Aquila was chosen after the heraldic bird portrayed in Frederick’s Hohenstaufen dynasty coat of arms.
The surrounding area around The Eagle, boasts Roman ruins like the important Roman city of Amiternum, ancient monasteries, and tons of stunning castles. The best known of these is the Medieval Rocca Calascio, which was used in the 1980s as the location for the movie Ladyhawke. It is the highest elevated castle in Italy and one of the highest fortresses in Europe.
During the shivering days spent shooting the final eclipse scene during which Michelle Pfeiffer returns to human form, thus breaking the evil bishop’s curse that condemned her to a half life as a falcon, my talented costume designer friend Nanà Cecchi (between draping Michelle’s hooded cloak and buffing hunky Rutger Hauer’s dark armor), would fight off the hissing winter blades of freezing castle drafts, would feast on hot bowls of stewed Ceci dell’Aquila. Here’s the recipe:
300 gr (1 1/2 cups) dried chickpeas
30 gr (1 oz) pancetta (lean un-smoked bacon), minced
200 gr (1 cup) firm, ripe cherry tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pinch hot peperoncino (chili pepper) flakes
2 dl (6 fl oz) vegetable stock (can be made with vegetable bouillon cube)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 hard-boiled egg, minced
Soak the chickpeas in cold water for 12 hours or overnight.
Drain, rinse with cold running water and place in a stewpot with the bay leaf and rosemary. Cover with enough cold water and bring to a boil. Keep at a low simmer for 2 hours, salting at 3/4 into the cooking. Drain the boiled chickpeas, and set aside.
Bring the stock to a boil, while you sear the minced onion and bacon in a large saucepan over mild heat. Just before the onion begins to brown, add the crushed tomatoes, and season with spicy peperoncino flakes to your own desired degree of Hades tolerance.
After 2 minutes, throw in the drained chickpeas. Pour in the boiling stock and stew partially covered for 30 minutes over low heat.
Add the minced egg and garlic and finish cooking for another 15 minutes before serving in soup bowls with an additional glug of olive oil.
A nice rosé Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo complements finely.
Photography © Angelo Trinca