Okay a spring break in Abruzzo does take on a slightly different meaning to “Like it’s really, totally, the most fun a couple of bodies can have. You know?”, but for those who are looking for a grown-up holiday that titillates all senses, exploring the Abruzzo provinces of Teramo, Chieti, Pescara & l’Aquila in the Spring with a salty porchetta panino in hand is one experience that, unlike its US teenage namesake, you’ll love to remember.
For those that live in the northern hemisphere you’ll find the weather balmy enough to have a short picnic, however don’t be surprised to be alone in this as there won’t be many locals; the Abruzzesi don’t hit the picnic tables until August! For the laziest picnic indulgence, we suggest going ‘street’ and grabbing a roadside porchetta di panino. Roll over steak sandwiches, this is the way to go with the most succulent pork that has been boned and stuffed with a combination of finely chopped herbs that can include wild fennel, rosemary & sage, some smashed garlic and plenty of salt for the crackling; it’s then rolled and tied to be ever-so-slowly roasted over a wood fire. Drooling and dribbling will be a frequent occurrence when you think back on eating this sandwich.
You will find Porchetta vans all across Abruzzo; they are generally always white and parked very conveniently on crossroad junctions or lay-bys. The staff will thinly slice the Porchetta into a crisp baton shaped or round roll. I say sliced thinly, these are monster fillings especially if you say yes to a final assault of crackling, so don’t regard this as a light lunch! You can chose to have them fully wrapped and to drive to the nearest castle to look down upon a valley, or park up and sit on the beach for the ultimate al fresco sandwich dining. If you get addicted to them you can come back the last week of August and visit the first and most famous festival for this particular dish, the Sagra Porchetta in Campli which attracts visitors from all over the world.
Funnily enough for the very region-centric Italy, La Porchetta seems to be one unifying force; its very tastiness has ensured each & every single region of Italy claims the origin of this dish… The very best I have ever tasted is actually in Frascati, Lazio, where it was served with a wild strawberry grappa that complemented perfectly. It’s a dish I have never ever successfully mastered cooking but apparently the trick to it is to marinate the meat for 2 days before it is cooked and allow time for all those juices to sit before serving, so it retains its succulence, maybe one day; I think it also has to do with not having a wood oven.
Like I said Spring in Abruzzo is about reawakening the senses, here’s a few more very simple ways to make the most of Spring in Abruzzo:
Take a walk in Campo Imperatore – the light, the blossom, the vibrant green of the young new grass shoots are positively intoxicating set against the contrast of its lunar rollercoaster landscape.
The first sweet spring lettuce, bitter cherries, baby green peaches drizzled with oil, and shaved truffles, glorious baby artichokes and, the ultimate in decadence, the wild asparagus that grows throughout the region – this, is one good reason to go walking in Abruzzo to see if you can spot it to take home for an unforgettable dinner!
Fragrance hangs heady in the air, from the cascade of blossoms and wildflowers that carpet the meadows and valleys; oh to be a honey bee and be able to whizz from Apennnine Gentian to Marsica Irises, Lady’s Slipper Orchids, Jasmine & Peonies and up to the high mountain Ginestra.
Cuckoos are supposed to be solitary but up around Montagna dei Fiori near Civitella del Tronto expect to hear what sounds like a choir in the surrounding woods early Spring.
This is the best time to walk the beach. You have a choice of listening to the waves crash against shingle or the shoom of sand on water depending if you are in Teramo or Chieti, both equally invigorating and unspoilt before the summer rush.
Caressing the ever-so-slightly spikey poppy buds and their silky delicate petals for a full blown ‘poppy porn’ session, you can be Georgia O’Keefe in Abruzzo in Spring, poppies are everywhere.
Fava beans – such delicious young sweet beans which you can eat as an alternative to chocolate, I love the feel of the inside of their pods; make sure you buy some for a road journey and de-pop them in the car whilst driving to appreciate what second skin really means.
Campli’s official Sagra delle porchetta website – check out the 1960s photographs to go back in time, they are wonderful!