Food enough for the 5000 (a homecooked Abruzzese feast)

The best meals don’t involve starched table cloths. They don’t involve waiters lingering discretely to pour drinks or retrieve fallen napkins. And they rarely cost a lot. The least glamorous* meals are the ones I love the most, and continue to salivate over, long after the event.

Easter Tuesday’s lunch ticked all the boxes. Apologies readers (a modest number of you, admittedly) but this isn’t an experience you can buy: lunch with the Valleses.


Who are the Valleses? Gabriele Vallese has farmed the land around our house in Abruzzo, Italy, forever (or thereabouts). His wife, Gina, is what Rick Stein would call a Food Hero: one of those unsung domestic cooks who with no fuss turns out the most sublime and yet enormous meals for her family and friends, from a small galley kitchen. The Valleses speak no English, and an Italian which swiftly and unconsciously reverts to their Abruzzese dialect. I speak no more than a handful of Italian words. No matter: we have a common language: food.**


Gina and the pasta

First, Gina’s homemade fettucine. Good, firm, egg pasta. Always served with her ‘sugo’ – homemade tomato sauce, from tomatoes they have grown – and a pot of pickled chillis of a strength to blow your head off. So simple but so very delicious. Make sure it’s a full bowl, mind you: the Valleses have eagle eyes when their guests try to pull a fast one (defined as not eating enough).


Pasta, pickled chillis, and local wine

A big bowl of pasta is as much as any normal human would have for lunch. But the tone in which “ancora!” is said is not a question or a suggestion: it is a command. And no, a small portion isn’t acceptable this time either. Try it and a third helping may find its way to your bowl…

Now being fed delicious pasta doesn’t seem so bad, except… Then the meat starts coming. Rabbit, marinated and then slow braised in its juices for hours.

Rabbit. So much rabbit.

Rabbit. So much rabbit.

Several pieces are thrust on your plate. So delicious. But you’re already so pasta-full. Oh but there is more – and more pieces are piling up on the plate. Where has Gina gone? Oh god, here she comes with the fried potatoes.

The first of many plates of potatoes.

The first of many plates of potatoes.

Fine cut, crispy, and salty, these delicious cholesterol bombs are heaped onto the groaning plate. Again the instruction “mangiare! mangiare!” Hard to resist as it’s so good. And also because she won’t let you. Have some more local Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to wash it down – oh your glass has been filled again? Ah well, it’s after midday, what’s the harm?

Now where did Gabriele go? Oh, here he is with… a massive platter of grilled lamb, and a side-splitting smile. Who needs the lamb of god – “behold the lamb of Vallese” he declares.

"The lamb of Vallese!"

“The lamb of Vallese!”

There is a lot. But no fear, more potatoes have arrived at the table. And Gabriele has found the largest pieces of lamb and put them on your plate, exhorting, ‘mangiare! mangiare!’ It’s tender, sweet, succulent, salty, crispy and moreish. Just as well, as the four chops you’ve eaten haven’t satisfied the hosts. “Ancora!” And “ancora di vino” – oh okay then. And here come the potatoes again… and look, the rabbit wasn’t finished, have some more!

Of course you have room for more!

Of course you have room for more!

Replete doesn’t cover it. But, sweet relief: they are clearing the plates away and pudding is home preserved peaches – grown in our fields – in syrup. A big portion, but fruit slips down easily. No requirement to eat again until tomorrow. Sigh of relief.

But then, what’s this? Huge slices of tiramisu are appearing. Gina’s eyes are twinkling merrily. “Mangiare!”

Tiramisu, pudding #2

Tiramisu, pudding #2

The strongest espresso in Italy and the proffered digestifs are no match for this volume of food. I retire to bed for the rest of the day.

Happiness is… eating. Preferably with the Valleses.


*Chang’s Noodle, Ganapati, Koi ramen bar and Silk Road, I am thinking of you.

** And I confess some translation via my Mum.


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Categories: Lardy Travel


"venimus, vidimus, comedebamus"


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