Friday, June 14, 2013

Truffle Hunting In Abruzzo

Come with me to Abruzzo and hunt for truffles amid spectacular vistas of hilltop towns, fields of grain and abundant fragrant wildflowers. When we've got our truffles, we'll make maccheroni alla chitarra and shave our bounty over the top. Interested? Follow me.

We'll start here - at the home of Ettore Altieri, out in the countryside not far from the village of Lentella. Ettore is a sculptor who holds classes for anyone interested in chipping away at stone. He was more than generous to open his home and property to a small group of us who had arrived following the "Let's Blog Abruzzo" workshop. He and his companion Barbara, his mother Carla and father Angelo were so warm to us during our visit, that we felt part of their family. How did we find such welcoming folks and this unique experience? Through Fabrizio Lucci, owner of Italia Sweet Italia. Fabrizio seems to know all the nicest people in this area of Abruzzo who were willing to share their talents and time with us. This is a photo of Ettore, but believe me, this picture doesn't really convey his friendly demeanor. It's one of the few times when he didn't have a broad smile on his face.

Here is one of the many of Walter's creations you'll find throughout the property.

It's hard to take your gaze off the panoramic view from his home, with the Adriatic sea far off in the distance.

You don't have to go truffle hunting if you don't want. Bring your children here and just let them enjoy the animals, including the donkeys.

the goats love attention too,

and there are myriad cats roaming the property amid Ettore's art scattered here and there:

But we were here to hunt for truffles, so off we went, led by Walter, a local veterinarian and friend of Ettore's, who knows his way around the property.

 Walter was also adept at directing Frizz on where to search for the truffles. Frizz is a lagotto dog, a breed particularly good at sniffing out truffles. Lagotto dogs are well tempered and make good pets (my brother in Pennsylvania has one named Lana that I wrote about here). Normally they have very curly hair, but Frizz' had recently been shaved due to some problem with an insect that infiltrates through the hair.

Most truffle hunters won't reveal their secret places for finding these treasured tubers, so we felt particularly lucky to be given this insider's look. Truffles grow near the roots of oak trees, and those roots extend far beyond the trunk of the tree. Fritz was on the scent almost at the start of the path. 

 He scampered about in delight, sniffing out the musky smell.

It wasn't long before his nose led him to a spot where he started digging. Take a look at this one minute video to see him in action:


These are black summer truffles, known as "scorzone." They're available from mid-May to late August and are less costly than other types of truffles. At the market, they'd cost about $30 per pound. The most valuable truffles - the white truffles - are found between October and late December and can cost upwards of $600 a pound. In between are truffles called "il bianchetto" that are found from mid-January to late April and cost about $60 per pound.

This is what the black summer truffles look like straight from the ground: 

 And here they are cleaned up and ready to be used:

Afterwards, we headed back to Ettore's home for a taste of homemade wine and munchies before we were put to work making pasta.

 We were treated to the best ventricina I've ever eaten, made by Ettore's mother. Ventricina is a spicy pork-based salumi typical of Abruzzo. It was hard to stop eating it.

 Then began the pasta making, guided by the expert hands of Ettore's mother Carla. 

 Everyone enjoyed the lesson, including my friend Helen Free (right), co-creator of "Let's Blog Abruzzo." We rolled the dough over a "chitarra" or the traditional stringed implement that's synonymous with Abruzzese pasta.

Meanwhile, Ettore blended the shaved truffles with fresh sheep's milk ricotta.

While we finished making the pasta.

"Butta la pasta," is the Italian phrase that literally means "Throw the pasta."  While Carla went to work "buttando la pasta", she also warmed the ricotta and truffle sauce on a burner nearby.

The pasta and sauce were tossed together, Ettore shaved more truffles on top and we sat down to a great meal.

Dessert -- a delicious almond cake made by Carla -- was served outdoors.

Along with homemade liqueurs like this drink called "genziana" made from the gentian plant. Recipes for these kinds of herbal drinks are passed down through the generations and are thought to aid digestion.

But we still weren't finished. Ettore and Barbara disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a basket of wild flowers and leaves gathered from the property. Ettore and Barbara, who is an artist, showed us how we could create some of our own art, using the natural colors of the local plants.

They gave us each a postcard and set us loose to experiment with nature in our artistic way. We were all amazed at the colors that came through, merely from rubbing the leaves and flowers on the paper.

It was hard to leave after such a fun-filled, sensory filled day with such kind, talented people. On the way down the hill from Ettore's place, we passed the beautiful village of Lentella.

But I had a special place in my heart for the village in the distance - Fresagrandinaria --  where my mother-in-law was born. 

Did you enjoy this virtual visit on a truffle hunt? If you're in Abruzzo and want to participate yourself, click here to contact Fabrizio at Italia Sweet Italia. He's got plenty of other ideas too for genuine Abruzzese experiences far from the typical tourist traps, some of which I'll be writing about in posts to come. In the meantime, here's a recipe for the truffle and ricotta sauce.

Truffle and Ricotta Cheese Sauce

recipe courtesy of Italia Sweet Italia

printable recipe here

320 grams (about 3/4 lb.) pasta alla chitarra (or other pasta)

50 grams (about 2 ounces) black truffles

250 grams (about 1/2 lb.)  ricotta cheese

4 garlic cloves

2 T. butter

extra virgin olive oil to taste

salt, pepper to taste

  • Clean and chop the truffles

  • Heat the extra virgin olive oil and the garlic cloves, without frying

  • Remove the garlic and add the chopped truffle for a minute

  • Drain the pasta

  • Add the butter and ricotta cheese in the pan with the olive oil and the truffles

  • Heat over a high flame until just warmed through, then mix with the pasta

  • Serve with grated truffle on top.

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  1. Oh, I'd love to taste fresh truffles! That pasta dish looks absolutely amazing, or shall I say to-die-for.

    Gorgeous landscapes too!



  2. oh my, but what a simply magnificent article! your joy and the beauty and tradition of this beautiful land come through in every word. i wish i were there with you. you made my day. Thanks, amica from the bottom of my armchair traveler's heart!

  3. I am so making this. And then I will have a good, hard think about the fact that I am clearly living the wrong life! All is gorgeous!

  4. I love all the beautiful. That ricotta w/ the shaved truffles looks so good. I love seeing the photos of Abruzzo, after sampling some of the cuisine from Le Virtu. What a wonderful trip you are having. xo

  5. I feel like I'm in a fairytale looking at such beautiful views, I agree with Claudia, I'm clearly living the wrong life myself! Another wonderful trip Linda, thanks for sharing.
    And the pasta? looks to die for!

  6. cara Linda, attraverso i tuoi occhi vedo un'Italia che non conoscevo,hai scritto un post pieno d'amore, sei piĆ¹ italiana tu di tanti italiani ! Ti abbraccio forte !

  7. Linda, thank you for the virtual tour and vicarious thrill of truffle hunting in Abruzzo. I'm going back in July, and I can't wait to be back in those beautiful hills.

    Loving your dispatches. Grazie cara!

  8. Can you see my jaw hit the floor? GREG

  9. A little bit of paradise... :=)

  10. Captured it splendidly, L. Great memories of mud and work and a grande meal.

  11. Wow-I'm blown away by this amazing experience!

  12. What a fantastic experience, Linda! I know we would love to go on a truffle hunt one day. The scenery in Abruzzo is magnificent. It truly is a little known Italian gem, and I'm sure your posts will make your readers wish to visit it.

    I enjoyed watching the dog do his 'work" in your video! The black truffle ricotta sauce on the fresh pasta sounds heavenly!sounds out of this world

  13. I've been waiting to sit down and truly savor this post for days now. You are making me very impatient for my trip back. Wonderful post and amazing experience!

  14. I have such sweet and amazing memories o Abruzzo and I want o badly to be back there

  15. What a DREAM of a day! Gorgeous photos. It's almost unfair how Italy seems to have claimed so many picturesque views...!

  16. I have never seen truffles in any of our local farmers' markets and hope to find them someday. I'm so curious about their taste. Thanks for taking us along with you, Linda. I pray I will make it back to Italy some day. Your pictures are wonderful.

  17. Linda, what amazing photography of your travel in Abruzzo - I especially liked the picture of your maccheroni alla chiatarra making class and that wonderful sounding recipe for a truffle and ricotta cheese sauce - what a fantastic journey (albeit virtual), I would love to get a chance to do a bit of truffle hunting or taking cooking classes in Italy myself.
    I truly enjoyed my visit to your blog and will make sure to come back soon - thank you also for visiting my blog and taking the time to write such a lovely comment!
    Have a wonderful Tuesday! "see" you soon!

  18. I will absolutely follow you. What an incredible adventure. So happy for you, it is a trip any cook would relish. Thank you for sharing with us. Safe travels.

  19. I've only had real, fresh truffles a couple of times in my life - oh my, they are so good. What a wonderful experience and all of the food looks just amazing. What a gorgeous countryside!

  20. I have died and gone to heaven through reading this blog post about truffles, deliciousness, and beauty in Abruzzo, Linda. What a dream that hopefully will come true for me soon! Thank you for taking me to Italy through your blog, your words, your camera and your passion!