Thursday, November 18, 2010

Towns of Lazio: Alatri

      Last weekend, we had one of the last days of warm sunshine until March or April, I fear.  We took full advantage and headed straight down to the Hernico mountains, stopping by the city of the popes, Anagni, along the way.  Anagni is a gorgeous town in Lazio that is not to be missed, but, when it came to choosing a place to eat for lunch, Alatri has one of my favorite osteria in Lazio.  Being about a 30 minute drive from Anagni, we booked the last two places available at the Osteria Bacco e Ciacco, and had ourselves a wonderful day out.
     Alatri is a wonderful town nestled in the heart of the Hernico hills.  The Hernico Hills are to be found in the south of Lazio, in the region of Frosinone, and border with Abruzzo.  They are both cultural and natural treasure in Lazio with their picturesque mountains which are perfect for hiking, and birdwatching, skiing.  Then, the 16 historical towns that make up the mountain  community.  They are named after a pre-Roman culture that once resided in the area, the Hernico, who were eventually assimilated and swallowed into the Roman empire. 

View from the acropolis of Alatri
Alatri is the best preserved town of the province, the town walls and acropolis date back to the 6th century B.C. and are still intact.  The walls of the town best show the the technology of the Hernico people.  They are huge and will impress even the most cynical of people. 

The large size of the massive stones brings to mind the legendary Cyclops, after whom they are named.  Cyclopic stones.
The outside wall of the 6th B.C. acropolis
«Ye citizens were wont to call me Ciacco;
For the pernicious sin of gluttony,
I, as thou seest, am battered by this rain.»
(Inferno, VI, 52-54)
     The name, according to Buti, one of the oldest scholars of Dante,  suggests a derogatory nature of this name: "Ciacco is said to be a pig's name, hence he was called this way for his gluttony"  Bacco, or, Bacchus, of course is referring to the roman god of wine.  With a name that refers to the sin of gluttony and the pagan god of pleasure and wine, one may expect delicious treats inside.  And they definately to be had. 
     This was our third visit to the osteria, and we were a bit skeptical when we entered into its new location.  Our first two visits had been darling.  The osteria was a hole in the wall with the capacity to seat about 15 people, max.  The new location is to levels and has the capacity to seat at least 50 people.  With the change, would the quality of the food change?  Would the service be less friendly and personal?  It only took us about 5 minutes to realize there was nothing to worry about.  They were able to move to a bigger location based on the quality of the food.  The place was packed, the service excellent and friendly with the addition of ONE waitress, and the food, in a word, excellent. 

We started with a bottle of local Cesanese del Piglio, which you can read about HERE

Mixed grilled vegetable and crostini antipasto

 We started with the mixed grilled/roasted vegetables and mixed crostini. This included grilled marinated eggplant, grilled marinated zucchini, roasted red peppers, grilled radicchio, and roasted fennel.  Everything was prepared perfectly.  The vegetables were the most flavorful I have ever eaten.  The marinated eggplant was incredible, perfectly grilled with delicate flavors of olive oil, garlic, and Italian parsley.  I could tell each vegetable was individually prepared because they all retained wonderful aromas, texture, and flavor balance.
 Crostini with black truffle sauce

The main event for me were the mixed crostini, which are small toasts.  They came with a small amount of oil dribbled over them, and with tiny serving bowls and spoons for self service.  The sauces were all homemade, fresh and lovely.  They included black truffle sauce, hot peppers, and an olive paste.  Of course my favorite was the black truffle, which paired excellently with the Cesanese del Piglio. 

Close up of roasted fennel and grilled vegetables.  

Primo: Strozzapreti with a walnut and pumpkin sauce

     For my first course, I ordered the strozzapretti with a walnut and pumpkin sauce.  Strozzapreti are a simple handmade pasta made from water and flour, which which are then manipulated into a sort of corkscrew shape.  Their name means, "strangled priests."  Even though the name is historical, it is a bit relevant in today's Church atmosphere.  I have also seen they called "Strangled Husbands."  
    My dish was outstanding.  The walnuts gave it a bite while the pumpkin gave it a velvety smooth texture.  It was creamy, rich, and hard not to stuff the entire plate in my mouth at once.  The pasta was perfectly cooked as well, and each corkscrew held the sauce well, ensuring that each bite was a luxury of pasta and sauce.  I am sure this would not be difficult to make at home.  While I was eating them, I couldn't help but imagine thinly sliced white truffles on top.  Maybe next time I should bring one of my Tuscan truffles with me and secretly slice the truffles over it while nobody is looking. ;)

Cime di rape in padella

     For my second course I ordered a side dish of cime di rape in padella, which are sauteed field greens from the area.  Man,  it was a delicious plate and a great way to finish off my meal.  I love cime di rape because it is both slightly sweet, when cooked with garlic, and slightly bitter.  It is healthy as well.  One cup of this vegetable will provide more iron than a beef hamburger patty, which I would never eat because beef is disgusting and comes from a murdered cow.  I'll take the field greens, thanks!

I actually finished off with a few slices of pineapple.  I like to end my meals with a piece of fruit to aid digestion.  Pineapple is fill of enzymes that are perfect for this.  

Osteria Bacco e Ciacco
Via Duomo 11
Alatri, FR
0775 447090
reservations recommended, closed Mondays

For a fun day trip from Rome to Anagni and Alatri contact Antiqua Tours