Lunch with the Ferrante Family
Our friends Steve and Marion were looking for volunteers to help with olive harvest on their own little olive grove in Abruzzo. For several years my wife Gerry and I had wanted to return to Italy, a country we both love for its culture, its food and its countryside. So we jumped at the chance, knowing it would be hard work in the heat, but rewarding and socially fun. It was also a chance to look for olive oil supplies direct from the producer for Better Food.
One Sunday lunch was spent with the Ferrante family, learning to make pasta and celebrating all that is good about living from the land. Arriving in the yard of the Ferrante family farm, we were greeted warmly by several members of the family: Ercolino, his wife Filamina, Elio their son and his wife Sonya, as well as extended family and friends. The plan for the day was to have a lesson in making ravioli, then to share what we had made all together.
It was a beautiful late October day, getting increasingly warm and sunny but with a cool breeze. Our venue – a big summer kitchen next to a huge lean-to barn to eat under. There was a pizza oven fired up, an open fire to warm by in the cool of the stone kitchen, a pasta preparation table and a huge outdoor table for 20 people to sit around and eat. Four of us from England helped with pasta making, and it was such fun and so simple. The women of the house were experts as this was something they did every week. Making fresh pasta is just in a normal day’s work.
The ravioli were stuffed with a ricotta, egg yolk and Parmesan mixture and served with a simple but delicious tomato sauce. This pomodoro was their own, and had such depth of flavour, you could almost taste the sweet sunshine. This was made three-litres at a time, reduced over some bone stock for an hour or more. In the UK we are used to buying cheap tinned tomatoes and passata to make sauce with, but this recipe took the humble tomato to heavenly heights. The sauce needed no herbs or spices, as we might use. They are happy to just let the tomatoes sing and indeed this sauce sang to all our hearts’ delight.
The meal was long and had so many courses. The first course, was a mixture of polenta and chickpea flour to which was added a dish they made earlier of garlic, sausage meat, onion, carrot and small chunks of pancetta cooked slowly in lots of olive oil. They probably use five times the amount of olive oil we use. The result was a simple, thick, soupy dish topped with their own dried sweet Romano red peppers that were then fried in oil to a crisp. So simple and yet a perfect autumn dish. Then we had fresh borlotti beans cooked in pumpkin. This again was cooked for hours with the beans and pumpkin making great bedfellows. A soft, earthy, slightly sweet experience – none of this was gourmet food, just simple traditional Abruzzo family food.
Next came the ravioli. Lovingly made by us using the Tipo 00 flour, this was of course the dish of the day and it was complemented beautifully by that gorgeous tomato sauce.
This was followed by roast cockerel cooked in the pizza oven. The oven was first fired up with old olive tree prunings, followed by the very same tree’s logged branches, and it didn’t take much to get the heat required. Once the stone was heated right through to Ercolino’s satisfaction, the fire was mostly swept out to make way for the chicken pieces in a heavy roasting pan. It cooked fast, while a sweating Ercolino turned and moved it around with a paddle. Finally, removed from the oven and left on hot stones for 20 minutes or so, we ate it. It tasted divine, with a robust earthy flavour, crispy skin and smoky edges. This bird had been running around the farmyard waking everyone at dawn only a day or so before. Ercolino smiled proudly. His cockerel had been reared from the egg and was now a precious gift to our table.
The last main course was extraordinary. Arrosticini (lamb brochettes) cooked on a specially long barbecue made to take the skewers. The result was again so simple and yet such a delight. The lamb – their own of course – needed no seasoning other than a big sprinkle of salt while cooking. In fact, everything we ate was from the farm, each course small and each course simple in style, but with so much time, love and care going into the making of it. All this washed down with local red wine and finished off with local ice cream, an espresso and a grappa (after dinner liqueur) for those that could not resist. The hospitality offered was overwhelming in its generosity and warmth. There were at least six of us at their table they had never met. It was their love of Steve and Marion that brought us all together.
Elio and his family live off the land, with olive oil being the main harvest and their income source. Alongside this they bottle the fabulous pomodoro (tomato sauce). The rest is for home use. At the end of our meal we walked and talked while the children raced around on bikes.
With the help of Stephen’s fluent Italian, Elio and his father and I talked about olive oil and pomodoro for Better Food shops. This family produce simple, good food and they expect no more than a modest return. In the UK, we are used to buying the bargain olive oil and tinned tomatoes from industrial scale producers. We wondered if we really would be able to provide a good market for these lovely people? Yes, of course we would! Better Food can and must sell these wonderful organically produced foods. This is part of what Better Food is about for me, to open markets for the best producers and celebrate those who grow with respect for the land wherever they are.
The Ferrante Family’s 2019 harvest organic olive oil and tomato passata are now available to buy in store; read more about the family and their products here.