From L’Aquila, we drove east towards majestic Gran Sasso, mountain behemoth, passing medieval hill towns – clinging like lichen to rock faces – as we searched for a trio of ancient churches, le tre sorelle. (The three sisters)
All three Romanesque gems had key-keepers: nearby farm families. I called the number on Santa Maria di Propezzano’s door: “I’m visiting relatives now but I can open tomorrow.” On we went.
No one in the house near S. Maria di Ronzano, but a local truck driver knew Gabriela, the key-keeper, and called her: “Away now – tomorrow possible?”
No, but it was lunchtime and the trucker consoled us with directions to Trattoria da Luisetta – ”tipica cucina abruzzese” – in nearby Colledoro (pop. 45). The parked cars out front confirmed a good lead.
Near our table, a jolly group of business colleagues feasted on a Luisetta specialty, baccala’ (codfish): stewed codfish with cannellini beans antipasto, then mezzemaniche (half-sleeves) pasta with codfish sauce and on to fried, baked and grilled codfish.
Hearing I was a “straniera” curious about Abruzzese cuisine, they made sure I tasted every codfish course! Waitress, Graziana, granddaughter of the cook (protégé’ of her mother, Luisetta), told us proudly, “Romans drive nearly 2 hours for our codfish.”
Pino opted for local grilled lamb and I chose another local specialty, the Abruzzese pasta alla chitarra con ragu teramano, a Teramo-area meat sauce rich with tiny veal/pork meatballs. Graziana drizzled homemade hot sauce – salsa piccante – on top, then mimicked “polpettine-making” for us. Turnip greens in garlic and olive oil and and grilled eggplant were perfect side dishes. After photos all around with the “baccala’ gruppo,” back to the “tre sorelle trail.”
Finalmente, luck at the third church, S. Maria di Basciano. And key-keepers Signor Biagio, (83), and his wife Maria Pia opened their home to us, too, offering us coffee and typical Abruzzese winter sweets.
Signor Biagio’s passione for stone – he’d worked years as a stonemason in Argentina – led to animated conversation with Pino, fellow builder (specializing in stone restoration), as we climbed up to the church. Proudly pointing out his work on consolidating the church, he scoffed at recent incompetent work (done by “the younger ones”). “This church is dearer to me than my own home,” he beamed as he pointed out the splendid Baroque altar and stunning maiolica tiled-ceiling.
Grazie Signor Biagio, for sharing a treasure with us. We’ll be back to see the other due sorelle (two sisters).