In Abruzzo there are agriturismo, and then there are agriturismo that are a foodies’ delight. Casale San Giovanni is such an agriturismo, located in Fossacesia in Abruzzo’s Chieti province, and sitting right next door to the beautiful abbey of San Giovanni in Venere. It seemed that no matter where you go along Chieti’s coast on holiday, even down to Vasto, you’d have locals declaring how good the food at Casale San Giovanni is, which is wonderful for those looking to eat where the locals go!
The agriturismo was founded by a local farmer, Aurelio Natale, and his wife Nicoletta some 6 years ago, part of their dream come true if you like, as a means of ensuring their own sustainability in managing their 8 hectares that produces wine, vegetables, fruit -groves and animals. It’s become an extended family affair with nephews waiting on tables all helping out too which is part of the charm. Unlike many agriturismo this is small & intimate dining, holding a maximum of 40 inside. Traditionally decorated utilising creams & lemon, the space is nice and light and I am sure the open fire doesn’t go amiss in the winter for stoking atmosphere. We ate outside on the veranda one mid-May Sunday, which was lovely; the olive trees were blossoming and there were enough flowers to provide a delicate perfume that gave that extra little buzz of al fresco dining in Italy.
They don’t do things by half here, home-baked and made by hand applies even down to the wonderful chunky crisps that Signora Natale has prepared, waiting on each table for their guests. A long forgotten taste of childhood of real crisps was rekindled, particularly good with the home-produced white (Pecorino) that we had to start.
Obviously antipasti changes according to season, but midst–Asparagus season there was the treat of a delicate asparagus wafer-thin tart that was delicious, an assortment of filo-like pasty slices bursting with spinach and ricotta assortments. Local cheeses and salamis were all great. Their pallotte cacio e ova, which is a Chieti speciality are a treat. These are rich little rounds balls made of egg and cheese in a piccante tomato sugo, slightly larger than we have had elsewhere but quite delicious. A lot of people complain about Italian salads composing of just a bit of lettuce and more lettuce but whilst in Abruzzo you really need to try the salads that are made with ancient traditional barley-like grains such as spelt & farro; one was served at Casale San Giovanni and was the best I have tasted so far. Tangy with orange and celery, green beans, artichokes and sweet red onion it was utterly delectable.
For our primi we had Rintrocele con sugo di papera which is a Fossacesia speciality. This is a large almost giant version of chitarra with a luxuriant gosling ragu sauce, extra gosling being bought to the table in a small dish to accompany it (as if you needed it!). Not the biggest fan of goose, I have to say this was utterly delicious and wiped out all greasy memories from childhood. The dish was perfect with some of their excellent house red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo called Savio.
For those with small stomachs, if you have ordered the Rintrocele I would suggest stopping here, but if you can’t do without your meat, the Arrosto misto is good especially with the dauphinoise-style potatoes that are served with a crunchy topping, a nice change away from the usual roast potatoes that are generally served in Abruzzo agriturismo.
Next came some refreshing strawberries to cleanse the palate then a wonderful tart with coffee… Needless to say we could barely move, but to walk that all off you do have conveniently nearby one of Abruzzo’s most beautiful abbeys to explore whose oranges and pine & conifer trees will soon perk you up with their wafting aromas if the remarkable stonework doesn’t.