Bar Ristorante da Lisa sits at the bottom of the fabulously named medieval town Castel di Ieri that overlooks sweeping meadows and mountain vistas deep within L’Aquila’s Sirente-Velino Regional National Park.
Carla, owner and cook, took over Bar da Lisa 6 years ago. Like so many mid-life Abruzzese I have met, she was born in Caracus where her parents had migrated to for work, grew up in Canada and emigrated back to Abruzzo in her late teens.
No-nonsense cooking is her attitude; in her words anybody can cook, you just need fantastic ingredients to work with, basic tools and a little bit of imagination, which to me is the ethos of Italian cooking no matter what the region, and allows people like me to keep trying.
When she is not cooking for guests and tending teenage children, she spends her time preparing for the winter, bottling locally grown favourites such as Zolla (the shoot from a bulb of red Sulmona garlic that would ordinarily result in a flower and which is picked one month before harvest and preserved sotto olio). This I tried for the first time with just in season cantaloupe melon which was awesome – I would have been happy with a plate of just that and her gorgeous ‘soft’ bread.
All summer long her time in the kitchen is spent preserving not just the usual Giardiniera pickles but summer herb salts to spruce up dishes in the deep dark winter months. I loved her honesty in that, yes, she cooks according to what’s available locally, but also based on how she feels on the day. Obviously that is pretty positive and without any rushing mood swings, as fellow guests who were regulars had travelled as far away as Pescara to eat here and hike for the day.
My time in Abruzzo has made me such a haughty antipasti queen, the standard is so high generally. Ristorante da Lisa served a delectable range of salamis and hams, especially the squishy lamb liver one which had a ring of those I received from the nearby La Porta dei Parchi Adotta una Pecora scheme. I adored her simple summer take on one of my winter pasta favourites, Boscaiola, she’d added the sweetest roasted paccini tomatoes which this diner appreciated no end, as well as her oh-so-excellent smoky pancetta. All pasta is made by hand, largely due to economics; when the going gets tough those extra cents on dried bought pasta mount up, but I was very appreciative, it’s always great to have texture and feel some sort of grain in your loopy fettuccine.
For meat lovers one of her trademark dishes is Capra Cacio e Ovo (Goat in an egg and cheese sauce) though I am guessing that won’t see an appearance till the weather gets cooler. Al fresco dining is available in the summer and last year saw the opening of the first summer/autumn informal open cantina which was accompanied by 400 of her famous lamb polpette (meatballs), they’re hoping to have this again this year but dates for 2013 haven’t been confirmed yet. You could combine Castel di Ieri’s Rock Night Festival which runs in August and sit outside as in the summer there is an al fresco area with naturally an arrosticini grill and succulent lambskewers made to order.
We used this a a stop off on our way to Castrolvalva made famous by MC Escher, it sits on one of my favourite roads in Abruzzo in June, the poppy laden SS261 that runs from the outskirts of L’Aquila through Fontecchio and then splits into the Roman road SS5 Via Tiburtina Valeria that bikers have such a field day upon. You’ll see not just peppered poppies swaying in the wheat but literally fields with nothing else but poppies in bloom, simply stunning against the still lush late Spring greens of surrounding fields.
Do make the small journey into the airy little back room restaurant via the bar!
Open for lunch and dinner daily every day apart from Monday afternoons