It’s early morning and I am vaguely listening to the CBC news. My concentration is suddenly focused on the announcement of the earthquakes in Italy and the tragic loss of life and destruction of the mediaeval town of Amatrice, north west of Rome.
In my mind, I am visualizing the towns and villages that we saw on our recent trip to Italy and in particular, the area around Cassino, where the famous World War 2 battle of Montecassino took place in 1944.
Our visit was to pay homage to a relative who died at the battle of Montecassino in 1944 and whose final resting place is in the Cassino War Cemetery.
Beneath a clear blue sky, crisp lines of cream coloured gravestones softened with plantings of yellow and red roses stop us in our tracks and bring a lump to our throats. Here lie thousands of young war heroes: their names, biographical and regimental details etched on the gravestones. Small family groups of visitors, like us, quietly walk around the Cemetary, touching the gravestone of their family relative in silent respect. An atmosphere of calm and peacefulness pervades this place which lies in the shadow of the Abbey of Montecassino that is situated on a hill top high above the town of Cassino.
We spend the day with Dr. Danila Bracaglia, a local historian and licensed, professional guide. She is very knowledgeable about the WW2 Italian campaign and we visit relevant areas in the vicinity including the Abbey itself. We feel as though we are re-living the history as we stand in these places and absorb the surroundings of mountainous terrain, valleys, rocks, trees and plants, rivers and bridges and listen to Danila recount details of the campaign.
The intense day is followed by a restful stay at a small family run hotel in the middle of Cassino. At dusk, we hear church and Abbey bells ringing out and look up to the Abbey above the town, both completely rebuilt after the war and now very much alive and vibrant.
To regain our equilibrium after our unforgettable pilgrimage, we spend the following day visiting mediaeval towns, including Alatri with the ultimate objective of lunch in Anagni at the Ristorante Del Gallo.
Fortunately, our reservation at this family run, generations old restaurant, was booked well in advance. The restaurant is packed with locals for Sunday lunch. We are the only foreigners having lunch there that day. It’s just as we prefer it: no other tourists in sight.
The atmosphere is lighthearted, exuberant, loud with laughter, smiles and warm welcomes and chat in broken Italian and English as we are asked and we respond about where we are from. Vancouver seems a long way away.
We anticipate a good meal accompanied by local wine. The experience doesn’t disappoint and exceeds our expectations for a memorable occasion.
The piece de resistance, the starter course, is the specialty of the Lazio region. It is wheeled out of the kitchen on a waiter’s trolley and taken to each table for examination and appreciation. Il Timballo alla Bonifacio V111, named for a Pope, is a fettuccine based pasta dish enveloped in prosciutto ham. It is prepared and baked in a mould then served upside down and freestanding. The Timballo is irresistible with its aromas of cooked cheese, tomatoes, prosciutto. Inevitably, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs as we enjoy this taste of Lazio, made according to the Ricette TRadizionali. I have looked at a number of Timballo recipes in Italian and have the general idea of what’s involved. At some point, I will make a brave attempt at creating this very Italian dish.
Il Timballo alla Bonifacio V111 is the traditional pasta dish of the area, and Cesanese is the local wine. The grape variety and wine by the same name has its roots deeply planted in this area. Cesanese is indigenous to the Lazio region with very old origins and may have been used by the Romans in their wine making activities. Cesanese wine has long been associated with the ancient town and commune of Anagni where we are having lunch.
The bottle of Cesanese Del Piglio DOCG, DOCG being the highest classification of Italian wines, is perfect for the occasion. The Cesanese grape variety produces a red wine which we found paired perfectly with the regional food: soft, velvety, light bodied wine yet rich in flavour. A very drinkable and enjoyable wine.
Sadly, winemaking in the Lazio area is in decline due to the urban sprawl. We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to enjoy Cesanese wine on this visit as it is not readily available outside the area.
When I attempt to make make the Timballo, I will serve it either with a Sangiovese wine since this grape is widely grown in the area or my preference would be a Montepulciano d’Abrozzo DOCG from nearby on the Adriatic coastal area. This wine is made from the Montepulciano grape variety. While each of these wines is generally richer in colour and texture than the Cesanese, I think either would complement the Timballo.
Our time in Cassino visiting the grave of our relative and other war heroes, together with the WW2 sites and the mediaeval towns and villages in the area will always have a special place in our memories. And, how could we forget the Timballo alla Bonifacio V111 accompanied by Cesanese wine?
Back to the present and our historian, Dr Danila Bracaglia emails me that fortunately her family were not in the area of the Italian earthquakes. However, they heard and felt them and knew this would mean tragedy for those involved.
Our thoughts are with those affected by the earthquakes and aftershocks.
Dr Danila Bracaglia. www.montecassinotours.com and http://www.viaromatour.com
Ristorante Del Gallo. http://www.ristorantedelgallo.it
Lazio region www,italia.it There are many websites about Lazio.