Chef Antonio Perna from the restaurant Gallo di Pietra is very keen for me to taste his pecora alla callara. He explains that arrosticini (grilled sticks with sheep meat) used to be made from the male castrated sheep. “But another dish was also made from the female animals in the copper callara pot.
Mutton alla callara is very typical of Abruzzo and the origin of the dish goes back to the time of shepherds, sheep and transumanza (passage of sheep and their shepherds). The meat of deceased female sheep was put in a copper pot along with whatever was in stock such as tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, onion, herbs, wine …. A delicious dish was made from the lame or injured sheep, or those that had died due to illness or old age. The copper pot with all the ingredients was put on a fire and this had to boil hard and long. People did not know what disease the animal had died of, so they let the meat stew indefinitely on a very strong fire. This was out of safety. Also because it could not be afforded to throw away the meat.
“Whatever the circumstances that led to this recipe, pecora alla callara is a gastronomic highlight of this region. I also really enjoy preparing it myself. Of course, I now only work with fresh and healthy mutton, but I also put everything on the fire for a very long time. I can mix in a lot of fresh mountain herbs and wild vegetables, and the local white wine to vaporise,” Antonio proudly explains.
Antonio scoops a big spoonful of the dish onto my plate and to be honest, it doesn’t look that appetising. It is not refined and, of course, it is still peasant food. But when I taste it, it is suddenly something completely different. My fork just glides through the mutton. This is so tender! And the aromas of the vegetables and herbs add a whole new dimension to the meat. It is indeed a culinary masterpiece.
I can so see them before me, the shepherd in the fields with their copper pot on the fire. What a life it must have been in the mountains. Living of and in nature. And then managing to come up with such extraordinary dishes. Hats off!
Address: Hotel Le Torri Hotel – Ristorante Il Gallo di Pietra – via del Vallone 4, Pescocostanzo