A few weeks ago my son and I participated in transumanza, the ancient term for the annual herding of sheep to and from summer pastures at high altitude.
The nighttime hike covered 18 km and 1300m elevation from the Comino Valley in the province of Frosinone––near my grandfather’s birthplace, situated 140 km from Rome––reaching the Prati di Mezzo uplands in the early morning. We moved 200 between ewes, rams, baby lambs and goats, escorted by half a dozen expert sheepdogs and their human counterparts.
It was a difficult challenge for my out-of-shape body, but it was also one of the most rewarding, poetic and heartwarming experiences I have ever taken part in. Being in touch with nature, seeing the hard work and love that goes into animal farming, and witnessing the beauty of the Lazio countryside were only a few of the perks.
This was also the first ever “camping” experience for my 13 year old son, who, like any teen his age, is normally planted on a couch, eyes glued to the TV with a gaming controller growing out of his hands. At the halfway point of the hike, we slept under the stars and an almost full moon, counted thousands of fireflies and fell into slumber with the lullaby of the nearby herd bleating softly, the canon of their cowbells slowly waning into silence. No meditation app can give you that.
Before tucking into our sleeping bags at the bivouac, however, the shepherds pulled out baskets filled with tascapane sandwiches, plus sliced salami, cheese and bottles of wine and amaro. The tascapane is the old soldier’s satchel that once held bread and other rations. In this case it’s what shepherds carry with them as a portable meal, and the name is exactly what the Italian term stands for: a pocket made of bread, crumb removed and filled with something savory. The choice was between frittata or roasted peppers. I chose the latter. As I sat by the flickering campfire, after several hours of uphill hiking, I felt like I was enjoying a meal fit for kings, and not a humble sheep herder’s snack.
The recipe for these amazing peppers and how to stuff them in the bread pocket comes directly from Maria, whose family owns the farm Agricola San Maurizio. She is the one who kindly suggested my son and I join their family’s annual transumanza.
For 4 tascapane sandwiches, you’ll need the following:
2 loaves of rustic bread, halved crosswise to obtain 4 corners
8 large and plump red bell peppers
3 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Clean the peppers removing all the inner seeds and white parts. Slice into 1 cm strips.
In a large pan, sautée the garlic cloves with the olive oil until golden. Discard the garlic.
Cook the peppers in the flavored olive oil, stirring often, until they become soft. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
Tear out the crumb from the half loaves to obtain 4 hollow cones. You can save that crumb and let it dry, and then make breadcrumbs out of it.
While the peppers are still warm, stuff them in the bread and pour any remaining oil from the pan in each. This will keep the inside of the bread moist and flavorful.
Wrap each tascapane tightly with foil and keep in the picnic basket along with sliced salami, cheese, wine and a bottle of amaro. Light the campfire and start strumming on that guitar.
Below is a video of the 2017 transumanza. If you’re interested in joining next year, check out the Agricola San Maurizio Facebook page for updates.