Monday, January 29, 2007

Chronicle of an Abruzzese Dinner

This week, in a grand lead-up to World Nutella Day, I am declaring Food Week over here at AHIR: all food, all drink, all the time. At least this week. (By the way, I do trust that all my fearless readers are getting their entries ready for WND? Don't wait until the last minute! The clock is ticking!)

Allora... we've got to start Food Week with a bang. So where do we turn but Abruzzo? Home of hearty mountain cooking. It's freezing there, people! They have to eat lots and lots so they can stay warm. It's like bears going into hibernation for the winter. Remember when we went hiking (ok, hiking is a big word. Let's say walking.) in the Parco Nazionale? That was to burn off the calories from our previous night's dinner. Abruzzo food=comfort food. Hence the cozy fireplace at Plistia, hidden haven of cucina Abruzzese in Pescasseroli:

And no, you won't go thirsty, just look at that mantel!

The owner here (I think his name is Ciccetto, or at least his nickname is Ciccetto), really went all out. Once he saw the "americana" whip out her camera, he put on a show. I have photographic evidence of all dishes consumed. There's nothing like a crackling fireplace in a rustic Abruzzese restaurant with just a few tables, stuffing yourself with dish after delicious dish, when it's freezing outside. I literally felt like a guest in this guy's home, partly because our friends know him, partly because he's just like that with everyone.

(CUE the boxing round bell....DING! And no, there will be no bikini-clad women holding signs on my blog). Round One:

Most Abruzzo restaurants will first serve you an appetizer of local cheeses and cold cuts on a wooden board. Plistia? Check. These were the cheeses for that evening, slices of which were served to us along with prosciutto and salame.

DING, DING! Round Two:

No, we didn't get the whole thing. It was more for show. But we did get the first piping-hot slices. It was a flaky, phyllo-like pastry crust filled with spinach and cheese. I can't even remember what kind of cheese. I was already nearing food coma.

DING, DING! Round Three:

I'm such a bad blogger. I think I blacked out at this point from food overdose, because I can't even remember what was in this soup. I have a faint recollection of hearing "cotechino," which is a pork sausage traditional around the New Year (we were there in early January), but folks, shame on me. You'll just have to guess from the shapes floating in the bowl. Gnocchi? Potatoes? Boh! (All-purpose Italian word for "who knows!")

I'm about to throw in the towel, but no! DING, DING! Round Four:

Now, these ravioli I definitely remember. They were something special. Red turnip ravioli filled with ricotta and walnuts. Speechless. Ravioli with ricotta and walnuts in general are heavenly, with just a touch of olive oil and fresh parmesan.

And just like Rocky, we push onwards. Yo, Adrian! DING, DING! Round Five:

At this point you'll just have to start describing the dishes yourselves... running out of steam... must keep going... there was some green stuff... and some grated cheese on top...

DING-DING! Round Six: (Attention vegetarians: Hide your eyes! Look away! Look away!)

As if we needed a nice, juicy steak on top of everything else. And folks, please note that this was not a communal steak but just my personal plate (or personal huge wooden board, if you will). Often in Italy I've found that meat is served "al sangue" which is rare, to bring out the flavor. You'll never find a menu here like the one I once saw in the States, basically telling you that if you ordered anything less than medium you were at your own risk, the State Health Department didn't recommend it, etc... no, here most of the restaurant owners either butcher their own meat or know the butcher and get it fresh, so it's less of a worry.

Oh, people, the end is near! When our friend called in the afternoon to make a reservation, the owner asked us if we wanted crema pasticciera for dessert. This was freshly homemade that day, warm confectioner's custard oozing out from crispy, sweet millefoglie wafers and powdered sugar. Can you say YUM? Yes, there was still room left for this. How can you resist?

And Ginkers, this was the photo I was talking about, just for you. The owner pulled out a box of his "special" grappa, this one from Nannoni, an unopened bottle, pointing out to us that the license number was 000001 or something like that, meaning that these were the first producers to ever acquire the license the government put into place for grappa producers. Ginkers, you could probably explain it better, but after all, it's the drinking of it that counts, as I'm sure you'd agree? Ale and I were actually the only ones brave enough to try. Me likey.

With this, our Abruzzese food battle is over. We've lost; we were really no match for these dishes in the first place, but we leave contented anyways. I don't know if I'll ever get back to Plistia, but if you ever go to Pescasseroli sometime, I highly recommend it. And ask Ciccetto what that green stuff was, will you?

Ristorante Plistia
Viale Principe di Napoli 28
Pescasseroli, Abruzzo
Tel. (0863) 910732


Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

I think that pasta with the green stuff looks like Orecchiette con Cimi di Rapa - little ears with Turnip greens!

ginkers said...

I am honoured indeed to see such emphasis on grappa in this food posting. I am also intensely jealous as the one illustrated looks particularly fine.

I have some concerns about the proximity of the drinks display and the fireplace. If one green bottle should accidentally fall - the whole place could go up in a giant blue flame!

Oh, and a bit disappointed about the bikini clad ladies too...

Anonymous said...

Wow I'm stuffed just looking at these pictures !
Everything looks so great ! I must confess I have a sweet tooth so I have a little preference for the "millefoglie" (funny to see it's the same word in French "mille-feuilles" !)

Taylor Design said...

My mouth is watering as we speak. Especially because my dinner consisted of an over easy egg and 4 oreos. What a wonderful meal, thanks for sharing it with us.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

Everything looks delicious, but what I wouldn't give for 4 Oreos right now...grass is always greener ;)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Oh my god. Of course your week of amazing food blogging starts the same week I started the YOU on a Diet plan.

Allora, a girl can dream right?

Anonymous said...

Three things:

* I agree with Ginkers - I'm a bit worried about the booze bursting into flame.

* I want a slice of the stuffed bread, a 1/2 a ravioli, and an entire bottle of the Grappa.

* Thank you SO much for sharing a meal us boring Americans. I wish we were as dramatic about our presentations, but Boh! (my new favorite word)

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

MS: Thanks, I think you are indeed correct.

Ginkers: An alcohol explosion would certainly give new meaning to the phrase "Let's start Food Week off with a bang," no?

Isabelle: You'll be back eating it all soon enough!

Taylor Design: Interesting menu choice. I agree with Sognatrice, Oreos are one of those food cravings we have a hard time satisfying over here!

NYC: Forgive me? I had no idea. See, this is just going to make you feel prouder of yourself when you get through Food Week without going off the YOU program... right??

Keeneye: Just 1/2 a ravioli? Are you sure? And yes, BOH is one of the best Italian expressions ever. So versatile.

John Cropper said...

Oh, man. I've been a vegetarian for almost a decade and even I couldn't resist that meal.

Bad things, this Abruzzese cooking does.

Dixie said...

That steak! It looked like heaven on a board!

FinnyKnits said...

I am full just looking at this photos. After my one time run-in with the Steak that Took Abruzzo during my last visit, I have no doubt that the folks in those mountains know how to eat. And bless them - everything looks unbelievable.

So, I'm drooling and jealous. Such a hollow feeling.

Me and Him said...

Well I'm stuffed. I couldn't do the steak though, mine has to be well and truely dead, no blood whatsoever. I know, I know!