An Evening in Abruzzo

We had the pleasure of attending a special dinner hosted by Ciao Chow Linda and cooked by Chef Joe Cicala of the well known Abruzzese restaurant Le Virtu, in Philadelphia, owned by Francis Cratil Cretarola and Catherine Lee.

The cuisine of Abruzzo is different from what you would eat in Naples or Piedmont.

It is an hour and a half drive east of Rome and is very mountainous with 1/3 the region being parkland with the Adriatic to the right.

It is an area that is not heavily traveled by tourists, is rustic and filled with the best natural ingredients from the land.

There are not many cow products in this region, sheep's milk cheeses reign (think different types of Pecorino), and did you say you like lamb?
You've come to the right place.

Saffron from L'Aquila is supposed to be the best in the world. And pork and garlic are very important to Abruzzo, as is chitarra pasta (long strands of pasta made on a guitar string cutter).

I had the pleasure of sitting next to well known cookbook author and writer Domenica Marchetti, of Domenica Cooks, and I can't wait to dig into her books on pasta and Rustic Italian Cuisine. Domenica's mother is from Abruzzo and her roots and cooking style is strongly influenced from this region.

Chef Cicala made us a feast (fasten your seatbelts), starting with antipasti of arancini (rice balls), the best we have ever had.

Potato croquettes and lamb skewers.
And an amazing crostini with sheep's milk ricotta drizzled with honey and almonds.
He has my number.

To start the meal we had the most amazing housemade salumi.

These were some of the best cured meat products we have ever had. Rivals any charcuterie or salami we've eaten in the US or Europe. All products made with local lamb and farm raised pig and each taste was unique and special. I can't wait to go to the restaurant and order a platter of meats.

Next course was a gorgeous bowl of Ceci soup w/ chestnuts and farro. The chickpeas were nice and firm, and if I could eat this everyday of my life, I would be a happy girl (Chef, may I have this recipe, please?).

2 pastas: yes, I said two.

A gnocchi (not made w/ potato or ricotta, just flour) with smoked lamb sausage, and a gorgeous chitarra with lamb bolognese. I told you, you had better like lamb.

NEXT: a gorgeous roasted lamb, tied and stuffed, made like porchetta, served on broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes. I'm getting full.

Dessert: an anise semifreddo with poached pears and a platter of homemade biscotti and assorted Abruzzese cookies.

Cheese course to end the meal (my favorite!).

We tasted 4 amazing cheeses from the region from Marcelli Formaggi, an organic, artisan farmstead cheese from Abruzzo. Bob Marcelli explained how each of these special cheeses were made and the history behind them. You can purchase his amazing cheese at Eataly or via his website.

Each cheese was paired with a special Italian honey and you know I was in heaven.

All dishes were paired with wines of the region. A DOCG Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and a lovely Aglianico, which was new to me, and I loved.

When in Philadelphia, make sure Le Virtu is on your list of places to dine. It will be a special meal, one you will never forget.

Thank you to Linda for hosting the evening, Chef Cicala and Francis & Catherine for putting this wonderful evening together.

It was a truly a memorable experience.

I'm still stuffed!



Ciao Chow Linda said…
Oh Stacey, it was such a fun and delicious night with wonderful company, wasn't it? You described evey course beautifully and I hope any of your readers who live near Philadelphia will make it to Le Virtù to eat the fantastic Abruzzese cuisine cooked by Joe. For those who can't, I have the recipe for that soup coming up on my blog tomorrow. Thanks to you and Henry for attending and for sharing your writing talents about this memorable night.
I'm stuffed too just reading about all of that glorious food. Thanks for taking us along on your photo tour.
Anonymous said…

What a feast!!!!!!!!!!!!! How did you roll out of there and drive home? Everything looks sensational, mouth watering, beautiful, including you and Linda.
Patsy from CT (in FL) said…
OK. Officially jealous. I want to join the "glorious friends" club.
Claudia said…
Gasp. (8 times) Wow. (8 times). Sigh.
Kathryn said…
Wow! I love Linda's blog and I love your blog!! I live in NJ too, how do I get on this guest list???

You & Linda are both gorgeous! Must be all the good food you eat!

What a memorable night this must have been, Stacy, with such a fabulous dinner at Linda's house! I loved all your photos and descriptions.
Anonymous said…
Mares eat oats
and does eat oats
and little lambs eat ivy
a kid'll eat ivy, too
wouldn't you?
Stacey Snacks said…

I'ts "Mares eat oats, and GOATS eat oats".

My dad always sung that song.

Foodiewife said…
Suddenly, my reheated Thai pineapple fried rice looks likes slop, compared to this dining experience. I'm sure this was a truly unforgettable evening, and yes, I do love lamb.
Wow, what a meal. It sounds fantastic. Wish I lived near Philly! Thanks for sharing.
OK Stacey, if one day I call you and say "hi, I'm in New York for a few days" will you please PROMISE me that you'll take me out to chic dinners in wonderful homes like this!
love to you
Everything has already been said about your amazing post! The two of you look gorgeous!
Anonymous said…
What an incredible experience - the food looks out of this world - thanks for sharing the evening with us!
Mary x
AdriBarr said…

I have come to you from Ciao Chow Linda's site. My, but what a feast! I enjoy the food of Abruzzo. My relatives came to America from the region one hundred years ago. We don't hear as much about it as some other regions, which is a pity. And indeed, their saffron is extraordinary.
Dana said…
How fun! I want to come to the next one!
Anonymous said…
Le Virtue's on my list for May trip to Philly. Do so love the honey from Italy, harder to bring home now.
Loved the pictures and the menu!
Thanks, DF, LA
domenicacooks said…
Stacey, it was a pleasure to meet you and I'm so glad we had the chance to sit next to each other for a bit at dinner. What a feast! And...I can now vouch that you are indeed a cheese lover. Here's to the glorious food of Abruzzo and to new friendships. Cheers, D
Susan I. said…
Oh boy. This is bringing back memories of my week in Santo Stefano di Sessanio.The cheeses and pastas, the friendly chefs, the ambiance. It was heaven for a lamb lover! Hi Linda.:)
I tried commenting the other day but had some problem with my iPad, but I was saying how jealous I was and that I live in the wrong state and I wanted to be sitting at that table and how the food looked so amazing and how Linda was a wonderful hostess and how she couldn't have picked better guests to invite! Give me a heads up next time, I could be there in a few hours! xox
Lori Lynn said…
Hi Stace - I read about the dinner on Linda's site yesterday and hoped you had posted it too. Could never get tired of seeing this feast! What a menu! Love the last pic of the two of you.
Such a wonderful evening. Pleasure to read your article:)