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!