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Pre-Fabricated Italian Diet

19 Jul

There are plenty of great Rome food blogs, many of which are run by people I am very proud and humbled to call friends and acquaintances.

Alas, this is not one of them.

And so it is, without a shred of indignity, that I give you my latest supermarket discoveries and thus evidence to prove that Italians love convenience just as much as the next guy. No shame in my game. Call me on it, I’ll admit it. I’m your big-box Walmart with endless parking in a sea of Nordstrom blogs about Rome. It’s all good. Hell, I nearly killed myself last night carrying my daughter to bed by tripping over a round pillow strategically left by my son in front of his door when I was carrying her out. I hardly have time to shower, for the love of God! I’m a mess! And yet—yet. I care about my readers enough to be the asshat that takes a picture of this package in the dairy section of my corner supermarket:

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Proudly proclaiming “New,” it’s the folks at Buitoni giving us another reason to abandon the joys of homemade pasta, kneaded on Sunday from scratch. You know the type, where you put the big pile of flour on your counter and crack a few eggs in a welled-out space in the middle and presto-change-o, freshly made pasta! (I do, because my Roman ex-husband used to actually do this for fun, and we loved it. I bought him a little hand-cranked Imperia to make pasta and it was good times, let me tell you. Try it, honestly it’s not that hard.)

You know, you Americans across the pond might have your “Boboli Italian Breadshell,” but hey! Over here we’ve got Buitoni’s ready-to-make ravioli. Hell yeah, people! 16 pre-cut discs just waiting for you to stuff them into delicious oblivion. [Post-script: I get that these aren’t pre-made discs of pasta all’uovo to make in water. An astute reader pointed this out to me. I call them ravioli by mistake, referring to the fact that they’re mini. They are DOUGH to STUFF for cooking in the oven, a pan, or frying in oil. Aka CALZONI or PANZAROTTI. That being said, please put all your food corrections, observations, or upturned noses in the comments, as again, this is not a food blog therefore I am not qualified to debate the merits of different types of pasta).

Now, I’ll be honest with you. My kids wouldn’t touch the things. Preschoolers with a palate, Dio mio. Which means I ate like 10 of them. Threw my diet into a tailspin, yes indeedy! I don’t think Weight Watchers has this in their points system. Let it be said that I don’t recommend you try any of this at home. That’s why I’m here.

I do so love the package. It’s very DIY.

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Here it tells us that we can either make them into mini fried ravioli (like mini calzoni, really) and fry ’em up in a hot pan of oil for 2 minutes, or, perhaps more sensibly, bake them in the oven for 10 minutes. I made mine into those little gift bag-looking shapes. Really, all that was missing was a tomato-red ribbon tied around the top. Maybe that’s why my kids didn’t eat them.

And, who said we don’t have bacon over here? Move over bacon, here’s something leaner more Italian called fette di pancetta affumicata!

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This for me is rather epic. Since when do Italians sizzle some sliced bacon and serve it up on a plate next to a pair of fried eggs? Since, um, never, as far as I know. I found this randomly placed on top of a package of gnocchi. Like, someone had it in their cart and then had a last minute change of heart and just slyly threw it back in the dairy case on top of a random bag of gnocchi. *no one saw that!*

Now, here’s a kind of a weird yet fun thing that Coca-Cola has going on right now. Don’t ask me to explain it. They just think they’re cute by printing something like “Share your Coca-Cola with…” and then a name, or some cutesy phrase like “il tuo tesoro” – your sweetheart, etc.

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Personally, if they think that’s going to make me buy more Coca-Cola (they don’t say “Coke” around here), well then, they’re sorely mistaken. Because I’ll tell you what: I turned around every damn bottle in that there fridge and none—and by that I mean NOT A ONE—had the name “Shelley” on it. Humph! (Does anyone ever really use that word/phrase in real life, or is it just written to show haughty dismay? This is clearly a completely irrelevant side question. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

But folks, let’s be honest here. When it comes to pre-packaged “Mediterranean” foods, no one does convenience—or Italian stereotyping, for that matter—like the U.S. advertising industry.

Witness “hot sexy Italian man-chef” stereotype:

Witness “grown boy-man totally dominated by overbearing Italian mamma” stereotype:

Witness “Italian before the dawn of the P.C. era” advertising strategy: (and might I add here, oh dear God)

So, you know. We Americans love our Italian imports. Then again, let’s be fair. Bet y’all Americans out there didn’t know there’s this overblown Southern good ol’ boy from Chattanooga, Tennessee who became famous in ads over here in the 80s by hawking Lipton iced tea with an unbearably thick American accent in Italian? No, seriously. Italians asking me if I know all about the mythic Dan Peterson and I’m like, WHO THE FUCK is this Dan Peterson guy, and they look at me like I’ve been living under a rock my whole entire LIFE.

Ah, yes. Just stick with me, kids. I’ll teach you everything you need to know.

FE-NO-MI-NALE.

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Dolce Italiano CONTEST Preview

22 Nov

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Yep, it’s about time for a good old-fashioned giveaway here at AHIR. This is actually a contest that I cooked up (no pun intended, you’ll see…) back in late September, but the supplies (books) for getting it rolling took two months to arrive! However, the timing might even be better now, considering that this contest is all about making delectable Italian desserts (don’t worry, to enter all you have to do is admire them with a simple blog comment), some of which would probably be just PERFECT for that holiday party you have planned, or for warming up your kitchen on these chilly days. Might I also add that the book featured in this contest would certainly make for an easy, beautiful, and sure-to-be-appreciated holiday gift? Yes, I might.

So?! What the heck is the Dolce Italiano contest, anyways, you ask?

Well, allow me to explain. I feel very lucky to count among my friends just a few true EXPERTS in the fields of Italian food and wine. Since last summer I have been fortunate enough to develop a friendship with an all-around truly delightful woman who just so happens to be a goddess of Italian desserts as well. (Lucky me, I know!) Not only that, but shhhhh… she’s famous!! (She probably wouldn’t agree with me, but she’s famous in my book!)

Have you ever heard of Mario Batali? If you live in the States, I’m betting you have. He of the orange clogs and blue socks, master of Italian culinary creations, and Iron Chef to boot.

What about Babbo Ristorante in NYC? Temple of fine Italian cooking where I dream of one day sitting down to a nice plate of pasta and… let’s not forget dessert…

Which is where my friend Gina comes in! Gina DePalma has been the executive pastry chef at Babbo since it opened in 1998, and has just released her first cookbook, Dolce Italiano. The book is getting truly rave reviews from both professionals in the field and reader chefs, just came in an impressive #3 on Amazon’s Best Books of 2007 (Cooking, Food and Wine), and was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the Best Books of the Year (Lifestyle).

Now I know you want one, don’t you??

I have joined forces with four other fantastic bloggers to bring you a chance to win this book, and along the way, to admire and perhaps even try your hand at making up to 10 different recipes from this amazing Italian dessert masterpiece.

Every day for the next two weeks (starting next Monday), one member of the aforementioned Dolce Italiano Blogger Team will be featuring a recipe from Gina’s Dolce Italiano cookbook. We’ll have Ms. Adventures in Italy on Mondays, Lucullian Delights on Tuesdays, Bleeding Espresso on Wednesdays, back here on Thursdays, and The Leftover Queen on Fridays. All you have to do to enter the contest is stop by, check out the post, and leave a comment! Semplice!

You can therefore enter up to 10 times to win the cookbook, which, by the way, will be personalized and signed just for you by Gina herself!!

You can only enter once on each post (two comments or more will count as one entry) and the winner will be randomly chosen by number from among all the entries.

Get excited, this is going to be fun!

Tomorrow I am going to introduce you to Gina through a charming interview in three parts, which should keep you entertained and intrigued throughout the Thanksgiving weekend.

So, I wish all you Americans a very Happy Thanksgiving, everyone else a great weekend, and get ready to start dreaming of Italian desserts!

What Italians Have Taught Me About Pasta

5 Oct

A lot, that’s for sure. Before I came to Italy my culinary vocabulary consisted more or less of “Chalupa,” Arby’s Roast Beef, and Wendy’s Bacon Double Cheeseburger. Oh, man. I was a walking clichè straight out of Supersize Me. Just over six years later, with the famous Meditteranean diet to the rescue (no instruction books by famous “doctors” required), I’ve expanded my range in the kitchen (just a little) and am here to share my knowledge with the rest of my culinarily-challenged friends, when it comes to pasta.

I think I used to commit a lot of these pasta sins. No longer! I have seen the light! Let’s see how many of these things you already know about Italians (at least the ones I have met here in Italy) and their pasta:

1) Why Italians won’t eat pasta in restaurants outside of Italy. A.K.A.: “è scotta!”

You’ve surely heard the term “al dente” before, have you not? It literally means, “to the tooth,” and is usually translated as “firm to the bite.” Take a look at this example I took from a place that does pasta al dente to perfection, Da Enzo (if you want to read the whole post, click here.)

See that white ring in the middle? That’s the part that stayed uncooked and gives it the firm bite.

Try to persuade an Italian to eat in a restaurant outside of Italy. Fear usually sets in. “Ma, fa schifo, sarà scotta.” (But, it’s gross, it’ll be overcooked.) How many times have I heard Italians complain that pasta cooked outside of Italy is “scotta,” meaning overcooked, limp, mushy? You know, I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but when I first went back to the States after having lived here a while, I myself could no longer eat pasta in restaurants. There’s just something about knowing exactly when to take it out of the boiling water, following the minutes on the package but more importantly tasting, that makes the difference between mediocre pasta and excellent pasta. Speaking of following the cooking time printed on the package: I’ve discovered that the same package of Barilla pasta will have a longer cooking time printed on it when sold in the US as opposed to the cooking time printing on the Italian package. And, as obsessed as Italians are with “digestion,” I’ve also heard many a time that pasta cooked al dente is easier to digest.

2) Why you and your dinner companions should never order all different pasta dishes at a non-touristy, down-home pasta restaurant in Italy.

Now this is something that would never fly in the States. Picture yourself out to dinner here in Italy with, say, four or five other people. Each of you wants a different pasta dish. By the time you get to the third person who orders something different, the waiter gives a subtle annoyed sigh. By the time you get to the fourth, you get a look. By the time you’re at person number five, all hell is about to break loose, and you probably get a mini-lecture along the lines of “Hope you’re not really hungry because this is going to take a while…” or, maybe even more likely, “Can’t do it. At least three of you have to pick the same thing.” And folks, how many times have I been out to dinner where I or one of my friends have had to forgo that dish they really had their eye on, in order to conform to someone else’s taste! Why is this? Usually it’s because many non-touristy, non-chain restaurants only have a couple “bollitori” or burners to cook pasta on. Since pasta is usually made “espressa” meaning as you order it, if everyone orders something different, they don’t have enough room in the kitchen to make everything…they prefer to economize portions of the same dish so they can get it all out at the same time. Wouldn’t it be funny if you went to The Olive Garden and the waiter or waitress said: “Um, yeah, sorry, you’ll have to choose something that someone else is having because you’ve already ordered too many different things at this table?” You’d probably be able to get a free dinner out of it with a bit of “I’d like to speak to your manager.” Just try to pull that little trick here in Rome. I’d love to see what happens.

3) What you should NOT be doing to your pasta. (Hint: no walls are involved).

How many of you have heard the tale that in order to check when spaghetti is ready, you pull a strand out of the water and throw it against the wall—and if it sticks, it’s ready? What IS that? I mean, do people really do that? Tell that to an Italian and first, he or she is likely to ask you to repeat yourself. Once we’re all clear that you actually said what they thought you said, you’re probably going to get a blank stare, a puzzled “seriously?”, or maybe even a laugh, thinking that it was a joke to be enjoyed.

Don’t throw your pasta on the wall. Just taste it to know when it’s done.

And, how many of you rinse your pasta after you drain the water? Oh, boy. That’s a big crime around here. Most people say, “but if I don’t rinse it, it sticks.” Italians say, “Why in the world would it stick? You’re going to put sauce on it!”

What about breaking up your raw spaghetti before you throw it in the water? Yikes! It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard!

Cutting your spaghetti? Um, maybe not. Practice your wrist/twirl technique to look like a real pro…just watch out for the sauce back-splash. And by the way, Italians don’t use spoons to aid them in their twirling… they go freestyle with the fork alone.

4) Know your makes and models, and try not to mix it up.

Who knew that so many varieties of pasta existed, and not only that, but that each type had its own special role in the cucina italiana? Quadrucci? Well, those go in brodo (broth), of course. Penne? We like our arrabbiata sauce on those. Spaghetti? Great with clams. But don’t use it for amatriciana, because there you want bucatini… a form of spaghetti that’s like a straw (hollow in the middle). And the list goes on, and on, and on. Building your pasta vocabulary takes years! Strozzapreti—the “priest strangler” pasta. Alla chitarra—like guitar strings. Maltagliati—literally “cut bad.” You basically need a mini-degree to decipher it all, but that’s part of the fun.

5. Yes, you can eat pasta every day. And if your pasta dish arrives before mine, you can even start eating in front of me.

Many Italians that I know actually do eat pasta at least once a day, either for lunch or dinner (have yet to see it for breakfast!) But I usually don’t see them eating leftover pasta (doggie bags are a big no-no around here… remember, it has to be fresh!). No worries about a carb overload… Italian plates are probably at least 5 inches smaller in diameter than US restaurant plates. Portions here are still what I’d consider normal.

Another interesting twist: I’ve found that if I’m out to dinner with friends and my pasta arrives first, it’s not rude to dig in. Actually, it seems that people will feel more uncomfortable if you don’t start eating it right away. They get worried about it getting cold, and they know it won’t taste as good, and that creates food anxiety for them. “Mangia, mangia, se no si raffreda!” (Eat, eat, otherwise it’ll get cold!) I love this rule when I am dying of hunger. Same usually goes for pizza, by the way. But I generally wait for the green light of the “mangia” from the others (don’t worry, it usually comes), before I actually dig in.

Are you hungry now for a nice big plate of pasta? What can you add to my list of things that Italians teach about pasta? Do you have any questions or curiosities about how Italians cook and eat pasta? Share them in the comments section!

Honey-Oatmeal Cookies with Sicilian Cinnamon Chocolate

27 Sep

If that isn’t a mouthful! So, the weather here in Rome has finally cooled down and we’re even having a bit of gray skies and rain this week. As a native of the Seattle area, I have to confess that I love it. Fall is definitely my favorite time of year, and hallelujah for turning off the A/C, putting away the tank tops, and getting out the warm and woolen things to wear. The change of season is great for inspiring a baking frenzy, and today I decided that for a cloudy, rainy day, a batch of oatmeal cookies would really hit the spot.

I actually wanted to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but alas, I live in Italy, and bags of Nestlé Toll House Morsels are nowhere to be found. So, what do you do when faced with that kind of a challenge? You scrounge around looking for chocolate somewhere in the house to make your own chocolate chips.

Luckily, a gift from my mother in law came to the rescue. She was in Sicily this summer and brought us back a very indulgent stash of “Cioccolato di Modica” from the Antica Dolceria Rizza. Modica chocolate (named after the town in Sicily where it’s made) has a really unique taste and texture.

Inside, as you can see above, it looks kind of porous and sponge-like. You can almost crunch down on the crystally grains of sugar that are left behind in the final chocolate bar, and the flavors are very distinct.

My pal Ms. Adventures in Italy posted a little blurb about it in this post from January, and her picture is to die for. Rightfully so, as I’ve seen her in action at her house in Milan photographing food for her blog… the work that goes into it and the awesome camera she uses are evident in the continual “food porn” results she gets.

I happened upon the last box of Modica chocolate left in the house… cannella (cinnamon). We had already devoured the vanilla, hot pepper, and ginger. I decided to chop it up and throw it in the mix and see what would happen.

Well, the results are in, and I have to say that these were the perfect cookies for a fall day.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
1/3 cup honey
2 cups oatmeal
1 3/4 cups flour
(1 cup raisins and 1/2 cup chopped nuts, if desired)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Chocolate chips or chocolate bar shavings or broken into chunks

Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Mix sugar, shortening, eggs, and honey. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake until light brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately remove from cookie sheet.

It’s the Bimby, and it does everything

11 Jul

Bimby

People. Have you ever heard of this thing, the Bimby?

My first encounter with the Bimby was about four years ago, at a friend’s house in the north of Italy (Biella). It was this little, unsuspecting, utilitarian blender-looking gadget taking up minimal counter space in the kitchen. Little did I know that it “fa tutto” that is, “does everything.”

The Bimby, an appliance of German origin, seems to be a gadget that’s popular with northern Italian households. I haven’t ever seen one in a Roman house. That is, until one recently turned up on the kitchen counter at the house of two of our best friends here in Rome, who just had a baby a few months ago. Both of our friends come from towns in the north of Italy, though, so that might have a little something to do with the Bimby’s appearance.

Our friends had purchased the Bimby in order to make baby food. But we inaugurated it at their house with an incredible pineapple sorbet. Apparently, the only things the Bimby cannot do are fry food and iron clothes. Other than that, it can make everything from mayonnaise to juice, yogurt to bread, cakes, and pies, soup to cocktails, mashed potatoes to pie crust, pork roast to risotto, broth cubes to marmellade. And the best part of all? It requires the kitchen finesse of a chimpanzee. You just dump in the measured amounts of ingredients according to the Bimby Bible Cookbook, push some buttons, and whiz bang, it’s ready. Love.

So, needless to say, I want. Yes, wanting is one thing, but having is quite another. These gadgets are distributed in that nebulous category occupied by vaccuum-cleaner salespeople and Amway representatives. You have to know someone, have a home demonstration, and it costs a pretty centesimo. To the tune of like €900 *I think* although I haven’t been able to pin anyone down on the exact price new. Yikes, people. That’s steep. Even eBay might not save you.

Outside of Italy, this device is also known as the Vorwerk Thermomix. This article talks about “Europe’s do-it-all appliance” and how the ex-chef director of distribution in Spain calls it a “magic pot” and claims that they sell one every five minutes. One Spanish chef quoted in the article has six of these doo-dads in his restaurant kitchen.

Folks, this is a mysterious and intriguing little machine. It claims to save time in the kitchen, which makes me think: hey Finny, this could be the solution to your meal assembly dilemma.

Here I’ll show you how it made us some really delish pineapple sorbet.

Bimby 2

This is the inside of the Bimby. It doesn’t look like much, I know. The first step in the pineapple sorbet recipe was to make powdered sugar. So, we added regular granulated sugar, pushed the required buttons and programmed the required amount of time on the control panel…

Control panel

…and the next thing we knew, poof! We had real, honest-to-goodness powdered sugar.

Powdered sugar

Next, we added some chunks of frozen pineapple, some lemon juice, and again programmed the buttons/time. It’s kind of fun, like a science experiment. Before long, we had a delicious sorbet:

Sorbet

The idea that I could make an entire meal, from aperitivo to appetizer to first, second, side dishes and dessert, with just this one little machine? Well folks, it just boggles the mind. If the stuff that came out of it was crap, that would be one thing … but it’s not. It’s really good. Look at the sheer quantity of things you can create with this list of Italian recipes.

Do any of you have one of these or have you ever seen one? If you have one, I’m jealous. If you decide to sell it, let me know!

Roman "Telephone Style" Fried Rice Balls

16 Feb

Otherwise known as Supplì al Telefono. Yes, today’s lesson is “How to Make Supplì.” Supplì (soo-PLEE) are a traditional Roman appetizer and snack, a fried rice ball stuffed with mozzarella. Why are they often known as “al telefono”? Because legend has it that when you bite into a good supplì, the mozzarella strings out like a telephone line. Personally, that very rarely happens to me, but it’s still a creative name, no?

Now, don’t confuse the supplì with their southern cousins known as arancini (ah-rahn-CHEE-nee). What’s the diff? Roman supplì are fried tomato-flavored rice balls filled with mozzarella, while arancini hail from Sicily and are often a larger, almost pyramid shape, with saffron-flavored rice, meat, mushrooms, and peas.

I’m certainly not the authority on either of these, but here I’ll share how we make them in our house. Everyone has their own variations, but ours are pretty simple: rice and mozzarella. No formal recipe here. I’ll just show you what we do:

What you’ll need:

Rice
Tomato puree
Mozzarella
2-3 Eggs, beaten
Breadcrumbs
Oil for frying

1. Make the sauce and rice

We use arborio or carnaroli rice—cook it and drain it. At the same time, cook the tomato sauce in another pan using “passata di pomodoro,” a tomato concentrate/puree. We don’t do anything fancy for the sauce; we just put some olive oil in the pan, add a bit of onion and sauté it, then add the tomato sauce and let it simmer.

2. Combine sauce and rice

When the rice is cooked, add it to the sauce mixture. You shouldn’t have a soupy texture, you want just enough sauce to coat the rice. Mix it all together and let it cool so that it becomes sticky.

3. Prepare other ingredients: mozzarella, egg mixture, breadcrumbs

Cut the mozzarella into small cubes. Beat the eggs in a bowl. Pour the breadcrumbs into another bowl.

4. Make the rice balls

When the rice has cooled, form small egg-shaped rice balls, making a small indention in the center where you’ll add a bit of mozzarella. In this photo you’ll see the rice ball is already covered with breadcrumbs which was a mistake we learned from—too much breadcrumbs means the supplì comes out too dry, so don’t be tempted to roll it in breadcrumbs first in order to make it more manageable. If the rice has cooled sufficiently, you shouldn’t have problems getting it to form the right shape.

Then cover the mozzarella with some more rice and carefully dip the rice ball in the egg mixture, then carefully roll it in the breadcrumbs.

Really, folks, that’s pretty much all there is to it—all that’s left is to fry them. If you have a fryer you can use that:

If not, you can create your own fryer by filling a large pot with oil and frying them in that. Here’s the crispy, golden-brown finished product, which I like to call “Dinner al Supplì”:

Ok, I realize that I’m not that good at recipes. The reason is that Ale never uses measurements so I either have to guess or just be generic like I am here. If you want a more professional opinion, check out the recipe from Mario Batali of the Food Network or Kyle Phillips’s from About.com’s Italian Food site. One tip I liked about the About.com recipe is the idea to roll the rice balls in flour before the egg mixture, to keep them from falling apart and help keep your hands from getting too sticky.

Try these out, they really aren’t that difficult and make great snacks. We made a bunch of them and froze them so they are ready to pop in the ol’ fryer whenever we want. In Rome they cost about 80 euro-cents each and you’ll find them at places that sell pizza al taglio (fast-food pizza) or in pizzerie as an appetizer. Buon appetito!

Chronicle of an Abruzzese Dinner

29 Jan

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, th
is 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