This post does not feature beer. But it does feature some bread, as well as as soup containing grains. And a little cake. Some of which is photographed with my rubbish phone’s rubbish camera.
I know, I know, quality blogging is all about quality photography, especially when food is involved, but generally we’re not lugging the DSLR around with us when we eat and drink. I really need to get a decent phone with a decent camera, or even a new compact camera.
In my defence, I’d say I was more of a writer than a photographer, so hopefully I can describe these dishes through the medium of the English language, to compensate for the blurry pics.
So, the weekend of Saturday 29 June 2013, we headed out of Rome to get some mountain air in Abruzzo. We stayed in the town of Pescasseroli, at the heart of Abruzzo National Park. I’ve written about our hikes here; at the end of our second, long hike, we had a restaurant booked for Fran’s birthday dinner. This was Plistia, a restaurant and albergo located on the main road through the small town.
First, however, we had an aperitivo in a bar on the nearby piazza. The snacks included this Abruzzo “pasty” (probably actually a type of calzone, but they’re all related right?), and some sparkling Pecorino.
Many people don’t realise it, but Pecorino isn’t just the name of sheep’s milk cheese, it’s also a very good white wine from Abruzzo and adjoining regions, or more specifically a grape variety. Since we moved to Italy and started learning more about the vast number of Italian wines that don’t make an impression in the export market, it’s become our go-to white wine. Although Pecorinos (Pecorini?) vary, they’re generally slightly foral wines with some body – and as such a very nice versatile alternative to something like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. When we moved on to Plistia, the host, Cicitto, settled us in and filled our glasses with more Pecorino.
No menus were offered, but we were absotuly happy with his. He just said, “We’re going to feed you, lots of food, take it slowly”. Considering you enter the restaurant via a dogleg hallway with a view straight into the open kitchen, they’re clearly confident about their food. Fran had researched the place more than me, but I was also reassured by this confidence, and years of Slow Food certificates on the wall.
On our honeymoon, in Croatia and Italy, Fran and I had agreed that for a couple of taster menus we had arranged, we would eat everything, despite our personal preferences (hers: red meat; mine: very little red meat). When Cicitto went to get the first dish, Fran and I shook on “Croatia rules”. Of course, this being inland Italy, where the food is hearty and the red meat ready and bleeding, that was always going to be more in her favour, but hey – it was her birthday!
The first course was a cheese plate. Cicitto said four of the seven cheeses were world champions. I don’t know anything about cheese world championships (it doesn’t really get the TV coverage of the World Cup, say), but they were delicious: five sheeps’ milk and one goats’ milk, of varying characteristics: young and sweet, mature and crunchy. The two harder, more mature ones we were instructed to eat with a strawberry sauce with balsamic, and a very nice combination it was too.
Next up we had something that was apparently an invention of the chef, Laura, Cicitto’s wife, rather than a traditional Abruzzo item with a name… I think. I could be wrong. Anyway, it was basically like a savoury doughnut, swathed in lardo. People assume lardo is just Italian for lard, but it’s a false friend. Lard is actually struzzo. Lardo is in fact a cured meat, like prosciutto crudo but with an emphasis on the fat. Racheleats discusses of the differences between several types of salumi – pancetta, guanciale and lardo – and has a good photo to illustrate it:
Again, despite the crapness of my photo it was delicious. The bread, made with a lievito madre (natural leaven), was white and soft inside, and the crust was crunchy and fatty, from the cooking oil and from the flavoursome melting lardo. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d never naturally be inclined to try, but loved when I did.
Next up was a soup. This was exactly the sort of thing I would naturally want to eat: a thoroughly rustic minestra. This one was made with grains, beans and greens. The grains were farro decorticato, or more specifically they were husked emmer. The beans were cannellini, or similar. The greens were an Abruzzo spinach. It was one of those soups that had such depth of flavour you wonder how it was achieved with such simple ingredients. It wasn’t even made with a meat stock, apparently. Fab. As much as I enjoyed the whole meal, the soup alone would have made me happy.
After the soup we had not one but two pasta primi. The first was caramelle, that is filled pasta shapes that resemble wrapped hard sweets, or like ravioli that have had their ends twisted. The filling here was faraona – guinea fowl – and they had a buttery sauce with juniper berries. The latter are an important part of Abruzzo cuisine it seems.
The second pasta was made with short, flat noodle pieces (possibly maltagliata – “badly cut”) that had parsley and pecorino cheese in the dough. It was served with a sauce with a little guanciale, saffron and some thin so-called wild asparagus. This was one of the meal’s weaker courses as it was a little salty and the asparagus was a bit woody. I’m surprised they had it, as over in Lazio we’re way past asparagus season. Sure there’s a different climate in the mountains of Abruzzo, but asparagus is a spring vegetable, and it was 30 June.
After all this, we were pieno come le uova (“full like eggs”), but meataholic Fran could hardly resist the offer of a steak. I don’t really eat steak, so we had one between us and she had the lion’s share. It was tender and bloody, and came in a deglazing sauce of red wine with black peppercorns and more juniper.
We were officially full by this point, but it seemed almost rude to deflect the offer of a desert. We had one plate, with a meringue and a kind of light custard, a ricotto cake and a chocolate form filled with more of the custard. These provided a sugary hit, but didn’t really compare with the flavoursome savoury courses.
Overall though, a suberb meal, and one of the best I’ve had in Italy. Furthermore, it cost about €40 a head – a price you could easily pay in Rome for just two mediocre courses and a few glasses of wine. Most certainly a meal with buon rapporto qualità-prezzo. So if you find yourself in Abruzzo, perhaps doing some hiking in the beautiful mountains, we heartily recommend a visit to Cicitto and Laura at Plistia’s restaurant.
Plistia, Via Principe di Napoli 28, 67032 Pescasseroli, Abruzzo
albergoristoranteplistia.it / firstname.lastname@example.org / +39 (0) 863 910 732