Tuesday, 22 May 2012

#DiscoverAbruzzo - how it all happened...

Three years ago, after the devastating earthquake which hit the Abruzzo region killing hundreds and destroying homes and monuments, I got together with some friends to plan a fund raising event. We already had in mind to do something food related, yet, as it often happens, the idea just fizzled out. 
Three years later, I find myself a bit of a food freak – I tweet, I eat, I review, I blog, and this made me wonder if I could finally carry out the fund raising project albeit on my own. I started planning, thinking, asking around. 
Ready - photo by Bmcboy
My first idea was to work with a couple of friends who run a supper club already (even though they are not part of the twitter food network). Pairing with them would have meant using their venue and their experience with my drive and networking. Unfortunately, maybe because it was a charitable cause, things fell through – I think  we had different ideas on how to run the whole thing. I ended up with no venue and no chef. 

What to do? Carry on! After discussing with @bmcboy we decided to try to host the dinner at our place, which we don’t deem big enough for a relatively large number of diners.. but having recently done away with a sofa and our coffee table, we figured we had just enough space to make our guests comfortable. 
So we started working on it. After a couple of weekends on location in Abruzzo and with the help of my family who told our local restaurants there what was going on getting tips and encouragement, things started taking shape. 
Abruzzo Cook Book
Cookbook - photo by Grobelaar
Being from Napoli, I am not at all familiar with cooking Abruzzo dishes – moreover when we visit is in the winter, so it’s a lot of grilled meat, polenta, sausages, hearty soups. What kind of menu could I offer our discerning guests on a spring evening? 

I had to be a bit creative and, armed with a chunky tome on Abruzzo cucina, started putting together what was hopefully going to be an interesting enough menu. 

I tested all the recipes at least twice, yet I never actually made the whole meal in one go -  I thought I would leave that to the very day of the event, probably a risky strategy! 
I also started approaching a few potential supporters. I would buy all the ingredients and necessary bits and pieces, but of course any help would be welcome. Immediately on board were La Gelatiera, Ginger Pig, Torrone Nurzia, Masciarelli, La Cave and the Abruzzo Tourism office. The event really started taking a nice shape. 
With planning underway, diners started to book their place (and a few were on the waiting list too!). The team for the night was assembled: I had the pleasure of having @Gi_nav’s help on the day (my ‘sous chef’), @bmcboy and Francois as front of house and the wonderful Mish as ‘waitress’ and all around fantastic help. The 20 May arrived. 
The day and the evening proceeded very smoothly, we were incredibly on time (over running was a worry) and, judging from guests’ feedback, the food was also pretty good.


The Dining Table
Diners - photo by Grobelaar
I hoped the dishes would give people a flavour of Abruzzo, literally and figuratively. Many ingredients were bought in Abruzzo by my parents and others locally sourced within a few miles from our home. The canap├ęs were made of polenta and a truffle pate. Abruzzo truffle is exceptional and often appears in local dishes
We also had cubes of a rustic caciotta, bought from a roadside van in Piano delle Cinquemiglia. No name, authentic taste. 

Chef Fede
Me, the cazzarielli and the flour - photo by Grobelaar
The first course was something I had never heard of until I started researching the region’s heritage. I used Chitarra from Cocco (a great Abruzzo pasta brand) for a traditional recipe using salt cod. I took a couple of tips from a recipe by Niko Romito, who has opened a stunning restaurant, cookery school and rooms in Castel di Sangro (Michelin starred). I ended up with a dish which I personally really liked – a slightly sweet, creamy sauce where the cod doesn’t become too overpowering, but I do imagine it may not be to everyone's taste (@bmcboy did not like it).  


Afterwards, I opted for a dish I always eat, usually after a morning spent on the ski slopes. There are many variations to this beans dish and it can come with or without pasta. I hand made cazzarielli, pea sized gnocchi-like pasta, and for these I also used flour from Abruzzo (Del Verde). 

It seems this was also appreciated by the guests. I served it with a slice of ciabatta from the Old Post Office bakery, grilled and dressed with olive oil.

The main was quite substantial and I feared, again, not to everyone’s taste- this is another dish that, tested on @bmcboy, was not successful! I love it though – I ate it in Abruzzo only once so I guess this was my own interpretation but I think it worked. 
Agnello Cac'e'Ova
Agnello Cac' e' Ova - photo by Grobelaar
I used beautiful lamb shoulder and leg from Ginger Pig, one of our supporters of the evening. I served it with roasted Cornish new potatoes, and a ‘Misticanza’ salad. I followed the recipe from the book I had but apparently my grandma used to mix foraged, wild greens for this, so I added my own, garden foraged herbs (such as lemon balm). I felt very Roganic. 
Dressing the misticanza
Gina dressing the Misticanza - photo by Grobelaar
It was actually really nice and refreshing after so many strong flavours.
Finally, the desserts. I had made small, wrongly shaped, mini parrozzo. Again, I tested this twice with my colleagues and got really positive feedback, but I figured after such a meal, the portions should be small – it’s made with almond flour and quite intense. This was served with a fantastic ice cream which Gelatiera made especially for us using the torrone that Nurzia (Aquila’s oldest nougat maker) donated. It was delicious and everyone loved it. I am now a torrone convert.

Sorbet in vintage crystal - photo by Bmcboy
Gelatiera were also inspired in trying out a sorbet using Abruzzo digestive herbs – we actually had fun tasting those with Antonio and Monica and they produced something I never would have imagined – an orange and genziana sorbet which was pure delight. 
Finally, some Centerbe chocolates, also donated by a supporter who wishes to remain anonymous – the guests really enjoyed them. A round of coffee and tea and the evening concluded. With Abruzzo images playing on our tv screen and a goodie bag full of brochures and flyers, the guests took home some useful information too.

I personally was not sure if a sit down 4 course meal for 12 was something I could manage, but I did - I had loads of help from friends and @bmcboy, which is fantastic. Glitches were only minor ('caramelised' bread rolls anyone?) and hopefully did not spoil the food too much. I had fun too, pretending to be a chef!

We raised just over £500 which is amazing and I am grateful to everyone for their generosity and support. The money is going to FAI, and it seemed sadly topical to have our event on the same day another terrible earthquake has hit Italy, killing  people and once more damaging so much of our wonderful cultural heritage.

A beautiful photo set is on Flickr by friend and guest @Grobelaar and a lovely post from @LinguinaDC here 

Here’s to the next dinner and the next region!

6 comments:

  1. Fede, the dining table looks beautiful and I love every single dish!
    The lamb looks melt in your mouth, you made that lovely fresh pasta yourself and all those ingredients sound definitely top-quality.
    You guys did a great job indeed :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was such an amazing evening! I'm so glad I got to be a part of it. Bravo to you Fede! You really pulled together an amazing event and for such a good cause. T

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you it was great to have you there !

    ReplyDelete
  4. WOW Looks fantastic! well done! Rx

    ReplyDelete
  5. What an inspiration! Loved this post - despite its ability to make me VERY VERY Hungry and Homesick. Love your work X Jo

    ReplyDelete