The next stanza brings soups of the meat variety with the first dish being one of many that are mandatory for a proper La Panarda—though no one would be standing behind the table with a shotgun or rifle at the ready, lest you didn’t finish, as the story goes for some historical Panardas.
Pork meatballs in chicken broth are given trailings of pecorino laced eggs cooked into the soup as it’s given a swirl. Things get slightly heavier with the farrotto n’ndocca n’docca, another required dish that’s cooked like headcheese (the second part of the name, in dialect, translates to “the rest of the pig”). Snout, ear, and tripe are given a 3-4 hour boil ahead of simmering in a light tomato sauce. The goal is to create a near risotto from the farro, while Cicala says, for some recipes, it could take hours or even days to get the porcine and tomato enjambment right.
“This one gets a little heavier,” Cicala says of the pasta e fagioli that closes out the secondo servizio di apertura. For this dish, butt ends of various cuts of meat and beans will be set to braise in stock that will inform the sauce used to finish the accompanying pasta.
“Fuck, that’s a lot of food,” he says, as though he had just eaten all those plates.
And we’re only a third of the way through the menu.
“This is where it gets lighter,” he says of the end of the opening stanzas, or the terzo servizio di apertura.
“You get to reset. The important thing is the red wine vinegar,” he says of a salad of roasted beets, pine nuts, celery, and gorgonzola. “The acid helps cut the fat, while the wateriness of celery helps cleanse the palate.”
Acidity is carried through in two more dishes before several courses of housemade salamis are introduced—the first of the piatti forti, or strong plates—followed by five pasta dishes that precede the aforementioned roasted meat dishes.
Cicala then heads into the kitchen to break down that suckling pig before prepping the rest of the cuts he’s to roast on Sunday morning. Today, he’ll handle that, and all the braising for the ragus used in the pasta courses.
“I’m going to do as much as I can and let the rest of the kitchen [2 prep cooks, 2 line cooks] handle the prep for a la carte.”
Saturday Dec. 15th, 3pm
“I’m hoping to get the majority done today, so I can just come in and set up,” Cicala says, pointing to the first third of the menu, the ingredients for which he’ll bring upstairs tomorrow morning.
Cicala talks to me while cutting reconstituted cod into uniform squares, the fish to be used for both fritters and the baccala in umido, a light stew.
And that’s after he had to hustle yesterday to soak the rest of a baccala order that arrived late, as well as track down some wild boar after his primary supplier didn’t have any.
“They’re doing both again,” he says of his staff. Bread and sauces are being prepped for tonight’s service starting at 5p.m., while crepes are being prepared for the highlight of the pasta courses—a timballo to be baked in a steel mixing bowl.
“That will be our Big Night moment,” he says, referring to a version of the dish, a timpani, that featured in a key scene in the Stanley Tucci movie.
The difference here is that the Abruzzi timballo is made lighter via the use of crepes rather than penne.
“They make it really light. There’s no bite to it like lasagna.”
The crepes, he says, were brought to the Abruzzi via a French presence during the Napoleonic Wars. Besides the timballo, the Abruzzese also use crepes for cannelloni, manicotti, and desserts.
On the way out of the restaurant, Fred Cretarola, Le Virtu’s co-manager, breaks down the wine pairings, while offering his take on staying true to the region.
“For the first pour, we’re going to give you close to a normal portion—after that, it’s up to you,” he says.
“A lot of these wines are unique. For instance, we’ve always been looking for sparkling wines from the south [of Abruzzo].” As such, the amuse bouche is to be paired with a Pecorino Spumante Brut; the first of the opening courses will be matched with a Cococciola.
“There’s enough places to go for Tuscan or Umbria varietals. I wouldn’t ask for Chianti in Abruzzo. The right wine matches with the olive oil, the food, the ingredients because it comes from the same soil. It reaffirms a sense of place, while complementing everything,” Cretarola says.
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