Thursday, September 10, 2015

Viva Italia - Part 2 - When Fantasy Becomes Reality

Exhausted from a 14 hour travel day, and lost sleep due to the stress of being rejected from my flight, racing to get an emergency passport, and finding a new flight, Chris and I decided to spend our first full day in Italy relaxing on the white sandy beach. It was so great to have an umbrella, two chairs, beach towels, and a spot on the beach reserved for us as apart of our accommodations with the Hotel Adriatico, and not have to worry about having to secure all that on our own. Finally we could truly relax with the feeling of the waves from the Adriatic sea rolling through our tired bodies.

There are certain visions ingrained in my mind as true Italian experiences, ones that I had pieced together from film and photographs, that I was unsure whether they were a reality or just a thing of fantasy. Visions of dining at large banquet tables, surrounded by beautiful people, in small alleyways, being served family-style, traditional, rustic Italian food, and experiencing that feeling of sheer bliss. As much as I craved those experiences before coming to Italy, I really wasn't sure if I had seen Big Night and Bicycle Thief one too many times for my own good, and had a crazy fantasy in my head that real life could never live up to. It was on our very first full day in Italy that I feel so lucky to say I had the privilege of experiencing one of those magical moments.
Though many of the people in the group we were traveling with promised me that our meal at Trattoria Da Peppe that evening would be incredible, in my head I kept thinking "I just met you, I don't know if I trust your opinion on food." An embarrassingly snobby thought, I must admit, though I'd been warned of the many tourist traps within Italy that lack authenticity and quality, while still receiving rave reviews from the streams of tourist that walk through their doors.
Filled with a mixture of skepticism and hope, we passed the buzzing restaurants in the centre of the city of Vasto, and walked through a small, dimly lit alleyway to arrive at a large banquet table set out for us outside of the ancient converted stable, which is now home to the cozy and welcoming Trattoria Da Peppe. Upon our arrival we were immediately greeted by Peppe himself, Giuseppe and his wife Maria, who gave us a quick tour of the space, telling us about its history as a stable, and showing us the small Argentinian-wood-burning oven that Giuseppe does his magic in, as well as the tiny windowless church adjacent to the restaurant, and the exquisite private gardens directly across the alley. I was already swept up in the drama and romanticism that Giuseppe and Maria so beautifully created, and our meal hadn't even begun!
After settling into our seats we were presented with homemade wine, bottles of sparkling water, and crusty bread, followed by an elaborate selection of lovingly-prepared antipasti. When I say "lovingly-prepared" I mean to evoke that same feeling you get when diving into your grandmothers cooking, you just know it was prepared with love and care. You can taste that love!
Though all of the antipasti was fantastic, the one dish that stood out to me as one of the best bites of food that has ever crossed my lips was Giuseppe's famous Cheese and Egg Balls, also known as Pallotte Cacio e Uova, or a type of polpette (meatball), but without the meat. Pallotte Cacio e Uova are known as being a "poor mans dish," the type of dish one would make to use up stale bread, eggs, and cheese and reinvent it into something comforting and delicious. Crustless stale bread is cut into cubes and soaked in water or milk to soften. The liquid is squeezed out and the bread gets mixed with beaten eggs, parsley, garlic, and a mixture of hard sharp cheeses, and rolled into small balls. The egg and cheese balls are then fried until golden, and transferred to simmer in homemade tomato sauce until the balls puff up from soaking up some of the savoury sauce. It sounds simple enough, though Giuseppe's Pallotte Cacio e Uova were truly extraordinary! Despite the fact that they were one of the first dishes presented to us and I knew there were many more dishes to come, I couldn't help but get my hands on as many of those delicious little bites of heaven as I could!
Those little bites of heaven were followed by cornmeal flatbreads topped with cicoria AKA. chicory, veal simmered in sauce, stuffed eggplant, homemade sausages, a selection of thinly-sliced char-grilled meats, salad, rum cake, and blueberry cheesecake. SWOON! I wish I could accurately express to you how truly extraordinary this meal was. Every single dish was out of this world incredible. I know, the hyperbole is at all time high right now, but I am not embellishing by any means how special this meal  actually was. Just incredible, and unlike anything I have ever experienced.

We walked back into the heart of the city with full bellies and happy hearts, to drink into the evening while revelling in the experience that we had just shared. Though I knew there was a lot of other fantastic food in Vasto that I had yet to try, I couldn't help but wish that we could experience another meal from Giuseppe again during our short trip.
Other Things Of Note:
Since coming home from Italy I have tried to recreate Giuseppe's Pallotte Cacio e Uova, and though mine were very tasty, they were nothing compared to the perfection that Giuseppe presented to us!

What made our meal so special at Trattoria Da Peppe was so much more than the food. From the moment we arrived at the restaurant we were treated like family and received hospitality unparalleled from any other restaurant I have ever been to.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my Italian adventure to hear about my visit to Pescara and exploring the Medieval city of Vasto.

Listening To:
Jamie XX - Gosh

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