Dinner on our fourth day of Culinary Tour ’15 was at La Bilancia. This restaurant is famous for it’s pasta mugnaia – a thick hand rolled pasta made of simple flour and water. This curious pasta is not made anywhere else in the world except for Loreto Aprutino, Abruzzo. The significant thing about this particular pasta is that it is rolled out to be incredibly long, so that each person receives part of one single strand of pasta per serving. One of the women kindly did a demonstration for us when we arrived.
The pasta mugnaia is simply tossed with olive oil, garlic, pecorino cheese, and hot peppers. The thick strands are pleasantly chewy, and there are always extra hot peppers on the table to trim and add if you are someone who prefers things a bit more spicy.
As far as the rest of the meal, each course was arguably just a good as the famous pasta we were there for. Instead of the salumi we had been eating, here we were served a spreadable sausage to start, along with pecorino cheese, fresh fava beans in the pod, and an asparagus and egg frittata. The fava beans we shelled at the table, and eaten together with the cheese gave us a green, earthy taste of Abruzzo.
Next was a very traditional soup, “scripelle m’busse”, or crepes in broth. It is a homey dish, with airy crepes rolled in pecorino cheese floating in a comforting chicken broth. It’s exactly what you want if you’re feeling down… or up… or really absolutely anytime.
We ate our mugnaia, blissfully unaware of the fact that there was an almost painful amount of food yet to come. Sleepy, gorged thoughts of dessert and after dinner drinks began to form in our minds. As another plate of food, and another, began to arrive at the table, our visions vanished, along with our lethargy. We began to eat in earnest. There were two types of house made sausage, rich and incredibly moist, (who likes dry sausage?) one made of pork, one of pork liver.
There was a plate of arrosticini – grilled mutton cubes on a stick. Typically abruzzese, and just as juicy and salty as one could wish.
Then they brought out French fries, or simply “fried potatoes” (patati fritti), as they are called in Italy. They were the absolute best “French” fries I have ever had. I don’t know if it was because they had fresher potatoes, or that they were deep fried in local olive oil, or that they had just the right amount of salt… I may never know. All I know is that they haunt me.
And yet another side dish, a simple one I have tried to replicate at home, but never comes out quite the same. Beans and greens – in this case, white cannellini beans with local wild greens and a generous heap of dried red “bastardoni” peppers – a wonderful breed of pepper that somehow packs the flavor of hot peppers without the heat. All flavor, no burn.
The age old question – is it possible to have too much of a good thing? I suppose, but in Italy there are always digestivi and a good sleep to help out with that… after a ride home and a couple of nightcaps, we were ready to dream… of lunch tomorrow.