Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dining On Water

(A little note: we had so many activities going on through the summer that I'm still trying to get caught up on posting about them. This one is from July. Summer in Italy is jam-packed with fun stuff to do!)

If you’ve been following our adventures and reading Bryan’s blog, too, you may remember that he wrote about our visit to the seaside area in Abruzzo known as the Costa dei Trabocchi. No? Hop on over and read about the unique, traditional fishing platforms found in that limited area.

Interesting, huh? That’s what we thought. The rickety-looking wooden structures lend a touch of rustic charm to the largely-undeveloped coastline. Small hills rise from the Adriatic, the water is shockingly blue, and the beaches remain mostly open and free. They are composed of small stones rather than sand, keeping the water clean and clear.

So, when we saw that Slow Food was organizing a dinner for a limited number of people on board the trabocchi, we quickly emailed foodie friends Giorgio and Francesca to invite them along and snapped up tickets for the event, which promised “a voyage into the scents and flavors of Abruzzo’s seafood and fishing traditions”. Italians like flowery, long-winded explanations for their brochures. After I weeded through five paragraphs like that, it all boiled down to a grand fish feast using traditional, regional recipes served up al fresco for us to enjoy while perched above the water enjoying the sea breezes. All that for the same price one would pay for the full-on fish dinner in a local restaurant. Who could resist that?

We arrived knowing we’d be experiencing another Seafood Lottery, but we had in tow Giorgio, a long-time chef who would instruct us in the best way to eat the dishes presented to us. He also had to describe what some of the fish were. Being desert dwellers for twenty years, we didn’t get a lot of seafood in our land of sagebrush and, beyond the basics (trout, salmon, etc.), we are not well-informed to know one fish from the next. I grew up just a short distance from fresh-water Lake Erie, but in those parts the sweet-flavored lake perch is served only one way – fried. And that dish is presented in one of two choices – on a plate or on a bun with tartar sauce. Clearly my fish background is lacking, even in English. In Italian, I have little hope of knowing what I’d be eating (again beyond the basics, such as trota and salmone).

The evening was perfect: clear with a cooling, light wind blowing off the water, we had a view of two other, distant trabocchi from our little rustic roost. The trabocchi resemble big, wooden, spider-like sea creatures rising up out of the water. The gangway to reach ours was longer than the neighboring ones, constructed of wooden slats tied firmly together. It swayed just enough to feel like we were walking on water. Arriving on board we were warmly greeted with the delectable aromas wafting from the make-shift kitchen and by the young staff. Local wine (my personal regional favorite, vino Pecorino, no less) began flowing. Other partakers began to arrive, coming from other Adriatic regions such as Emilia Romagna and Molise. We were the only foreigners signed up and word got around quickly as we heard “loro sono americani” being whispered around the tables, good naturedly.

Then, out came the Seafood Lottery, plate by plate. Eight servings of antipasti, all freshly caught. One little critter was some sort of shellfish that tasted like a cross between crab and shrimp, but looked like a marine version of a praying mantis. We had to have Giorgio explain how to crack that open and eat it. It was tasty, but I have to say, it’s a lot of work for one morsel of food. Blessedly, most of the dishes came out pre-cleaned. It’s an American’s nightmare eating seafood in Italy because we are accustomed to having the fish boned, filleted, beheaded and the whole nine yards. Italians, however, prefer to have their fish served up in its entirety. Then you must go to work, reducing it to edible portions. This night, though, the only plate that required such an operation was the famous local brodetto, which smelled heavenly but which I didn’t taste; I was so completely stuffed it was utterly impossible to put even a spoon of broth into my bloated stomach. Who knew that fish could be so filling? The rich broth was filled with large chunks of whole fish that had undergone only a whack with a cleaver. Lots of bones and skin sections took up residence on Giorgio’s plate as he devoured the stuff.

Five hours, many bottles of wine and many helpings of delicious foods later, we made the drive home, arriving back in Ascoli round about 2:00 a.m. with Giorgio and Francesca already discussing who they were going to call first to recount the evening’s menu and unique experience. They were also talking about coming back again next year if the gala is repeated. An “ordinary” fish experience made extraordinary, as only Italians can do, impressed even the resident chef among us. We’ll sign on for next year, too.

*A special thanks to my cousin, Celia, for giving me the SlowFood membership that allowed us to have access to this event!*


Janie said...

I really enjoyed hearing more about the trabocchi since I've been doing a little research on the area and the language school there. Thanks!

Valerie said...

Janie, glad you enjoyed it. Are you looking at the school in Lanciano? That one was a real consideration for us, too. We've since visited the town and really liked it. When are considering coming? Maybe we can meet up while you're there!

Janie said...

I'm not sure yet but hope to come in the early spring if I can. I'll keep you posted and would love to meet up!

Valerie said...

Janie, Let us know!

Kit said...

Wow that sounds like a stunning feast and an amazing experience! I'm envious and hungry! I'm enjoying your blog by the way - Italy and food are my favourite combination of things to read about - pure nostalgia from when I was working in Italy, before the children came along and tied me down!