Sunday, September 12, 2010

Not Your Average Ham and Cheese

I've already mention the great dolci (desserts for my friend Dayle)at Osteria Piazzetta dell'Erba. But Stefano and his crew turn out more than just sweets to serve on their tree shaded terrace along one of Assisi's medieval walls. Their menu is nontraditional for an Italian Osteria - a little bit of nouvelle, a touch of fusion and the Italian flair for unadulterated fresh flavours and presentation. They had come highly recommended in the Gambero Rosso Guide - the Holy Writ of Italian Eateries - and as it has led us to wonderful dining in Spoleto, Ancona, Sermonetta, Firenze, Parma et al we headed there for lunch on the first day of our stay in Assisi. And the first of three meals we had there in three days.

When I glanced at the menu I knew there was one thing I had to try - their Toasted Ham and Cheese sandwich. Toasted Ham and Cheese sandwich? Yep, your good old fashioned croque monsieur as its called in French bistros. Just a bit of comfort food the way mom use to make.

Well okay not quite the way mom use to make. It was described as being a toasted sandwich of local ham, Parmesan gelato studded with cooked vegetables and a saffron mayonnaise. Parmesan gelato? Nope mom never made Parmesan gelato. Hell not even cuddly Leonard at Tropical Ice makes Parmesan gelato.

It sounded so intriguing I had to try it - it was either going to be revolting or a taste treat, I was sure there would be no in between. So taking my taste buds in hand - as it were - I bravely ordered it as an antipasti.

And this tempting plate was set in front of me.

My verdict - a taste treat! Nice contrast of texture, temperature and flavours. And that was just the first of what proved to be a series of beautifully prepared, well-reasoned and seasoned dishes that Stefano put on our table in those three days.


Its a little difficult to find the "bread" in this traditional Umbrian Bread Salad (top) but it was chocked full of fresh vegetables that actually tasted of the sunshine and earthiness. The selection of cheeses (bottom) included some wonderful local soft blue cheeses (my favorite) and one very good aged goat cheese; all paired with fruit relishes - fig, cheery and apple.

I Primi

The pasta is made on the premises and as with most pastas here sauced with a light hand. The orchietti (top) was dressed with wild mushrooms and broccoli with just a dash of spicy olive oil. The cannelloni (bottom) was the traditional stuffing of ricotta but enriched by sun dried tomato.

I Secondi

When asked about his intensely flavourful beef, Stefano said he was ashamed to admit that it came from Ireland. He stressed he wanted to use Italian beef but the quality of what he got was so variable that he couldn't justify being patriotic over giving his customers value for money. The Beef and Beer combination (top) was an unusual combination of a small glass of beer, a cup of raw vegetables and some beautiful braised chunks of beef - and the idea was to mix them all together. Unusual yes, but our friend Craig was delighted. As was I with my beef skewers (middle) that had been grilled to medium just the way I asked and accompanied by - the only ordinary touch on the menu but no complaint from me - roast potato wedges. Another evening Carol Ann and I had the Chicken Curry (bottom) - the first time I had seen that on an Italian menu. We both agreed that chicken in Italy has a different taste than at home - a more buttery flavour is the only way I can describe it. And that flavour was enhanced by a judicious use of curry seasoning and a jasmine rice.

Then of course there were those deserts I mentioned. And I neglected the lunch time salads that were mosaics of vegetables, lettuces and meats glistening with a fruity local olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. And so healthy!

I'm just sorry that Assisi is a two and a half drive from our place otherwise dell'Erba would become the Sunday pranzo spot of choice so I could sit on the terrace or when it gets colder in the cosy dining room and try a few more of the items on their changing seasonal menus.

12 settembre - San Tesaura Beccaria


yvette said...

I cannot resist the sight of this crisp 'roquette'(rucola ?) next to the croque monsieur, this is brilliant, and perhaps there is also some pesto on the side? Lucky you...

Anonymous said...

I still don't understand the parmesan gelato in your ham and cheese. What kind of gelato is it?


Doralong said...

You're just cruel Wills, cruel I tell you...