One afternoon in Pulia, our tour host Mick, asked if anyone would like to join him for a “Crudo” dinner. Crudo, in Italian means raw. We all had puzzled looks on our faces. As he explained what it was and how it was prepared, my hand shot up as a participant. When in Rome.
Certain restaurants that have a “Crudo” designation have met all the criteria for cleanliness, freshness and procurement from reputable fishermen. Because I enjoy sushi, I was curious to taste the difference.
Several dishes were set at the table to share. Crudo is not like sushi. There is no wasabi, only lemon slices. The Italians prefer to serve their seafood with a dash of high quality (what else?) olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Some of the dishes did include a flavor, like the octopus with fresh mint and the cooked shrimp with fresh pineapple.
One of my favorite fish to eat crudo was the swordfish. Sliced paper thin and layered on the plate drizzled with olive oil, its only garnish, a smattering of pink peppercorns and a few bits of spring greens. The pretty red dots that lined the curve of the fish revealed that is was unmistakably swordfish. So sweet and tender and mild. It hit my tongue and dissolved with its saltiness. The tuna was also sliced thin, unlike thicker chunks of sashimi.
Something I had never seen or eaten before were red shrimp. These vibrant red creatures shimmered on the plate and tasted of a silky brine, the texture at first jello-y, then with a lobster bite.
The oysters slid down ever so sweetly – the best I have ever had – or was it because I was in Italy? Raw mussels and clams also graced the table.
We had eaten cuttlefish, a squid like cephalopod, as an antipasti but not crudo. Crunchy and salty is the best way to describe the experience. The texture is similar to octopus and squid. A delicious side dish of black rice, tiny cubed carrots and corn were the accompaniment to the crudo.
After filling our senses with all the salty flavors of the crudo, we were offered a crudité platter of fresh radishes, Barattino cucumber, sliced in wedges like a cantaloupe, raw fava beans and chicory heart. I had never tasted fresh chicory before. It is unlike what we know as chicory here. The bulb looks like fennel but the flavor is mild and sweet. A perfect palate cleanser. I am researching how to grow it. After explaining it to one of my dear friends, she purchased some seeds for me from an Italian seed company. They will be planted this fall and I will anxiously await their appearance in my garden.
Two things capped off this incredible dinner. A very icey, almost liquidy fresh lemon sorbet with just a hint of sweetness, not to be out done by the strawberries it was mingling with. Heavenly.
The owner, acknowledging our extreme pleasure in this meal, treated us to an Italian digestive, Amari Mere, a slightly bitter, herbal flavor that grows on you as you sip.
With an abundance of wine included in this dinner, the bill was about $40 each. When I return to Pulignano a Mare someday, this restaurant will be at the top of my dining list!
Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture. -Mark Kurlansky (1948 – present)