Davide Di Fabio has been Massimo Bottura’s sous-chef in the kitchen of Osteria Francescana for years, but he still feels very much connected to its Abruzzese roots. His family traditions often remind him that when it comes to food the solution to some of the most pressing issues of our time, can be found hidden away in popular knowledge and culture.
In Teramo – a place that Davide knows very well – every year on the 1st of May people prepare a dish known as Le Virtù (The Virtues). Over the years, the Abruzzese chef has reinterpreted the recipes many times, but its origins date back to ancient Rome times, where ‘virtus’ referred to the strength necessary to reach a certain purpose. The term also indicated a sort of propitiatory rite to welcome spring and alleviate the fear of not having enough food.
In his hometown, after the Easter celebrations, people clean out their pantries of whatever hasn’t been used in winter to make room for the new harvest. What to do, then, with the different legumes, mixed pasta cuts and dried herbs that are left? Everything becomes a single dish which combines in-season ingredients from the new harvest with scraps of ham or leftover pork cuts (such as ears, tongue, feet and tail) that had been preserved in salt all winter. The result of this formula is a soup able to use up the ‘old’ by adding it to the ‘new’.
Over the centuries, the secrets behind Le Virtù has been passed down from generation to generation until it’s become a symbolic dish, the protagonist of real gastronomic challenges in every restaurant and square around Abruzzo.
There is no single interpretation of Le Virtù, it’s up to people’s creativity and to whatever is left in the pantry from the previous year.
“Four years ago, in May 2015, I was having lunch at my grandmother’s house with my family and we were eating Le Virtù,” Davide recalls. “On that occasion I asked myself: why cook it only on May 1st and not the whole year? After all, pantries cannot wait a whole year to be cleared out.”
That’s when he came up with his personal interpretation of the traditional recipe: he served each diner an empty plate with five pasta letters to form the word virtù. Then he places a tureen with the soup at the centre of the table, prepared using whatever leftover ingredients he could find. In order to emphasize the symbolic value of a shared meal, each diner was free to take the soup from the tureen and pour it in their plate to cover the pasta letters.
“This interpretation of the traditional recipes is meant to remind us that we can fill the bowl whenever we want, without waiting for a specific day or time of the year. Leftovers don’t wait for us.” – warns Davide.
So, what are you waiting for? This holiday season, open your pantry and fridge and take out everything inside, as if you were about to leave for a long trip. Don’t be afraid to dare. Enjoy yourself and send us photos and description of your version on Le Virtù.
For a total of 49 ingredients.
Cut the onion, garlic, celery and carrots, and brown them in a pan with a little oil. After a few minutes, add the pork trimmings or any other meat leftover you have. Add water to the pan and bring it to boil, cook over low heat for at least ⅔ hours.
When the broth is ready, remove all the pieces of meat from the pot and set them aside. Gently scoops the grey layer out from the top of the broth with a fine mesh sieve. Then add, according to cooking time, legumes, cereals, vegetables and let them cook for at least half an hour.
When all the ingredients are cooked and just before serving, add the different shapes of pasta, letting them cook directly in the soup.
The traditional recipe wants the soup to cook for a total of at least 4 hours, depending on the ingredients used.
NOTES: Do not be intimidated by the number 7, this recipe can be made with any number of ingredients. The challenge launched by Davide is, instead, “what are you waiting for?”