It seems to me that this coming summer everyone will be in Abruzzo.
Some friends are traveling to visit their ancestral villages and towns. Others, like food writer Domenica Marchetti, are leading culinary tours – taking hungry travelers through this pastoral land, sampling local cuisine and visiting artisanal food makers along the way. Travel to this largely undiscovered region is picking up, and that can only be a good thing. The cuisine, rich and borne of the land, is at once hearty and delicate, nuanced and bold. Cheeses, wines, olive oils and truly divine pastries – Abruzzo has it all. Some of Italy’s finest dried pasta comes from there too. And so does one of my favorite liquors, Punch Abruzzo.
Consider for a moment Abruzzo’s majestic Gran Sasso, a giant of a mountain topped with snow. From its peak you can see two seas and most of central Italy. Now pick up a bottle of Punch Abruzzo. This versatile spirit, an intoxicating deep brown elixir perfumed with a fruitcake-like essence, anise, nutmeg, and orange, with whispers of rum, coffee, and tobacco, can be served neat, straight up or warmed. It is wonderful as a component of cocktails or long drinks like this one, an Italian egg cream reminiscent of the famous North Dakota oilmen’s drink, the Smith and Curran. But in our house instead of the Smith and Curran’s dark creme de cacao, we use Punch Abruzzo.
I did consider calling this one a Gran Sasso, after the aforementioned mountain, but instead I settled on White Widow, after the wives left behind by husbands who came to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While some of these men were emigrants, intending to make a permanent life in America, many others were not, preferring instead the life of the migrant worker. With no intention of moving permanently to America, yet unable to find work at home in Italy, or having lost their own land there, they sailed in search of lucrative employment. Known as Birds of Passage, for their many trans-Atlantic voyages back and forth between Italy and America, they built a better life for their families in Italy by coming here and building America – her streets, bridges, subway systems, what today we call “infrastructure.” Barefooted workers stamped the asphalt streets. Masons built churches and public buildings. Artists worked in stone and wood.
Their wives, left alone, often for years, were essentially single parents, waiting patiently while their husbands carved a life far away. They lived as widows would, but in fact were married women whose husbands still lived, and thus they were known as White Widows. With great conviction these women took up the work traditionally performed by their husbands, be it tilling the fields, tending and harvesting the crops for their subsistence lifestyle or working in what ever business, if any, their husbands left behind. To honor these women and their fortitude I decided to name this drink after them.
If you like, you can substitute vodka for the club soda, in which case, and I can hear it now, you will be saying “Adri, that sounds an awful lot like a White Russian from where I’m standing.” To that I say “Well then you must not be standing on Abruzzese soil.” Sure it’s close; Punch Abruzzo and a White Russian’s Kahlua do share flavor notes; however, where Kahlua is predominantly coffee, Punch Abruzzo is a far more sumptuous and complex blend.
How ever you make this drink, with club soda or vodka, or whether you layer the ingredients or serve it already combined, I say “Cin! Cin! And, consider a trip to Abruzzo this summer.
Serve this one with a soda spoon and a straw.
3 ounces Punch Abruzzo
3 ounces club soda
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon (or to taste) of Vanilla-Orange sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and ⅛ teaspoon orange extract
Pour the cream into a medium bowl, and add the Vanilla-Orange sugar or sugar and extracts. Beat gently until the cream thickens just slightly. Fill two highball glasses about three quarters full with cracked ice. There are two ways to build this one. For the first, where the components are separate when served, divide the Punch Abruzzo between 2 glasses, then add the club soda (1½ ounces to each glass.) Top each with sweetened cream, and finish with a grating of nutmeg.
Alternately, divide the Punch Abruzzo and the sweetened cream between two ice-filled glasses. Top each with club soda, and stir. Finish with a grating of nutmeg.
You may not use all of the cream, but don’t worry. You will probably want more than one of these.
To make Vanilla-Orange Sugar: place 1 cup of granulated sugar in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Use a paring knife to split and spread open a vanilla bean. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean using the dull edge of the paring knife, and drop the seeds into the workbowl. Wrap the scraped bean in plastic wrap and save it for another use. Grate the zest of 2 oranges directly into the workbowl of the processor. Grating directly into the workbowl captures all of the oil, and with it the essence of the orange’s bright flavor. Replace the cover, and process until the sugar is extremely finely ground, about 1 minute. Transfer the sugar to an airtight container. This sugar adds tremendous depth of flavor to cocktails and baked goods, especially nut and sugar cookies. It is extremely finely ground, dissolving easily, a plus for cocktails and other drinks. To use it for cookies, simply place some of the sugar in a broad bowl or on a plate, and roll the cookies, still slightly warm from the oven, in the sugar to liberally coat them. Try making flavored sugars with lemon or other citrus and spices such as cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. The sugar keeps well, and the flavors meld with time.
Punch Abruzzo is available from A Cork Above.
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I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.