italian cuisine of abruzzo – the magic of simple food

Description of the Abruzzo region

Abruzzo is a region in Central Italy, located on the Adriatic coast. A large part of its interior lands is covered by mountainous areas. The mild climate and hilly terrain, along with the sea breeze and high mountains are favorable for wine growing, for example, for the Montepulciano variety that is used for the production of one of the most valuable Italian wines. The Cerasuolo rose wine from Abruzzo is very popular, as well as the characteristic variety for  the Pecorino white wine.

View from the Abruzzo region of Italy

A number of territories in the region are declared national parks. In the past Abruzzo was under the rule of the Roman Empire, which has divided it in two parts. Following the fall of the Romans, the area fell under the rule of Byzantium, the Lombards and Franks.

This region was relatively isolated from the world until the XX century, but surprisingly that has played a positive role in its forming as a cultural center. Thanks to this fact, it is still relatively intact to the present day. There are a number of settlements, which have preserved their traditional appearance, their architectural and cultural heritage. They are characteristic not only with their typical Italian spirit, but they stand out on their own on the background of the rest of the country.

Logically, therefore, the cuisine of Abruzzo is unique, though somewhat influenced by the surrounding regions, for example, by Marche. According to many people, the dishes of Abruzzo are the most authentic and clear form of the Italian food.

History of Abruzzo’s cuisine

The region is considered a relatively patriarchal place. People there live sparingly and ordinary, they prefer their food to be simple and cheap. However, during holidays, the hosts prepare more sophisticated dishes. For example, during the celebration of Panarda – a feast of eating, the number of dishes in the assortment of a single dinner can reach up to 50 dishes and more. This celebration of abundance dates back to the distant past and is still practiced in some areas of Abruzzo.  

Different towns celebrate it at different times of the year. The legend tells that a woman who was returning from the well where she had gone to take water, saw a wolf holding her child between his teeth. She prayed for her child to survive, so she promised to serve boiled mutton every year in return.

Italian cheese Scamorza

The most popular dishes of the Auruzzo’s cuisine

In the past, the mountain population of Abruzzo has been breeding sheep for a living. This craft is still preserved mostly in the western part of the region where there are many sheep. That is why, cheese made of sheep milk is the most preferred dairy product in Abruzzo. The cheeses Scamorza and Cacho cavallo are most popular among the local favorites. Mozarella also has its own deserved place there.

Ventricina salami is characteristic of the region and it is prepared of pure pork meat. As the most unique type of this product is recognized the ventricina from the Teramo province in Abruzzo – it is believed to be the best. There is also a local production of mortadella in the region, which is consumed with a glass of local wine, dry or tannic, such as Trebbiano or Montepulciano.

Rolls of thin slices of prosciutto with pecorino, rocket, olive oil and olives, for example, can be prepared in the Abruzzo style. Local ham of Abruzzo is used for the preparation of these rolls and it is different from the typical Parma ham, because it is more salty. Ricotta, sliced pecorino cheese and lots of lemon juice are also added.

Porchetta, for example, is popular here. This is a sandwich with bread and pork meat, which can be bought directly from the trucks of the street vendors, as they are very common in the area.  They are cooking a whole pig which is about to become a part of the sandwiches.

Italian meat in dishes

The lamb meat is valued in the region. The popular small bites are prepared from lamb, placed on a skewer, just like kebab.

Coratella – this is an ancient Italian dish made of finely chopped lamb offal – lungs and liver, kidneys, heart. In other regions of Italy the coratella is prepared with artichoke, for example in Rome, while in other regions it is prepared in tomato sauce, as in Abruzzo the odds and ends are fried with onion and sometimes with eggs. Traditionally, on Easter, the residents of the region eat coratella for breakfast, in combination with yellow cheese bread, salami and hard-boiled eggs.

However, we should not underestimate bird meats as well. Turkey a la Cantonese is also very popular dish in Abruzzo. Since it has to be covered with jelly, it is traditionally served cold.

As the region is located on the Adriatic coast, fish and seafood are widely used in its cuisine. The Adriatic seafood is best represented by the three local recipes for „brodetto“, each of which comes from a different coastal town – Vasto, Giulianova, Pescara. The fish soup bouillabaisse is prepared on slow fire in a clay pot, which is flavored with fresh herbs, tomatoes and chili peppers, sometimes even with the local saffron.

The variety of Vasto – the Brodetto soup alla vastese dates back to the XIX century. At that time, fishermen traded with farmers, exchanging part of their catch for their vegetables. However, the soup has less ingredients than others that can be found on the Adriatic coast. It contains fish, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and red hot peppers from Abruzzo.

The tomatoes of the „mezzotempo“variety are traditionally used, but in recent years it is more difficult to find this variety, so it can be replaced with other sorts. The well-cooked soup Brodetto alla vastese must have at least seven types of fish in it. Moreover, these fish are always cooked whole in a big ceramic pot, called „la tiella“. The soup should not be stirred, but only slightly shaken during the cooking process in order to make sure that the fish won’t fall apart into pieces.

The favorite food in the Teramo region is the so-called „scripelle“. These are the very thin fritatini that are typical for the area. The dough is made of water, flour and eggs prepared in a very hot saucepan.   

Virtu is a stewed vegetable bread, which is traditionally consumed since ancient times only in May.

Italian focaccia bread | Leonardo Bansko

Another traditional dish of the region is called Crespelle in brodo. This is a simple combination of thin layers of pancakes filled with chicken stew and richly sprinkled with grated yellow cheese. The origin of Crespelle in brodo is not quite clear. It is known, however, that this dish is a favorite in the region at least for the last few decades. As with any traditional dish, the secret is hidden in the quality of the ingredients used.

Although for many it is not a well-known fact, Abruzzo is famous for its saffron production. Around the beginning of the last century there were over 400 hectares of saffron fields in the region. Unfortunately, nowadays this number is reduced to only eight. This is because the saffron that is grown in the Middle East is much cheaper. However, the taste of saffron produced in Abruzzo is very different from that of the saffron coming from other places. That is why it has the protected geographical indication (PGI) status.

Abruzzo is also famous for its white truffles, which season comes in September.

The key ingredients in this region is the olive oil – a product that has gained international recognition over the years.

The region also has preserved its centuries-old tradition of the hand-made spaghetti „а la chitarra“made from durum wheat and whole eggs. „Chitarra“ is the device used to cut the dough into thin strips for the preparation of spaghetti at home. Pasta of the wheat plant spelt is also produced in Abruzzo, as it is called „farro“ here – it is similar to the einkorn wheat from which was produced the bread on these lands in antiquity.

Cavatelli is a type of homemade pasta produced in Abruzzo. They can be prepared with fresh juice of cherry tomatoes. The topping can be made of fresh tomato paste and the pasta can be covered with salted (or spicy) ricotta of sheep milk. This sauce is perfect for the hot summer days, when the weather is too hot for cooking of too sophisticated dishes.

Another famous pasta from Abruzzo is the cannelonni alla Abruzzese, as well as macaroni alla molinara. Cannelloni are kind of macaroni tubes, filled with a mixture of minced pork, chicken and veal meat. The taste of the sauces and macaroni is often enriched with various meats such as lamb, stewed sausages and goose broth.

Another typical dish that is traditional for Abruzzo is the pasta sagne e Fagioli. This is a soup that must be prepared slowly. It contains beans and simple pasta made of water and flour called sagne. The pasta and beans are cooked in broth, fresh tomato sauce, olive oil, garlic and the hot peppers that are typical for the region. Sagne and ceci is also made with sagne – ceci means chickpeas.

Pasta alla pecorara hardly can be found anywhere else except in the Teramo province. It is considered to originate from Atri and Elice. This is a macaroni product with a ring shape. It is served usually with rich tomato sauce and other vegetables, and ricotta.

Gnocchi carrati from Aquila /the capital of the region/, covered with bacon, eggs and pecorino cheese, are another treasure of the local cuisine of Abruzzo. These gnocchi are small  pelmeni made of different types of dough or crumbs, and are often made of potatoes. Other typical pasta appetizers of Abruzzo are the ravioli filled with ricotta, sugar and cinnamon and covered with pork meat ragu, as well as pastuccia, which is prepared with polenta – an Italian dish, similar to hominy.

Artichoke dominates among the vegetables used in the region’s cuisine, as well as potatoes and legumes. They often find their place in the cuisine of Abruzzo. Their main role is in soups and stews. Purple potatoes are very common. Also unique for the region is the lentils coming from the town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio. Rosemary and garlic have a special reputation in the cuisine of Abruzzo.

Characteristic for the region of Abruzzo are also the hot peppers called „diavolini“. In literal translation from Italian the name means „little devils“. They are also called peperoncino – or just „chili peppers“. These peppers have been the subject of culinary mania for a long time. In the summer and early autumn they are consumed completely fresh, and in the cold months they are present at the table dried or canned in marinade or oil. They can also be dried and their pods can be crushed and grinded, so the diavolini become the ideal spice for cooking.

Dessert confetti di Sulmona

Confetti di Sulmona is the dessert that you must try in Abruzzo. Sulmona is a town in Abruzzo and its „confetti“ is one of the most popular cakes in the traditional Italian cuisine. These are multicolored candies made from almonds, which are often shaped like flowers. Their origin can be traced back to the ХV century. Sulmona is a town full of shops that offer the local dessert. It also can be found throughout Italy, because the candies served at weddings, christenings and other celebrations, are namely the almond sweets from Sulmona.

However, Sulmona is also famous for another tempting dessert – torrone, also known as the Italian nougat or as Christmas nougat due to the tradition to prepare it around the Christmas holidays. Croccante is a variation of torrone – which is prepared with almonds. Holiday and also festive spirit have also the cicerchia  – fried mini balls made of dough with honey.

Pepatelli di Teramo are typical biscuits with honey and almonds, seasoned with black pepper. Mostaccioli are also very popular – diamond-shaped biscuits soaked with boiled wine must. Another incredible dessert are the amaretti from the town of Guardiagrele. There is also the home of the dessert with the vicious name and shape – sise delle monache – in literal translation „the breasts of the nun“. The town of Lanciano in turn, is famous for the so-called boccontti, which is a dessert with almonds and chocolate.

Another dessert, typical of the region, are the baked donuts ciambelle al forno, although they can also be prepared salty, because their dough is universal. If we decide to prepare salty donuts, they can be consumed with different types of cheese or canned meat. The sweet version of the donuts is usually served with powdered sugar and melted butter.

The Italian waffle piacelli biscuits, the name of which literally means “little pizzas”, are also very popular in Abruzzo.

But among the whole assortment of cakes in the region of Abruzzo, the most remarkable dessert is the so-called parrozzo. In the distant past, the residents of the region began to prepare bread with corn flour in the form of a dome, baked in wood-baking oven. They called it „pan rozzo“, which literally means „unrefined bread“. It was the counterpoint of the expensive breads, which have been consumed by the aristocrats.

The recipe was rediscovered at the end of the XIX century by a baker called Luigi d‘Amico, who used eggs instead of corn flour in order to obtain the golden hue characteristic of the old „unrefined“bread. The dome shape is preserved and the dessert is served with a dark chocolate coating that imitates the charred crust of the bread. The name of the parrozzo dessert was given by the poet Gabriele D‘Annunzio.