Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

Christmas is almost here! Have you decided what you are serving for the festive family feast? If you are looking for ideas for traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo, here is a list of my favourite ones.

Thistle soup

Cardoon soup (zuppa di cardo) is considered a lighter festive dish, although, as calorie count goes, it is still quite rich. In Abruzzo, thistle stalks are called “Christmas greens” and the soup is traditionally made for pranzo natalizio, on December 25. Check out the recipe in my post about the Christmas thistle soup from Abruzzo.

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

Baccalà fritto in pastella

On Christmas Eve, most households in Abruzzo sit down for a meat-free meal. The tradition is to have fish instead. Baccalà (salted cod) is devoured in large quantities on December 24. I am very fond of fresh baccalà fritters, or baccalà fritto in pastella. In old days, they were made in large quantities to last until the Epiphany on January 6. Although, you can buy baccalà fritters in some supermarkets, the best ones are made at home and eaten hot. Click on the image below for a video recipe that shows you step by step how to make them (in Italian with English subtitles).

Parrozzo

Parrozzo is a relatively recent addition to the regional cuisine. Luigi D’Amico, a pastry shop owner in Pescara, created the first parrozzo cake for his wealthy customers in 1919. He was inspired by the ancient corn bread called “pan rozzo” with a distinctive semi-spherical shape, bright yellow inside and a burnt black crust. D’Amico’s sweet luxurious version of the poor shepherds’ bread called for many of eggs, almonds and dark chocolate. You can buy an industrial boxed version of D’Amico’s parrozzo but, naturally, the best ones are made by artisans in small bakeries across Pescara. See this recipe for parrozzo in English.

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

Torcinelli

Torcinelli abruzzesi is another traditional Christmas treat. Different versions and shapes of this deep-fried dough with boiled potatoes dessert exist across Italy. Torcinellis one of my favourite Christmas dishes from Abruzzo not only because they are tasty (especially freshly fried and hot!) but also because, like many other tipical dishes here, they remind about the region’s humble past when peasants came up with delicious recipes using simple local ingredients. Torcinelli were made on Christmas Eve while fasting, so it was a torture for kids to see chests full of these treats and not being able to eat them until next day. Watch this video recipe to learn how to make torcinelli abruzzesi. Don’t worry if your Italian is not up to scratch, it is easy enough to follow.

Caggionetti

As you can see, there is a lot of frying going on in Abruzzo coming up to Christmas. It takes a while to make these deep-fried sweet dumplings but they are totally worth it. The most common filling of chickpeas, cacao, grape must and cinnamon might seem like a strange combination for a modern palate but give it try. There is also a version with nuts, grape jam and must, which is popular in the Chieti Province. In supermarkets you’ll also find caggionetti with… oh, horror, Nutella! See the recipe for traditional caggionetti here.

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

 

 

things to know about olive oil

10 things to know about olive oil

This year has not been great for olive oil producers in Abruzzo. An early spring freeze damaged many groves, strong winds during the flowering season, heavy rains and the olive fruit fly attacks made the situation worse. Regional production dropped by over 20% this year. Some organic oil producers couldn’t do the harvest at all because of the poor fruit quality. One producer said to me: “A few more years like this and we might have to give up organic oil production.” Let’s hope it never comes to this. How can we help? By buying high quality extra virgin olive oil from Abruzzo! Here are a few things to know about olive oil if you want to buy the best.

  1. Extra virgin. Always buy extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). All other grades of olive oil are held to a lesser standard. EVOO has no defects, acidity level of no more than 0.8g per 100g and is cold pressed using only mechanic methods (pressing or centrifugation). EVOO should taste fruity, has a peppery bite to it and a bitter note. The slightest hint of stale walnuts, mustiness, soil or pond water means the oil is defective and is not extra virgin.things to know about olive oil
  2. Healthy olives. If you are buying directly from a producer, go to the olive mill and check the olives that are being pressed. Do they look healthy? Are they in perforated boxes rather than plastic sacks? The sacks make olives “sweat” and drastically reduce their quality. Surprisingly, many farmers in Abruzzo still use plastic sacks to transport their olives and sometimes store the fruit in them for several days. To make EVOO, olives have to be milled within 12 hours after the harvest otherwise they’ll lose their nutrients and flavour and could begin to ferment.things to know about olive oil
  3.  Press type. Ask or see for yourself what kind of press the producer is using. The old style machinery with stone grinders and hydraulic presses that use round grass mats might look romantic but they significantly reduce the quality of oil. Those grinding stones and mats are very hard to clean and residues can spoil olive oil. They are also slower and the production chain is more exposed to air, so the olives oxidize quicker than in more modern machines.
  4. Filtered vs unfiltered. Unfiltered oil doesn’t always mean better. If you are buying large quantities of EVOO, choose filtered oil as it will last longer. Unfiltered oil tastes good and is often marketed as healthier but because of organic residues it has a very short shelf life, not more than a few months.
  5. Colour doesn’t matter. Our brain likes the colour green and people tend to think automatically that greener oil tastes better. So much so that some industrial scale producers tint their cheap olive oil green to help sales. The truth is the colour never reflects the quality. That’s why professional tasters use blue glasses, so the oil’s colour doesn’t affect their judgements.
  6. DOP. Look for “DOP” (Protected designation of Origin) on the label as it is a guarantee of quality. It means that the oil was was produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area following strict standards. There are three DOP areas for oil in Abruzzo: Aprutino Pescarese, Colline Teatine, Pretuziano delle Colline Teramane.
  7. Single cultivar vs blend. You’ll find different olive cultivars in each Italian region. In Abruzzo, the most prevalent are Gentile, Intosso, Toccolana, Leccino, Dritta. Each varietal has particular characteristics and a unique taste. For instance, Dritta oil is milder than others, with a note of artichoke. Intosso olive oil is characterised by intense taste, with a hint of fresh walnuts and tomato leaves. If you after an olive with a strong character, go for a single cultivar (it will say “monocultivar” on the bottle). Blends tend to be milder and tamer.
  8. Cooked or raw. Single varietals tend to have more character and a stronger taste, so you might want to use them raw, e.g. on salads. I cook and bake with an oil, which is a mild blend of Dritta, Leccino and Gentile. I find that the peppery Toccolana and more bitter Intosso are best generously drizzled on a slice of fresh bread or on raw vegetables.things to know about olive oil
  9. Heat, light and air. These are olive oil’s enemies. Never buy olive oil in a clear glass bottle even if the label says “extra virgin olive oil”. Light trigger the oxidation process and it quickly becomes rancid. Keep your EVOO in dark glass bottles in a cool place where the temperature never exceeds 20C (ideally it should be between +14C and +18C), so a wine cellar or a dark basement would be the best places. I keep bottles of olive oil in a refrigerator. It solidifies (a good sign, which means it is monounsaturated, the real deal!) and the natural waxes crystallise. I take it out of the fridge 30 mins before using it and it becomes liquid again without any harm to the flavours. In proper conditions, extra virgin olive oil should keep for up to two years.
  10. Bitterness is good. Olives are bitter, so a bitter note in EVOO is a sign of quality and freshness. Younger olives make more peppery and bitter oil. Certain cultivars can be bitterer than others, so train your palate and find the level of bitterness you love. If you like bitter chocolate or beers like ale, stout, porter, you will find it easier to enjoy fresh stronger EVOO.
best gifts from abruzzo

Best gifts from Abruzzo

Let’s admit it: very few of us like the stress of Christmas shopping. Especially when you want to buy something special for your loved ones and can’t seem to find anything suitable. With only a few weeks to go to the holiday season, there is no time for procrastination. We all know that although there are plenty of food artisans and high-quality traditional crafts in the region but finding them online is a hell of a task if you want to buy gifts for Abruzzo lovers.  I thought, a roundup of the best gifts from Abruzzo might make your life a little easier.

A gift for pasta lovers

One of the first things that come to mind when you think of Made in Abruzzo gifts is, of course, la chitarra (or “lu carratur” in dialect), a traditional pasta making tool. Every self-respecting Abruzzo cuisine lover must have one of this wooden frames with tight strings. You roll a pasta dough sheet over them (not as easy as it sounds!) to make delicious square spaghetti, pasta alla chitarra. You can buy one here.

best gifts from abruzzo

Lace jewellery

The tradition of delicate bobbin lace from Scanno goes back to the 16th century but there are very few women left, who still make it. Federica Silvani learnt the craft secrets from two old ladies in the village and together with the goldsmith Francesco Rotolo started creating exquisite jewellery. If you happen to be in Scanno, make sure you visit her beautiful workshop (Via Vincenzo Tanturri, 1). You can order rings, earrings, pendants or bracelets on her website or her Amazon shop. Prices start from €105 for a pendant on a silver chain.

best gifts from abruzzo

Pizzelle maker

Another staple of Abruzzese cuisine is pizzelle (or neole, nevole, ferratelle, depending on where they are made as, it seems, every village in the region has a different name for them). Just a few decades ago, nearly every family had irons for baking the waffles on fire. Nowadays, electric makers are used. Check out this pizzelle baker for making thin crispy pizzelle.

best gifts from abruzzo

Bed covers with history

Lanificio Vincenzo Merlino of Taranta Peligna has been manufacturing traditional high-quality Abruzzese blankets since 1870. Their stunning bed covers are made from pure wool or cotton. The factory has an online shop and ships worldwide.

Traditional ceramics

One of the most iconic Abruzzese ceramics designs is a centortavola, a bread plate, with cut-outs. This one is hand-made in the town of Villamagna and decorated with the old-style “Fioraccio abruzzese”, a floral design used for traditional kitchen utensils.

best gifts from abruzzo

Wines from Abruzzo

Choose three bottles from some of the famous Montepulciano D’Abruzzo producers that will be sent to you in a gift box. You can’t go wrong with magnificent wines from Cataldi Madonna, Praesidium, Emidio Pepe! Buy a Montepuciano D’Abruzzo gift box here. Shipping within Italy and Europe only.

Abruzzo photo book

This photo book by renowned landscape photographer Michael Kenna is one of very few publications on Abruzzo and it is stunning. Printed on matt art paper it presents 65 stunning images of the region, published for the first time.

Foodie breaks

The greatest gifts are experiences rather than things. I organise foodie breaks in Abruzzo for those who are curious to explore the region’s culinary traditions. A break includes accommodation for two nights for two people, a hearty dinner in a traditional restaurant, wine tour and a cooking class. You will see off-the-beaten path towns, taste the best local dishes and enjoy excellent wines.

 

best gifts from abruzzo

vino cotto abruzzo

Vino cotto from Abruzzo: cooked and fermented to perfection

The tradition of vino cotto (“cooked wine”) goes at least a thousand years back. Pliny the Elder mentioned it in his writings in the 1st century as one of the most sought-after drinks of the time. Nowadays, few people know what it is. Historians say that vino cotto was born from the need to preserve wine made from low quality grapes. The best of harvest went to the landowner and hard-working farmers were often left with small sour grapes. Cooking them reduced the volume but increased the sugar concentration, which meant the wine could be stored for longer periods. From late spring to November, when normal wine turned sour (no technology to extend its shelf life existed back then) farmers drank vino cotto until the next harvest. Le Marche and Abruzzo are the two regions where vino cotto became part of the local cuisine. For centuries, a glass of vino cotto and a slice of bread were symbols of a welcoming home.

vino cotto abruzzo

In Abruzzo, the area around Roccamontepiano is where the tradition is still alive. Pressed grapes are cooked slowly in a large copper pot (lu callare) on an open fire. In old days, a piece of iron chain covered with a terracotta plate was placed in the bottom of the pot to make sure that the wine doesn’t taste of metal. After hours of slow cooking, when the liquid is reduced by at least a half, it is left to cool down. Later, an equal quantity of fresh grape must is added and the blend is transferred small wooden barrels to ferment. One of the producers told me that in his family, every year, before going to the Christmas mass, a sip of vino cotto is poured for everyone, including little kids. His grandfather did it, as well as his father and he continues the ritual. For many centuries, locals have made a special barrel of vino cotto when a son is born in the family. It is left to age until the boy’s wedding day.

vino cotto abruzzo

It was impossible to buy a bottle of this ancient wine until a few years ago. Families made the brew for home consumption but were not allowed to sell it. Then a few local enthusiasts in Roccamontepiano got together, applied for funding to buy industrial equipment and opened a small production centre. Now they produce limited quantities of exquisite vino cotto aged for five, eight or 15 years. Although the wine is cooked in a steel tank in less than 30 minutes it is still delicious. Every year they also organise a festival of vino cotto with tastings and demonstrations of how the wine was cooked in old days.

vino cotto abruzzoIn Roccamontepiano, they say that the best cure for a cold is a small glass of hot vino cotto before bed. I love vino cotto with hot roasted chestnuts or almond biscotti dipped in it. Dark brown with an amber glow, the drink is rich without being too heavy. The dry fruit notes are rounded with a warm hint of wood and more than a thousand years of tradition.

Vino cotto is often confused with vin brulé and mosto cotto. What is the difference between them? Vin brulé is a hot spiced wine, like mulled wine. Mosto cotto is cooked reduced grape juice with must that is used for baking in Abruzzo.

You can buy vino cotto in the Centro di Produzione Vino Cotto, C.da Terranova, Roccamontepiano (CH).

Follow the Associazione Produttori Vino Cotto d’Abruzzo on Facebook here

Photos by Associazione Produttori Vino Cotto d’Abruzzo.

 

Dunk your tarallucci Abruzzo-style

It has been a busy season here. I have met so many wonderful people from all over the world on my food and wine tours in Abruzzo. Everyone loves the local cuisine and sings praise to the region’s wines and hearty dishes. But there is one experience on my Pescara food tour that everybody is crazy about: getting a small glass of wine at the Don Gennaro wine shop and dipping pieces of tarralucci al vino, ring-shaped biscuits, in it. In Italian it is called “inzupparli”. For most of my clients, it is a new culinary experience and they often look at me as if waiting for an approving nod before dunking their biscuit in the wine, the gesture that somehow feels naughty and unfamiliar nowadays. It is an old tradition that takes us back to the days when locals drank wine not only to be merry but relied on it for extra calories. Farmers would pack tarallucci al vino or some other humble carb and plenty of home-made wine to re-fuel during a quick break while working in the fields.

tarallucci al vino abruzzo

I learnt about the dunking tradition from a friend’s nonna, who said that it was the best way to eat tarallucci. And she was right. The slightly sweet dense dough combined with a no-nonsense table wine tastes rustic and good. It won’t work with a fancy wine from a bottle, you need “vino sfuso”, or bulk wine, sharp and strong, to fully immerse in this authentic taste of Abruzzo.

Tarallucci al vino are easy and quick to make. It is one of those very old Abruzzese recipes that only calls for a few simple (vegan!) ingredients: flour, wine and olive oil. I added some sugar but in the past mosto cotto, or slowly cooked grape must, was a go-to sweetener. Use the ancient grain solina or wholegrain flour to achieve the slightly coarse, rustic texture. Tarallucci al vino can be made with white or red wine.

food and wine tours abruzzo

Tarallucci al vino

Makes 15-20 biscuits

Ingredients:

150 ml white wine (pecorino or trebbiano d’Abruzzo)

150g sugar

150ml EVOO

500g solina flour

Pinch of salt

Few pinches of fennel seeds

Preparation:

Mix the wine and olive oil with a fork in a bowl, add the sugar, then the flour, salt and fennel seeds mixing the ingredients thoroughly to create homogenous dough. If the dough is still too sticky, add more flour until it is elastic, soft and easy enough to handle with your hands. Do not overwork it or the biscuits will be too hard. Make a ball and leave the dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.

Take small amounts of the cooled dough, roll them slightly to make short thick cords. Connect the ends to make a fat ring. Bake for 25-30 mins until golden. If your rings are thin, reduce the baking time to 20 minutes.

When they cool down, dunk away in a glass of simple Montepulciano d’Abruzzo!

 

ventricina del vastese abruzzo

Ventricina Del Vastese

Have you tried ventricina del Vastese from Abruzzo yet? It is famous across the region and, unlike many other cured meat artisan products, is never produced on industrial scale because of the costly meat cuts and labour-intensive preparation.

Large, between one and three kilos, round or pear-shaped pork salami with a strong intense flavour and bright orangey colour that comes from the ground red pepper has been produced in the southern part of the Chieti province since the 19th century. Lean noble meat parts (70%) are cut with knife into medium pieces, combined with fat pieces (30%) and, after a night’s rest, mixed with salt, black pepper, wild fennel seeds, garlic and red pepper (depending on the producer, it can be sweet or spicy). The salami has a natural casing, normally pig’s bladder. After being air-dried for 100 days, the ventricina is cleaned from the mould, dipped in lard and dried for another 3-5 months. In old days, ventricina del Vastese was cased in a pig’s stomach (hence the name, “ventre” = “stomach”) lining and each salami weighed up to 10 kg.

ventricina vastese abruzzo

In old days, ventricina was never cut but broken into chunks. It was kept for special occasions, such as a grape harvests, local saint’s festivals, baptisms. Often, farmers gave the precious salami as a payment to a doctor or lawyer.

The ventricina della Vastese has a rustic chewy, on the hard side, texture. Like with many local artisan products, its taste and flavours vary from one producer to another, so make sure you try different ones to find your favourite. Locals eat the ventricina in thick chunks hot pizza bianca (plain pizza base with no toppings) or traditional leavened bread, sliced tomatoes and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine.

ventricina vastese abruzzo

Every year, in July, Vasto hosts a Ventricina del Vastese Festival during which you can taste the famous salami from local producers, watch cooking demonstrations and go on walking tour of the city.

Where to find:         

Macelleria Di Nanno Paolo, Via Histoniense, 204, Vasto

Macelleria La Genuina, Via Provinciale, 8, Carunchio. Web: www.laventricina.it

Agriturismo Fattoria dell’Uliveto, Contrada Ragna, 59, Scerni. Web: www.ventricina.com

Agriturismo Villa Olmi, Contrada Santa Giusta, 1, Roccaspinalveti.

 

Check out the video below to see how ventricina della vastese is made:

All photos are by Ventricina.com

 

sugared almonds from sulmona

Sugared almonds from Sulmona for Harry and Meghan

From Sulmona to Buckingham Palace, confetti Pelino will grace the tables at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle next Saturday. The royal family seem to be fond of sugared almonds from Sulmona as this is not the first time they have chosen the sweets from Abruzzo for a special celebration. Before it was Charles and Diana’s wedding, then William and Kate’s and now Harry and Meghan’s grand event.

According lo the local press, the British Embassy contacted the factory and ordered a small bouquet in the colours of the national flag: blue, white and red with the bride and groom’s names written on the white petals as well as several types of confetti for the wedding feast.

sugared almonds from Sulmona

Confetti Pelino are renowned for their high quality. No flour or starch are added, only sugar and Avola almonds from Sicily. The classic recipe goes back to the 15th century when the production of confetti started in Sulmona. Centuries ago, local nuns from the Santa Chiara convent  wrapped the sweets with silk threads to make rosaries, flowers and elaborate artistic compositions. Today, the factories in Sulmona use coloured paper, organza and tulle fabrics to compose beautiful bunches of flowers, wedding favours, christenings and communions gifts.

sugared almonds from abruzzo

In the Pelino factory, that has been making the sugared treats since the 18th century, you can check out a fascinating museum telling the history of confetti production. There is a reconstruction of a confetti workshop with old confectionery machines, memorabilia, precious lace, porcelain, silver bonbonières used in the past.

Confetti are a great sweet gift to take home and you can stock up on all kinds, colours and shapes at the factory’s shop. I prefer the classic plain white confetti with almonds but there are also speckled, pink, blue, red ones, confetti with chocolate, hazelnuts, pistachio, coffee as well as confetti flowers and various artistic creations (bumble bees, ladybugs, grape clusters etc.).

Address:

Confetti Pelino

Via Stazione Introdacqua, 55
Sulmona
Tel. +39 0864 210047

Photos by Confetti Pelino/Facebook

easter recipes from abruzzo

Easter recipes from Abruzzo

Easter time is wonderful in Abruzzo. Shops fill up with chocolate bunnies and enormous Easter eggs, orders for selected lamb pieces are being placed in local butchers’, pasta makers are rolling and cutting fresh pasta all’uovo for loyal customers and nonnas prepare gargantuan feasts for their families. Easter has always a big celebration even in poor rural households. Nowadays, many city dwelling Abruzzesi go to shops to buy baked Easter goodies but dye-hard traditionalists make everything from scratch, several days before the families gather at the table. Over the years of living in Abruzzo, I have tried many Easter dishes and have my favourites. Here is a quick round-up of the Easter recipes from Abruzzo that I love. If you want to learn secrets of Abruzzese cuisine book our Cooking with locals classes.

easter recipe abruzzo

Fiadoni

The recipe arrived to Abruzzo from the aristocratic kitchens of Ferrara (some historians say it might have been the Medici court’s cooks who invented it) in the 1500s. Back then, these delicious cheese puffs were made with saffron harvested in the Navelli plains. As centuries passed, the precious spice was eliminated from the recipe and adapted to more humble kitchens. Today, to my delight, fiadoni can be found in many bakeries throughout the year.

Fiadoni abruzzesi recipe in English.

Soffioni abruzzesi

This sweet version of the traditional cheesy goodness calls for ricotta. It is light like a cloud, with a crumbly thin dough wrapped around a moist bright yellow filling. As with all traditional recipes, there are variations: il soffione can be one big cake or small muffin-likes creations called soffioni. Sometimes they are called fiadoni dolci but a savoury version also exists. Confusing, I know, but don’t try to figure out which one it is, if you see one, grab it and enjoy. As with most baked goodies in Abruzzo, the dough is made with olive oil, which makes it lighter. Check out this video below for a soffione cake recipe.


Pupa and cavallo cookies

In the 1800s, families of an engaged couple gave each other the cakes shaped as a doll and horse. Nowadays, the elaborately decorated cookies are made on Holy Thursday and given to kids: pupa dolls to girls, horses to boys. The most traditional versions always have an egg attached with two strips of dough. They are more difficult to find in shops but can be ordered in some local bakeries. The famous restaurant Brancaleone, for instance, takes orders a few weeks before Easter for their stunning pupa and cavallo and delivers the cakes to their café in Pescara.

easter recipes from abruzzo

Source: Ristorante Brancaleone/Facebook

Check out this simple pupa and cavallo abruzzesi recipe and unleash your inner Abruzzese child decorating them. Watch the video below for an easy to follow recipe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oreste, the deer of Villetta Barrea

Driving in a small village of Villetta Barrea in the Abruzzo National Park I saw a large deer standing beside the road and graciously accepting gentle strokes and pats from two adults and a child. I slowed down to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. The deer was real. As it turned  out, it was Oreste, the stag that frequents Villetta Barrea in search of rubs and treats. The first time he arrived to the village after a heavy snowfall in 2012. The deer liked the locals’ hospitality and continues to visit them on a regular basis.

Villetta barrea abruzzo

A few years back, Oreste caused some commotion in the village: he jumped on a police car and tried to chase someone. After the incident, he ran to the village park in hope to sit it out munching on juicy grass. However, local authorities, concerned about public safety, surrounded and apprehended the troublemaker. Oreste was placed in a fenced area nearby to make sure that nothing like that happened again. However, the locals immediately organised a protest: they painted a sign on the fence where the deer was kept that read “Oreste captured: he was only returning home”; a petition was signed by every villager demanding to let the animal go. They won, Oreste was returned to the woods in the mountains.

When the magnificent 200- kilos deer with a splendid rack of horns visits Villetta Barrea he strolls down the streets without fear. Locals think of him as the village mascot and an honorary citizen. A few times he stopped by the post office and everyone laughed joking that the deer came to pay the bills for the services rendered. The villagers say that seeing him walking around the village before Christmas makes the atmosphere especially magic.

However, he is not the only one who loves dropping by Villetta Barrea. The village is often called “the deer kingdom” because they are always wondering around here. Next time you visit the charming Villetta Barrea, take a walk in the areas where are the deer are often spotted: the Villa Comunale park, the pedestrian path along the Sangro River, the shores of the lake and local camping site.

Check out this short video of Oreste clopping on peacefully past cars in the village centre.

Featured photo by Guglielmo D’Arezzo.

best dishes abruzzo

Best traditional dishes to try in Abruzzo

On my food tours I am often asked “What are the must-try traditional dishes in Abruzzo?” I have been eating my way around the region for many years and came to realise that every single dish here is a history lesson on a plate. While most of them are delicious, some might be too alien to foreign palates. If you want to embrace Abruzzese culinary traditions I suggest that you look for the following typical dishes that you can find in most rural family-run restaurants.

Arrosticini

Synonymous with Abruzzo, arrosticini are small chunks of castrated mutton or young sheep alternated with pieces of fat cooked on wooden skewers over hot coals. Surprisingly, the dish’s origins go back less than 100 years. It is believed that peasants in the area around Civitella Casanova and Villa Ciliera started cutting tough old sheep meat into tiny cubes to make it easier to chew. The first photo of arrosticcini is dated to 1930 (see below). You can find arrosticcini in many traditional restaurants all year round. The moment the weather turns warmer, Abruzzese dust off their “fornacelle” (a long narrow metal barbecue) and grill arrosticini outside. Eating them with a fork is frowned upon as you are supposed to slide the meat off the skewer into your mouth using the teeth. A few bites of bread drizzled with olive oil, a generous sip of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and you will fall in love with the hearty simplicity of the local cuisine. Abruzzese men love bragging about the amount of arrosticini they consume in one sitting. I have met a few who say the can gobble down 100 skewers without blinking an eye.

best traditional dishes Abruzzo

Archivio AIS – Berna Paul Scheuermeir

Pasta alla chitarra

Another iconic staple, the square spaghetti are made using a special tool called “la chitarra” that reminds a guitar. Although the recipe is simple, rolling the dough over the chitarra requires some practice. Usually pasta alla chitarra is served with a rich tomato and meat sauce alla ragù.

Where to find: Most rural restaurants in Abruzzo make excellent pasta alla chitarra. In one of my favourite restaurants, Il Tholos, the chitarra is made by hand with solina heritage grain flour.

traditional dishes from abruzzo

Pallotte cacio e uova

Often called “the poor man’s meatballs”, the pallotte are made with cheese, eggs and breadcrumbs. The best cheese and egg balls have to be soft and melt in your mouth. Some old-fashioned deli shops sell them pre-made, all you have to do is just simmer the pallotte in a tomato sauce. You can learn how to make this dish in our Cooking with locals classes.

Where to find: Col di Gotte makes excellent pallotte and serves them as a starter. In Pescara, Taverna 58 does a good job.

traditional dishes abruzzo

Sagne e ceci

This pasta and chickpea soup is a winter dish. Easy and cheap to make, the recipe calls for short flat pasta (sagne), chickpeas (or beans) and an onion. This ancient dish is also common in Lazio, Campania and Puglia with slight variations in the recipe (e.g. in Rome anchovies are added).

Where to find: One of my favourite places to have pasta and ceci is in Trattoria La Tavernetta in Chieti. There the chef throws some toasted dry sagne pasta to the soup, which adds a lovely crunch to the texture.

traditional dishes abruzzo

Coratella

This ancient dish is made from finely chopped lamb lungs, kidneys, heart and liver. While in other regions coratella is cooked with artichokes (in Rome) or in a tomato sauce, in Abruzzo, the organ meats are simply pan fried with onions and, sometimes, with eggs. You are more likely to find it on the restaurant’s menus around Easter time as, traditionally, locals eat it for Easter breakfast with cheese bread (pizza di Pasqua), salami and hard-boiled eggs.

Where to find: Antica Taverna in Navelli has coratella on the menu all year round and it is delicious.

traditional dishes abruzzo

Pasta alla pecorara

Hard to find beyond the Teramo province, this ring-shaped pasta is one of my favourite. Thick chewy dough rings are simmered in a rich tomato and vegetable sauce and served with sheep’s milk ricotta. The area around Elice and Atri is where the pasta was born, so head there if you want to try the most authentic version of it.

Where to find: Hostaria Zedi in Atri makes good pasta alla pecorara, although, they are not very generous with the ricotta topping.

traditional dishes abruzzo

Brodetto alla Vastese

As the name suggests, it is a fish soup typical for the Vasto area. Historians trace the origins of this recipe back to the 19th century when fishermen traded with farmers some of their catch for vegetables. The soup has fewer ingredient than other similar ones cooked along the Adriatic coast: fish, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and local spicy red pepper. Traditionally, a local variety of tomato “mezzo tempo” was used, however, it has become hard to find in recent years, so often it is replaced with other varieties.  A good brodetto alla Vastese should have at least seven types of fish, which is always cooked whole in a large terracotta pot called “la tijella”. The soup is never stirred but slightly shaken during the cooking process to make sure that the fish does not break.

Where to find: The famous Trattoria Da Ferri is one of the best places to try the brodetto. It is always full and it is better to book in advance, although, you might still have to wait for your table. Trattoria Zì Albina also makes excellent brodetto since 1907.

best dishes from abruzzo

Scrippele

The Abruzzese version of crêpes is called scrippele. Thin and delicate, they are made without milk, just flour, eggs and water. Typical for the northern part of Abruzzo, the Teramo province, scrippele origins go back to the 19th century when the French ruled the region. A local cook while preparing a meal for French officers by accident put some crêpes in a bowl with chicken broth. The dish scrippele ‘mbusse was born: small crêpes sprinkled with cheese, rolled up and served in broth. They are also served stuffed with ricotta or as part of timballo (see below).

Where to find: Not easy to find nowadays but some restaurants around Teramo still have scrippele ‘mbusse on the menu. La Cantina di Porta Romana is one of them. Want to make them at home? Watch this video on how to make scrippele ‘mbusse (in Italian but easy to follow).

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