michelin star restaurants abruzzo

Al Metrò restaurant: a creative take on Abruzzese traditions

Hearty traditional dishes and exaggerated portions in rural family-run restaurants, – Abruzzo does these two very well. However, there is a fair share of sophisticated Michelin star eateries in the region as well. So when you feel like taking a break from the gargantuan pasta loads on your plate and long for something a bit more sophisticated yet still in line with local traditions, head to Al Metrò, one Michelin star restaurant in San Salvo. I’ve had lunch there recently and what a meal it was!

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

Brothers Nicola and Antonio Fossaceca turned what used to be a pastry shop owned by their parents into a sleek restaurant with minimalistic décor and innovative menu. Nicola, the chef, creates exquisite dishes using local ingredients with a flair. In 2012, when he was only 29, Al Metrò received one Michelin star, a well-deserved recognition of the chef’s culinary talent.

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

Nicola is very fond of smaller, less popular fish rarely seen on the menu of gourmet restaurants. One of his signature dishes is Triglia in scapece espresso, deep-fried red mullet with a sweet-and-sour dressing of honey and vinegar. It is light, crispy and elegant, which you can hardly expect from “poor man’s” fish.

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

What I really like about Nicola’s dishes is the way he skilfully mixes seafood with meat, showcasing “mare” and “montagna” of the region. The menu features such masterpieces as seaweed gnocchi and lupine beans (Gnocchi Verdi di Lattuga di Mare e Lupini), mantis shrimps with chicory (Cicoria e Cicale di Mare), cold soup with ricotta, celery and oysters (Zuppa Fredda di Ricotta Ostrica e Sedano). The risotto with green beans, pear and baby squid that I had was another great example of his mastery. The rice topped with crispy squid, streaks of pancetta and sprinkled with sea lettuce. The pieces of pear added a wonderful sweet note while sharp herby olive oil rounded off this unusual ensemble. Despite the elaborate looks, the underlying philosophy of Nicola’s dishes is simplicity.

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

Antonio Fossaceca is the sommelier and he knows exactly what wine to recommend to complement the best flavours of Nicola’s creations. He served a bottle of exquisite Pecorino from Azienda Agricola Faraone (head to their website, they sell wine online!), which was a wonderful discovery and became one of my favourite local wines since.

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

The sweet offering was Il Nostro Parozzo Abruzzese, a chef’s take on the traditional dessert. Delicate sweetened ricotta sprinkled with chocolate shavings was a great final chord for this special meal.

Prices at Al Metrò are kind on the pocket. They range from €16 to €30 (for the most expensive dish, the brodetto fish soup). If you are in a small group, you can order a 6- or 8-course menu for €60 and €80 respectively.

 

Braiding Red Garlic of Sulmona

Red Sulmona garlic (Aglio rosso di Sulmona) is one of Abruzzo’s treasures that is waiting to be discovered by the world. Its outside skin looks just like that of any other garlic, but the inside shell is a lovely purplish-red. Its this colour and a great mild sweet flavour that make Sulmona’s garlic so special.

Although it has been cultivated since the 18th century, just a few connoisseurs and those who have relatives in Abruzzo know about it. It grows in a small area around the city of Sulmona (hence the name) and its production has been steadily increasing in the last few years. Although, there is some machinery involved in garlic cultivation, a lot of work is manual. Many families have been growing aglio rosso for generations and everyone has their own little tricks and secrets on how to do it better.

garlic sulmona

In June garlic scapes are picked and I have written about this divine traditional delicacy. The garlic itself is harvested at the start of July and left to dry for 10-15 days. After that, the bulbs are sorted by size and, as the old local tradition dictates, garlic braids are made. Unlike many other types of garlic, aglio rosso di Sulmona is never treated chemically after the harvest. For centuries, the only way to store it was in braids hung in a cool dry place. This method allows better air circulation and the garlic can last for up to 10 months.

garlic sulmona

I went to the house of Filippo Centofanti and Franca Allegra to see how garlic braids are made. Filippo proudly showed me the prize he has won: Mister Aglio Rosso. The local jury of experts picked his garlic as the best in the area. “They evaluate the shape, colour, uniformity and size, as well as the taste”, explained Filippo. “My garlic is pungent but not too much, with a hint of sweetness, just the way aglio rosso di Sulmona should be”. And he is certainly an expert: his grandfather and father cultivated the garlic and taught him a thing or two.

red garlic sulmona

Franca and her son Alberto sat down to braid the bulbs. They didn’t talk much, and when I asked what is the key to making a good braid, Franca smiled and said: “A lot of practice”. This year Filippo, Franca and Alberto harvested 2 tons (weight after drying) of garlic, so they had a lot of practice with their braid-making. A braid of Sulmona red garlic is normally double, with 40-50 bulbs and weighs up to 3 kg. To see whether it was made by an expert, you have to look on the inside: the leaves are tightly wrapped in a neat even pattern.

red garlic sulmona

Later, when I got home, my kitchen filled with the smell of fresh garlic that I brought back from Sulmona. The temptation was unbearable: I cut a thick slice of local bread, rubbed it with a few cloves, added a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled it with sea salt. Life is good in Abruzzo!

 

parrozzo abruzzo

Sweet Christmas in Abruzzo: Parrozzo and Torcinelli

Just imagine all those delicious cakes and pastries that have been prepared and baked in kitchens across Italy right now. Christmas is almost here and with it cheerful festivities and abundant feasts. In many families, traditional cakes and desserts (dolci di Natale) are made days in advance. This year I wanted to learn how to make a parrozzo, tipical Christmas cake from Pescara, so I went to the agriturismo Il Tholos. Its owners Paola and Gabriele moved to the Maiella National Park, near a pretty village of Roccamarice, from Pescara a long time ago. They are true custodians of Abruzzese traditions and their restaurant with its farm-to-table philosophy is certainly one of the best in the region.parrozzo abruzzo“I use my family recipe to make parrozzo but instead of semolina, we use our own solina flour,” says Paola. She is busy taking out several cake bases out of the domed forms and preparing them to be covered in chocolate. For a couple of weeks before Christmas Paola and her daughters make ten parrozzi a day to keep up with the demand. They sell them in the agriturismo and deliver to Pescara to loyal customers.parrozzo abruzzoParrozzo is a relatively recent addition to Abruzzese cuisine. Luigi D’Amico, a pastry shop owner in Pescara, created the first parrozzo cake for his welathy customers in 1919. He was inspired by the ancient corn bread called “pan rozzo” with a distinctive semi-spheric shape, burnt black crust and bright yellow inside. D’Amico’s sweet luxirious version of the poor shepherds’ bread called for loads 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 in small bakeries across Pescara or agriturismi like Il Tholos.parrozzoWhile we were talking, Paola and her daughter Dalila covered parrozzi with luscious chocolate and made a few small mountains of torcinelli abruzzesi, another traditional Christmas treat. Different versions and shapes of this deep-fried dessert exist across Italy. I love torcinelli because, like many other tipical dishes in Abruzzo, 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 till next day,” says Paola while turning torcinelli in a pot with bubbling hot oil.christmas abruzzoTorcinelli are made with a mix of flour, mashed boiled potatoes and a few optional raisins. They are deep-fried till golden and sprinkled with sugar, although, in older days, this touch of luxury was not available in every household. Torcinelli are the opposite of the parrozzo cake. You can grab a few torcinelli, preferably warm, still dripping with oil, and devour them without any formalities, on the go. A slice of parrozzo requires a more ceremonial atmosphere, with a cake stand, cup of coffee and dessert plate. Although, nowadays both desserts are often served together during Christmas gut-busting feasts in the region, they offer a glimpse of two different worlds: the poor traditional Abruzzese village and sophisticated moneyed city. The worlds that still exist in Abruzzo, if you care to look deeper.christmas abruzzoYou can find a recipe for parrozzo on the lovely Adri Barr Crocetti’s blog and recipe for torcinelli here (in Italian).

GASTRONOMIC EVENTS IN ABRUZZO IN MAY

May is an exciting month for wine lovers! There are so many degustation events and thematic dinners are happening in the coming weeks that I found it difficult to pick just a few. Here are the best of the enogastronomic events in case you are wondering what to do in Abruzzo in May.

Cooking demonstration “Sweet Rituals”, May 17, Pescara

Want to learn how to make traditional Abruzzese biscuits? Scuola del Gusto Abruzzo is running a cooking demonstration next Tuesday, May 17, in the Museo Delle Genti D’Abruzzo in Pescara. Local experts will share secrets of making delicious celli pieni, mostaccioli and spumini. At the end you will all that taste freshly baked goodness. Price: €26 per person. Book your place here.

Spumini. Photo by Scuola del Gusto

Spumini. Photo by Scuola del Gusto

Thematic dinner A Tutto Corfinio!, May 25, Chieti

Have you ever tried liquor Corfinio invented in Abruzzo in 1858? This strong sweet drink is made with local herbs, seeds and roots to a secret recipe kept in the family for 150 years. During the dinner in the Trattoria Taverna Teate you can taste an aperitif, risotto, a meat dish, dessert and cocktails, all made with Corfinio. The dinner starts at 8pm. Price: €28 per person. Booking required. Call Taverna Teate 0871 349256.

corfinio

Open Wine Cellars, May 28-29, various locations

38 cellars across Abruzzo will open their doors for degustations and guided visits. It is a great occasion to check out some of the best wine producers in the region. Many wineries organise picnics and lunches for their guests. Here is a list of all participating wine cellars that will be open that weekend. I am planning to pop over to Marramiero and Chiusa Grande. See you there!

Vintage train. Photo by Le Rotaie

Vintage train. Photo by Le Rotaie

On the train with Slow Food, May 29, Sulmona – Roccaraso – Sulmona

Hop on a vintage train that will take you to Palena, Campo di Giove, Pettorano Sul Gizio and Roccaraso to taste cheeses, cured meats, pasta and other traditional products made in Abruzzo. The train departs at 9.30 and returns at 18.30. Tickets are selling fast! Book your ticket online here. You can book a picnic basket for lunch at 393 6132492 (before May 20).

 

 

 

what to do in abruzzo

Gastronomic Events in Abruzzo in April

Time is flying! It is April already!! This month is full of exciting events for food lovers. Here is my monthly round-up of the best of them to help you to decide what to eat and what to do in Abruzzo in April.

Cooking demonstrations “Master of traditional Abruzzese cuising”, Pescara (PE)

Watch locals cook some of the oldest traditional Abruzzese dishes in the Museo della Genti d’Abruzzo in a series of demonstrations. Although the cooking shows will be in Italian, it is easy enough to follow the process. At the end, you will taste the dishes made. On April 12 you can learn how to make le scripelle Teramane, crepes Teramo-style that are used in two delicious local dishes: Scrippelle ‘mbusse (crepes in broth) and il Timballo Teramano (lasagna Teramo-style). On April 19 a cookbook writer Gino Promavers will show various recipes for making minestrone soups with local varieties of beans and wild greens.

Price: €26 per demonstration. To see more details and book tickets go here.what to eat in abruzzoFarmers’ Market, April 16, L’Aquila (AQ)

After long waiting and many promises, a covered market in L’Aquila is finally opening its doors. Make a day of it, browse farmers’ produce and then head to the centre for lunch or an ice cream to support local businesses. Stock up on lentils from Santo Stefano, ewe’s milk cheese from Castel Del Monte, beans from Paganica, ancient solina grain flour and other gastronomic treasures from the province of L’Aquila. On the opening day, there will be free degustations at the market!

Address: Via Eusanio Stella, 4, L’Aquila. http://www.mercatocontadinolaquila.it/

beer

Mexican food with craft beer, April 9, Loreto Aprutino (PE)

You don’t often see ethnic food in Abruzzo, so this is a rare occasion organised by the craft brewery Almond’22. However, the Mexican the chili con carne will be made with strictly local ingredients, including a native variety of beans, Tondino del Tavo. Not sure how Mexican it will be, but in any case it will be good, especially washed down with Almond’22 excellent beer.

Address: Contrada Remartello 47/H, Loreto Aprutino

For all wine enthusiasts out there, don’t forget I also run wineries tours all year round in the province of Pescara, during which you taste ten excellent red, white, bubbly and dessert wines, learn about wine making traditions in Abruzzo, visit a 200-year-old wine cellar and gorge on local cheeses and cured meats. For more details click here.

Photos by: Scuola del Gusto, Birreria Almond’22.

 

abruzzo cheese

Cheese with larvae? Yes, please!

Have you tried an Italian cheese with larvae?  When I tried marcetto for the first time in Abruzzo I kept looking for the little white wriggling creatures on my bread. However, to my disappointment, the man who served the food said the maggots are normally removed for aesthetic reasons.

Pecorino marcetto has become one of my favourite cheeses in Abruzzo. It is produced mainly in and around the mountain village of Castel del Monte, in the province of l’Aquila. Made from  sheep milk, it has creamy texture and a strong taste. It is a cheese that by normal standards started going bad because a cheese fly (Piophila casei) deposited its larvae inside a crack that was made specially for it. The little maggots feed on the cheese, breaking down its protein and making the inside of the wheel soft and creamy. When marcetto is ready, it is transferred to a terracotta or glass jar and ready to be enjoyed. It is for real slow food connoisseurs and certainly not for faint-hearted: the smell is penetrating and pungent, the taste is quite spicy and gets stronger after a few days in the fridge. It is normally eaten generously spread on bread. Locals devour it in winter accompanied by oven-baked potatoes. They say it is good for your health and even call a “natural Viagra”!

abruzzo food

You will not find pecorino marcetto in a supermarket, however it is on the menu in some restaurants around Abruzzo. But to get the real deal you should go to to the mountains of Gran Sasso.  It is made there in small amounts and can be bought in Castel del Monte from local producers. You can find two of them in the village on Via S. Donato, 2 and 56. Or simply ask a friendly local where to find marcetto and they will show you a shop or cheese factory.

marcetto cheese abruzzo

There are other similar types of “larvae” cheese in Friuli Venezia Giulia (called “saltarello”), Lombardy (”formai nis”) and Sardinia (”casu marzu”).

I can organise cheese tastings and visits to producers of marcetto in Castel del Monte for small groups. For more details contact me.

Gastronomic events in Abruzzo in March

March is proving to be an exciting month for foodies in Abruzzo. Here is my pick of some exciting delicious events that are happening in the coming weeks.

Citrus market, Rocca San Giovanni, March 13

Did you know that the Trabocchi Coast used to be covered in citrus groves from the 1600s up until a few decades ago? Now there are very few of them remain between Ortona and Fosacessia. A small local association of citrus growers organises a small annual citrus market called “La Vianova delle Arance” in Vallevò, a small district of Rocca San Giovanni where you can find local old varieties of lemons and oranges, citrus jams, lemon liqueurs and other local artisan produce. Please note, if it is raining, the market will be moved to March 20.

Photo by Comune di Rocca San Giovanni

Photo by Comune di Rocca San Giovanni

Panarda, Atri (TE), March 20

Panarda is a tradition that existed a long time ago: an abundant meal, consisting at least 20 dishes, was consumed at a long communal table for many hours. Absolutely not to be missed if you want to taste rare traditional dishes from the province of Teramo that have almost disappeared. Timballo alla Teramano (lasagne made with thin crepes), scripelle ‘mbusse (stuffed crepes in broth), cif e ciaf (less noble bits of fresh pork such as cheeks, bacon, ribs etc. fried with pepper, garlic and herbs), fracchiata (polenta made with a local type of chickpeas and anchovies) and many others, 11 dishes all together.

Starts at 12.30pm. Price €30 per person. Restaurant La Sorgente dei Sapori, Contrada Piane Sant’Andrea, Atri. Booking required. Tel.: 3938712496.tocci

Tocci Oppidum beer dinners, Tocco da Casauria (PE), March 11, 12, 13.

This lovely small artisan brewery will celebrate the national craft beer week with a special menu: everything cooked with their beer, from starters to desserts. Yummmm! I like their beer and the food served is always delicious (they even have a vegetarian option!). On Saturday there will be live music with a band called Spaghetti Rocchenroll.

Tocci Oppidum, via Tiburtina Valeria km 189,8, Tocco da Casauria.

 

 

 

 

Fragrant cakes of San Biagio, the first sign of spring

In Abruzzo they say “Per San Biagio, il Mitrato, il freddo è andato” meaning that for the feast of San Biagio, cold weather is finished and spring is around the corner. Apart from sunshine and birds chirping there is another sure sign of the fast approaching spring: ciambella di San Biagio, small traditional ring-shaped cakes that are baked in Abruzzo this time of year.

The feast of San Biagio (or Saint Blaise) is celebrated on February 3 across Italy. The province of L’Aquila in Abruzzo has always had strong traditions connected to this saint with many chapels, churches and sanctuaries dedicated to him. In Lecce nei Marsi villagers have been bringing their baked ciambelle (“sciambelle” as they are called here) to be blessed in the local church of San Biagio on the day of the feast for many centuries. In old days, the blessed cakes were given to friends and family members as they were believed to protect the throat and cure goitre, the disease that used to be quite common in the province.

ciambella di San Biagio

Nowadays, you can buy ciambella di San Biagio in many bakeries and supermarkets across the region. The recipe has not changed much for centuries and calls for simple ingredients such as flour, butter, milk, yeast, sugar, eggs and anise or fennel seeds. You can see one in English here although I do not agree with their translation of the name “donuts” as ciambelle di San Biagio are harder and not fried but baked.

I love eating my ciambella accompanied with the most delicious dessert wine Moscatello made by Angelucci in Castiglione a Casauria.

If you happen to be in the province of L’Aquila these days, head to the artisan bakery Dolci Aveja in Cavalletto d’Ocre where you can see how the fragrant ciambelle di San Biagio are made. They are delicious straight from the oven!

 

what to do in abruzzo

Gastronomic events in Abruzzo in November

I have been busy visiting olive oil producers and tasting new season oil (a post about my favourite olive oil producers in Abruzzo is coming up in the next few days), so I am publishing my monthly round-up of gastronomic events with a slight delay. November is an exciting month for foodies as it is the time of olive harvest, new wine festivals and roasted chestnuts galore. Here is my pick of the best and most delicious events not to be missed in Abruzzo this month.

Pescara Vecchia Wine Festival, Pescara, November 11-15

On Piazza Garibaldi 16 regional wineries will offer free tastings of 70 wines. Make sure you try Pecorino from Cantina Ciavolich, Montepulciano D.O.P 110 from Cantina Nestore Bosco, Montepulciano DOC from Cantina Emidio Pepe that are among my favourite wines. There will also be stands selling such traditional foods and new season olive oil. Starts at 6pm.

what to do in abruzzo

Frantoi Aperti, San Vincenzo Valle Roveto (AQ), November 15, November 21

The festival takes place over three Saturdays during which you can taste the excellent new season extra virgin olive oil of the Roveto Valley, local pasta dishes, desserts, visit olive oil mills in the area and admire old wine cellars that will open for the event. More details here (in Italian).

Castrum di Vino, Casalbordino (CH), November 14-15

A great opportunity to find typical food from the area around the town of Casalbordino all in one place: pasta n’droccioloni, pasta pannochie e ceci, taralluccio casalese as well as new season wine and olive oil. While gorging on these delicacies you can also enjoy re-enactments of medieval battles in the historic centre of the town.agroalimenta

Agroalimenta Fair, Lanciano (CH), November 27-29

I have been to this trade show several times and every time I taste and learn about some great food artisans based in Abruzzo. Degustations of wine, honey and cheese are organised during the fair, all in Italian but they are easy enough to follow. Free admission on Friday, on Saturday and Sunday €5. For more details go to the Agroalimenta website.

 

 

Gastronomic Events in Abruzzo in October

My dear readers, forgive me the delay posting a monthly round-up of gastronomic events in Abruzzo. I am away in Val D’Aosta, enjoying hikes in the Alps and tasty local food, so have to squeeze work in whenever I get a moment. This month there will be some truly delicious events in the region that you, foodies, will certainly enjoy.

Sapori d’Autunno, Canistro Superiore (Aq), October 18

The “Falvours of the Autumn” is a big event for this ancient village with less than 1000 inhabitants. The festival celebrates the chestnut season as it has played an important role in local economy for centuries. Apart from roasted chestnuts you can gorge on arrosticini, polenta, grilled sausages while listening to folk music. Make sure you fill up a bottle with the local spring water as it is known for its healing qualities.chestnutsLungo Le Antiche Rue, Civitella Roveto (Aq), October 16-18

Another sagra in honour of the local chestnut called Roscetta, or Marrone della Valle Roveto. The old streets (called “rue” on the local dialect) of Civitella will be decorated with chestnuts and lined up with gastronomic stands selling caldarroste e vin brulè (roasted chestnuts with hot young wine), frittelle (traditional fritters) and other seasonal delicacies.

Saffron weekend “Raccogli, Conosci e Degusta”, San Pio delle Camere (Aq), October 24-25

The weekend’s programme includes degustation dinners in local restaurants (scroll down the page to see the menus of the seven participating restaurants) that will serve local dishes with saffron on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, everyone is invited to saffron fields to see the harvest. During the day, there will be tastings, and a small market with local produce.saffron1Truffle Hunting, Roccamontepiano (Ch)

The season of burgundy and white truffles has arrived and I am very excited to offer truffle hunts that you can book via Abruzzo With Gusto. You will be hunting for the precious tubers with a young local family and their three dogs. I will be posting more details shortly, in the meantime, feel free to contact me to book your truffle adventure.

Photos: Anna Lebedeva, ©bykofoto/ Dollar Photo Club