Little birds of Sant’Antonio Abate

On January 17, Abruzzo celebrates the ancient rites of Sant’Antonio Abate (not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua). The protector of domestic animals, the saint is always depicted with a long white beard and a pig beside him. Like many other festivals in Abruzzo, this one has pagan roots. Around this time of year, pigs are slaughtered, so small mountain towns and villages organise big feasts, local kids dress up to enact episodes from the saint’s life and his battles with the Devil.

In the Province of Teramo, the traditional of baking li cillitte di Sand’Andonie, soft biscuits filled with grape jam, has been kept alive for centuries. In the past, they were handed out to the sandandonijre, groups of kids and adults, going around houses singing songs dedicated to the saint and collecting tasty goodies in return (very like the modern trick-and-treating at Halloween!).

photo by Massimiliano Della Quercia Peracchia/Facebook

The shape of the birds varies but some nonnas create real masterpieces! If you don’t have any friends among locals in the Teramo Province, who could treat you to these delicious dessert, head to the Cioccolateria Centini in (Via V. Veneto, 26, Teramo). They always make fresh uccelletti this time of year.

photo by Cioccolateria Centini /Facebook

Want to try these and other traditional desserts next time you are in Abruzzo? Join me for a food tour!

The uccelletti are quite easy to make at home. Here is the recipe:


For the dough:

1 kg white flour
3 eggs
250 ml olive oil
250 ml white wine
200 gr sugar
orange zest

For the filling:

400 gr grape jam (scrucchiata)

200 gr chopped and toasted almonds
50 gr bitter cacao powder

A splash of strong brewed coffee

A pinch of cinnamon


Mix the flour, eggs, sugar, orange peel, oil and white wine until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime make the filling. Blend the sugar with the cocoa, cinnamon and almonds, add the grape jam little by little. Add the coffee to the mix and set aside.

Roll out the dough thin using a rolling pin and cut into small squares. Spoon out a small amount of filling on each square and fold it diagonally in half. Roll the free edges to make the bird’s head on one side and the tail on the other. You can get as creative as you wish here and use scissors to make the beaks and plumage.

photo by Anna Monticelli/Facebook

Bake for 20-25 minutes at 180C until golden.

Eat accompanied by Abruzzese songs and dances!

photo by Anna Monticelli/Facebook

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


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

150g sugar

150ml EVOO

500g solina flour

Pinch of salt

Few pinches of fennel seeds


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!


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 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 abruzzoYou can find a recipe for parrozzo on the lovely Adri Barr Crocetti’s blog and recipe for torcinelli here (in Italian).

The Best Among The Best: Sfogliatella di Lama dei Peligni

On a grey wet afternoon, I arrived to Lama dei Peligni on a mission: to taste one of famous Abruzzo desserts the authentic local sfogliatella di Lama dei Peligni, or “sfuiatell” in the local dialect. There are many imitations of this delicious pastry in Abruzzo, but to find the real deal you have to go to the village.

abruzzo dessertsTraditionally, sfogliatelle, shell-shaped pastries filled with cream, came from Napoli. However, at the end of the 19th century Donna Anna Guglielmo-Tabassi, the baroness of Lama dei Peligni, decided to adapt the famous pastry using only the ingredients from the area with spectacular results. However, the recipe was kept secret for a long time and only about 50 years ago it became public. I love the delicate crunchy shell of the pastry and the rich filling made with grape jam, amarena cherries, grape must, walnuts and cacao. It is not a treat for vegetarians, though, as before baking the dough is often smothered generously in lard. It gives the pastry a beautiful golden colour and, I reckon, makes it more addictive. Eating one just never seems enough!

lama-dei-peligniEvery year the village organises a sfogliatella di Lama dei Peligni competition among the locals where the best among the best (“La più buona fra le buone”, as the festival’s posters declare) pastries is chosen and the winner gets a trophy, a silver sfogliatella.

There are a few bars, cafés and pasticcerie in the village and each of them makes their own version of the sfogliatella. I tried one in the bar Diamonds near the central piazza. It was generously dusted with icing sugar, tasty but sweeter than I expected. Then I bought another sfogliatella (one is never enough!) from a swanky pasticceria I Segreti di Donna Anna and it was perfect: crispy layered pastry, a delicious filling with a slightly sour note of the amarena cherries. Exactly the way I wanted it!

lama-dei-peligniRain didn’t stop the locals from celebrating the festival of sfogliatella: benches were lined up in the piazza, folk music was playing and a few men, well into their 80s, whirled a few young ladies around.

lama-dei-peligni4Where to buy sfogliatella di Lama dei Peligni:

I Segreti di Donna Anna, Via della Resistenza, 6

Pasticceria di Emilia Pasquale, Via Frentana, 120

Sweet Birds From The Province of Chieti

The other day I bought some celli pieni, soft biscuits filled with rustic grape jam called “scrucchjata”, cocoa, lemon zest and almond. Their name derives from “uccelli ripieni” (“stuffed birds”) and in old days the biscuits were shaped as birds. Traditionally they were made for Christmas but nowadays you can find them in small traditional bakeries in the province of Chieti.

abruzzo dessert

Until recently celli pieni were also made for young women who were getting married and leaving their family homes as symbols of fertility. Today it is hard to find them in elaborate bird shapes, more often they look like simple fat rings but they still taste delicious. The dough is very simple, with just a few ingredients: flour, sugar, olive oil and white wine. Here you will find a good recipe (in Italian) if you decide to make these sweet birds at home. If you are visiting Abruzzo, check out these small bakeries where fresh delicious celli pieni are every week:

Alla Chitarra Antica, Via Sulmona, 2, Pescara

Forno Zulli, Via Mazzini, 12, Rocca San Giovanni

L’arte del pane, Via Nazario Sauro, 31, San Vito Chietino

Pasticceria Lidia, Via Paolini, 31, San Vito Chietino