A Little-Known Wonder: Tortarello Abruzzese

The first time I saw tortarello abruzzese (“la turtarelle” in local dialect) at a local market a few years ago I could not understand whether it was a skinny courgette or an anaemic cucumber. The old lady who was selling it said that it was “tortarello” and it was “molto buono” in a salad. I bought four of them and got hooked since then.

Yard-long cucumber, or snake cucumber is a long (45-80cm) pale green vegetable from the gourd family, a little-known relative of cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkin. Cultivated mainly in the province of Chieti, around Vasto and the valley of the Trigno river. It has a slightly more dense flesh and a sweeter taste than cucumbers. I tried to grow tortarello in my vegetable garden unsuccessfully: it needs a lot of space to spread its long branches and I try to cram too many things on the tiny patch of land that I have.tortarello1Every year, in June, I impatiently check the small green grocer’s nearby and farmer’s markets to see whether they have the delicious weird looking veg. There are never too many to choose from and the price is higher than that of your ordinary prosaic cucumber or courgette but it is worth every cent! Farmers grow tortarello abruzzese in very small quantities and it is somewhat of an endangered vegetable at risk of extinction. I have met people who have lived in Abruzzo all their lives and never seen or tasted this wonderful cucumber.

There are similar varieties of the yard-long cucumber in that grow in Molise, Apulia and Sicily.

I love eating tortarello, just like locals, peeled and chopped in salads with tomatoes, onions, a few oregano leaves and dressed with olive oil.

Featured image by Orticolando.it