At every traditional festival in Abruzzo, big and small, you’ll see locals enjoying pizza fritta, or fried pizza. It is one of the region’s most popular street foods with kids, youngsters and grown-upsIn the old days, it was eaten plain, with a sprinkle of salt or cooked grape must as a sweet version. Today, pizza fritta is served with arrosticini, topped with roasted peppers, prosciutto or salami.
Pizz’onta is the dialect name for the fried pizza. It means “greasy pizza” because it is fried in generous amounts of olive oil (in the past, animal fat was used and some nonnas still insist it is the best way to make it). Greasy in a hearty satisfying kind of way, it is delicious chomped up hot, right from the frying pan.
Neapolitans love pizza fritta, too, but they stuff it with prosciutto, mozzarella cheese or vegetables and fold. You’ll also find small fried pizzas in across southern Italy that are topped with a smudge of tomato sauce and cheese. In Abruzzo, you’ll find pizz’onta in its pure simplicity, fried dough and nothing else.
Aren’t we all craving comfort foods like pizza fritta right now? Simple and satisfying, they bring memories of childhood, when life was uncomplicated, full of delights and sunshine.
Fried pizza from Abruzzo recipe
700 g di farina
10 g dry yeast
A teaspoon of sugar
A teaspoon of fine sea salt
3 tablespoons of EVOO
Oil for frying (olive or sunflower oil, or, if you are not worried about the calories, use animal lard)
Mix the ingredients and knead them gently. Add ½ glass of
water at a time until the dough is smooth, elastic and easy to handle
(different types of flour need different amounts of water). Cover the dough
with a kitchen towel and let it rest for about two hours until it doubles in
Divide the dough in balls, about 70-80 grams each. Roll each ball evenly but not too thin and pierce with fork in several places, so the pizza doesn’t bubble up when fried.
Heat up the oil and fry the pizza till golden, less than a
minute on each side. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt or sugar and eat them hot.
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It is not just in Venice that locals dress up this time of year. Carnival in Abruzzo is celebrated with parades, colourful floats and traditional costumes. For many centuries, the town of Castiglione Messer Marino in the Chieti province has been keeping the custom of the “Maschera castiglionese” alive. It is a performance that takes place along the streets of this small town.
Men dressed up as Pulcinella Abruzzese (i Pulgenèlle, in local dialect) announce the start of the “Maschera” marching around the town, singing and playing traditional instruments. Locals treat the procession participants and spectators to wine, panini sandwiches, biscuits as they walk around the town.
The most striking feature of the Pulcinella Abruzzese is the elaborate high headgear decorated with bright colourful pompoms and ribbons. It symbolises the connection between earth and heaven, religious power and ward off evil. Pulcinella Abruzzese costume has other symbolic accessories: a magic wand that brings natural order and makes whatever it touches burst in flowers, the boots (a symbol of power as peasants could barely afford even simple shoes), bells to keep evil spirits at bay and symbolise fertility. Anthropologists say that the character of Pulcinella goes many centuries back and had always represented the deceased ancestors.
In the old days, Carnival in Abruzzo meant the awakening after the cold rigid winter and, according to popular believes, the dead ancestors and underground spirits were the guardians of the land’s fertility who helped seeds’ germination.
Although there are some similarities with the Neapolitan commedia
dell’arte character Pulcinella, the Abruzzese one is connected to the archaic Carnival
figures typical for the Central Apennines and has more ancient origins and
Recently, the town of Castiglione Messer Marino has asked UNESCO to recognise the Pulcinella Abruzzese as an intangible cultural heritage.
In the video below you can see a procession of Pulcinelle Abruzzese. Turn the sound up to listen to the beautiful bells attached to the costumes.
A couple of years ago I went to wander around the tiny village of Castelvecchio Subequo in the Province of L’Aquila. It still keeps the original fortified structure that historians date back to Roman times, when the ancient settlement Superaequm, one of the most important centres of the Peligni people, stood here. Despite its small size, Castelvecchio Subequo thrived for centuries as a centre of saffron cultivation and a religious hub with a school of Theology and Philosophy established in the Convent of San Francesco in the 14th century.
The village still boasts architectural gems from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque period: majestic churches, noble palaces, an ornate 17th-century fountain, impressive ancient doors, a crumbling glorious castle.
On a small street running from the main square with the magnificent Convent of San Francesco, through an open door, I saw two women piling up delicious-looking buns in baskets. As it turned out, it was a local bakery and the ladies were preparing for the feast of Sant’Agata. The village celebrates it twice a year, February 4-5 and August 20. The legend of Saint Agatha, or Agatha of Sicily, tells a story of a beautiful young woman, who chose to remain celibate and give herself to God and a life of prayer. Despite her vows, some high-ranking men kept making advances but were consistently spurned by Agatha. Enraged by her strong faith, one of them subjected the devote young woman to unimaginable torture and had her breasts cut off. She was canonized later and till this day the feast of Sant’Agata is celebrated with breads shaped as breasts.
In Castelvecchio Subequo, the local bakery makes sweet and savoury pagnotte di Sant’Agata (buns of Saint Agatha). It fires up the oven during the night to make sure that hundreds of buns are ready for February 4, when the pagnotte are blessed at the celebratory mass and distributed among the villagers to be eaten the day after.
The cult of Saint Agatha is strong in Sicily and many people have tasted minne di Sant’Agata (Saint’Agatha’s breasts), rich luxurious ricotta cakes topped with a cherry. The buns from Abruzzo are more humble and very few people know about them. Here, the traditional recipe calls for solina flour (a local ancient grain, although, today, white wheat flour is often used), yeast, oil, eggs, aniseed and salt or sugar. In the old days, rich families used up to a dozen of eggs to make the pagnotte, while poor families managed without them and added a few boiled mashed potatoes instead. See the recipe here (in Italian).
On February 5, there is a big fair in the village, the first one of the year. For centuries, it was a big affair, with many artisans and farmers selling their goods: golden jewellery, copper cookware, shoes, clothes, sheep, pigs, cows. Nowadays, the market is smaller but still an important event for the villagers.
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!).
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.
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
200 gr chopped and toasted almonds 50 gr bitter cacao powder
A splash of
strong brewed coffee
A pinch of
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Visiting Abruzzo during the Easter holidays? You are in for
a treat! There are so many traditional events taking place all over the region.
Religious celebrations start on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Almost every
village has a procession or re-enactment during the Holy Week. Here is a quick pick of the most interesting Easter
events in Abruzzo.
Giovedi Santo in
Organised by the local confraternity Morte e Orazione di San
Filippo Neri, the procession of Maundy Thursday is solemn and almost hypnotising
with its beautiful music written especially for the event in the 19th
century. The confraternity members dressed in long black tunics carry flame
torches and symbols of the Passion of Christ. The central figure is il Cireneo,
who is chosen by the Prior shortly before the ceremony as a reward for his
dedication and passion for the brotherhood. Il Cireneo, barefoot, carries the
heavy cross in the procession.
The procession starts at the Santa Chiara church at 10pm. You can arrive earlier to see the preparations.
Venerdi Santo in
You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the atmospheric
Good Friday procession in Chieti. The oldest of its kind in Italy, the rite has
been taking place in Chieti every year since the 9th century. Local
confraternities dressed in hooded tunics walk along the streets of the old town
centre carrying various stations of the cross symbols. They are
accompanied by 150-members strong orchestra and choir, who play and sing the Miserere.
The procession begins at 7pm at the San Giusto Cathedral. The choir and orchestra start practicing in the morning. There is a shuttle going to the town centre from the free parking space at Chieti Tricalle.
Venerdi Santo in
On Good Friday, early risers can see the processions of the stations
of the cross symbols, which starts at 5am at the Chiesa del Purgatorio. In the
evening at 8pm, another procession departs from the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle
Grazie. It is lead by a group of 250 women, all in black. In the past, they were
mostly widows, who lost their husbands in sea.
For over six decades the picturesque village of Barrea organises a beautiful theatrical revocation of the Passion of Christ. In different locations of the village various scenes are enacted by locals: the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal by Judas, the crucifixion. It is fascinating to see biblical characters and centurions on the narrow streets of Barrea.
The event starts at 5.30pm. Get there early to find parking and walk around the village.
On Easter Sunday, Sulmona hosts La Madonna Che Scappa in
Piazza, the famous revocation of the moment when Mary sees her risen son. The
statue of Madonna is carried by the Confraternity of S. Maria di Loreto’s
members along the main street. When they arrive to the central Piazza Garibaldi,
at midday, they pull the black mourning cape off the Madonna to release 12
white doves and run towards the statue Christ. The run accompanied by the excited
applause of the people in the square and music. The event starts with a mass at
9am. It attracts thousands of people, so arrive early.
Orsogna hosts the festival of Talami, a biblical scenes
re-enactments, twice a year: on Easter Monday and on Ferragosto (August 15). It
is an old tradition connected with a miracle when Virgin Mary appeared in front
of a few locals in the Middle Age. The town of Orsogna announces the theme for
the scenes and chooses seven best ideas to be re-enacted. Six floats are put on
tractors and one, like in old days, is carried by local men.
This year’s celebration, on April 23, will start at 10am with fireworks and continue with the parade and traditional music. For more details see the event’s website.
Easter Monday Pasquetta
Easter in Abruzzo means big feasts and picnics. On Easter Monday, locals pack picnic baskets and head for parks and picturesque mountain locations to celebrate Pasquetta. Many restaurants offer a Pasquetta menu. The Majella Brewery in Pretoro organises a great picnic on the grounds with live music, street food and their excellent craft beer. Another lively place for Easter Monday is Ristoro Mucciante in Campo Imperatore, where you can buy meat, sausages and arrosticini to grill outdoors.
Featured image by Madonna Che Scappa in Piazza/Facebook
At the end of March, market stalls in the Chieti province start
selling a local variety of a delicious artichoke called Mazzaferrata or
carciofo di Cupello. Locals say it is beautiful like a flower and sweet like a
dessert. This particular variety is green-purple, without sharp thorns and has
generous fleshy hearts.
Wild artichokes growing in the area around Vasto were
mentioned in a travel diary of a Dominican friar visiting Abruzzo in 1575, so
most likely they were already used in local dishes back then. A later document
exists dated back to the 18th century that confirms that artichoke of
Cupello was cultivated by many local families and sold at the market in
Lanciano . However, its cultivation on a commercial scale started only in the
Today, the growers in the area of Cupello, Furci, San Salvo and Vasto sell three million artichokes, fresh, turned into pate or artichoke hearts in oil. Since 1965, in April, the village of Cupello celebrates the harvest with a festival “Sagra del Carciofo di Cupello” attended by thousands of people. Local restaurants and street food stands sell various dishes made with the prized artichoke: grilled, baked, boiled artichokes, omelettes with mint and artichoke, lasagne and even tiramisu with carciofo! The last festival, in 2018, was a record with 8000 people turning up to celebrate the humble thistle and eat over 12,000 artichokes.
This year’s festival takes place on April 25-28. The programme will be published shortly on the event’s website and Facebook page.
How locals eat it:
One of the most popular dishes in Cupello is artichokes
stuffed with a mix of cheese and eggs. In spring, local restaurants also serve a
soup with artichokes and beans. Locals will tell you that they do not throw anything
from the precious artichoke. The leaves discarded when cleaning the delicious
thistle are boiled with lemon juice to make a broth for risotto. You can also
throw them in a juicer, simmer in a frying pan, mix with cooked stems, the
water that you cooked them in and oil. Blitz the mix until it is smooth and you’ll
have a Michelin-star restaurant worthy sauce.
Artichoke hearts are boiled with vinegar and preserved in oil.
Where to find:
Osteria La Volpe & L’Uva, Via XX Settembre, 33, Cupello.
A rather refined osteria, where the owner and chef Marcello
Potente cookes hearty dishes heavily influenced by local traditions with a
modern twist. Here you can taste pasta with an artichoke sauce as well as
delicate baked artichokes, all from local growers.
Pizzeria Ristorante Lo Scarabeo, Corso Mazzini, 3, Cupello
A small simple place where you can taste a number of dishes
with local artichokes (carciofo ripieno, pizza alla cupellese).
Check out this beautiful video to see how carciofo di Cupello is harvested and cooked.
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.
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.
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 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.
Torcinelli abruzzesi is another traditional Christmas treat. Different versions and shapes of this deep-fried dough with boiled potatoes dessert exist across Italy. Torcinelli is 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 torcinelliabruzzesi. Don’t worry if your Italian is not up to scratch, it is easy enough to follow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 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.