Cupello Artichokes from Abruzzo

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 1950s.

artichokes from abruzzo

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.

artichokes from abruzzo

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.

Photos by Carciofodicupello.it

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.
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 a 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

Traditionally, ventricina was never cut but broken into chunks. It was kept for special occasions, such as a grape harvest, 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 of hot pizza bianca (focaccia-style bread 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 a walking tour of the city.

Join my food tours to taste ventricina alla vastese and other traditional cured meats.

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

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).

Want to know more about traditional food in Abruzzo? Sign up to my food tours or book a foodie weekend.

abruzzo christmas soup

Christmas thistle soup

Christmas festivities in Abruzzo mean gargantuan feasts. However, there are some dishes that are meant to give you a break from the heavy meals. Thistle, or cardoon soup (zuppa di cardo) is one of them, 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.

Several Italian regions have a version of this soup. In Molise, it is made with in a capon broth. In Piedmont butter is added and in Apulia – tomatoes.

If you are wondering what cardoon is imagine a thistle-like plant with impressive large leaves that remind of an artichoke but with smaller flower buds. It is the stems that are cleaned, chopped and cooked in soups and pies. Small green grocers’ as well as bigger supermarkets sell pre-packed chopped cardoon. Although the real Italian mammas prefer buying fresh bunches of leaves and cleaning them at home. Many families add a personal touch to the recipe: the soup is served with toasted croutons, a sprinkle or nutmeg, squeeze of lemon juice or slices of omelette (frittata). Here is the basic recipe of Christmas thistle soup from Abruzzo most commonly.

traditional soup abruzzo

Ingredients:

500g cleaned and chopped cardoon

200g veal mince

2 egg

2 garlic cloves finely chopped

50g breadcrumbs

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped parsley

2 tbsp grated parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Put the cardoon in a pot with 2 litres of water and bring it to boil. In the meantime thoroughly mix the veal with one egg and breadcrumbs, make small meatballs (about 1cm in diameter). Brown them in a frying pan in olive oil, add garlic. Put the meatballs and garlic in the soup and cook for 30-35 minutes. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl, slowly pour it into the pot while swirling the soup with a spoon to get small strands of egg. Cook it for another minute. Cool it slightly. Season and serve with parsley, parmesan and olive oil.

If you prefer the cardoon to be soft rather than slightly crunchy, add 15 minutes to cooking time.

Buon appetito e Buon Natale!

 

 

Fiadoni abruzzesi recipe

The recipe for fiadoni from Abruzzo originally came 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 endless delight, fiadoni can be found in many bakeries throughout the year. Here is an easy fiadoni abruzzesi recipe.

Makes 20

Dough

300g plain flour

3 eggs, lightly beaten + 1 egg for brushing

100ml olive oil

100ml dry white wine (Trebbiano or Pecorino if you want to keep the recipe 100% Abruzzese)

splash of milk

 Filling

175g pecorino cheese (pecorino from Abruzzo and pecorino Romano are both good), grated

150g parmesan or rigatino cheese, grated

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4g instant dried yeast (optional)

a pinch of black pepper

fiadoni recipe Whisk two of the eggs with the oil and wine. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the egg mixture. Bring the mixture together using a fork or spoon, then knead the dough with your hands for two minutes until smooth. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

 

To make the filling, combine the cheeses, eggs, yeast and black pepper in a bowl. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Divide the dough into two-three parts and roll it into sheets 2mm thick working one piece at a time. Cut out circles about 10cm in diameter (you can use a cookie cutter). Make sure the individual circles do not bounce back, if they do, roll them again. Place one tablespoon of filling in each circle, then fold over and pinch the dough with your fingers to seal, so they look like large ravioli. Whisk the remaining egg with the milk and lightly brush the fiadoni. Make a small incision in the top to let the cheese filling ooze out in the oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until pale golden on top. Fiadoni are best eaten when warm, but will keep in a paper bag or airtight container for several days.

 

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).

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.

ciambella san biagio

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.

Photo by Dolci Aveja

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.

Nowadays, you can buy a ciambella di San Biagio in many bakeries and supermarkets across the region. While in the old days the cakes were made with lard, today it has been replaced with butter. The rest of ingiredients haven’t changed for centuries: flour, milk, yeast, sugar, eggs and anise or fennel seeds. You can see one in English here with a variation from L’Aquila where these cakes are richer and have candied cherries and raisins in them. Dolci Aveja bakery makes delicious ciambelle di San Biagio, so if you happen to be near L’Aquila make sure to buy a few there.

I love my ciambella washed down with the most delicious dessert wine – Moscatello from Castiglione a Casauria. On the photo you see a bottle from the Angelucci winery, which has been sold since and now is called Secolo IX.

ciambella di San Biagio