Even if you have never been to Abruzzo, chances are you have tasted Abruzzese food. If you’ve ever made spaghetti from a package of De Cecco or Del Verde pasta, or an artisan brand such as Rustichella d’Abruzzo or Cocco, you’ve enjoyed one of the region’s most famous staples.
Dried pasta from Abruzzo, most of which is produced in the countryside outside of Chieti, is considered to be the best in Italy (it’s something in the water, so I’ve been told).
But dried pasta is just the beginning of what this spectacular region, which stretches from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic coast, has to offer in the way of culinary delizie. Abruzzo’s landscape is majestic, rustic and diverse, ranging from rugged mountains and lonely high plains to soft green hills planted with grape vines and olive trees that roll out towards the sea. The cuisine is a reflection of this varied topography.
Traditional meals in the mountains are hearty—nourishing soups of legumes and vegetables, sturdy pastas sauced with rich meat ragùs, and grilled and roasted lamb, mutton and pork.
Coastal cuisine, meanwhile, is a feast of fresh Adriatic fish and seafood served in brodetto, tossed with pasta, seared on the grill or flash-fried. And of course, good Abruzzese food must be accompanied by good Abruzzese wine—Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (red), Cerasuolo (rosé) and Pecorino (white).
I grew up eating my mother’s cucina Abruzzese. She was born and raised in Chieti, and it is from her that I inherited my love for this region and its food. Readers of my cookbooks know that I always include recipes from Abruzzo in my work, and that one of my missions as a cook and a writer is to shine a light on the food of this underappreciated part of Italy.
To that end, I’ve teamed up with the folks at Abruzzo Presto, a boutique tour company that shares my passion for this region. We’ve designed custom culinary tours of Abruzzo that take you to from the mountains to the sea, and that includes wine tastings and hands-on cooking classes with me. You can find out more about the tours (September 2014, July 2015 and September 2015) on my website.
In the mean time, I’d like to share five of my favorite foods from Abruzzo, including a recipe for one of them.
5 Favorite Foods from Abruzzo
1. Arrosticini: The best way to enjoy these grilled skewers of mutton is at an open picnic spot at Campo Imperatore, the high plain in the shadow of the Corno Grande—the the highest peak of the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountain range.
2. Brodetto alla Vastese: The picturesque coastal city of Vasto, on the southern coast of Abruzzo, is famous for this fish and seafood stew featuring scorpion fish, cod, clams, mussels, shrimp and more cooked in a savory tomato broth.
3. Maccheroni alla Chitarra: Fresh egg noodles made with semolina are cut on a special wooden instrument strung with thin wires known as a chitarra or “guitar.” The chitarra produces sturdy square-cut noodles that take well to meat sauces such as lamb or mixed meat ragù.
4. Porchetta: To really enjoy porchetta—whole, spit-roasted pig—you have to buy it off the porchetta truck. These trucks can be found at farmers’ markets, in piazzas, and even at gas stations in the mountains and hills of Abruzzo.
You can buy a panino to enjoy on the spot or you can purchase your porchetta by the etto to take home for later. The best porchetta is said to come from Colledara, in the province of Teramo.
5. Scrippelle ‘mbusse: This gentle soup has gotten countless Abruzzesi through the region’s harsh winters. Egg crepes are sprinkled with aged pecorino cheese and rolled up, cigar-style. The crepes are served in soup plates with hot homemade broth ladled over them. (Note: Recipe included below)
Recipe: Scrippelle ‘Mbusse | Crespelle in Brodo (Crepes in Broth)
Winters in the remote villages of Abruzzo can be bitterly cold and this gentle, nourishing soup is perfect for warming both the body and the spirit. Homemade chicken broth or meat broth is essential for this soup. Use your favorite recipe, or try this one, a recipe from my book The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy (Chronicle Books, 2006).
Makes 6 first-course servings
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
8 to 9 cups homemade brodo di carne or brodo di pollo (meat broth or chicken broth)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Place the flour in a medium bowl. Pour in the eggs and whisk vigorously to combine. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking all the while to avoid lumps. Add the parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg and whisk to combine. Cover the batter with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer over medium-low heat.
Cook the crepes while the broth is heating: Set a 9-inch (23-cm) well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium heat and melt just enough butter to film the bottom. When the pan is hot, pour in 1/4 cup (60 ml) of batter and quickly swirl it around so that it coats the entire bottom of the pan, forming a thin pancake. Cook for 30 to 45 seconds, or until just set.
With a small spatula, carefully flip the crepe and cook for 20 to 30 seconds longer. Transfer the crepe to a plate. Continue making crepes, filming the bottom of the pan with butter as necessary, until you have used all the batter. Stack the crepes on the plate as you go. You should end up with 12 crepes.
Have ready 6 shallow rimmed soup bowls. Lay a crepe on a clean work surface and sprinkle a little pecorino cheese—2 to 3 tablespoons—in the center. Roll up the crepe, cigar-style, and lay it seam-side down in a shallow rimmed soup bowl. Fill and roll a second crepe and lay it next to the first. Fill and roll the rest of the crepes, arranging 2 per bowl.
Ladle the hot broth over the crepes and sprinkle each serving with a little pecorino cheese. Serve hot.
Have you been to Abruzzo? What are you favorite foods from this region?
Author’s Bio: Domenica Marchetti is the author, most recently, of The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. Her sixth book, Ciao Biscotti, will be published in 2015. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @domenicacooks, and on Tumbler @Abruzzo365 and @domenicacooks.