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The province of Chieti is a located in the Abruzzo region on the eastern coast of Italy. The province is hilly and mountainous with many valleys that run along the rivers and creeks. The northern part of the province is pretty desolate, while the southern part is dotted with numerous tiny villages.

The province has  quite a history.

It was first settled by the Osci people around 1000 BCE. The area was also lived in by the Greeks, who named it Teate. The province and surrounding areas were conquered by the Romans in 305 BCE, but after the fall of Rome in 476 CE, it became a Lombard fortress. The area had been occupied by the Franks, the Normans, the Swabians, the Angevins and Aragonese rulers until it was taken over by Charles V of France. Later, it was ruled by the House of Bourbon.

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The Caracciolo nobility rebuilt the area of Chieti in Medieval times. Ferrante Caracciolo began teaching his house staff his cooking techniques, a tradition that continued within the noble family’s household for centuries. Many of the well-trained cooks were sent all over Italy and to other countries to work for royalty and heads of state. This training led to the creation of Villa Santa Maria’s culinary and hotel management school. Every year in October the province is host to La Festa dei Cuochi (the Cook’s Festival) in which locals and visitors from the world over gather to celebrate the local cuisine.

During World War II, the area was the place of a battle between German and predominantly British and Canadian forces where over 2,000 civilians died and many of the towns were  destroyed.

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The area is well-known for growing saffron but it has a different flavor from the saffron used in Spain. The first saffron bulbs were brought to Italy in 1400 by a Dominican friar named Santucci,  who brought them from his birthplace in Spain. He successfully planted the bulbs in his monastery garden and the spice was used to flavor sauces and as a curative herb.

During the autumn harvest, the first presses from the olives are often infused with chili. This is known locally as olio santo or holy oil and used on the table during meals. To experience the significance of this spicy ingredient in the region’s cuisine, visit their famous chili festival held in late August in the small town of Filetto in the province of Chieti.

Lamb is the predominate meat in cooking, vegetables are abundant and there are a large variety of herbs and the use of hot pepper called Peperoncino. Seafood dishes include fish stews, fried fish and fish sauces served over pasta, as well as fresh-water fish, mountain trout and river shrimp.

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This is a cheese loving land and they produce a number of cheeses, many of them flavored with the local herbs. Among the most famous cheeses are provolone, both mild and strong, ricotta and pecorino (made with sheep’s milk).

Desserts tend to be simple and include torroncini (a hard candy), pies and cookies often flavored with amaretto, dried figs, cinnamon, chocolate and  pine-nuts.

And not to be forgotten are the fine regional wines, such as the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the whites Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Local liqueurs are also very famous, particularly the Amaro Abruzzese.

Italian Seafood Salad

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Serves 8

Ingredients

Dressing:

  • 2 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons red chili pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Seafood:

  • 1 1/2 lbs calamari rings
  • 1 1/2 lbs small fresh shrimp, peeled
  • 1 1/2 lbs bay (small) scallops
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • 3 lemons

Salad:

  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped yellow and red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • Freshly ground black pepper for garnish

Directions

Combine the dressing ingredients and set aside.

In a large pot combine 10 cups water, the wine, bay leaves and crushed garlic. Cut the 3 lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the shrimp. Cook 2 minutes, then remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon or spider and place in a serving bowl.

Repeat the procedure with the calamari, cook 2 minutes and remove to the bowl with the shrimp.

Repeat the procedure with the scallops, cook 2 minutes and remove the scallops to the bowl with the shrimp and calamari.

Be sure to drain off any water that has collected in the bowl and return the fish to the bowl.

Add the celery and the peppers to the seafood, season with salt and pepper and pour the dressing over the mixture. Mix well, cover the bowl and refrigerate the salad for at least six hours.

Just before serving, toss the salad and add the parsley and basil. Garnish with black pepper and serve with the lemon wedges.

Crepes in Broth (Crespelle-en-brodo)

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Serves 6-8

Ingredients

Broth:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 lb chicken wings
  • 1 lb beef bones
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 large yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 plum tomato, cored and halved

Crepes:

  • 1/4 cup minced parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 eggs
  • Freshly ground black pepper, for serving

Directions

Make the broth:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Working in batches, cook chicken wings and beef bones until browned, 35–40 minutes; transfer to a bowl.

Add the carrots, onions, celery and garlic to pan; cook until golden, 6–8 minutes. Return wings and bones to pan. Add parsley, bay leaf, tomato and 20 cups water; simmer, skimming as needed, for 4 hours.

Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan; keep warm.

Make the crepes:

Whisk the parsley, flour, cheese, oil, nutmeg, eggs and 1 cup water in a bowl until smooth.

Heat an 8″ nonstick skillet over medium-high. Working in batches, pour 2 tablespoons of the batter into the skillet while tilting the skillet to let the batter cover the bottom completely.

Cook until the crepe is golden on the bottom, 1–2 minutes. Turn and cook 1 minute more; transfer to a plate. Roll each crepe into a cigar shape.

To serve:

Divide the rolled crepes among soup bowls and ladle reserved broth over the top; garnish with parsley, Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Lamb Ragu

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This type of sauce is usually served over spaghetti alla chitarra, a regional pasta that is shaped on a tool that resembles a guitar. Since most of us do not have such a tool, bucatini or perciatelli pasta is just fine.

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Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 (15 oz.) can whole peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 2 large red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • 1 lb spaghetti alla chitarra or thick spaghetti
  • Grated Pecorino Romano, for garnish

Directions

Heat oil in a 6-quartt saucepan over medium-high. Cook lamb, stirring and breaking up the meat into small pieces, until browned, 6–8 minutes.

Add bay leaves and garlic; cook until garlic is golden, 2 minutes.

Stir in wine; cook until reduced by half, 2–3 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 35–40 minutes. Stir in peppers; cook until peppers are tender but not falling apart, about 4 minutes. Discard bay leaves.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, 10–12 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to the pan with the sauce. Using tongs, toss the pasta in the sauce. Divide pasta among serving bowls and garnish with pecorino cheese.

Ricotta Fiadoni

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Ingredients

  • 4 whole eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 8 ounces (200 g) fresh ricotta
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup candied fruit
  • Zest of a lemon
  • 2 shots rum
  • 2 tablespoons anise seed
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable shortening
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, plus extra for the topping

Directions

Combine the 4 whole eggs, half the rum, half the anise, vanilla, lemon zest, the 1 tablespoon of sugar, the baking powder, and sufficient flour to make a homogeneous dough.

Combine the egg yolks, remaining rum and anise, raisins and candied fruit in a bowl, stirring well to mix thoroughly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).

Roll out the dough slightly less than 1/4-inch thick and cut out rounds with a round cutter or a glass. Place a tablespoon of filling on each round and fold them over to make half-moons. Seal edges with a fork.

Lightly beat the remaining egg white, brush the half-moons with it, sprinkle with sugar and transfer them to an oiled baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minute until golden brown.

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