The Province of L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of southern Italy. The outstanding feature of the Abruzzo region, one that distinguishes it from Tuscany, is its three national parks and 30 nature reserves. It is why the area is known as the “green heart of Italy”. However, the province has been badly affected over the years by earthquakes, particularly the capital city of L’Aquila and its surrounding areas.
The province is also known for its many castles, fortresses and medieval hill towns. The province’s two major cities, L’Aquila and Avezzano, have had rapid economic expansion since the late 20th century, with growth in the areas of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and the computer industry.
Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s agricultural economy, as people moved to cities for work. Since the founding of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga and Majella national parks and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, tourists have been attracted to the mountainous landscapes. Tourism and associated services have boosted the economy and begun to reverse its decline.
The province of L’Aquila is dotted with ruins of ancient pagan temples and Roman settlements. A well-known city landmark (below) is the Fontana Luminosa (“Luminous Fountain”), a sculpture of two women bearing large jars, that was built in the 1930s.
L’Aquila is a good base for skiing in the Apennines. The two most popular resorts are Campo Felice and Campo Imperator. Both resorts offer routes for downhill skiing, as well as for cross country. Ski season usually lasts from December to April.
The Province of L’Aquila often organizes open-air celebrations and folk festivals that recall the old traditions and offer the chance to taste traditional local products. Abruzzi’s cuisine is rich in local specialties, such as red garlic, sugar-coated almonds, goat cheese, lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, mortadella from Campotosto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines.
The famous “Maccheroni all chitarra” is amongst the best known in the Abruzzi cuisine. The pasta dough, made of eggs and durum wheat, is cut into strips using a “chitarra” (translated literally as “guitar”). This equipment is made up of a wooden frame, strung with parallel steel strands, and by pushing the sheets of pasta dough through with a rolling-pin, the characteristic shape of chitarra is obtained. Chitarra is served with various Abruzzo sauces that include: pork, goose or lamb ragout.
Abruzzo side dishes include, “sagne e faggioli”, bean soup with traditional thin pasta noodles made from flour and water, flavored with a thin sauce made from fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and spicy peppers. Other well-known Abruzzo dishes, include “gnocchi carrati”, flavored with bacon, egg and ewes-milk cheese. “Scripelli” crepes are served in a soup or used to form a soufflé dish and are served with a little ragout or stuffed with chicken liver, meat balls, hard-boiled eggs or a fresh ewe’s-milk cheese.
Ravioli can also be stuffed with sugar and cinnamon and served with a thick pork ragout. The “Pastuccia” is a stew of polenta that is served with sausage, egg and grated ewe’s-milk cheese and “pappicci” are thin pasta noodles in a tomato sauce.
Roast lamb has several variations, such as “arrosticini”, thin wooden skewers with pieces of lamb, cooked over an open fire and often served with bruschetta – which is roasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil. Pecora al cotturo is lamb stuffed with herbs and cooked in a copper pot and “agnello cacio e oro” is a rustic fricassee.
Pizzas, from the Easter Pizza, above, (a cake with cheese and pepper) to “fiadoni” that is often enriched by a casing of pastry and filled with everything imaginable: eggs, fresh cheeses, ricotta and vegetables with all the flavorings and spices that the mind can only imagine.
The spreadable sausage from Teramano flavored with nutmeg, liver sausage from the mountains, ewe’s-milk cheeses and mozzarella cheese are all local favorites.
Traditional homemade desserts include “Ferrarelle”, aniseed wafers, “cicerchiata”, balls of fried dough joined into ring shapes with heated honey, “croccante” a type of nougat made with almonds and caramelized sugar, flavored with lemon, “mostaccioli” biscuits sweetened with cooked must; “pepatelli” biscuits of ground almonds and honey; macarons and the airy “Sise delle monache”, triangular pieces of sponge cake filled with confectioners cream; almonds and chocolate.
Prosciutto and Fichi
The prosciutto from near L’Aquila is a bit saltier and less sweet than the prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele.
Slices of prosciutto crudo
Fresh, ripe figs
Large basil leaves
Slice the figs in half (if they are the smaller ones or in quarters if they are the larger variety). Wrap the ham and basil around the figs. Arrange on a serving platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar..
Swiss Chard with Borlotti Beans (Verdure con Fagioli)
2 cups dried borlotti or cranberry beans, soaked overnight and drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
7 lbs Swiss chard, trimmed, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon. crushed red chili flakes
12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
3 carrots, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
2 cups chicken stock
Boil beans and 6 cups water in a 6-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Drain beans; set aside.
Fill a saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the chard and cook until wilted and the stems are tender, 4–6 minutes; drain and squeeze dry.
Add 1⁄4 cup oil and the chili flakes to the same saucepan and heat over medium. Cook garlic, celery, carrots and onion until golden, 8–10 minutes.
Add the reserved beans and chard, the stock, salt and pepper and simmer until the stock is slightly reduced, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with the remaining oil.
Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style meat sauce)
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1/2 lb boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds chopped canned tomatoes, with their juices (about 7 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Warm the cooking oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Season the pieces of meat with a little salt and pepper and add them to the pot.
Brown for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the pieces over to brown the other side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pieces to a deep plate or bowl.
Press the tomatoes through a food mill. Discard the solids. Set the tomatoes aside.
Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Stir in the onion and garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is shiny and beginning to soften.
Pour in the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer.
Return the meat to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer.
Cover partially and let the sauce cook, stirring it from time to time, for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thickened.
Add a splash or two of water, if the sauce thickens too much before the meat is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Turn off the heat. Remove the meat from the pot, shred it and return it to the sauce.
Note: The ragu may be stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.
This sauce is traditionally served over pappardelle or chitarra pasta.
Italian waffle cookies, or pizzelle (which literally means small pizzas), are quite popular in the Abruzzo region of Italy. You can add cocoa with the sugar and make a chocolate version, or spread some hazelnut cream on one and top with another.
Makes about 36 pizzelle
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons anise (or other extract)
Preheat the pizzelle maker. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, combine the butter and sugar and mix until smooth. Add the anise and then the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix well.
Lightly spray the pizzelle maker with vegetable oil (unless you have a non-stick version).
Drop the batter by the tablespoon onto the hot pizzelle iron and cook, gauging the timing (usually less than a minute) according to the manufacturer’s instructions or until golden.
Serve with your favorite toppings.