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.
L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy. It comprises about half the landmass of Abruzzo and occupies the western part of the region. The Province of L’Aquila includes the highest mountains of the Apennines (Gran Sasso, Maiella and Velino-Sirente).
The province is 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 the growth of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and computer industries.
The province’s major rivers are the Aterno-Pescara, Sangro, Liri, Salto and the Turano; its major lakes are Lago Scanno and Lago Barrea. It once included the largest lake on the Italian peninsula, Lago Fucino, which was drained in one of the 19th century’s largest engineering projects. The lake basin is today a flourishing agricultural area and an important technological district.
The Romans knew the lake as Fusinus Lacus and founded settlements on its banks. While the lake provided fertile soil and a large quantity of fish, it was known to harbor malaria and, having no natural outflow, repeatedly flooded the surrounding land. The Emperor Claudius attempted to control the lake’s maximum level by digging a 5.6 km (3.5 mi) tunnel through Monte Salviano, requiring 30,000 workers and eleven years of work. They eventually dug 32 wells and 6 tunnels. The lake was drained but with the fall of the Roman Empire the tunnels were obstructed and the water returned to previous levels. Many centuries later, Prince Alessandro Torlonia completed the work of the final draining of Lake Fucino expanding the original project of the emperor Claudius, by turning the Fucino in a fertile plain. In 1977, the tunnels were inaugurated as an archaeological park.
Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s pastoral 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 of rural L’Aquila and begun to reverse its population decline.
Many of the small villages, locked away in the mountains for centuries, have always depended on local products for their cuisine, especially cheeses, pastas and spices. While many of the dishes bear similarities to recipes one might find throughout Italy, the locals usually provide a regional variation. For example, chili pepper and saffron can be found added to many dishes in L’Aquila. The best-known pasta for the area is “chitarra” (guitar) pasta, which derives its musical name not from its shape, but from the wire-stringed instrument on which it is made.
Much of the region’s cuisine revolves around fresh seasonal produce, roasted meats and cured pork. Santo Stefano di Sessanio Lentils are grown exclusively here. Typical Abruzzo main courses are broadly divided according to geography: lamb in the highlands and seafood on the coast.
Another local specialty is soppressata, which is pork salami whose typical flat section is obtained, after the initial curing period, by placing the sausage between two wooden planks or thick metal sheets. A product uniquely native to Abruzzo in Italy is saffron from the Navelli Plane in the Province of L’Aquila. Zafferano–its Italian name–are the dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower and it is the most expensive spice in the world. Why? Because the extraction process is labor-intensive. You can’t harvest the crocus flowers with machinery, only the human hand will do.
Lower costs and a longer shelf life made Pane con le Patate (bread made with potatoes) a staple. By adding potatoes to the bread dough, the leavening agents combined with the potato’s yeasts, yield a type of bread capable of keeping fresh for twice as long as any other type of bread.
Among Abruzzo’s sweet endings, Parrozzo is the most remarkable. In ancient times, Abruzzo peasants made cornmeal bread in the shape of a dome and baked it in a wood-fired oven. They called this “pan rozzo” meaning ‘unrefined bread,’ as opposed to the regular and more expensive white flour bread. At the turn of the 19th century, pastry chef Luigi D’Amico re-invented the recipe, using eggs instead of cornmeal to obtain the golden color, typical of the ancient unrefined bread. He kept the dome shape,\ and topped it with a dark chocolate coating to reproduce the bread’s charred crust.
Involtini di Prosciutto con Arugula e Pecorino
(Prosciutto Rolled with Arugula and Pecorino Cheese)
A local prosciutto from Abruzzo is used and it differs from Parma ham because it is a little more salty.
- 8 to 10 thin slices of prosciutto
- 8 to 10 shavings of pecorino cheese
- 2 bunches of arugula (washed with hard stems removed)
- 1/4 cup (60 ml.) of olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon (strained)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Cured black olives, pits removed
On parchment paper, arrange the prosciutto in a single layer.
Pour the strained lemon juice in a non-reactive bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly. Drop in the arugula, add salt and pepper and toss thoroughly.
Starting at one end of the slice of prosciutto place a small bunch of arugula. Add 1 shaving of cheese. Roll into a roulade, making sure it remains intact.
Continue with the remaining slices of prosciutto. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper to taste. Garnish with the black olives.
Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentils)
- 11/2 cups dry lentils (or canned, drained, and rinsed)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces pancetta (cut in 1/4-inch pieces)
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 pound spaghetti (or egg noodles)
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
In a medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.
Drain and set aside. (If you are using canned lentils, you can add them directly to the frying pan after you sauté the pancetta.)
Using a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until it is al dente.
Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, onions, and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is golden, about 7 minutes.
Combine with the lentils and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta, but reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss the lentils and gradually add water until creamy.
Sprinkle with Parmigiano and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
- 4 cups lean lamb, cut into ½ inch cubes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
Skewer the cubes neatly on well-oiled metal skewers or tiny disposable wooden kebab sticks (pre-soaked briefly in water, so the heat won’t burn the wood).
Marinate the arrosticini in olive oil, salt and pepper. Dribble the skewered meat with lemon juice and roast on the barbecue quickly, 2-3 minutes, turning a couple of times for even cooking.
Serve with slices of oiled bruschetta.
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- A pinch of anise
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Work together the eggs, flour, sugar and olive oil to obtain a firm dough. Add the vanilla and a pinch of anise for the aroma.
Heat the waffle pan thoroughly. Grease it with butter and spoon small dollops of dough onto the waffle pan. Close the waffle pan and cook for 20-30 seconds.
Lift the top and use a fork to work the waffle loose. As you bake the ferratelle, be sure to keep the pan heated and well-greased throughout the baking time. Serve with jam.
Abruzzi is located in the mountains along the Adriatic region of Italy and the cuisine is known for simple but hearty meals. A typical meal prepared in Abruzzi will feature diavolicchio, a combination of olive oil, tomatoes and chili peppers. Chili peppers are used often to spice up recipes, typical for much of Southern Italy. Rosemary, garlic and wine are also used extensively in Abruzzi cooking. Despite being more expensive per gram than truffles or caviar, saffron is used in many recipes and most of Italy’s saffron is produced in Abruzzi.
Abruzz’si cuisine is famous for artichokes and cardoons, legumes and potatoes and they are often enjoyed in soups. Cacio e Uova is a soup made from vegetables and salt pork and sometimes lamb, in a chicken base that relies on grated pecorino and eggs for a thick, creamy texture. Zuppa di cardi combines cardoons, relatives of the artichoke, with tomatoes and salt pork. The tiny mountain lentils are cooked with fresh chestnuts, pork and tomatoes with herbs to make zuppla di lenticchie. The traditional Christmas lunch begins with chicken broth, cardoons, tiny lamb meatballs and raw egg scrambled into the broth or fried chopped organ meats added to the soup just prior to serving.
Abruzzi recipes feature fresh seafood from the Adriatic, such as, Brodetto, a peppered seafood soup. Port cities also prepare fresh fish in a salty vinegar based dressing. Octopus is cooked in tomatoes and hot peppers and called “polpi in purgatorio”. Garlic, peppers and rosemary are used to season an anchovy and monkfish dish, called coda di rospo alla cacciatora. Fish and crayfish also come from inland freshwater ways.
The countryside of Abruzzi is dotted with herds of sheep and goats, making the preferred meats, lamb and kid. These meats are simmered slowly in sauces to serve over platters of polenta or pasta and served family style. Large pieces of spit roasted lamb are frequently eaten in Abruzzi, especially on special occasions. Another lamb dish of the region, agnello alle olive, is slowly cooked in a sealed clay casserole dish along with olives, lemons, hot peppers and oregano.
While beef is not as popular as in other areas of Italy, many households have their own herds of free ranging pigs. This yields meat for curing. Mortadellina, ventricina and salsicce di fegato pazzo are locally made table ready sausages that are enjoyed with bread. Abruzzi recipes such as ‘Ndocca ‘ndocca make use of the ribs and other parts of the pig that might otherwise be wasted, such as skin, ears and feet. This stew is flavored with vinegar, rosemary, bay leaf and peppers. Pork sausage is also enjoyed baked into the savory pizza rustica along with cheese and eggs.
Abruzzi cuisine begins many meals with a pasta course. Maccheroni alla chitarra, or guitar pasta, is a classic Abruzzi dish. This egg dough is cut into the classic quadrangular shape with an instrument resembling an acoustic guitar. This is traditionally served with a lamb and tomato sauce seasoned with tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic and bay leaves. Lasagne Abruzzese layers sheets of pasta with spicy meat and tomato sauce.
Abruzzi cooking often calls for a crepe called scrippelle. These crepes are filled with flavorful ingredients and then used in other dishes. With scrippelle ‘mbusse, the crepes are served in chicken stock with grated pecorino cheese. In timballo di crespe, the crepes are placed in elegant molds with vegetables, cheese and meat and baked.
Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil and Hot Pepper
Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is a traditional recipe from the Abruzzi region of Italy.
Ingredients for 4 people
- 14 oz (400 grams) spaghetti
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 peperoncino ( hot peppers)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water.
A few minutes before draining the pasta, heat 1/4 cup of oil, add the garlic and the peperoncino and cook slowly until the garlic turns golden. Add the sauce to the drained spaghetti, toss well and serve immediately.
Chicken and Peppers Abruzzi-Style
- 3 1/2 lb chicken; cut into 8 pieces
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh hot chili peppers; chopped
- 4 whole cloves garlic; peeled
- 2 teaspoons rosemary leaves; chopped
- 24 cherry tomatoes
- 12 small black olives
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a deep ovenproof skillet with a lid that is large enough to contain all the chicken pieces in one layer without crowding, add oil, garlic and rosemary to the pan – turn the heat to high. Add the chicken and arrange the pieces with the skin side facing down in one layer. When well browned, turn the pieces and brown on the other side. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and chili peppers and transfer the chicken to a large plate, skin side up.
Add the onion and the bell peppers to the skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the olives and cherry tomatoes and, once the tomatoes are hot, pour in the wine and simmer over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin side up. Cover the pan and braise in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Transfer dish to a large warm platter and serve at once with crusty Italian bread.
Timballo di Patate
- 5 pounds potatoes
- 1 pound shredded mozzarella
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese
- Chopped parsley
- Salt, pepper to taste
Cook potatoes whole, in water, peel them. Mash potatoes mixing in mozzarella, eggs, grated cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.
Place mixture in a 12x9x2 inch (or 9 inch round) pan, of which the inside surfaces have been oiled (or buttered) and sprinkled with flour to prevent sticking. Heat at 425 degrees F. in a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes or until the top begins to brown. Serves 12.
Easter Ricotta Tarts with Saffron
During Easter time the Abruzzi people celebrate the holiday with traditional sweets called soffioni or “big puffs”. The name refers to the look these mini tarts get while baking. Their filling is made with fresh ricotta and flavored with citrus zest and saffron. The expensive spice is a local ingredient from the fields around the small town of Navelli. It takes the inner part of 150 flowers (called crocus) to yield 1 gram of dry saffron and the brief harvest occurs once a year, when the flowers bloom around mid October.
For the dough:
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra for the work surface
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium eggs plus 1 egg yolk
For the filling:
- 1 pinch of saffron threads
- 4 medium eggs
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 2 cups of sheep’s milk ricotta or cow’s milk ricotta, well-drained
- Zest of 1 small lemon, finely grated
- Vegetable oil or butter for coating
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Prepare the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, olive oil, eggs plus the egg yolk and salt. Work the dough just until it comes together in a smooth and firm ball. Wrap it with plastic and let rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature while making the filling.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare the filling:
If you have an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, use it to make the filling. Remember to clean the bowl and the beater before beating the egg whites.
In a small bowl, crush the saffron threads with the back of a teaspoon.
Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Beat the yolks in an electric mixer with the sugar until light and pale colored. Add the saffron, ricotta and lemon zest. Continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy. Set aside.
In another bowl or in a clean electric mixer bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until light and fluffy. Gently fold the egg whites into the yolk and ricotta mixture.
Take the dough out of the wrap and roll it on a lightly floured surface into a square, about 1/8 inch thick. Using a fluted pastry cutter (or a knife), slightly trim the edges and then cut the pastry evenly into 12 squares.
Coat a 12 cup muffin baking pan with vegetable oil or butter and lightly dust with flour. Press the pastry squares into the muffin cups, making sure to leave the four corners hanging over the edges. With a spoon divide the ricotta filling among the 12 pastry cups without overfilling and then fold the corners over the center of the filling. They should not seal but remain partially separated from each other.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 320 degrees F and continue baking for another 15 minutes until the tarts are golden.
Let cool at room temperature and then carefully remove the tarts from the muffin pan. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
- The Cuisine of Italy – L’Aquila (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Although L’Aquila is in a captivating setting, it has never been a priority for tourists. It is a traditional and very provincial Italian city between Rome and the Adriatic sea about an hour’s drive east of the capital.
A city rich in history, art and culture. It is built on the same plan and layout as Jerusalem. Both are on a hill, both are located at the same height above sea level and there are many other similarities. When walking around L’Aquila and looking into open doorways, one would discover beautiful hidden renaissance courtyards.
In the Middle Ages L’Aquila was on the road between two extremely powerful trading towns, Naples and Florence. It was famous for its rich fair where sheep, wool, milk, cheese, cattle, leather, cloth, almonds and saffron were traded. Later important noble families from Tuscany came to Abruzzo to take advantage of its produce and so it became the rich hinterland of Tuscany.
The main road connecting south and central Italy, called Via degli Abruzzi, was the safest road between Tuscany and the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily. The only other route was through the Vatican States, where dangerous outlaws populated the roads.
From at least 300 BC the open space on the hill, where the basilica of St. Maria di Collemaggio would be built, was the meeting point for the annual transumanza, the long trek of tens of thousands of sheep and hundreds of shepherds from the hot plains in the south to the high plain of Abruzzo and back. In those days sheep, with their by-products of cheese, milk and wool, were of utmost importance for survival.
The small city was formed in 1254, its citizens drawn from the area’s 99 villages. Each village was required to build their own piazza, church and fountain in the new city. Unfortunately most of these structures were destroyed in a catastrophic earthquake in 1701, but remnants of this unusual history remain.
As one of Italy’s highest towns, L’Aquila isn’t the easiest of places to get to, but those who make the effort will be rewarded with some impressive architecture within the city walls and wild nature just outside.
The sturdy, 16th century castle (known locally as the Forte Spagnolo) is a good place to begin your explorations. Here you can admire the tremendous views across the town with the Appennines making a dramatic backdrop. You can also delve below ground and wander the underground passages that lace the castle’s foundations. The castle itself houses the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo, a bizarre mix of ecclesiastical art and the skeleton of an enormous mammoth. Estimated to be a million years old, it was unearthed just outside the city in 1954. Also, not to be missed is the Casa Museo Signorini Corsi, a beautiful palazzo housing the aristocratic Corsi family’s religious art and period furniture.
Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio: You can’t miss its distinctive pink and white façade and rose windows. The sparse, gothic interior makes for a surprising contrast. This church was built by a hermit, Peter of Morrone, in the 13th century. Through a strange twist of fate, this quiet man was thrust into the limelight, when suddenly elected Pope in 1294. So attached was he to his church in L’Aquila, he risked ruffling feathers by insisting on being crowned here rather than in Rome. Reluctant from the start, he passed a decree allowing Popes to abdicate, and then did so, just 5 months after taking office. His successor imprisoned him and he died soon after. His body was taken back to L’Aquila and is buried in the Basilica.
Other impressive structures in L’Aquila include Fontana delle 99 Cannelle, or the fountain with 99 spouts and corresponding masks as well as the many museums and homes for famous art.
Those wanting to explore the region’s great wildernesses will find L’Aquila a perfect base. A short drive from the town are three spectacular national parks: the Majella National Park; the Gran Sasso National Park and the Abruzzo National Park.
• Skiing is the most common sport, both cross-country and downhill skiing. Campo di Giove, Campo Felice, Campo Imperatore, Ovindoli and Scanno are the most famous ski runs.
• Trekking, jogging, horse riding, bicycling and mountain biking along the valleys and slopes of the countryside are other favored outdoor activities. Experts scour the woods searching for epigeal mushrooms and truffles, that they cook on the spot.
• Open-air celebrations and popular festivals are often organized in the province of L’Quila, typical and folkloristic occasions representing a revival of the old traditions and offering the possibility to taste traditional local products.
In the early morning of April 6, 2009 a 20 second lasting earthquake with magnitude 6.9 (followed later by weaker aftershocks) occurred near the city of L´Aquila, Italy.
More than 45 towns were affected, 308 people killed, 1.600 injured and more then 65.000 inhabitants were forced to leave their homes.
Italy has a long and tragic history of earthquakes. The position between two large continental plates (the European and African) and various micro-plates of the Mediterranean Sea results in highly active seismicity all over the peninsula. While most of the medieval structures in rural areas collapsed or were heavily damaged, in L’Aquila most concern arose from the observation that modern buildings suffered the greatest damage and that the death toll included mostly young people.
The Food of L’Aquila
The unusual local cuisine is one of the highlights of this remote mountainous region. The local diavolicchio chili peppers crop up in many specialties, including agnello diavolo – lamb chops cooked with the chilies and tempered with orange peel, rosemary, and fennel. Maccheroni alla chitarra is more well known – homemade squares of egg pasta with a spicy, meaty tomato sauce.
When it comes to meat, lamb is often prepared using a recipe called Cacio e uova, meaning with pecorino cheese and egg, and the lamb intestines are used to stuff meat roll-ups. Pork is used to prepare ’ndocca ’ndocca, a stew of boiled meat that includes all the parts of the pig, from the snout to the tail.
The fish and seafood recipes tend to rely less on tomato sauce and more on pepperoncino, especially in fish stews.
The area’s unique, regional products include: Cicerchia, or grass-pea, is a regional specialty, as are truffles and saffron from L’Aquila, red garlic from Sulmona and the diavolillo peperoncino that is used to flavor just about every dish. They are also a big producer of extra virgin olive oil. The region has three classified DOP varieties.
Sheep’s milk cheeses dominate dairy production. Caciocavallo and Scamorza are two local favorites that can be found young and aged. Ventricina is a pork sausage that is stuffed into a casing made from pork stomach, rather than intestine. Look for ventricina from Teramo, it is thought to have the best soppressata and mortadelle which is served with a glass of local Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Trebbiano wine.
Make Some L’Aquila Inspired Recipes At Home
Potato Soup with Saffron
- 1 1/4 lb. potatoes
- 6 ounces cannarozzetti – spaghetti cut into small pieces
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- ½ teaspoon saffron
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Boil and peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks and set aside.
Lightly sauté the onion, carrot and celery in olive oil in a deep pot. Add 8 ½ cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and add the pasta.
When the pasta is cooked, stir in the potatoes and saffron
Guitar Pasta Sauce
Maccheroni alla chitarra
A famous fresh-egg-pasta dish from the L’Aquila, in the Abruzzi region of Italy. The ‘guitar’ is a wooden frame strung with innumerable wires close together – for cutting the pasta in thin strips by laying the pasta on the ‘strings’ and passing a roller over it.
For a rough approximation of the original – use any fresh pasta from the refrigerator section of your local store. Remember that fresh pasta cooks very quickly: 3 – 4 minutes on average.
Best with fresh tomatoes.
- 6 oz. pancetta
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 1/2 pounds peeled, diced fresh plum tomatoes, or use a 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- 3 1/2 oz. pecorino and or Parmesan cheese, grated.
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 lb pasta – fresh if possible
Dice the pancetta and sauté in the butter until golden.
Add the cut tomato pieces and chili pepper and cook for a few more minutes, until soft.
Add the salt and black pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta.according to directions
Serve with grated cheese.
Chicken Cacciatore L’Aquila Style
Pollo alla cacciatora in bianco
Serves 4 – 6
Notice tomatoes are not used.
- 1- 3 pound organic chicken – cut into 10 pieces, two legs, two thighs, two wings and 2 breasts, cut in half
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium large onion, sliced
- 3 sprigs of parsley, chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 fresh chili pepper, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth, if you prefer.
Salt and pepper the chicken pieces to taste.
In a skillet with a cover large enough to accommodate the entire chicken, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add as many chicken pieces as will fit in the bottom of the pan without crowding, and brown. As the pieces brown set them aside and continue with the remaining chicken until all pieces are browned.
When all chicken is browned and removed from pan, add the onion, parsley, celery, chili and crushed clove of garlic and saute, stirring, until transparent.
Add the bay leaves, return all the chicken pieces to the pan,
Pour the 1/2 cup of white wine over the chicken and mix the ingredients well; continue on medium heat allowing the wine to evaporate. –
When the liquid in the pan has thickened, add 1/4 cup of water, reduce the heat to low, cover, and 30 – 60 minutes, until the chicken is tender and done (a fork should easily pierce the meat).
- The American in Castel del Monte (brandsandfilms.com)