The region of Abruzzo is hilly and mountainous and stretches from the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea. In this part of the Adriatic, the long sandy beaches are replaced by steep and rocky coasts. L’Aquila is the regional capital. Pescara, Chieti and Teramo are other important cities.
Abruzzo boasts the title of “Greenest Region in Europe” thanks to one third of its territory, the largest in Europe, being set aside as national parks and protected nature reserves. In the region there are three national parks, one regional park and 38 protected nature reserves. These ensure the survival of 75% of all of Europe’s living species and are also home to some rare species, such as the small wading dotterel, golden eagle, Abruzzo chamois, Apennine wolf and Marsican brown bear. Abruzzo is also home to Calderone, Europe’s southernmost glacier.
The Abruzzo region has two types of climate: the first is strongly influenced by the presence of Abruzzo’s Apennines range. Coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and mild winters, rainy hills and a climate where temperatures progressively decrease with increasing altitude. Precipitation is also strongly affected by the presence of the Apennines mountain ridges with increased rain on the slopes of the mountains in the region.
Until a few decades ago, Abruzzo was a region of poverty in Southern Italy. Since the 1950s, Abruzzo has had steady economic growth. In 1951, the Abruzzo per capita income or GDP was 53% of that of Northern Italy, the nation’s richest region. By 1971, Abruzzo was at 65% and, by 1994, the per capita income was at 76% of Northern Italy’s per capita income, giving Abruzzo the highest per capita GDP of Southern Italy and surpassing the growth of every other region in Italy. The construction of superhighways from Rome to Teramo (A24) and Rome to Pescara (A25) opened Abruzzo to easy access. Abruzzo also attained higher per capita education levels and greater productivity growth than the rest of the South.
The 2009 L’Aquila earthquake led to a sharp economic slowdown. However, according to statistics at the end of 2010, it seems that the economy of Abruzzo is recovering, despite the negative data regarding employment. At the end of 2010, Abruzzo’s growth was placed fourth among the Italian regions with the highest annual growth rates after Lazio, Lombardy and Calabria.
Abruzzo’s industrial sector expanded rapidly, especially in mechanical engineering, transportation equipment and telecommunications. Both pure and applied research are carried out in the region where there are major institutes and factories involved in research, especially, in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biomedicine, electronics, aerospace and nuclear physics. The industrial infrastructure is spread throughout the region in industrial zones, the most important of which are Val Pescara, Val Sangro, Val Trigno, Val Vibrata and Conca del Fucino.
A further activity worthy of note is seaside and mountain tourism, which is of considerable importance to the economy of the region. In the past decade, tourism has increased due to Abruzzo’s wealth of castles and medieval towns, especially around L’Aquila. Beach-goers also flock to places like Tortoreto, Giulianova, Silvi Marina, Roseto and, further south, Ortona, Vasto and San Salvo. Ski resorts are equally popular.
Agriculture has succeeded in modernizing and offering higher-quality products. The mostly small, agricultural properties produce wine, cereals, sugar beet, potatoes, olives, vegetables, fruit and dairy products. Traditional products are saffron and liquorice. Most famous in the wine world is Abruzzo’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has earned a reputation as being one of the most widely exported DOC classed wine in Italy.
Abruzzo has a rich culinary tradition, with various traditions attached to each province.
Battered and fried zucchini blooms, spit-roasted scamorza cheese, vinegar-poached lobster, salame di pecora (a rare sheep’s meat salami), crepes loaded with cheese and vegetables in a rich mutton broth, hearty ragus, ricotta cheese drizzled with honey and dusted with saffron powder .… are just a few of the complex and elegant flavors to be found on Abruzzi tables.
Ragus are a generalized term for any type of meat-based sauce. Ragus are heavily associated with the cooking of Southern Italy, as well, and seem to have begun their migration southward from the Abruzzi region.
This is a cheese-loving region and mozzarella and scamorza take center stage on the dairy scene. Both cow’s milk cheeses are young, mild, creamy and sweet with smooth textures and a stringiness that allows them to hold up equally well in baked dishes or on their own as table cheeses.
The maccheroni alla chitarra are highly renowned (homemade pasta cut on a machine with thin steel blades) and scrippelle are thin strips of pasta eaten in soup. On the coast, most first courses are fish-based, often made with tomato to enhance the taste of “poor man’s fish,” that are caught off the shores of ancient fishing villages.
As for second courses, a typical recipe is scapece, which is pickled fried fish. Guazzetto or fish broth is also popular in coastal towns. Other than sea fare, one will find plenty of lamb, kid and mutton on the dinner table, while pork is used for prosciutto, lonza, ventricina and other typical salamis that are produced locally. Abruzzi lamb, in general, is considered superior in flavor to other lamb found elsewhere because of the animals’ mountain-grazed diets rich in herbs.
Among the desserts, often made with almonds and honey, you will find nougat or torrone; confetti (typical sugared almonds) and cicerchiata, small balls of fried dough covered in honey.
Traditional Recipes from Abuzzo
Potato Soup with Saffron
- 1 ¼ lb potatoes
- 10 oz cannarozzi – spaghetti cut into small pieces
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 teaspoon Saffron threads
- 2 ½ oz extra virgin olive oil
- Celery leaves for garnish
Lightly sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil. As soon as the mixture has cooled, add the saffron, mix well and then let rest to dissolve the saffron.
Boil and peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks.
Add 8 ¼ cups of water to the pot containing the saffron mixture and then salt to taste. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, add the potatoes. Heat and serve garnished with celery leaves.
Timballo di Crespelle
This recipe is often served at wedding lunches, where it generally follows the soup course.
For the crespelle (crepes):
- 50g [2 oz] all-purpose flour
- Olive oil, for the pan
- 3 eggs
- 6 tablespoons water
For the filling:
- 125g [4 oz] ground meat
- 100g [3 1/2 oz] spinach
- 75g [2 1/2 oz] mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 20g [1 scant oz] butter
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 artichokes
- 2 tablespoons grated Grana or Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 chicken liver
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
To make the filling.
Mince the chicken liver and combine it with the ground meat.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a saucepan and gently brown the ingredients over moderate heat for 3 minutes. Set aside.
Clean the spinach, blanch in a little salted water for 5 minutes; drain, squeeze out any excess water and lightly cook it with the butter for 4 minutes. Set aside.
Clean and trim the artichokes, discard the tough outer leaves and trim off the tips; cut in half, discard the inner fuzz and slice them. Sprinkle with the parsley and a dash of salt and cook in a saucepan with 3 tablespoons olive oil for 20 minutes, moistening with a little water, if need be. Set aside.
Break the egg into a mixing bowl, add the milk and egg yolk and whisk with a fork. Set aside
To make the crespelle.
Put the flour, eggs and 6 tablespoons water into a mixing bowl and beat with a fork. Take a small frying pan, the bottom should be as wide as the ovenproof dish to be used for the timballo, and heat a little olive oil in it over a moderate to low heat.
Place 2 tablespoons batter into the pan, tilting to make sure it spreads out to cover the bottom; let it set and then flip. When the crespelle is ready, remove it from the pan and continue until all the batter has been used, greasing the pan each time with a little oil.
To assemble the timballo.
Butter an ovenproof dish and lay a crespelle on the bottom.
Make separate layers of sliced mozzarella, meat, spinach and artichokes, separating each with a crepe, adding a sprinkling of Grana cheese each time and a couple of tablespoons of the egg and milk mixture.
Make sure there are at least 2 layers of each ingredient, cover with another crespelle and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and egg-milk mixture.
Place the dish in the oven and bake at 220°C/425°F for 30 minutes.
Penne with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Ragu
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
- 1/2 pound boneless lamb, cut into very fine dice
- Coarse salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juices
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Put the oil and onion in a large skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is pale gold. Add the pancetta and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta fat is rendered; the pancetta should remain soft.
Add the lamb and cook until browned, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add the wine and simmer until evaporated, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer gently, stirring from time to time, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse salt, cover and return to a boil.
Add the pasta to the pot and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon. Cover and bring back to a boil. Uncover and cook the pasta, stirring frequently, until it is al dente.
Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to a warmed bowl. Toss with the lamb sauce and the 1/3 cup of grated cheese. Serve at once, passing additional cheese at the table.
But among Abruzzo’s desserts, 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 eaten at the time only by higher classes. At the turn of the 19th century, pastry chef Luigi D’Amico re-invented that recipe by using eggs instead of cornmeal to obtain the bread’s golden hue. He kept the dome shape and topped it with a dark chocolate coating to reproduce the bread’s charred crust.
- 2 cups 70% dark chocolate
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup sweet almonds
- 10 bitter almonds
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 5 eggs, separated
Blanch almonds in boiling water and peel off the husk, and grind them with 2 tablespoons of sugar in a processor. Work butter with a fork, add the remaining sugar and the egg yolks and whisk well. Fold in the ground almonds and then the flour and cornstarch. Beat the egg whites in a mixer until soft peaks form and then and fold into the almond mixture.
Pour mixture in a buttered Bundt pan or dome-shaped cake mold and bake at 450° F for 45 minutes.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and once the parrozzo has cooled, spread the chocolate sauce over the entire surface. Allow the chocolate to set before cutting.
While strolling through Citta’ Della Pieve, a northern Umbrian town during the Festa dello Zafferano held each fall, you will pass shops with baskets of lilac colored crocus petals and zafferano packets. During this festival, sprays of crocus flowers decorate textile shop windows, toy shop entrances and the Gelaterie which features ice-creams and yogurts made with saffron. In the Piazza Matteotti, a young chef teaches a cooking class with saffron starring in every dish: yellow risotto, saffron bread and a dessert. Just around the corner in the Palazzo della Corgna, you’ll find the embroidery work of the local women, including textiles of yellow hues, dyed with saffron. In the covered market area, you’ll see saffron-dyed candles and even creams and soaps made with saffron.
Saffron, the red-orange stigmas from the center of the fall flowering crocus plant (Crocus sativus), is the world’s most expensive spice. That’s because each flower provides only three stigmas. One ounce of saffron = approximately 14,000 of these tiny saffron threads. The tiny threads of saffron must be handpicked from the flower. The yellow stamens which have no taste are left behind. This spice comes either powdered or in threads.
The ancient Greeks and Romans prized saffron for its use as a perfume. They scattered it about public spaces such as royal halls, courts and amphitheaters. When Emperor Nero entered Rome, they spread saffron along the streets and wealthy Romans made daily use of saffron baths. They also used saffron as mascara, stirred saffron threads into their wines, strewn it in the halls and streets as a potpourri and offered it to their deities. Roman colonists took saffron with them when they settled in southern Gaul, where it was extensively cultivated until the AD 271. Saffron cultivation in Europe declined following the fall of the Roman Empire. For several centuries thereafter, saffron cultivation was rare or non-existent throughout Europe. This was reversed when the Moors came from North Africa to settle most of Spain, as well as parts of France and southern Italy. Two centuries after their conquest of Spain, the Moors planted saffron throughout the southern provinces of Andalucia, Castile, La Mancha and Valencia.
During the Renaissance, Venice stood out as the most important commercial center for saffron. In that period saffron was worth its weight in gold and, even today, it is still the most expensive spice in the world. Unfortunately, its high price led to its adulteration which, in those times, was severely punished. Henry VIII, who cherished the aroma of saffron, condemned adulterers to death.
Saffron grows on the Navelli Plain in the Province of L’Aquila and is considered by many to be a major product of the Italian Abruzzo region. How a flower of Middle Eastern origin found a home in Italy can be attributed to a priest by the name of Santucci, who introduced it to his native home over 450 years ago. Following his return from Spain at the height of the Inquisition, Santucci was convinced that the cultivation of saffron was possible in the plains of Abruzzo. Nevertheless, even today, the harvesting of saffron is difficult work and great skill is needed to handle the stems without damaging the product or allowing contamination from other parts of the plant.
Italian saffron is also produced on family owned farms in Sardara, a town located in the center of Sardinia, Italy. The production of saffron on the island of Sardinia and especially in Sardara has been a tradition for centuries with more than 60% of Italian saffron being produced in this region
An essential ingredient in Risotto Milanese, saffron is also used in many other dishes across Italy. For example, the fish soup found in Marche region, uses saffron for its red coloring in place of the more traditional tomato in the recipe. This coloring property is also widely appreciated in the production of cakes and liqueurs and, for centuries, by painters in the preparation of dyes. Its additional curative powers have long been believed to help digestion, rheumatism and colds.
American saffron or Mexican saffron is actually safflower, a member of the Daisy family and the same plant from which we get safflower oil. Although its dried, edible flowers do yield the characteristic yellow color, it has no flavor and is not suitable as a saffron substitute. Turmeric, also known as Indian saffron, is an honest substitute for saffron, but it is a member of the ginger family. Use turmeric sparingly as a saffron substitute, since its acrid flavor can easily overwhelm the food. Turmeric is also used to stretch powdered saffron by unscrupulous retailers. Unfortunately, there is no truly acceptable substitute for saffron. Its distinctive flavor is a must for classic dishes such as paella, bouillabaisse and risotto. If your recipe calls for saffron, do yourself a favor and use the real thing to fully appreciate the intended result.
Eggs Stuffed with Saffron
A classic Italian appetizer that is often served with olives.
- 6 hard boiled eggs
- ¼ cup bechamel sauce
- 18 strands of saffron
- ground saffron for garnish
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 cup milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- pinch of nutmeg
To make the sauce:
In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden color, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate saucepan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture, a little at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside until ready to use.
To make the stuffed eggs:
Peel the eggs, cut them in half and remove the yolks. Set the white halves aside on a serving platter.
Mash the yolks in a small bowl.
Add the saffron to the bechamel sauce and mix well. Add the mashed yolk and stir until the egg yolks are completely dissolved.
Fill eggs halves with a little of the sauce and garnish with ground saffron.
Italian Seafood Stew
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
- 1 cup no-salt-added diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup clam broth
- 4 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 ounces bay scallops or sea scallops quartered, tough muscle removed
- 6 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, fennel seed, salt, pepper and saffron; cook for 20 seconds.
Stir in tomatoes, clam broth and green beans. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes.
Increase heat to medium, stir in scallops and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes more.
Serve with crusty Italian bread.
Homemade Saffron-Flavored Pasta Dough
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1-1/2 tablespoons hot water
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
Put the crushed saffron threads in a cup. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons hot water and let stand 30 minutes.
Place the saffron water in a food processor with the 3 eggs and puree.
Add remaining ingredients and process until the dough forms a ball.
Cover kneaded dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least ½ hour.
Preparing the dough with a hand crank pasta machine: Divide dough into 3″ x 2″ pieces. Dust the dough lightly with flour on both sides. Start with the first thickness on the machine and gradually crank in steps to the desired thinness.
After the first pass through the machine, fold the dough in half to help develop the gluten. To make good straight edges, fold the ends of the pasta sheet to the center and then rotate it 90º so that the folded edges are on the sides. Place rolled pasta sheets on floured kitchen towels.
After all the pasta sheets are formed, cut the pasta into spaghetti or fettuccine on the pasta machine.
As soon as you cut the pasta, either place on a floured flat surface or hang on a pasta drying rack. Homemade pasta will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, or it can be air dried on your pasta rack and then stored in an airtight container. Fresh pasta can also be frozen in a vacuum bag. Do not keep dried fresh pasta unrefrigerated because it contains eggs in the mixture.
Cooking Hand Made Pasta: Drop the pasta into a large pot of salted boiling water and boil until tender or “al dente” for about two to three minutes. Do not over-cook the pasta. Drain well and serve with your favorite sauce. Saffron flavored pasta is especially good with butter and parmesan cheese. It also makes a delicious side dish to Chicken Marsala.
Chicken Breasts with Saffron Gravy
- 4 chicken breasts, (flattened with a meat pounder)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 shallots, sliced
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- Chives, chopped for garnish
Season chicken with salt, pepper and dredge in flour.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and saute until lightly browned on both sides. Then transfer to another plate; cover with foil to keep warm.
Add butter to the same skillet and heat until its starts to sizzle. Add the shallots and saute for about 5 minutes..
Add the wine to the pan. After a minute, slowly whisk in the cream, blending completely. Add the saffron and simmer for a minute.
Add the chicken back into the pan, lower heat, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is done. Plate chicken, pour sauce over the top and garnish with chopped chives.
Gluten Free Orange Saffron Cake
- 2 whole sweet oranges with thin peels
- 6 large eggs
- 1 large pinch saffron strands
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/4 cups finely ground almonds (almond meal)
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied orange peel
Place the oranges in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours over medium heat. Check occasionally to make sure they stay covered with water. Allow the oranges to cool, then cut them open and remove as much white pith as possible and the seeds. Process in a blender or food processor into a coarse pulp.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (190 degrees C) Thoroughly grease a 10-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar together until thick and pale, at least 10 minutes. Mix in baking powder and saffron. Stir in the pureed oranges.
Gently fold in almond meal and candied orange peel; pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until a small knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Allow the cake to cool in the pan. Tap out onto a serving plate when cool.
- Saffron (onourweightohealth.wordpress.com)
- Cooking With Italian Spices – Fennel Seeds (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)