Abruzzo - Food & Wine
Abruzzo is the heart of Italy, boasting majestic snow-capped mountains and the sparkling blue expanse of the Adriatic Sea. Perhaps the only thing grander than the picturesque scenery would be the tradition-steeped culinary courses particular to each of its provinces. Pasta production houses dating back to the 1800s sprinkled throughout the region yield some of the purest and most decadent pasta around. Extra-virgin olive oil produced in the Teramo hills is considered to be among the best in Italy.
Due to Abruzzo’s somewhat isolated mountainous location, this diamond in the rough was shielded from external culinary influences, keeping the cuisine highly traditional and therefore a novelty of the region.
From fresh meat and seafood fare to handcrafted sugared almond desserts, Abruzzo truly offers a unique dining experience that simply has no comparison.
Abruzzo's antipasti (appetizers) are rich and savory and embody all the best of the region, including mountain and coastal fare. Bruschetta is a lighter bread-based starter that encompasses the flavors of the region’s famous extra-virgin olive oil and the robust flavors of sausage and roasted vegetables. Sagne e fagioli, a bean soup with strips of homemade pasta, is heavily layered with the organic flavors of tomatoes, garlic, oil, and chili pepper.
The region proudly makes several versions of pork-based salami which is often served with a variety of native cheeses, including ricotta, Caciocavallo, and Canestrato di Castel del Monte, which is made from sheep’s milk.
Popular seafood appetizers include dishes derived fresh from the Adriatic Sea. A variety of mussel and stockfish dishes become show stoppers when accented with the finest oils, herbs, spices, and full-bodied roasted vegetables such as tomato, onion, and potato. Cozze ripiene, or stuffed mussels, are a delightful combination of extra-virgin olive oil, parsley, breadcrumbs, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a rich tomato sauce.
While the appetizers admittedly sound amazing with hearty, natural flavors, diners will want to pace themselves so they can enjoy the delicious subsequent courses.
The most iconic first courses in Abruzzo are hands down pasta-based. One traditional pasta is called Maccheroni alla chitarra, which is made by rolling egg dough through a wooden frame with wires that resembles a guitar. This decadent traditional pasta can be served with a variety of meat-based sauces featuring lamb, pork, or goose.
The Teramo area serves Le Virtù, known as The Virtues, a soup typically served on May 1 that features various types of pasta served with fresh vegetables and legumes. Each local family has its own recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation and no two are alike!
Another delicious first course is known as Scrippelle ‘Mbusse, or crepes in broth. The dish consists of savory crepes that are filled with local Pecorino cheese and served in a rich, homemade broth. This winning combination is a traditional recipe from the Teramo territory.
Possibly the most popular second course in Abruzzo is called Arrosticini. The dish showcases rich cubes of lamb that are served on skewers. These skewers are cooked on special narrow grills called fornacelle at restaurants or roadside eateries. Often considered to be a street food, locals usually shun silverware for this treat and enjoy arrosticini straight off the skewer.
Fish broth variations, pickled fried fish, and soups are also popular second courses specific to the region. Brodetto alla Vastese is a dish renowned among locals that consists of broth with the freshest assorted fish, tomatoes, garlic, bell pepper, parsley, and salt.
Don’t let the simple nature of these dishes fool you. The secret to the popularity of these second courses is using the freshest of ingredients and pairing them with the purest offerings of Mother Nature.
While gelato is a perfect food to enjoy on the go, Abruzzo has many more offerings when it comes to street food. In fact, Porchetta is a favorite in the region. This dish features slow cooked pork that is seasoned to perfection with fresh herbs and served either on bread as a sandwich, or on its own.
For a sweet treat, try Italy's version of a doughnut. Found throughout Italy, these delicious doughnuts called bomboloni are typically filled with custard, marmalade, or chocolate. The locals in Abruzzo call them bombe (bombs) and they are certainly a must-try!
By and large, most of the sweet treats of Abruzzo are almond-based and often have a hint of honey.
Perhaps one of the most colorful and aesthetically beautiful almond desserts is Italian Confetti, a traditional offering of the city of Sulmona. Almonds are peeled and coated in sugar and come in virtually every color of the rainbow. While this dessert can be served loose in a bowl, both the eyes and taste buds delight at confetti that is fashioned into gorgeous, bright flower bouquets and other aesthetically pleasing designs. After originating in Sulmona, confetti have now been adopted throughout Italy and are always present during special celebrations, such as weddings.
Another favorite in the Abruzzo region is torrone, or nougat, which is typically enjoyed around Christmastime. Torrone can be found throughout Italy with each area offering its own combination of flavors and textures. Some parts of Abruzzo are known for a chocolate version of torrone that has a soft texture.
Pastries are a given in this part of Italy. Rustic pastries called Bocconotti can be found in a variety of flavors throughout several regions of southern Italy including Abruzzo, Apulia, and Calabria. Bocconotti from Abruzzo usually feature almonds, cocoa powder, and/or cinnamon. Cicerchiata, found in Abruzzo and other parts of Italy, is a traditional Christmas treat that consists of very small balls of fried pastry drizzled with accents of honey and served as an oval-shaped cake.
A more unassuming dessert category that is often underestimated is that of cookies. Pizzelle, also known as Ferratelle in other parts of Italy, are light, wafer-thin cookies with a snowflake shape and an anise flavor. Pizzelle can be served plain or sandwiched with various fillings featuring honey and almonds. Commonly enjoyed during Christmas and Easter as well as weddings, the only danger with this dessert is that the light taste has you going back for seconds and thirds.
For travelers heading to Teramo, one local dish to try is called ravioli dolci or sweet ravioli. Prepared in a similar fashion to their savory counterparts, ravioli dolci usually feature a sweet ricotta filling with lemon zest and marjoram. The ravioli are served in a light tomato sauce or topped with cinnamon and sugar. This unique combination of sweet and savory is typically served during Carnevale.
No meal in Abruzzo is complete unless it is paired with the perfect wine. With organic wineries found across the region but particularly in Chieti and Teramo, it isn’t hard to see why Abruzzo wine is recognized both nationally and internationally and is the perfect complement to any dish.
One of Abruzzo’s most famous wines is Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, which is named as such because it is produced with the Montepulciano grape. Though this wine is made in all four of Abruzzo's provinces, the majority of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is produced in the province of Chieti. This medium-bodied red wine is divine with meats and roasted winter vegetable dishes.
Trebbiano and Sangiovese are also popular wine varieties found in the region. Trebbiano white wine pairs fabulously with seafood fare, pastas, and risottos. Sangiovese is a dry red wine that pairs splendidly with hard cheeses, rich meats, and cured sausages.
Abruzzo Ratafia is a liqueur made with cherries and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wine, making it a fabulous choice to pair with cookies or any dessert on the menu.