In Central Italy, nestled between the Apennine Mountains, is the charming mountain city of L’Aquila. A part of the region of Abruzzo, the city is home to authentic mountain Italian food at its finest. After a long day of skiing on the slopes or touring the main piazza, take time to refuel the body and soul with delicious and savory foods typical of the L’Aquila dining experience that will warm you up from the inside out.
Due to its largely landlocked mountain location, the city’s cuisine is highly reflective of the agriculture and livestock that can thrive amidst the sometimes-harsh weather here. It is quite common for the people of L’Aquila to preserve foods throughout the warmer months so they are then easily accessible during the winter. For this reason, many of the city’s dishes feature sheep and lamb as well as homemade pasta and cheeses.
Not every vegetable or legume is made for mountain weather, but L’Aquila has several that grow very well in colder elevations. One of these is the diavolicchio pepper. These peppers are typically red and pack a lot of heat, making them a perfect addition to flavor dishes. A successfully grown local vegetable is the patata turchesa, a type of potato. This spud has a deep purple skin packed with nutrients, grows well at high altitudes, and is used in a number of soups and entrees. Locals also commonly use a locally grown lentil, Lenticchie di Santo Stefano di Sessanio. This lentil is ready to eat without even soaking first, grows well in the cold mountain air, and is used in many traditional dishes such as bean soup.
In keeping with the theme of mountain friendly fare, appetizers often feature homemade bread and an assortment of cured meats and cheeses. Bread is usually served in the form of bruschetta, sometimes with a spread of cheese or scrucchiata, a grape jam made from Montepulciano grapes grown in the region of Abruzzo.
Cured meats tend to be locally made sausages that are liver based, such as Fegato Pazzo, which is infused with a touch of chili, Fegato Dolce, which is sweetened with honey, and Sanguinaccio, which is a blood sausage. The cheeses typically include pecorino cheese, burrata, or ricotta di pecora salata. Pecorino, in the most general sense, is a cheese made only with sheep’s milk. It is not uncommon for cheese makers to add their own spices to this cheese to give it more variety and flavor. Burrata cheese is typically made with cow or water buffalo milk and is similar to mozzarella cheese. Ricotta di pecora salata is also made from sheep’s milk and is considered a saltier ricotta cheese.
Especially during the cold winter months, homemade pasta is one of the tastier authentic Italian dishes served in L’Aquila. Pasta is commonly made from locally available ancient grain flours like semolina, spelt, and farro.
Maccheroni alla chitarra is a popular pasta dish. This pasta is generally made from a grain, eggs, and a pinch of salt. The long pasta is of a thicker cut and is made with a special pasta making instrument called chitarra (guitar). In L’Aquila this dish is usually topped with a meat mixture of lamb and pork. Diners will often tell you it is even more delicious with a generous sprinkling of homemade cheese.
Another popular often requested dish is cavatelli. This homemade pasta looks very similar to tiny hollow hotdog buns and is typically served in L’Aquila with a fresh tomato sauce and ricotta di pecora salata.
Locals also enjoy anellini alla pecoraia, which is handmade ring-shaped pasta served with tomato sauce, mixed vegetables, and ricotta di pecora salata. In some cases, pork and lamb meat may be added as well.
Also not to be missed is fettuccine all’abruzzesse, which consists of fettucine served with pancetta, pecorino, parsley, and basil.
Other pasta-based local favorites are ravioli with a ricotta and spinach filling, and spaghetti flavored with oil, garlic, and other spices.
Legume based soups are a featured first course in L’Aquila and are considered to be a time-honored tradition that has survived for centuries. One of these soups is gnocchetti with marjoram and beans. Others include chickpeas and pork rind, fresh vegetable minestrone, and homemade taccozelle pasta with lentils.
Most second courses are lamb or goat based since both animals are able to traverse the harsh rocky mountain terrain surrounding L’Aquila. Agnello diavolo is a commonly requested lamb dish consisting of lamb flavored with diavolo chilies, rosemary, orange peel, and fennel. Capra cacio e uova is cooked goat meat served in a delicious egg and cheese sauce. Perhaps one of the most divine second courses one will find on the menu is roast lamb.
‘Ndocca ‘ndocca, is a pork-based dish made with large pieces of pork simmered in water with vinegar, chili pepper, and herbs.
Scrippelle are another tasty second course dish. These thin crepes are made with eggs, water, and flour. They are filled with cheese, vegetables (such as peas), and meats. Scrippelle are rolled, dipped in broth, and then served.
Common side dish ingredients in L’Aquila include roasted potatoes, chickpeas, beans, and lentils. Mushrooms and black truffles foraged from the surrounding woods often accompany dishes in L’Aquila as well.
The most popular street food in and around the city of L’Aquila is arrosticini. The dish is actually not a dish at all but is cubed mutton meat served on a wooden skewer that is cooked over a grill or open fire. Arrosticini can be found served on the city streets as well as along rural roads in between major cities in the region of Abruzzo.
Because of the heaviness of many of L’Aquila’s appetizers and first and second courses, the city’s dessert options tend to be light and sweet. Nurzia Torrone, a decadent nougat made with chocolate, hazelnuts, honey, and cinnamon is somewhat of a specialty in this area and is enjoyed throughout much of the Abruzzo region.
Ferratelle is another crowd favorite. This biscuit, wafer, or very light cookie is made with eggs and a secret ingredient of anise. These cookies are a work of art created by a specially designed cooking iron that gives this sweet treat a gorgeous snowflake-like appearance.
WINE IN L'AQUILA
No meal in L’Aquila is complete without a glass of the finest Italian wine. Although Italy is known for its vast selection of quality wines, the locals here are partial primarily to those that are locally made, such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Other often requested favorites are Rosatello Aquilano and Corfinio della Valle Peligna. When it comes to wine in L’Aquila, it is impossible to make a bad choice.
The culinary delights in L’Aquila are as warm, flavorful, and sweet as the people. Come dine on fabulous authentic Italian fare and discover the joy of a leisurely meal shared with good friends in the snowcapped mountains of Abruzzo.