Abruzzo is a paradise for foodie enthusiasts. Luciano Di Gregorio, author of our guide to the Italian region, shows us selection of pasta, meat and sweet dishes that you might expect to encounter.
Maccheroni (or spaghetti) alla chitarra
Traditional maccheroni is not like the short tubes of pasta found outside of Italy. When made ‘alla chitarra’ (chitarra means ‘guitar’), it is a dish of square, spaghetti-like strands of pasta made from water, flour and egg. The dough is rolled out into sheets and then pressed over the ‘guitar’, a board with an array of wires that slice the pasta to give it its square look. The sauce most commonly served with maccheroni alla chitarra is a meat sauce (ragù), though you will also come across it with a simple napoletana (‘Neapolitan’; a tomato–based sauce with a hint of garlic and perhaps some basil), or with a mushroom and truffle sauce.
Sagne e fagioli
There is hardly a single Abruzzese who did not grow up to the delights of nonna’s homemade sagne e fagioli: a simple dish with the key ingredients of pasta and beans. The pasta dough, made simply from egg, flour and water, is rolled flat and cut into strips about 8–10cm wide. Multiple strips (about five or six) are then placed on top of each other and the pasta is cut to make many smaller strips about 0.5cm wide and about 5cm in length. The pasta is then cooked and placed in a large saucepan with a fairly thin tomato sauce (almost halfway between a soup and a thick pasta sauce) and either white beans or kidney beans.
Scrippelle 'mbusse is one of the two most popular types of scrippelle © Franqo aq/Wikimedia Commons
Scrippelle are omelette-like crêpes made from eggs, flour and water. There are many versions of scrippelle throughout Abruzzo, although the following two are the most popular. Scrippelle ‘mbusse traditionally come from Teramo Province. ‘Mbusse is a dialect phrase implying that the scrippelle are ‘wet’. They are made in a frying pan, formed into a long roll and served in a hot chicken broth. The other common way to have scrippelle is simply to pour a tomato-based sauce over them and add some grated parmesan.
Ravioli dolci di ricotta
Sweet ravioli are a speciality of Abruzzo, mostly enjoyed during festivities. They are larger than normal ravioli, and the ricotta filling has an interesting twist: mixed with egg yolk, sugar, lemon and cinnamon. The sauce that most commonly accompanies sweet ravioli is a simple tomato one with no meat. However, the ravioli can also be served with a thin layer of sugar and a hint of cinnamon on top.
Lasagna is known locally as timballo © Chi King/Wikimedia Commons
What English speakers know as lasagna is actually called timballo in Abruzzo. Whilst not strictly a traditional preparation of the region, it is one of the most common dishes to be served at large family get-togethers such as Easter and Christmas.
Arrosticini is the most popular snack in Abruzzo © Francesco de Marco/Shutterstock
Of all the dishes described here, arrosticini is without doubt the most popular. Essentially, arrosticini are mutton kebabs, although the meat on the skewers is much smaller than a traditional kebab. The meat, which is a dark red colour (depending on the age at which the animal has been slaughtered), is cut into cubes using a special container with blades. It is then threaded onto skewers; one skewer complete with meat will weigh about 40g and always includes around 20% fat for flavour. The meat is then charcoal-grilled. Arrosticini are usually generously salted to taste and eaten immediately for the tenderness and flavour of the hot meat.
The making of roast pork in Abruzzo is a long-standing tradition, mentioned as far back as the 15th century. Preparation of the porchetta is hard work. It is made from the entire carcass of the animal and usually weighs around 100kg. The pig is boned, though the head remains completely intact, and the meat, importantly, flavoured with salt and spices. The most essential of these are rosemary, pepper and garlic; the last is boiled in water and then evenly spread over the meat. The entire carcass is slowly roasted in the oven for around 4–6 hours.
Parrozzo, which is produced only in the province of Pescara, is one of Abruzzo’s most popular cakes. The dough is beaten and kneaded, then ground peach and apricot kernels are added before it is baked in the oven and coated in a thin layer of dark chocolate. Parozzo is always made in a shape that resembles a church dome.
Pizze fritte © Ruthven/Wikimedia Commons
If arrosticini are the most popular of the foods covered here, then the much-loved pizze fritte are not far behind. Usually about the size of a small dinner plate, they are made of normal pizza dough and are shallow fried rather than oven baked. Depending on which part of Abruzzo you are in, the pizze can be either as thick as two fingers together and therefore fluffly, or thinner and much crunchier. And yes: you will have a preference. They are the perfect accompaniment to arrosticini.
Pizzelle © Steve Snodgrass/Wikimedia Commons
Pizzelle, essentially sweet wafers, go by different names in various parts of Abruzzo (neole, nevole, ferratelle, cancellate). Whatever they’re called, they are the most traditional of Abruzzese sweets. The soft dough is made from egg, flour, water and sugar, which is spooned onto a patterned waffle iron, then squashed between the two hot plates. The resulting pizzelle is then left to cool and can be served plain or with jam or Nutella.
Bombe © nromagna/Wikimedia Commons
Bombe (singular: bomba) are fried doughnuts filled with crema, like a custard. (As an aside, the Italian for ‘cream’ is panna.) The dough is made from egg, flour and water and is fried before squeezing the custard into the doughnut. Bombe are an extremely popular breakfast food, usually served with a cappuccino, and as such are offered in most bars in Abruzzo. They are particularly popular on a Sunday morning, so you will need to get there early.
Ciambella is a popular breakfast cake © Albertomos/Wikimedia Commons
Another popular breakfast cake is the simple ciambella. It is made from egg, flour, water, sugar and, often, grated lemon peel, and is baked in a round cake tin with a large hole in the middle (like a kugelhupf). It is left to cool before being served with coffee or a glass of hot milk.
Inspired to visit Abruzzo and try out the local cuisine for yourself? Remember to take our guide with you: