Famed for its mountainous landscapes, vast plains and medieval towns, Abruzzo is wild and untouched. This largely agricultural area is beloved for its authenticity, including its slow way of life and honest, rustic cuisine. Abruzzo has many famous foods that make the most of the area’s wheat, produce and meats. When you mention you’re traveling to Abruzzo, Italians unanimously let out a swoon about arrosticini, one of the area’s many delicacies.
I grew up visiting family in the small town of Corropoli, located in the province of Teramo, so I’ve eaten my way through Abruzzo’s best dishes since I was a child. Teramo, which is right on the border with neighboring region Le Marche, is home to many of the region’s most popular recipes. I have fond memories of gathering for a big family lunch each year on ferragosto — August 15th — the height of summer and a national holiday. We’d show up with empty stomachs and big appetites, ready to enjoy pasta, meat and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. If you’re planning your own trip, here are the top 10 dishes you can’t miss in Abruzzo.
Spaghetti alla Chitarra
Abruzzo is famed for its abundant production of pasta using fresh water from the mountains and bountiful wheat from the fields. Thanks to its dry climate, the region is ideal for making pasta, and this ancient tradition has been passed down through generations. There are many different types of pasta in Abruzzo, but the most famous shape is spaghetti alla chitarra (also called maccheroncini alla chitarra, or tonnarelli) made with semolina, eggs and water.
The name “chitarra,” meaning “guitar,” is named for the tool that gives this pasta its unique shape. This wooden frame, with thin metal wires, looks like a guitar and gives these chewy noodles their characteristic square shape. The sheet of dough is placed and flattened with a rolling pin and transformed into fresh pasta as it falls on the surface below. You can’t beat the consistency of homemade tonnarelli so be sure to try them in a local trattoria.
Like spaghetti, this dish is commonly served with a meat ragù sauce. In the province of Teramo, tonnarelli are usually tossed with sugo di pallottine, a meat sauce that consists of small meatballs that are fried and then cooked in a flavorful tomato sauce.
Nothing says Abruzzese Summer like arrosticini. The smell alone is enough to attract the neighbors over for lunch. These “skewers”, usually made with lamb or mutton, are one of Italy’s most popular street foods. The meat is lightly salted, drizzled with olive oil and can be seasoned with local herbs. The best arrosticini are prepared by hand on a long fornacella grill. Arrosticini are a seemingly simple dish, but when you have great ingredients, their authentic flavors shine through. In Abruzzo, animals are well-fed and lambs roam freely throughout the pastures, eating wild herbs and living a good life. This ensures a high quality product and ethical meat production.
Confetti di Sulmona
Abruzzo is also very well-known for its confetti. What we know as colorful confetti paper today actually has its roots in this popular Italian candy which has its origins in the pretty town of Sulmona. There are still many confetti shops in town where you can try this elegant sweet. Confetti are small sugar-coated almonds traditionally served at weddings because they symbolize prosperity, happiness, and the beginning of a new life. You’ll also often find them at baptisms, first communions and graduations.
Confetti come in a range of flavors and colors, though the original candy uses almonds dipped in a sugar-vanilla casing. You can also find confetti with chocolate hearts (a more upscale M&M) and creative flavors like pistacchio and white chocolate, ricotta and pear, or even salted caramel. Try them all and see which one is your favorite! Confetti are a perfect little souvenir to bring home for friends.
A meal in Abruzzo is always accompanied by local wine: some of the typical wines of the region include Montepulciano (red), Cerasuolo (rosé) and Trebbiano (white). If you’re ever in Abruzzo, I highly recommend a trip to Cantina Rasicci, my family’s organic vineyard located in Controguerra, close to the Adriatic Coast. The aroma of wine and warmth of the sunset backdrop attracts visitors year-round from across the world. We grow many local grapes, including Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano, Pecorino and Passerina. Our vineyard also has an agriturismo (farmhouse) overlooking the beautiful Italian countryside where you can book an overnight stay. Join a wine tasting tour or drop by for a night of singing and dancing!
Pallotte Cacio e Ova
A dish that can be served as an antipasto, first course or vegetarian main, pallotte cacio e uova are a tasty recipe unique to Abruzzo. The “cheese and egg balls” are essentially meat-free polpette made with just a few, simple ingredients. Made with local pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs, an egg, and freshly-chopped parsley, they’re rolled into small balls and simmered in a tomato sauce. The result is a golden and crispy coating on the outside, and a soft and creamy filling on the inside. Close your eyes, take a bite, and savor the full flavor.
Pasta e Fagioli
The best way to brave a chilly Abruzzese winter is with a comforting bowl of pasta. Pasta e fagioli, meaning “pasta and beans,” is a traditional Italian pasta soup. In Abruzzo, this dish is often cooked with a fresh pasta called sagne which resemble short fettuccine. Sagne e fagioli are slow-cooked with beans in a robust mixture of tomato sauce and the holy trinity: onions, celery, and carrots. Every family tends to prepare its own version of this dish: mine uses ditalini pasta and cannellini beans. Try a couple of different preparations and decide which one is your favorite!
Timballo may look like lasagna, but it’s a different dish. That’s because an Abruzzese timballo is prepared with flaky layers of puff pastry, or “scripelle”, as opposed to traditional lasagna noodles. A festive dish from Teramo, a Timballo is usually filled with sauce, scamorza cheese, artichokes, spinach or peas, hard-boiled eggs, butter to taste, and a generous amount of parmigiano-reggiano cheese oozing with flavor between each layer. Some recipes also include ground meat or little meatballs. You won’t find this dish on restaurant menus outside of Italy so be sure to indulge while visiting the region.
Brodetto di Pesce
There’s something special about Italy’s Adriatic Coast that you can’t see, but can only taste. Brodetto di pesce, a hearty fish stew, is a delicious way to enjoy freshly-caught seafood. The dish has a savory broth, often with a hint of hot pepper, and is served with toasted bread so you can absorb all the flavors. This is a unique dish with complex flavors and stands out as one of the region’s most popular foods. A popular recipe with fisherman, brodetto di pesce has now become a culinary specialty integrated in Italian gastronomy.
Pizza Dolce Abbruzzese
Pizza dolce Abruzzese is an exceptionally delicious layered cake that is so rich and moist, it melts on your tongue. This three-tiered cake is bathed in complimentary flavors that give it its distinctive color: coffee, rum and cherry-liquor. In between, the layers are separated with a smooth spread of chocolate-almond and vanilla custard. This cake is referred to as a “pizza” because of its round shape. You’ll notice hidden notes of Alchermes, an aromatic red liquor, giving the cake its vibrant colors while adding a beautiful contrast of sweet and spicy flavoring that is commonly used in Italian baking. This is a true guilty pleasure and one of my favorite Italian deserts.
Honorary Mention: Olive Ascolane
Although olive ascolane technically hail from Ascoli Piceno in the nearby region of Le Marche, olives are plentiful all over Italy. And in Abruzzo, this fried delicacy accompanies most meals. This popular street-food is made with sliced or pitted olives, best in season from October through December, stuffed with finely ground meat, lightly breaded, and deep-fried in oil. I am notoriously guilty for eating “l’olive della vergogna,” the irresistible last bite. If you’ve ever tried deep-fried olives, you’ll know the temptation is hard to resist!