• Albert J Fanelli

Cuisine of Abruzzo

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

As we all know, Italy is famous for many things. There are world class cities such as Rome, Milan, Naples and Venice filled with iconic landmarks, priceless works of art and the cultural heritage of the Italian people. Italy is also, perhaps, the capital of the world when it comes to fashion, creativity and innovation. But any conversation about Italy usually starts with FOOD! There is so much regional variety to be discovered: Naples is the home of pizza and in Rome you will find dishes such as Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara. The region of Abruzzo has a distinctive culinary of its own, drawing heavily on the local ingredients found in the mountains and hills of the area. If you are a meat lover, you will love Abruzzo as the typical diet of the inland areas draw heavily on pork and sheep in particular. Here are some of my personal favorites that I have tried while visiting with my wife Dayana, a native of Abruzzo.

1. Arrosticini

Arrosticini (also known as rustelle in local dialect) is more than just a famous traditional food of Abruzzo- its a way of life! The beauty of it lies in its simplicity; it is chunks of sheep meat on a skewer coated with a bit of salt and cooked on an elongated type of charcoal grill called a ‘fornacella.’ Any gathering of friends and family, small or large, will undoubtedly feature arrosticini and often several dozens (or hundreds!) of them can be consumed by even a small group. There is usually a person, or multiple people, in charge of the fornacella and they are served on the table in a typical boot-like container. Trying arrosticini for the first time as an outsider, it seems, is a real experience. They are a real part of the identity of Abruzzo and the locals are very curious to know if you enjoy the taste. Luckily for me, I took a liking to them and I soon found out that you don’t have to be shy about eating as many of them as you want. In fact, we like to joke that the more meatless wooden skewers that you accumulate on your plate makes you become a true Abruzzese. Here in New York, we have found a company called D’Abruzzo that distributes an American version of Arrosticini made with lamb instead of sheep, which we highly recommend trying.

2. Porchetta

In the region of Abruzzo, ‘la porchetta’ is king! ‘Porchetta,’ in Italian terms generally refers to roasted boneless wild pork. It’s fatty, moist and flavorful; it’s seasoned with herbs and heavily salted, with the crunchy skin still on. Although it is commonly found throughout Italy, its origins are said to be associated with Abruzzo and the surrounding central regions. Porchetta is versatile: it can be eaten as a second dish of a festive family gathering or as an everyday “street food.” In the region of Abruzzo, its very common to find mobile food truck vendors selling “panini con porchetta,” or porchetta sandwiches. Famous in the region are summer Porchetta ‘sagre’ in Campli and Colledara. This is ‘fast food’ Abruzzese style and do not forget to ask for more "crosta"!

3. Scrippelle ‘mbusse

Scrippelle’ is a lesser known traditional Abruzzese dish originating from the province of Teramo, where my wife Dayana is from. This is the kind of dish you can imagine your ‘nonna’ making to warm you up on a cold winter day. ‘Scrippelle’ are similar to crepes, but don’t tell that to an Italian! They are very savory and made from an egg, water and filled with parmisan cheese. They are usually served ‘mbusse,’ which means ‘in broth’ in Abruzzese dialect. This is a soup that will both fill up your stomach and warm you up!

4. Croccante

Now it’s time to talk about dessert! Croccante (or "croccanda" in abruzzese dialect) can be described as a sort of brittle made with toasted almonds and caramelized sugar. This is a sweet crunchy treat and is classic Christmas time treat in Abruzzo. Dayana made this for a recent family gathering and explained that the beauty of croccante lies in its versatility. Before it hardens, the ’brittle’ can be sculpted into any different shape and 3-dimensional form you can imagine for any different occasion. For example, you can create numbers for birthday occasions or any type of artistic creation. In fact, Dayana learned the recipe from her mother who once constructed a “Cinderella-style” carriage out of croccante for her birthday when she was a child.

The cuisine of Abruzzo is considered one of the most unique in all of Italy. This is due in large part to the terrain of the region. It is said that the Appennine Mountains created a sort of "isolation" from nearby regions that enabled it to establish a culinary tradition independent of outside influence. We recommend that you explore all of the great food that Abruzzo has to offer!