The Cuisine of Abruzzo

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The Cuisine of Abruzzo George Clooney in The American

In Anton Corbijn’s thriller The American, the title character Jack (George Clooney) sits down to dine at a number of cafes in the small villages high up in the mountain villages of Abruzzo. But what did he eat? What sort of cuisine comes from that rugged territory of Italy?

It turns out that Abruzzo offers one of the most unique cuisines of Italy. One of the main reasons for this is both historic and geographic. Many of the small villages, locked away in the mountains for centuries, have always depended on the kindness of their local farmers, whose particular cheeses, pastas and spices have been perfected over the ages. While many of the dishes bear similarities to items one might find throughout Italy, the locals usually provide a regional variation. For example, chili pepper can be found added to many dishes. The best-known pasta for the area is the “chitarra” (guitar) pasta, which derives its musical name not from its shape, but from the wire-stringed instrument on which it is made.

To demonstrate what one might find on a menu in Abruzzo, we went to culinary experts to provide us a few sample recipes that are typical of the area.

 

 

Massimo Criscio

Massimo Criscio, the director of the Abruzzo Cibus Culinary Tours, takes small groups of food lovers from the regions sea shore up into mountains, meeting with fishermen, cheese makers, as recipes traditional from the area Involtini Di Prosciutto Con Arugula E Pecorino well as visiting many cafes, to experience the area through its food. He has provided us with two recipes: Prosciutto Rolled with Arugula and Pecorino Cheese and Cavatelli With Fresh Summer Cherry Tomato Sauce.

Click here to see Massimo Criscio's recipes »

 

Eleonora Baldwin

Eleonora Baldwin, who actually worked on The American as script supervisor in charge of continuity, is a travel/culinary writer whose knowledge and insight can be found on four different websites: Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino; Roma Every Day; Rome City Guide for Kids; and Forchettine. Ms. Baldwin has not only generously shared with us some of her favorite recipes, but has provided a fascinating overview of the cuisine of Abruzzo.

Click here to see Eleonora Baldwin's recipes »

 

Maria Filice

Maria Filice, who oversees the website Food and Fate, has just published her first book, Breaking Bread in L’Aquila, from which her recipes come. True to her book, Ms. Filice has provided us a full meal, with a Primi Piatti (Pasta e Lenticchie/Pasta and Lentils), a Secondi Piatti (Costolette d’Agnello alla Griglia/Grilled Lamb Chops), and, best of all, a Dolci (Pizzelle).

Click here to see Maria Filice's recipes »

 

Joshua Lawrence

Joshua Lawrence's love and curiosity for Italian food drew him to Italy over twenty years ago. Much of that inspiration for his food and lifestyle blog comes from the culinary traditions of Abruzzo, where he has been living for over 10 years (and exploring for 17 years). His passion for this central Italian region––its food, its places and its people––has been galvanized by the earthquake that threw him and everyone he knew from their beds at 3.32 a.m., April 6, 2009. L'Aquila and almost 50 surrounding towns were devastated, but even wounded they are still beautiful.

Click here to see Joshua Lawrence's recipes »

Massimo Criscio

Massimo Criscio, the director of the Abruzzo Cibus Culinary Tours, takes small groups of food lovers from the regions sea shore up into mountains, meeting with fishermen, cheese makers, as recipes traditional from the area Involtini Di Prosciutto Con Arugula E Pecorino well as visiting many cafes, to experience the area through its food. He has provided us with two recipes: Prosciutto Rolled with Arugula and Pecorino Cheese and Cavatelli With Fresh Summer Cherry Tomato Sauce.

 


Cavatelli with Fresh Summer Cherry Tomato Sauce

Cavatelli with Tomato Sauce

The pasta is called Cavatelli and it is a typical home made pasta from Abruzzo. The topping is a fresh tomato sauce, topped with Ricotta di pecora salata, which a salty (or savory) ricotta made with sheep milk. In the western part of Abruzzo, we have many sheep. The mountain people of Abruzzo used to be shepherds.

This sauce is found all through central/southern Italy in the warm summer months when it is too hot to cook. It can be made in the morning and allowed to ripen at room temperature (all day if need be) in a covered bowl.  (It makes about 2 cups)

Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic (minced)
2 lb. vine-ripened cherry tomatoes (cut in half) or firm summer tomatoes with some green remaining
24 cured black olives (gaeta)
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves (or 1/2 tbsp dried)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup of shards of ricotta salata (or feta)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cavatelli pasta

Instructions
Combine the halved cherry tomatoes with the olive oil in a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients except the ricotta salata cheese, and toss to blend.*

Cook the cavatelli pasta in boiling water until al dente.

Toss sauce with the hot pasta. If need be add 1 or 2 more Tbsp of olive oil.

Sprinkle with the shards of ricotta salata. Top with a little more fresh ground pepper. Garnish with a few fresh basil leaves.

*If not using this sauce the same day, put in the refrigerator covered. Bring to room temperature before tossing with the pasta.

 


Involtini di Prosciutto con Arugula e Pecorino
(Prosciutto Rolled with Arugula and Pecorino Cheese)

Involtini di Prosciutto

We use a local prosciutto from Abruzzo, that differs from the typical Parma ham because our prosciutto is a little more salty, then we slide a little rucola, sliced pecorino cheese and lots of lemon juice.

Ingredients
8 to 10 thin slices of prosciutto
8 to 10 shavings of pecorino/parmesan* (from a whole piece)
2 bunches of arugula (washed with hard stems removed)
1/4 cup (60 ml.) of olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon (strained)
salt and freshly ground pepper
15 cured black olives, pits removed (optional)

Instructions
On parchment paper, arrange the prosciutto in a single layer. Pour the strained lemon juice in a non-reactive bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly. Drop in the arugula, add salt and pepper and toss thoroughly.

Starting at one end of the slice of prosciutto place a small bunch of arugula. Add 1 shaving of cheese. Roll into a roulade, making sure it remains intact. Continue with the remaining slices of prosciutto. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper to taste. Garnish with black olives (optional).

SERVES 4 to 5

*in lieu of pecorino you may use parmigiano, romano or grana cheese.

 

Click for Eleonora Baldwin's recipes »

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Eleonora Baldwin

Eleonora Baldwin, who actually worked on The American as script supervisor in charge of continuity, is a travel/culinary writer whose knowledge and insight can be found on four different websites: Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino; Roma Every Day; Rome City Guide for Kids; and Forchettine. Ms. Baldwin has not only generously shared with us some of her favorite recipes, but has provided a fascinating overview of the cuisine of Abruzzo.

 

 


Eleanora Baldwin menu

Abruzzo is historically a land of ancient agricultural and pastoral traditions. It should not be a surprise then that much of the region’s cuisine revolves around fresh seasonal produce, roasted meats, cured pork and aged cheeses. Some local specialties particular to the silent valleys, vast upland plateaus and forest-cloaked mountains of Abruzzo include: Santo Stefano di Sessanio Lentils, grown exclusively in the S. Stefano di Sessanio, Calascio, Barisciano, Castelvecchio Calvisio and Castel del Monte  territory–in elevated terrains between 3,700 and 5,200 ft above sea level, at the foot of the Gran  Sasso—the highest peak in the Apennines.

Another local specialty is soppressata, which is pork salami whose typical flat section is obtained, after the initial curing period, by placing the cased sausage between two wooden planks or sandwiched between thick metal sheets. A product uniquely native to Abruzzo in Italy is saffron from the Navelli Plane in the Province of L'Aquila. Zafferano–its Italian name–the dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower, is the most expensive spice in the world. Literally worth triple its weight in gold. Why? Because the extraction process is ridiculously labor-intensive. You can’t harvest the crocus flowers with machinery, nor trick its delicate red filaments out with anything but the human hand. Lower costs and a longer shelf life made Pane con le Patate (bread made with potatoes) a staple among shepherds and Transumanti (herdsmen who twice-yearly would transfer their flocks from winter pastures in the lowlands, further south to summer pastures in the Abruzzo mountains). Transumanza is precisely that migration of millions of animals over numerous trails scattered throughout the region. By adding potatoes to the bread dough, the leavening agents, combined with the tuber’s yeasts, yielded a type of bread capable of keeping fresh for twice as long as regular sourdough.

 

OPENERS

Virtu

Among Abruzzo’s most famous primi piatti, or pasta starters, are Spaghetti alla Chitarra, made with a blend of eggs and durum wheat flour, flattened thin and pushed through a Chitarra (a beech-wood frame tightly strung with steel wires that actually make it look more like a harp) to produce the typical thick square spaghetti. (See recipe below.) Other Abruzzo pasta dishes include Maccheroni alla Molinara, and Cannelloni  all’Abruzzese––pasta tubes filled with a mixture of ground pork, chicken and veal. Sauces and pasta toppings include rich ragùs of different types, flavored with Castrato (castrated lamb), stewed sausage, and goose. Another typical Abruzzo dish is Sagne e Fagioli, a slow-cooked soup made with beans and simple water and flour noodles called sagne, boiled in broth, fresh tomato sauce, garlic, oil and the ever-present Abruzzo piquant chili pepper. The rich Gnocchi Carrati from L’Aquila are topped with pancetta, eggs and pecorino––and constitute another local delight. From Teramo hail the Scrippelle rustic crèpes, which can be served “m'busse” (wet, meaning with broth) or used in the monumental savory flan called sformato, which towers studded with chicken livers, butter sautéed meatballs, hard-boiled eggs and young Pecorino cheese. Virtù is an ancient sautéed vegetable pie traditionally eaten only during the month of May. Other typical Abruzzo starters include ravioli stuffed with ricotta, sugar and cinnamon and dressed with chunky pork ragù, and Pastuccia, a sausage and polenta stew, flavored with eggs, and grated Pecorino.

Spaghetti

Spaghetti alla Chitarra

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups flour
6 eggs (1 per person) 
1 cup lamb, ground 
1 cup lean pork, ground 
2 quarts canned tomatoes 
1/4 cup butter 
1 glass olive oil 
1 small onion, left whole unchopped 
1 carrot 
Parmigiano, grated 
Salt to taste 

Instructions
Mix eggs, flour and a pinch of salt and knead into a satiny ball of dough. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin dusted with flour, about 1/2-inch thick. If you have a Chitarra, pass notebook-size sheets of flattened dough through the wooden frame; otherwise, roll the dough like a burrito and slice thinly to obtain stringy spaghetti. Now the ragù.

Braise the ground meats with the tomatoes, butter, olive oil, onion and the carrot for about 1 hour. In a large pot of lightly salted water, boil the spaghetti until they surface (this takes two or three minutes). Halt the cooking by draining and rinsing the pasta with very cold water. Quickly dress the spaghetti with your ragù, dust with grated Parmigiano and serve immediately.

 


ENTRÈES

Entrees

As far as Abruzzo main courses, these are broadly divided according to geography: lamb in the highlands and seafood on the coast. The rustic roasted lamb typical of Abruzzo shines in the savory and addictive Arrosticini, tiny emasculated lamb skewers roasted on an open fire; or the Agnello al  Cotturo, a richly enhanced stew enhanced by a bouquet of herbs and cooked in the typical shepherd’s copper cauldron called caldaro. Another traditional dish is Agnello Cacio e Ovo, which is a local rustic fricassee. But the carnivores in Abruzzo also enjoy game and fowl, with numerous recipes for wild boar, rabbit, hare and the common farm chicken cooked in a variety of ways and often served alongside fresh or sautéed vegetables. More sophisticated meat dishes include Galantina, a savory chicken aspic; or the turkey à la Canzanese from Teramo, which thanks to its nutrition properties, long shelf-life and good digestibility, was included as part of the menu on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969. Adriatic seafood is best represented by the three local “brodetto” recipes, each hailing from three separate coastal towns: Giulianova, Pescara and Vasto. The Bouillabaisse-type fish soup is slow-cooked in an earthenware pot, flavored with fresh tomato, herbs and various spices (among which  Saffron, in some cases) and spicy peperoncino chili pepper. Another chapter should mention the local pizze rustiche, savory pies of Abruzzo. Pizza di Pasqua  (Teramo cheese and pepper spongy bread eaten during Easter); Fiadoni from Chieti, egg and cheese  stuffed dough popovers baked in the oven; and the region’s traditional rustic tarts, made with a pastry  dough base, and then topped with all sorts of divine fillings: eggs, sausage, fresh cheeses, ricotta,  vegetables, and a myriad of spices and herbs to match. Other typical specialties include the area’s traditional salumi and cheeses. The coveted spreadable soft sausage from Teramo is flavored with nutmeg; the punchy garlic and purple liver sausage is only produced in the mountains; and the venerable ventricina of the Alto Vastese territory–chunky  pieces of lard and pork shoulder–is pressed and cured with sweet bell pepper, wild fennel and chili. Cheese-lovers will find plenty to rave about after tasting the local Pecorino canestrato and the many traditional artisan cheeses produced in the region’s valleys and hillsides, 

Arrosticini

Ingredients
A minimum of 4 cups lean lamb 
Extra virgin olive oil 
Salt and pepper 
The juice of 1/2 lemon (optional) 

Instructions
Cut the lamb meat in small (1/2 inch) cubes. Skewer the cubes neatly on well-oiled metal skewers or tiny disposable wooden kebab sticks (pre-soaked briefly in water, so the heat won’t burn the wood). Marinade the arrosticini in olive oil, salt and pepper. Dribble the skewered meat with lemon juice and roast on the barbecue quickly, 2-3 minutes, turning a couple of times for even cooking  Serve with slices of oiled bruschetta.

 

 


DESSERTS

The sweets of Abruzzo are world-famous. Sulmona produces the best Italian sugar-coated almond comfits, locally called confetti, and the softest, most mouthwatering chocolate torrone (Christmas nougat). Cicerchiata are fried dough balls shaped into a ring and drizzled with cooked honey. Croccante is a type of torrone, made with almonds, caramelized sugar, and perfumed with lime zest. Mostaccioli are typical diamond-shaped chunky cookies enriched with cooked wine must. Pepatelli Teramani are biscotti made with ground almonds, honey and black pepper. From Guardiagrele come the local hefty Amaretti and the Sise delle Monache (nun’s breasts) which are sponge-cake cones filled with custard; and from Lanciano, hail the Bocconotti, filled with an almond and chocolate ganache. But among Abruzzo’s sweet endings, Parrozzo is the most remarkable. In ancient times, Abruzzo peasants made cornmeal bread in the shape of a dome, and baked in a wood-fired oven. They would call this “pan rozzo” meaning ‘unrefined bread,’ as opposed to the regular and more expensive white flour bread eaten at the time only by higher pegs of the social ladder. At the turn of the 19th century, pastry chef Luigi D'Amico re-invented that same recipe, using eggs instead of cornmeal to obtain the golden hue, typical of the ancient unrefined bread. He kept the dome shape, and topped it with a dark chocolate coating to reproduce the bread’s charred crust. Under precise orders of poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, he called it Parrozzo.

Parrozzo

Parrozzo

Ingredients
2 cups dark chocolate 70% 
1/2 cup sugar 
1/2 cup butter 
1/4 cup sweet almonds 
1/4 cup cornstarch 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
5 eggs, separated 
10 bitter almonds 

Instructions
Blanche almonds in boiling water and peel off the husk, and then grind them with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Work butter with a fork, add the remaining sugar and the egg yolks, and whisk well. Fold in the ground almonds, and then the flour and cornstarch. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, and then add that to the mixture. Pour mixture in a buttered Bundt pan or dome-shaped cake mold, and bake at 450° F for 45 minutes. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and once the parrozzo has cooled, slather it with the chocolate sauce. Allow this to set before devouring. If you can.

 


As a bonus for director Anton Corbijn, who loved this Abruzzo dessert because it reminded him of his homeland’s Dutch “Stroopwafel” biscuits, here is the recipe for another delicious Abruzzo specialty, Ferratelle, also known as Pizzelle o Cancelle––which are typical waffle-type anise wafers baked in the traditional red hot grooved clamp called ferro, or iron–and eaten smeared with marmalade, honey or Nutella.

Ferratelle

Ferratelle

Ingredients
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
4 tablespoons sugar 
2 eggs 
1/2 cup olive oil 
1 packet vanilla extract 
A pinch of anise 
1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

Instructions
Work together the eggs, flour, sugar and olive oil to obtain a firm, gluey dough. Add vanillin and just a pinch of anise for the aroma. Heat the waffle pan thoroughly. Grease it with butter and spoon onto it small dollops of dough per each ferratella. Close the waffle pan and cook for 20-30 seconds. Lift the top and use a fork to work the waffle loose. As you bake your batches, be sure to keep the pan heated and well greased throughout.

 

Click for Maria Filice's recipes »

Back to The Cuisine of Abruzzo main »

Maria Filice

Maria Filice, who oversees the website Food and Fate, has just published her first book, Breaking Bread in L’Aquila, from which her recipes come. True to her book, Ms. Filice has provided us a full meal, with a Primi Piatti (Pasta e Lenticchie/Pasta and Lentils), a Secondi Piatti (Costolette d’Agnello alla Griglia/Grilled Lamb Chops), and, best of all, a Dolci (Pizzelle).

 

 


Pasta and Lentils

Primi Piatti: Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentils)

Fall in L’Aquila is not unlike fall in New York: the days can be bright and warm, while the nights are brisk and chilly. This dish is perfect for those days when the skies are gray, and you want something to warm you up. If you don’t have dried lentils on hand, simply reach for a can from your pantry. (See my pantry supply list on page 134.) I prefer the dry lentils. As another variation, I’ve also added fresh sausage while the lentils are cooking. This is a dish prepared in the town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio. They are famous in Italy for its production of lentils. Did you know that this town has been referred to as the “Tuscany of Abruzzo”? Fantastic!
Serves 6

Ingredients
11/2 cups dry lentils (or canned, drained, and rinsed)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta (cut in 1/4-inch pieces)
2 medium onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 pound spaghetti (or egg noodles)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Instructions
In a medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy, about  20 minutes. Drain and set aside. (If you are using canned lentils, you can add them directly to the frying pan after you sauté the pancetta.)

Using a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until it is al dente.

In the meantime, heat olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, onions, and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is golden, about 7 minutes. Combine with the lentils and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta, but reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss the lentils and gradually add water until creamy.  Sprinkle with Parmigiano and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

 


Secondi Piatti: Costolette d’Agnello alla Griglia (Grilled Lamb Chops)

Anyone who is familiar with L’Aquila knows that lamb dominates the meat scene in this mountainous region. Like many of the local dishes, this one is totally unpretentious and elegant in its simplicity. I confess: I’m a huge lamb fan, too! Grilled lamb is beautifully combined with any pasta dish, or the Boiled Potatoes with Parsley dish and a leafy green salad.
Serves 6

Ingredients
12 rib lamb chops
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Rosemary leaves to sprinkle on the chops before serving, plus sprigs to garnish the plate
Extra virgin olive oil

Instructions
Heat a grill or a grill pan over high heat until almost smoking. Salt and pepper both sides of the lamb. Add the chops and sear for about 2 minutes. Flip the chops over and cook for another 3 minutes (for medium-rare) or 31/2 to 4 minutes (for medium).

Let the lamb rest for about 5 minutes prior to serving. Sprinkle rosemary on the lamb and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

 


Pizzelle

Dolci: Pizzelle

Italian waffle cookies, or pizzelle (which literally means small pizzas), are quite popular in the Abruzzo region of Italy. If you don’t have a pizzelle maker, I highly recommend investing in one. Believe me, it’s worth it just to make these tasty treats. Pizzelle were always Paul’s favorite dessert; he loved them so much that I’d often make batches to keep in the freezer so that I could pull them out upon request. What I like about pizzelle, aside from their taste, is
their flexibility: you can add cocoa with the sugar and make a chocolate version, or spread some hazelnut cream on one and top with another. Plain and
simple pizzelle with ice cream are also dreamy…
Makes about 36 pizzelle

Ingredients
1¾ cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons anise (or other extract)

Instructions
Pre-heat the pizzelle maker. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, combine the butter and sugar and mix until smooth. Add anise and then the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix well.  Lightly spray the pizzelle maker with vegetable oil (unless you have a non-stick version).

Drop the batter by the tablespoon onto the pizzelle iron, and cook, gauging the timing  (usually less than a minute) according to the manufacturer’s instructions or until golden.  Serve with your favorite toppings.

 

Click for Joshua Lawrence's recipes »

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Joshua Lawrence

Joshua Lawrence's love and curiosity for Italian food drew him to Italy over twenty years ago. Much of that inspiration for his food and lifestyle blog comes from the culinary traditions of Abruzzo, where he has been living for over 10 years (and exploring for 17 years). His passion for this central Italian region––its food, its places and its people––has been galvanized by the earthquake that threw him and everyone he knew from their beds at 3.32 a.m., April 6, 2009. L'Aquila and almost 50 surrounding towns were devastated, but even wounded they are still beautiful.

 


RED AND GOLD GARBANZOS

If you drive from Sulmona to Castel del Monte, chances are you'll pass through the town of Navelli, historic heart of saffron country in the high plains, climbing up the southern face of the Apennines’ largest mountain:  Gran Sasso. Centuries as the source of much of Europe's saffron helped build L’Aquila, one of Italy most beautiful but lesser-known art cities, and many of the surrounding castles and fortified towns. The hair-thin red threads (but it tinges the food it's in yellow) have only recently made it into the local culinary culture because it paid the rent in these breathtaking but cold mountain valleys.

It takes over 130,000 flowers, hand-picked before dawn during one week in autumn, to produce just one kilo of saffron – a little more than two pounds. Some experts say that the variety of bulbs used, soil and specific climate help produce some of the best saffron in the world. At least everyone in Abruzzo will tell you that – and so would Remy, the mouse chef from the movie Ratatouille – if he wasn't a fictional cartoon character.

Lo Zafferano is still probably the world’s most expensive spice, but it’s within reach: the tenth of a gram (a tenth the weight of a paperclip) of powdered Navelli saffron needed for the recipe below can be yours for around ten euros if bought locally. If it costs much less than that, you know it’s fake.

Given the historical importance of the town of Navelli, it's not surprising that it’s one of the two local products featured in Navelli's sagra (local agricultural feast). Saffron is the traditional cash crop, not the traditional food. That honor goes to the town's ceci (chickpeas).

Navelli's Pro Loco association has been putting on the Sagra dei Ceci e dello Zafferano on the first weekend after Ferragosto (August 15) for 33 years, even in the aftermath of earthquakes. And the Palio dei Asini, a send-up of Siena's Palio, where untrained donkeys run instead of trained racehorses, has been a natural satirical draw for thirty years. My niece was part of the trio––boy, girl and donkey––that won this year.

 

Risotto allo zafferano

Risotto alla Milanese – Risotto allo zafferano

While saffron helped build L'Aquila and many of internal Abruzzo's most beautiful cities and towns, the locals never dreamt of eating it. So Italy's most famous saffron dish comes from the northern city of Milan. The following recipe, for a dish used at the Navelli's “sagra”, is a gem for its simplicity and how it draws out the best from its ingredients. 

Ingredients
Risotto allo zafferano (otherwise know as Risotto alla Milanese)
500g of rice (a little less than half a pound)
100g of butter (about a quarter pound
1 fifth of a white onion.
50g parmigiano reggiano, grano padano or another classic Italian grated cheese
1 envelope of saffron from L'Aquila (with a tenth of a gram of pure saffron)
A half pot of broth

 

Instructions
Dice the onion and simmer in a spoonful of butter until lightly golden, then add the rice and stir continuously as you slowly add broth. In the meantime, mix the saffron in a small cup of broth. When the rice is almost done (that is, the broth is almost entirely absorbed by the rice), add the remaining butter and pour in the saffron-broth mix. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top just before serving. My wife Silvia's trick is to add a tablespoon full of the saffron liquor that Navelli's saffron cooperative sells.

 


Supplì allo zafferano

Supplì allo zafferano

Supplì, fried rice balls, are my favorite way of eating Navelli's saffron rice at their sagra. Slightly crunchy on the outside, warm and full of saffron's curative aroma on the inside. They are also a great way to get my daughters––who would rather run around the town and party with their friends–– to enjoy Navelli's saffron with us.

Ingredients
Risotto alla milanese (from recipe above)
Olive oil or another single-grain or fruit cooking oil
Bread crumbs
Salt to taste

Instructions
Make the saffron rice according to the Pro Loco association of Navelli's recipe above. Heat olive oil, about an inch deep, until it reaches the same temperature you would use for homemade French fries. Drop balls of risotto a bit smaller than your fist into a plate full of breadcrumbs so that enough stick to let you roll them into fat tubs a bit smaller than your fist. Cook in the oil until light brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels and serve warm. In another variation, you can add a small heart of fresh Italian mozzarella to the middle. 

 



PASTA E CECI

Chickpeas––ceci in Italian––is the other local product celebrated at Navelli's Sagra. A few years ago on a windy day, we were biking around town when we came across my mother-in-law's then-85-year-old uncle standing in front of his house separating the small round beans from their leaves and skins. His method was as ingenious as it was ancient and simple. He had a wide but shallow straw basket from which he would fling the ceci up in the air. The wind would blow away everything but the ceci before they fell back into the basket. The ceci from the high plains of Central Abruzzo are smaller than most, and a bit harder when cooked al dente. They can be served alone, cooked either in a light tomato sauce or as a soup with other vegetables, or with pasta. The recipe here––gnocchetti e ceci––also comes from the Pro Loco association that puts on Navelli's Sagra. Gnocchetti are small ball-like shapes of pasta––similar in shape and density to potato gnocchi, just smaller. If you can't find them you can use (or make) any small chunky form of durum wheat pasta.

 

Gnocchetti e ceci

Gnocchetti e ceci (Pasta and Chickpeas)

Ingredients (for 10 people)
Two pounds of gnocchetti pasta (700-800 grams)
Sauce:
Olive oil,
Some celery, a few carrots and a small onion
Ground pancetta (if not available use bacon)
Tomato sauce
1 clove of garlic and a small branch of two of fresh rosemary
Salt “as much as needed”

Instructions
Soak the chickpeas in water for ate least twelve hours (longer if larger than a green pea) then boil until al dente. Drain most of the water and then cook slowly with the garlic and rosemary and a touch of olive oil. As this is simmering, prepare the sauce by lightly browning in oil the diced celery, carrots, onion and pancetta, then add the tomato paste/sauce and simmer for at least a half hour. Cook the gnocchetti or other pasta for a half hour in salted water. Drain most of the water and mix with the chickpeas and the sauce for at least 5 minutes. Serve warm. Salt to taste. Feel free to add hot pepper, fresh olive oil or ground aged pecorino cheese too.

 


Ceci salati

Ceci salati

Ceci salati are oven-roasted, salted chickpeas and are a local precursor to potato chips. Sometime you can find little packets for sale in neighborhood bars in Abruzzo and other lesser-known but beautiful areas of South and Central Italy. When I made them with too much oil in the pan, they reminded me of the oven cooked pumpkin seeds we would make after carving out our jack-o'-lanternsbefore Halloween in Wisconsin. Handmade ceci salati are sold at Navelli's sagra, but this is not their recipe.   

Ingredients
2 cups of dried chickpeas
1-2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil or single-plant vegetable oil

Instructions
Soak chickpeas 24 hours (if you have the smaller, green pea sized chickpeas from Navelli you can soak them for a bit less, otherwise stick to the full-day soak).
Drain, rinse and put in a covered pan with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for about an hour. Drain again and spread out to dry for at least 8 hours. Pre-heat oven to 300°F / 150°C. Spread chickpeas over an oiled baking pan or sheet and roast for 70-100 minutes. Add salt to taste. You can also make them by drying canned chickpeas but since you don't need to eat them right away and the flavor and consistency are different, why bother.

 


Prosciutto and fichi

Prosciutto and fichi

Not everyone in my family loves cantaloupe melons, so I don't get to eat nearly as much prosciutto e melone (melon and Parma ham) during the summer as I had imagined before moving to Italy almost 20 years ago. Of course, life in the Apennines isn't just about doing without. The smaller, local figs help make a sweater counterpoint to the local dried hams. The prosciutto from near L'Aquila is a bit saltier and less sweet than the prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele. And I like it better.

Ingredients
Hand cut dried Parma ham (prosciutto crudo)
Fresh, ripe figs

Instructions
Have the store slice the prosciutto by hand. If you cant' get prosciutto from Abruzzo, it's OK to make do with Parma, San Daniele or Spanish jamòn serrano, the important thing is that it is sliced by hand or, if done by a machine, that it is cut thicker as though it was done by hand. Slice the figs in half (if they are the smaller, walnut-sized ones similar to those from near L'Aquila) or in quarters (if they are the larger variety).

 

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