Dispatches from Abruzzo, Italy: Cooking with the Grandmothers of Abruzzo and Where to Eat
Have you been to Abruzzo in Italy? Do you know of Abruzzo? It is surprising that given the vibrance of the region, particularly in terms of food, and that it is only a 2 hour drive from Rome, that only a few are blazing the tourist trail from outside Italy, when you compare it to other regions.
Abruzzo is where Italians go on holiday and it is a gem. I visited on a whistle stop tour to shoot some video with Visit Abruzzo in the early Spring. All I could think on my return was, I wish that I had brought a bigger suitcase to bring stuff home (Abruzzo has wonderful wine, pasta, truffles and saffron, just to start), and it must not be long until I return again.
Abruzzo has seaside villages, snow capped mountain top towns (with only half an hour between them), and small towns threaded by winding country roads in between. There are cities too, but they won’t overwhelm you. Pescara, where I flew into, is small, buzzing and friendly. I arrived in the evening and had my first meal at Locanda Manthonè, a highly regarded local restaurant serving produce from the region. Sagne e fagioli was a perfect pasta dish with locally farmed beans and a hint of chilli (which features in the cuisine here like much of Southern Italy). Gallo all cafona (cockerel cooked contadini style) followed. A perfect start and wonderful introduction to the food of Abruzzo.
Locanda Manthonè, Corso Gabriele Manthone, 58, 65127 Pescara PE, Italy
The next morning we headed to Mosciano Sant’Angelo in Teramo to cook and have lunch at Borgo Spoltino. The restaurant, surrounded by fields and olive trees and with a view of Gran Sasso, has a beautiful kitchen garden where we began our day gathering ingredients for lunch. The chef and his mother cooked lunch with us, there is nothing quite like learning from an Italian Nonna, especially when it comes to pasta. We made a hand rolled and cut local pasta, the sagne from the night before, served this time with locally grown lentils. The chef demonstrated every dish, which we then ate in the dining room. So charming, and all served with lovely local wines also.
Borgo Spoltino, Strada Provinciale 15, Provincia di Teramo, Italy
We hit the road again, and headed for Civitella del Tronto, a village in the mountains, and home to a large ancient fortress which was literally in the clouds on my visit. It snowed that night, and we woke to a silent dreamy landscape where bright reaching rays of sun tried to wake up the land. I cooked with another local chef at Zunica 1880 where we made a saffron carbonara (saffron grows abundantly in Abruzzo. An interesting twist on a local favourite (there is some dispute between Lazio and Abruzzo about the origins of this dish).
Zunica 1880, Piazza Filippi Pepe, 14, 64010 Civitella del Tronto TE, Italy
A slow careful drive through the snow the next morning while I admired and soaked up the gorgeous views, brought us to the seaside. The weather was unusual and the normally calm sea was wild, which I quite liked, it reminded me of my own Atlantic. I cooked brodetto alla vastese with Maria, near their trabocchi, a fishing structure that dips nets into the sea, unique to Abruzzo. Farmers, who were afraid of the water, developed this technique to harvest fish from the sea. Brodetto alla vastese is a lovely tomato based fish soup made with a selection of fish sourced locally.
Cooking class organised by Italia Sweet Italia, and highly recommended.
My next cooking session was at the wonderful Agriturismo Caniloro, an agriturismo that makes most of their own produce, even their flour which they mill themselves. I had a couple of cooking sessions there with two fantastic nonnas. We made pizza scima (translated as stupid pizza) which instead of water, is made with wine, and cooked in a wood fire covered with a solid metal lid which is covered with fire also. You can image the gorgeous smoked flavour. Dinner that evening was a beautiful rabbit and potato stew with their rosé wine, all by a roaring fire. The next morning I made pasta with tiny Nonna Antoinietta (bear in mind that I am only 5′ 4″ / 1.6m tall!), a treat, and an inspiration.
Agriturismo Caniloro, Contrada S. Onofrio 134, 66034 Lanciano CH, Italy
It was time to explore some traditional pastries, and so we headed back to the mountains to Guardiagrele to sample Sise delle Moniche pastries. Wonderfully fluffy and indulgent, don’t you love that the shop has a brush to wipe the sugar from your clothes after?
Then for lunch down the road to sample my first arrosticini, irresistible grilled mutton skewers (and that is one portion!) at Cantina del Tripio, followed by some handmade pasta. All in a local Abruzzo lunch!
What a wonderful experience. I found the people of Abruzzo to be gentle and friendly, it was a real pleasure to travel around the region and cook with them. I only saw a small slice of it too.
I visited Abruzzo with Visit Abruzzo to explore the region and shoot a video with them, which I will share shortly. Londoners can fly to Pescara in Abruzzo from London Stansted, or you can drive (or get a bus) from Rome.