Abruzzo - Food and Wines - Food
Abruzzo is known for strong flavors and strong hospitality. Peperoncino (hot red pepper) is used to flavor many dishes, and a favorite is pasta with aglio, olio, and peperoncino (garlic, olive oil and hot red pepper), strong enough to burn a hole in the stomach. This first course is often followed with "agnello all'arrabbiata" (angry lamb) that can be heavy going for those not accustomed to such hot dishes.
To top off the spicy meal guests are frequently offered a "digestive" called "Centerbe di Tocco Casauria" made with more than one hundred herbs from the Maiella and other mountains in Abruzzo. This is cooking with personality!
Most of the great cooks of Italy come from Abruzzo, many of whom come from the town of Villa S. Maria, where the tradition began in the 16th century, when the village was dominated by the castle of the Princes Caracciolo.
The family boasted more than 800 properties and even a saint, San Francesco Caracciolo. The father of the saint, Prince Ferrante Caracciolo, gave a number of memorable parties in his castle, attracting aristocrats throughout the kingdom of Naples. Thus grew the fame of the local cooks, who were often requested by nobles living in other parts of the kingdom.
Several years ago the city fathers created a small museum to honor the local chefs, who went far afield to cook for king Gustaf of Sweden, Italian King Vittorio Emanuele III, for Adolf Hitler, and the great transatlantic liners that plied the seas in the twenties and thirties. Ideally, the cuisine of Abruzzo is divided between that of the sea and the mountains. The first has the classic "brodetto" as a principal dish. Other dishes include fried fish and fish sauces often served with pasta, as well as fresh-water fish, mountain trout, and river shrimp.
Lamb dominates in the mountain cooking which has overtaken mutton. In the past lamb was reserved for the important occasions, at Easter, for example, or for weddings and baptisms. Vegetables are abundant, and there is a large variety of herbs.
The saffron from the town of Vanelli, near Aquila, has a different flavour from the saffron used in Spain. The first saffron bulbs were brought to Italy in 1400 by a Domenical friar named Santucci who brought them to his birthplace Navelli from Spain. He planted them in his convent with success, and saffron was used not only to flavour food but as a curative herb.
Unfortunately it is getting more and more difficult to find the pure saffron from Aquila as it is difficult and costly to gather and dry the flowers neccesary for the extraction of the pistils. Strangely enough, the valuable flavouring is used much more in cuisines far from Aquila than in Aquila itself.
This land full of pastures also produces a number of cheeses, many of them flavoured with the local herbs. Desserts tend to be simple and without pretension. They include torroncini (a tooth-breaking candy), pies, and cookies flavoured with amaretto, according to the season and the mood of the cook.